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All Genders Deserve Equal Access in Sports

Arizona has joined the number of states that has proposed legislation that would ban male-to-female transgender athletes from competing in female sports unless they have a doctor’s note that proves that they’re female. This law would impact athletes at every from level from K-12 schools to community colleges and state universities.

Photo by Ted Eytan from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Why We’re Having This Debate

The surge of proposed laws followed news stories last year where a female track and field athlete claimed that male-to-female transgender athletes were unfairly allowed to compete in the girls’ division. The trans athletes finished a race higher than she did, which she claimed cost her the opportunity to compete at the regional race, which could impact her ability to get a college scholarship.

What I didn’t like about the reporting of this story is that most reports didn’t state whether the trans athletes were on hormone blockers and/or on hormone replacement therapy which would have made it a more level field than a cisgender male competing in a female sport. By the way, they’re both on hormones replacement therapy.

School Athletics May be the Only Option

My first thought when I heard about this proposed law in Arizona, was that trans athletes should bypass political issues in school and compete on club teams. A teacher friend pointed out that club teams are often very expensive, so the only option to participate in sports is to play on a school team.

Is It Talent or Testosterone?

Transgender girls are girls. They should be allowed to participate in girls’ activities, whether we are talking about Girl Scouts, entering a nunnery, or playing sports. Forcing a transgender girl to participate in boys’ activities or be left out is discriminatory and potentially devastating to her mental health.

In the situation of athletics, I wonder how much of is this outcry based on fairness and how much is based on transphobia. Are girls afraid of being beaten by someone they view as less than a girl?

It’s worth asking how much of these trans athletes’ success is based on talent or testosterone. History suggests that cisgender men have physical advantages over women in many sports. In looking at Olympic Records where men and women both compete in same types of events (e.g., track and field, weightlifting, etc.) the record held by the man is higher, faster, better than the women’s record. That’s why we created Title IX – to give women equal access to participate. But once a trans athlete has the same hormone level as their cisgender counterparts, I wonder if the cisgender athletes are claiming it’s unfair, but they’re using the competitions’ trans status to complain that they didn’t win.

It’s Time to Re-Examine Division in Sports

It’s time we re-examine how we divide participants in sports. With growing acceptance that there are more than two genders, which is backed by law in at least 17 states and Washington D.C., the traditional division of boys/men and girls/women is no longer sufficient. I’m a non-binary athlete (with a birth certificate to prove it), and when I sign up for a race, I rename the divisions “testosterone” and “estrogen” and select accordingly.  

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has guidelines regarding male-to-female athletes and the testosterone level they must have to compete in the women’s division. Lower level sports should adopt similar rules and require every athlete to have their testosterone level checked, and only those with a level above the threshold should be allowed to participate in the testosterone division.

(A friend suggested that the athlete’s sensitivity to testosterone should also be tested for it is possible for a cisgender woman to have a high testosterone level and body that is completely insensitive to it, so she won’t reap any athletic benefits from having this higher level.)

Photo by tableatny from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Where Change Should Start

In thinking about this issue, if we want schools to change how athletes are divided instead of using gender in the U.S., the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) should be the leader. If NCAA schools change from men’s and women’s sport to divisions based on hormones, public and private high schools will follow suit since many of the best high school athletes aspire to receive scholarships to compete in college.  

I sent an email to the Chair of the Board of Directors for NCAA Division I, encouraging them to modify the classification of athletes instead of using gender identity. I don’t expect a response beyond a cursory, “Thank you for your message,” but hopefully it will plant a seed that change is needed.

Sister Laws for Access to Trans Medical Care

If states are going to pass laws that will limit male-to-female trans athletes from participating in sports, they need to a pass sister laws that allow for adequate and affordable access to medical care for transgender people, including the ability to access care without parental consent, and laws that allow non-binary and transgender people to change their birth certificates and driver’s licenses to reflect their gender.  

New Adventure – New Bike

As part of my goal of being more active this summer, I bought a bike last week.  Debbie at Tempe Bicycle was wonderful with me.  When I walked into the shop and she asked what kind of bike I was looking for, I said, “Simple.”  I haven’t owned a bike in about fifteen years.  I just wanted something that I could easily ride to the store, the farmer’s market, the library, and along the canal.

Critical Mass SF July
Image by judemat via Flickr

We started with a “cruiser” bike.  It was cute, but riding it made me feel like Miss Gulch from the Wizard of Oz.  The handlebars were too wide set for my petite frame.  When I walked into the store, I didn’t think the brake style mattered, but I soon realized that hand brakes were a necessity.

The next bike I tried was a 21-speed mountain bike.  When she first showed it to me, I thought, “What do I need 21  speeds for?”  It was a good bike, but too fancy for me needs.

Then Debbie’s eyes lit up and said, “I’ve got the bike for you” and she rolled out another mountain bike.  It reminded me of Say Yes to the Dress when the consultant has an epiphany about what dress would be perfect for her bride.  It was a white 7-speed Haro Heartland bike, with a wide cushy seat for my bony butt.  I took it for a ride around the parking lot and I was in heaven.  When I came back into the shop Debbie asked what I thought, and I said, “I never thought I’d fall in love with a white bike.”  For some reason, I predicted my bike would be purple.

Tempe Bicycle and Debbie made sure I had everything I needed in terms of a good lock, wiring my seat to my frame so it can’t be easily stolen, a cord to lock my front tire to the back tire, and a good helmet.  I know drivers in Phoenix don’t see runners and rollerbladers.  I don’t expect them to notice me on my bike.

I’ve been on two bike rides so far – one to the store and one to church – almost 20 miles in all.  I’ve noticed that riding makes me feel like I’m more connected to my community and neighborhood.  Instead of being in my enclosed, music-filled car, I get to see, feel, hear, and smell my surroundings.  I notice the little things like whether a property owner keeps their vegetation cut back so it’s not encroaching on the sidewalk (note to owners: please trim your plants), what A-frame signs are in my path announcing yard sales, and what streets have a designated bike lane (thank you 15th Ave.).

I hope my bike becomes a primary mode of transportation for me.  Besides making me feel like I’m doing something good for myself physically, I’ve experienced an unexpected sensation of freedom when I’m riding.  I feel like it’s my break from the rat race and a respite from my cell phone and laptop.

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New Adventures – Ladies Paintball

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer.  I am a law student.  In accordance with ABA policy, this blog should not be viewed as legal advice.  It is simply my experiences and opinions.

One of the reasons I started this blog was to entice me to do new things so I’ll have something interesting to write about.

So this past week the girls and I went to Ladies Night at the paintball field.  Westworld Paintball Adventures has a great deal for women.  Every Friday night ladies play for free, except for the cost of our ammunition.

My group consisted of four law students, one church friend, and two friends of friends.  When we arrived, the first thing we did was sign our waivers of liability.  Like eager law students, Barbi and I immediately scanned the verbiage for a clause preventing us from altering any of the terms of the contract.  Not seeing one, we immediately started crossing out anything that would release the company from liability for injuries caused by its own negligence.  The other law students in our group, acting like efficient/lazy law students, asked us to read the contract for them and make sure it was ok.  The clerk said it was rare for someone to actually read the waiver before signing it.

After signing our waivers and buying our ammo, we were issued protective vests, goggles, paintball guns, and team armbands.  We loaded our guns and headed onto the field.  We played five games with another group of teenage girls and a bunch of regulars.  In my first game, I was hit in my goggles.  It didn’t hurt.  I didn’t realize I was hit until I felt that my hair was wet with paint.  I was disappointed that my friends had the real experience of being hit with a paintball.  I wanted the experience too!

And boy did I get it.

In the next game I took two hits at point blank range.  One shot hit me on my uncovered neck and the other hit my side just below my arm.  At first I thought my neck was bleeding, but it was just the oily paint running down my skin.  It stung for hours.  One of the clerks said that the bruise on my side will take some time to heal.  I like to think of it as a battle wound.

During the next few days I had a singing audition, a gala, a prank, and a tweet up.   It was fun telling everyone that the bruise on my neck wasn’t a hickey.

Photo courtesy of  Merlz Tamondong.

Half Marathon Recap Part II – The Legal Side

When I signed up for the half marathon back in August, I knew my fee was non-refundable.  I have no recollection if I checked a box for a waiver at that time. 

Description unavailable
Image by g. rox via Flickr

Fast forward to January – I got my confirmation email with a link to get my “Packet Pickup Confirmation Sheet.”  I needed to sign and turn it in at the pre-race health expo to get my race number and microchip.  On this form was a “Release and Waiver of Liability Agreement” that was over three inches of small print.  It seems pretty sneaky for the organizers to get us to pay our money and then tell us what we had to agree to in order to participate. 

Here’s what the waiver said:
(You/your = the runner; We/us/our = the organizers)

  • Neither you nor your heirs can sue the organizers, sponsors, or municipalities for any reason related to the race.
  • You can’t sue if you’re injured or die during the race, even if we’re negligent.
  • We can use your name and photo without paying you for it.
  • If the event is cancelled or delayed, we won’t give you a refund.
  • You will pay all expenses for your medical care related to doing the race.

Past research of Arizona case law taught me that signing a waiver that releases an entity from liability, even if that entity is negligent, will be upheld by the court.  So basically, if you sign the waiver and get hurt, you can’t sue and win.  All the runners I talked to before the race said that they signed the waiver without reading it.  However, I remembered something from contract law that said if you cross out the terms of the contract that you don’t like before you sign it, that it removes those terms from the agreement.  I went through the waiver and crossed out the clause that released them from liability for their negligence and the clause that said I’m responsible for all race related medical expenses.  I used a bright royal blue ballpoint pen to cross out the clauses so they couldn’t claim that my marks could be mistaken for a bad print job from my printer. 

When I went to the pre-race expo, I brought clean copy of the waiver in case they didn’t accept my version of the agreement.  It ends up I didn’t need it.  The volunteer accepted my agreement without any questions. 

I emailed my personal injury attorney friend and he said what I did would probably hold up in court.  Looking back, I’m surprised that the agreement didn’t have a clause that said that participants couldn’t alter the waiver before signing it or that the organizers didn’t tell the expo volunteers not to accept waivers that had been altered.

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Half Marathon Recap

Sunday, January 17th, 2010, I ran my first half marathon.  My goals were simple: finish the race without dying or being horribly injured and finish the race without stopping or walking.

The P.F. Chang Rock n Roll Marathon and Half Marathon in Arizona is one of the biggest races in the world.  They had over 5000 volunteers working the race to take care of the nearly 30,000 runners plus their entourages.  I must have seen over 300 port-a-potties to take care of everyone’s needs.

This race was not like any race I’d ever seen.  All along the route there were interesting things to look at to keep myself entertained and not focused on how much further I had to go.  Sometimes I was so entertained that I wasn’t really paying attention to how much I was running. 

The Clothing Drive
Even though Arizona is known for its warm weather, it’s still cold on January mornings.  The marathon started at 7:30am and the half started at 8:30am.  Many of us arrived at the race in extra layers that we wouldn’t need by the end of the race.  A lot of us wore clothes to donate to charity.  As we began to warm up during the first few miles of the race, we took off our extra sweatshirts, hats, and gloves and threw them to the side of the route where volunteers with huge garbage bags gathered them up to give to the homeless.  I purchased a hoodie at Goodwill for $4 a few days before the race to keep me warm pre-race and donated back.

2010 PF Changs Rock-n-Roll Marathon_09
Image by azchef101 via Flickr

The Costumes
I dressed for comfort in my running pants and wicking t-shirt, but some of my companions dressed to impress.  We had some wild outfits on the course.  I was amazed that they could run comfortably running, and running pretty fast, in their outfits.  We had a duo running in the orange and baby blue tuxes from “Dumb and Dumber.”  We also had a guy running in a banana suit and another guy running while dressed up like Elvis.  There was also a pair of women who were running in matching argyle knee socks with fuzzy pink cowboy hats.  They made me grin.

The Signs
I was so grateful to everyone who came out to cheer us on.  Even if they weren’t there for me (and most of them weren’t), I changed my name to correspond to whatever sign I was looking at.  I pretended to be “Mom,” “Nicole,” and “Uncle Ashley” during the race.  There were also some awesome signs of general encouragement along the route:

  • “Hurry Up.  We’re Hungry.”
  • “You Are Almost Done” (next to 4-mile marker)
  • “5.6 Miles to Free Beer. And the Finish Line.”

The Vaseline
Chafing is actually a big concern for runners.  They can get chafing wherever their skin rubs together or against their clothes, like their arms, inner thighs, and even their nipples.  Apparently some people finish long races with bleeding nipples because they’ve been rubbed raw by their shirts.  I usually only put Bodyglide anti-chafe stick on my inner upper arms so my sports bra and ipod strap don’t tear up my skin, but on race day, I decided to be extra careful and put it on my inner thighs too.  I laughed at my friend who had a canister of Vaseline at the starting line and was slathering his inner thighs with it.  Around mile 9, we had volunteer standing at the end of a water station who had sticks with gobs of Vaseline on them for anyone who was having chafing issues during the race. 

Other Things That Made Me Smile
I’m not going to deny it, running 13.1 miles is hard.  Sometimes it felt like all I could do was put one foot in front of the other.  I was grateful for anything that made me smile along the way.

  • Water Station Volunteers in Costume: It was obvious that some of our water stations were manned by groups of friends who coordinated their outfits for their enjoyment and ours.  One water station was run by people dressed up like hippies.  Another station was run by a bunch of kids dressed up like nerds – with the taped glasses, suspenders, and pants pulled up to their chests.  It was awesome.
  • I Rickrolled my ipod: I created a special playlist for the race and added Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” to the mix and set my ipod for shuffle.  It came on somewhere during Mile 10.
  • The Cheerleaders at Mile 11:  We had various cheerleading squads dispersed between the live bands along the route.  I’m sure they had to be there super early in the morning due to street closures.  To pass the time until the runners starting coming by, the cheerleaders at Mile 11 wrote motivating messages and drew pictures on the ground with sidewalk chalk for us.  I especially liked the manhole cover they turned into a flower.   

I finished the race in 2:09:16, without stopping and without major injury.  I couldn’t be happier about my finish, and oddly I’m planning on doing it again next year.  This race gave me a good lesson in humility.  The half marathoner lined up before the race based on their expected race time.  I started with my friend who finished in 1:42:47.  Needless to say, I was a passed a lot.