tl;dr : Allyship involves listening. USAU: don’t use my image if you don’t want to represent me.
Some quick background:
When we were originally asked to provide our team information for the tournament packet, there was not a space for pronouns on the information form. Dartmouth Womxns Ultimate included our pronouns next to our names, and I sent an email as a captain following up to explain that we would like our pronouns printed. I know that several, if not most, other teams in the womxns division also requested this. After not receiving a reply for two weeks, I followed up again. USAU then replied that they would not print our pronouns.
I sent this email:
Thanks for getting back to us, especially in such a busy time. The college nationals events I’ve attended over the years have always been really well done, and I know this is a result of a ton of hard work behind the scenes from USAU.
The decision to not include pronouns in the tournament packet after many teams directly asked to be represented that way is frustrating and alienating. Logistically, it seems like such a simple thing: considering there is space for hometowns and height, I think most teams would gladly give up some piece of their roster info in order to better represent their trans players, especially in the womxns division.
I can only imagine the reasons for not taking this step, since to my knowledge they have not been shared with any of the teams requesting this change. Based on previous interactions, my guess is that it has something to do with PR/publicity for the event. I would love to know what the reasoning behind the decision is, especially since it was an explicit conversation at USAU.
The labor of making ultimate a space that is inclusive for trans athletes is not going to be passive, or easy, or quiet. It is going to really challenge the way that we think about gender and the divisions and the space we make in our community for those whose existence is inconvenient. And if it’s inconvenient to include pronouns in a tournament packet, it is a hundred times as inconvenient for marginalized folks to play ultimate in a community that is reluctant to think radically and compassionately about change.
This decision lands pretty hard and close to home for me. Particularly since we are entering an event where USAU profits from my, and other athlete’s, image and participation, I’m not going to let this go easily. I’m willing to have an open dialogue about it, and I am interested in hearing more about what USAU has to say, but I’m also going to keep pushing conversations about trans representation, and the ways we aren’t doing enough, into the larger community.
I received another email in reply, which I will not reproduce here in full because it included a confidentiality statement.
I was going to paraphrase the whole email, but I kept coming up with statements like, “Thanks for your input, but we have equity and diversity consultants, so I’ll just tell you about transness instead,” so I thought it was better to just provide a direct quote.
The reason shared with me via email for not printing pronouns was that college players haven’t had as much “of an opportunity to go down the path of gender transitions and/or become more comfortable being out publicly and sharing that information with a much larger audience.”
If USAU is interested in sharing the whole email chain, I feel more than happy for that to happen.
I have several thoughts about their response.
1. I am not a child. I’m far enough down my “gender path” to know my own fucking pronouns.
2. Everyone is assumed to be cisgender. The name of the division is the “Women’s Division.” For trans folks playing in divisions that were not made for them, we are not given the benefit of the doubt. In a world where no one assumes anyone else’s gender, and we all use they/them until proven otherwise, then I could potentially support the argument for not printing pronouns. We do not live in that world. When pronouns are not printed, the assumption for people in the Women’s Division is “she/her/hers” and the Men’s Division is “he/him/his.” As long as it says, “Women’s Division,” we might as well print “she/her/hers” next to everyone’s name.
When I ask for my pronouns printed, it is not because I want to bring gender into the equation where it was previously omitted. It is because playing frisbee involves being gendered in forceful, uncomfortable, ways. And I am trying to make a little bit of space for my body, for the trans body and the trans experience. That space that does not exist unless we make it.
3. No one is advocating for the mandatory publishing of everyone’s pronouns. I would never advocate for someone to be outed, or to share pronouns when they don’t want to. But printing my pronouns does not out anyone except me. Our request was always to have our own pronouns printed, not anyone else’s. Again: no one is being required to have pronouns printed.
4. Printing my pronouns is a way to show respect for me as a trans person. Because I am a trans person, I get to decide what showing respect for my transness looks like. If you are a cis person, you do not get to tell me what showing respect for my transness looks like.
5. There are a lot of different experiences under the label of “trans” — that’s what’s so great about it. Listening to one person is not enough; having one policy for trans folks is not enough. If we want to create a space for folks who find the cisgender binary oppressive, it is going to look like 50 different solutions, not one solution.
6. Implying that being trans is an adult thing, something that people have to grow up to understand or figure out, is wrong. There are trans people at all ages. And kids are way more radical gender thinkers than most adults anyways. Hopefully, in the next ten years the idea of people being transgender and cisgender is going to seem outdated because we’re going to have new, radical, decolonized frameworks to think about difference.
7. So, I am not a child. But if a child were to tell you their pronouns, you should go ahead and use them.
In an event like College Nationals, where USAU profits from my image and my play, I’m not down to be used but not represented.
@ USAU, if you can’t print my pronouns, don’t use my image in any of your promotional material. Don’t write about me in your write ups.
(Someone more detail-oriented than me looked up whether or not I signed away my rights already, and we don’t think I already signed a release for this event.)
I’ve been in spaces that are empowering for trans folks. Ultimate, in my experience, is not one of them. Like, it’s really far away.
Frankly, writing “they/them” after my name, and pronouns after anyone’s name who wants it, in the tournament packet is pretty low-hanging fruit for thinking about gender and inclusivity.
There’s a shit ton more work to be done. Hard work. For all of us.
I have a lot more thoughts about it, possibly for a later time.
But to start, don’t tell me about my gender, or transness.
I could write a fucking book about it.
(And I did!! Congrats to me for passing my honors thesis presentation this week!!!!)
*I have not included names because my purpose is not to call out/shame/etc. I really, genuinely, believe that people are trying. That we’re all on the same team. But also every time I make space/time/etc for cis people who are trying instead of asking them to meet higher standards, there is less space for trans folks to exist.
The T-Shirts that Dartmouth is going to wear for warmup, while appropriate for this situation, are in protest of Dartmouth policy that banned us from using the word “Womxn” instead of “Women” in any public capacity.
More on that later.