Fun Facts

Transgender Athletes to Cheer For

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Learning more about fabulous transgender women in different fields, yesterday and today, helps erode their invisibility. Trans women have been in every imaginable profession, braving barriers and overcoming challenges.

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Trans Athletes You Should Know

Lana Lawless

The fierce and fabulous Lana Lawless is a retired cop and a golf star who made history when she sued the Ladies Professional Golf Association and won. Lawless took the title victory in the 2009 Long Drivers of America, and then the organization changed its rules to say that players had to be “female at birth” to compete, effectively banning her from the next competition.

Lawless was by that time recognized legally in her state of California as female and said, “I just want to have the same opportunity to play professional golf as any other woman.”

Ultimately, the LPGA and other organizations removed regulations requiring female competitors to have been born that way. Bravo!

Renée Richards

The United States Tennis Association denied Renée Richards entry into the 1976 US Open, even though she had undergone gender reassignment surgery. The New York Supreme Court later ruled in her favor and Richards instantly became a spokesperson for transgender civil rights.

Richards was a surgical eye specialist, and both her parents had been doctors too. But Renée had always loved sports, including football and baseball. As Richard, she had been invited to join the New York Yankees, but she wanted to focus on tennis. At Yale, she was captain of the men’s tennis team, and was playing and winning in competitions throughout medical school.

After surgery in Morocco, her first professional event was the 1977 US Open.

Richards later expressed some concern that, despite being a formidable tennis player, her biology gave her unfair advantages. “I know if I’d had surgery at the age of 22, and then at 24 went on the tour, no genetic woman in the world would have been able to come close to me. And so I’ve reconsidered my opinion.”

After retiring from professional tennis, Richards continued with her medical practice, becoming surgeon director of opthalmology at the Manhattan Eye Ear and Throat Hospital.

Roberta Cowell

Roberta Cowell, formerly Robert, was the first known British woman to undergo sex reassignment surgery.

As a young man, Robert was already interested in motor racing, and by 18 was sneaking into the service area at racing circuits, volunteering mechanical help. At 19, Robert had competed in the 1939 Antwerp Grand Prix.

Unfortunately, war was in the air. Robert had a private pilot’s license and had done RAF training, and took on service with a front-line Spitfire squadron and many more.

He survived being a prisoner in a camp where POWs were left to starve.

Addressing trauma in analysis, Roberta professed that there was a “feminine side of my nature, which all my life I had known of and severely repressed.” She began transitioning  in the mid-1940s and underwent reassignment surgery in 1951.

She also founded a motor-racing team and competed in racing events like the Brighton Speed Trials and the Grand Prix.

Fallon Fox

Fallon Fox is the first transgender mixed martial arts fighter in American history. She knew she was trans since childhood but first lived as a gay male. Then she fathered a child with a girlfriend while attempting to live straight.

The stress of unresolved gender identity issues became too much, and Fox began transitioning, undergoing breast augmentation and gender reassignment surgeries in Bangkok.

Fox was passionate about MMA fighting and so began a long and gruelling controversy that goes on to this day. Other fighters and varying experts continue to argue over whether trans women have unfair advantages in fights, such as muscle mass, bone density, and hand size. Some say that hormones decrease the testosterone advantage, and others point out some innate differences from birth that don’t go away and give trans fighters the lead.

Unfortunately, Fallon has endured some horrifying vitriol and transphobic hate.

But she’s a fighter, and continues to pursue her passion.

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