Focus is essentially aimed at the analysis of transgender
individuals within sport and how they are presented in various media outlets.
The notion that “sport constructs and reinforces perceptions of natural differences
between males and females” (Messner, 2002 cit. Lucas-Carr & Crane, 2011
p.533) will be explored with regards to “athletes who…have an internal sense of
gender identity different from their gender assigned at birth” (Zeigler &
Huntley, 2013 p.468). Bockting, Robinson, and Rosser (2007) define
‘transgender’ as a broad term used to refer to a diverse group of individuals
who cross or transcend culturally defined categories of gender. Recent related
articles illustrate the ‘coming-out’ of former Tour de France cyclist Robert
Millar who publicly disclosed a change in gender and now identifies as Philippa
York (The Daily Mail, July 2017). Within sport, bodies that do not conform are often
vilified and the principle that gender identity is not always consistent with
biological sex (Lucas-Carr & Krane, 2011p.534) is often discarded. Firstly,
previous studies and media presentations of transgender individuals will be explored,
followed by a deeper analysis of the media representation of Phillipa York and
finally how this media representation may potentially impact the transgender
community in sport.

 

Notably, early media images of transgender individuals were
mostly derogatory – portraying them as criminals and serial killers (Anderson,
2016). Fortunately, this image has improved however the previous portrayal has
aided in painting an inaccurate picture of those who identify as transgender (Glaad
1998 cit. Valentine, 2007). Public understandings of transgender have become institutionalized
through a vast set of contexts; from public policy to media representations
(Valentine, 2007). Lucas-Carr and Crane (2011 p.533) highlight the “nonexistent”
dialogue concerning transgender athletes in sport and recognize this sexual
minority is often “lumped under the LGBT umbrella”. Children are often
separated in primary school into girls playing ‘female sports’ and boys
participating in ‘male sports’. This poses the question: how do we gender
sport? It is apparent that “children as young as six years old are recognizing
their nonconforming gender status” (Rosin, 2008) however there is often no
choice and people must play on the team of their biological sex. Keelin Goodsey
faced this challenge and postponed taking hormones to become a male in order to
continue to compete on the women’s track team (Transgender Athletes, College
Teams, 2017). On this professional sporting level enforcement of biological sex
is even more strict as “most professional sports leagues and school athletic
programs have no policy governing the inclusion of transgender athletes”
(Zeigler & Huntley, 2013 p.500). A previous example of the media
stigmatizing against unconventional bodies and suggesting that the sculpture of
an individual’s body determines their masculinity or femininity is their
representation of athlete Caster Semenya who faced heavy scrutiny for being “both
man and woman” (Anderson, 2011) after winning the 800m in 1999. Her body became
sensational news and whether she should be able to compete sparked controversy
in the media. The intrusive demands by social media enquiring Semenya’s gender
forced the athlete to undergo “sex-determination testing to confirm her
eligibility to race as a woman” (Clarey, 2009).  It highlights the negative intrusion into athletes personal
lives evoked by media exposure. In 2004, the Stockholm Consensus on sex
reassignment in sports “proposed by the IOC Medical Commission stating the
conditions to be respected for a person who has changed sex to compete in sports
competitions” (Olympic News, 2004) was implemented however this great
breakthrough was given very limited media coverage. This indicates little
recognition of the large step forward for the trans community to the general
public, encouraging transgender issues to stay in the dark. In contrast,
progression came in 2010 but was heavily scrutinized in the media as a “beg for
attention” (Bissell, 2010 cit. The Daily Mail, 2011). Lana Lawless is a
transgender athlete who is considered legally, socially and physically female
(Ross, 2010) however was unable to compete due to LPGA’s ‘female at birth’
policy. Lawless sued claiming it violated California state civil rights laws
(Zeigler & Huntley, 2013) therefore resulting in LPGA creating a more
inclusive policy. This movement is positive as it encourages gender equality in
golf however a few who expressed their opinions had only negative things to
say. The case was described as “an issue in personal gain” (The Daily Mail,
2011) rather than a celebration of an individual’s bravery to fight for their
rights. This indicates the detrimental power the media possesses. These
previous examples contrast with the news of Robert Millar’s recent gender
transition that has been casted in a very positive light by the media and has
been received openly by the public.

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Robert Millar, “the greatest road cyclist Britain
had produced” (Dickinson, 2017), revealed new female identity as Philippa York
this summer and continues to talk publicly about her challenging and inspiring
sex change in the media today.  In
many media outlets York is presented as an incredible athlete and journalist
and the announcement of her sex change casts a positive light on revealing
trans identities to the public. York believes society now has a “much better acceptance
and understanding” and hopes “this will be a step forward for everyone” (Lawless,
2017). Firstly, it is apparent that ‘The Guardian’ and ‘Cycling News’ are the
most prominent media outlets presenting this story and the majority of
information provided is issued by online newspapers and social media. The
Guardian covers York’s progression beginning on July 6th 2017 with
the headline: ‘Philippa York: ‘I’ve known I was different since I was a
five-year-old’. Notably, the name Robert Millar isn’t mentioned highlighting
the acceptance and recognition of her new identity rather than reminiscing the
past. It also recognizes this wasn’t just a walk in the park or a sudden
decision but rather a struggle with gender dysphoria that York battled with
from a young age. This is significant as it illustrates to the public the long
period of time it has taken York to go through with the change and it
encourages transgender youths that they are not alone. Within this article,
York expresses the importance of recognizing athletes as real people with real
personal issues rather than just a successful sportsperson. Although the
article recognizes the talents of both Millar and York, it also sheds a very
positive outlook on making the step of gender transition – “LGBT issues are
barely ever raised in cycling, which is why York’s going public is a key
moment; she is taking the sport into new territory” (Fotheringham, 2017). York
is pictured smiling at the top of the article displaying her happiness with her
new identity. Unlike other online newspaper articles such as in ‘The Mirror’
(July, 2017), the image is not positioned next to a photograph of Robert Millar
for comparison. The positioning of the two identities together encourages
scrutiny of the bodily gender differences rather than celebration of York’s new
identity. Cycling News also represents York’s sex change in a positive light
however it focuses more directly on the impact this has on cycling as a sport,
headlining a recent article – “Philippa York: Cycling’s conservative culture
suppresses LGBT issues” (December, 2017). The establishment of a transgender
role model in professional cycling was non-existent before York and cycling
news is positively using York as a 

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