Focus is essentially aimed at the analysis of transgenderindividuals within sport and how they are presented in various media outlets.The notion that “sport constructs and reinforces perceptions of natural differencesbetween males and females” (Messner, 2002 cit. Lucas-Carr & Crane, 2011p.533) will be explored with regards to “athletes who…have an internal sense ofgender 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 individualswho cross or transcend culturally defined categories of gender. Recent relatedarticles illustrate the ‘coming-out’ of former Tour de France cyclist RobertMillar who publicly disclosed a change in gender and now identifies as PhilippaYork (The Daily Mail, July 2017).
Within sport, bodies that do not conform are oftenvilified and the principle that gender identity is not always consistent withbiological 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 andfinally how this media representation may potentially impact the transgendercommunity in sport. Notably, early media images of transgender individuals weremostly derogatory – portraying them as criminals and serial killers (Anderson,2016). Fortunately, this image has improved however the previous portrayal hasaided in painting an inaccurate picture of those who identify as transgender (Glaad1998 cit. Valentine, 2007).
Public understandings of transgender have become institutionalizedthrough 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 sexualminority is often “lumped under the LGBT umbrella”. Children are oftenseparated in primary school into girls playing ‘female sports’ and boysparticipating in ‘male sports’. This poses the question: how do we gendersport? It is apparent that “children as young as six years old are recognizingtheir nonconforming gender status” (Rosin, 2008) however there is often nochoice and people must play on the team of their biological sex.
Keelin Goodseyfaced this challenge and postponed taking hormones to become a male in order tocontinue to compete on the women’s track team (Transgender Athletes, CollegeTeams, 2017). On this professional sporting level enforcement of biological sexis even more strict as “most professional sports leagues and school athleticprograms have no policy governing the inclusion of transgender athletes”(Zeigler & Huntley, 2013 p.500). A previous example of the mediastigmatizing against unconventional bodies and suggesting that the sculpture ofan individual’s body determines their masculinity or femininity is theirrepresentation of athlete Caster Semenya who faced heavy scrutiny for being “bothman and woman” (Anderson, 2011) after winning the 800m in 1999. Her body becamesensational news and whether she should be able to compete sparked controversyin the media.
The intrusive demands by social media enquiring Semenya’s genderforced the athlete to undergo “sex-determination testing to confirm hereligibility to race as a woman” (Clarey, 2009). It highlights the negative intrusion into athletes personallives evoked by media exposure. In 2004, the Stockholm Consensus on sexreassignment in sports “proposed by the IOC Medical Commission stating theconditions to be respected for a person who has changed sex to compete in sportscompetitions” (Olympic News, 2004) was implemented however this greatbreakthrough was given very limited media coverage. This indicates littlerecognition of the large step forward for the trans community to the generalpublic, encouraging transgender issues to stay in the dark. In contrast,progression came in 2010 but was heavily scrutinized in the media as a “beg forattention” (Bissell, 2010 cit.
The Daily Mail, 2011). Lana Lawless is atransgender 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 moreinclusive policy. This movement is positive as it encourages gender equality ingolf however a few who expressed their opinions had only negative things tosay. 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 theirrights.
This indicates the detrimental power the media possesses. Theseprevious examples contrast with the news of Robert Millar’s recent gendertransition that has been casted in a very positive light by the media and hasbeen received openly by the public. Robert Millar, “the greatest road cyclist Britainhad produced” (Dickinson, 2017), revealed new female identity as Philippa Yorkthis summer and continues to talk publicly about her challenging and inspiringsex change in the media today. Inmany media outlets York is presented as an incredible athlete and journalistand the announcement of her sex change casts a positive light on revealingtrans identities to the public. York believes society now has a “much better acceptanceand understanding” and hopes “this will be a step forward for everyone” (Lawless,2017). Firstly, it is apparent that ‘The Guardian’ and ‘Cycling News’ are themost prominent media outlets presenting this story and the majority ofinformation provided is issued by online newspapers and social media. TheGuardian covers York’s progression beginning on July 6th 2017 withthe headline: ‘Philippa York: ‘I’ve known I was different since I was afive-year-old’. Notably, the name Robert Millar isn’t mentioned highlightingthe acceptance and recognition of her new identity rather than reminiscing thepast.
It also recognizes this wasn’t just a walk in the park or a suddendecision but rather a struggle with gender dysphoria that York battled withfrom a young age. This is significant as it illustrates to the public the longperiod of time it has taken York to go through with the change and itencourages transgender youths that they are not alone. Within this article,York expresses the importance of recognizing athletes as real people with realpersonal issues rather than just a successful sportsperson. Although thearticle recognizes the talents of both Millar and York, it also sheds a verypositive outlook on making the step of gender transition – “LGBT issues arebarely ever raised in cycling, which is why York’s going public is a keymoment; she is taking the sport into new territory” (Fotheringham, 2017). Yorkis pictured smiling at the top of the article displaying her happiness with hernew identity. Unlike other online newspaper articles such as in ‘The Mirror'(July, 2017), the image is not positioned next to a photograph of Robert Millarfor comparison. The positioning of the two identities together encouragesscrutiny of the bodily gender differences rather than celebration of York’s newidentity.
Cycling News also represents York’s sex change in a positive lighthowever it focuses more directly on the impact this has on cycling as a sport,headlining a recent article – “Philippa York: Cycling’s conservative culturesuppresses LGBT issues” (December, 2017). The establishment of a transgenderrole model in professional cycling was non-existent before York and cyclingnews is positively using York as a