Linfield’s first WildX of 2021 covers the transgender athlete experience

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Photo courtesy of WildX

Ethan Myers, Managing Editor

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On Jan. 22, Linfield University Athletics kicked off their first WildX discussion of 2021 with a panel that focused on transgender athletes’ experiences and rights within the world of college sports.

WildX is a weekly 90-minute Zoom conversation hosted by Linfield Athletics that touches on a number of topics related to sports. Last week’s panel featured Pacific University sophomore transgender student-athlete Joey Grafton, Linfield University Pride President freshman Zack Robie, and Kenna Tanouye, a junior at Linfield who has done research on the topic of transgender athletes.

“The goals of the talk were to bring transgender rights awareness into the discussion of athletic ethics and rules—basically to explain why trans athletics deserves a spot at the table,” Robie said.

After Tanouye introduced the topic to WildX hosts and participating students, Joey Grafton described his experience as a transgender athlete through high school and into his first few semesters at Pacific.

Despite coming out as a transgender man to his peers as early as 8th grade, Grafton continued to compete on women’s teams because he wanted to remain with his friends. Grafton was then recruited to the women’s cross country team at Pacific, but after a semester, he decided that he would begin taking testosterone and join the men’s team. He now runs for the men’s cross country and track & field teams.

After sharing his story and detailing some challenges he has faced, Grafton gave tips to coaches on how to be inclusive and helpful toward transgender student-athletes.

“Be accepting,” Grafton said. “It takes a lot of courage to be vulnerable with someone that you look up to or idolize. Just getting there can sometimes be the hardest part.”

“Creating a space where your athletes can talk to you…and do so comfortably is super important,” Grafton continued.

He noted that being respectful of pronouns and names, as well as correcting others when they slip up, can go a long way in reinforcing a transgender student-athlete’s identity. Grafton was grateful that his coaches were both understanding and supportive during his journey.

The national debate surrounding transgender athletes in sports has gained steam over the past few years, as states and lawmakers battle over what fair and inclusive guidelines should look like. 

While the NCAA’s policy regarding transgender student-athlete participation does not require gender-affirming surgery or legal recognition of a player’s transitioned sex, the guidelines differ between transgender men and women.

For example, due to Grafton’s decision to take testosterone, he is no longer eligible to compete in women’s events.

Tanouye afterwards said she thought the discussion was a great step forward for Linfield, but hopes the conversation doesn’t stop there.

“It’s up to our entire Linfield community to create and enforce a culture that is inclusive and knowledgeable on these issues within the world of sports and outside of the world of sports,” Tanouye said. “The burden of equality should not have to be solely on the shoulders of the marginalized.”

The three panel members are optimistic about the acceptance of and place for transgender athletes moving forward, but they also recognize that society has plenty of work left.

“I hope eventually, we are able to get to a point where transgender athletes are just as normal as cisgender athletes,” Tanouye said.

The entire conversation can be found here.