Chris Mosier competes in the Duathlon National Championship in Saint Paul, Minnesota. (Credit: Zhen Heinemann)
When Chris Mosier came out of the second transition area in the Duathlon National Championship in Saint Paul, Minnesota, earlier this month, he knew he had a chance. He had been waiting years for this moment, and after countless hours of biking and running, biking and running, it was finally within reach. He was close to becoming a member of a U.S. national team.
It was a moment so many athletes dream of: the chance to represent your country, to be among and one of the best. But there was something even more significant within reach for Mosier. He was about to become the first publicly transgender member of a U.S. national team. He was close to proving what so many people have long deemed impossible to be possible -- that a transgender man can keep up with the best of them.
Then, when he saw his name listed among the qualifying members, his immediate reaction was one of relief. All the hard work validated. All the time and dedication legitimized. He had qualified to join Team USA at the 2016 World Championship in Spain, to run and bike alongside other men who had worked so hard like him. “Did it! I made Team USA! Life dream accomplished!” he later wrote on his Facebook page.
Mosier had finished 37th overall out of the 117 men who participated in the sprint duathlon, an event similar to a triathlon, but with two rounds of running, rather than a third swimming element. He came in seventh within the 35-39 category. The top eight within that category made the team.
The 35-year-old had worked hard for this. Six or seven days a week of workouts that tested the limits of his body. He had earned it, and he wanted people to appreciate him first and foremost as an athlete.
“I’m super excited as an athlete to make Team USA,” he later told The Huffington Post. “Since I was very young, my dream has been to have my name on a jersey. I [just] kind of always pictured it as a different jersey.”
“But I think it’s also important as a transgender athlete, because I remember myself as a young kid and thinking about transitioning and thinking that it would never be possible for this to happen after transitioning,” he said. "I remember myself as a young kid and thinking about transitioning and thinking that it would never be possible for this to happen after transitioning."
Mosier first started questioning his own gender identity when he was four years old, he told The New York Times in a 2011 profile. But he was unsure what being true to himself when it came to his gender identity would mean for his athletic career. "When I was considering transition, I didn't see any trans men who were athletes," Mosier told The Advocate, a leading LGBT news site, earlier this month.
In 2010, he decided to go through with the transition despite those reservations. Soon after, he began receiving testosterone injections and legally became a man.
Luckily, Mosier’s athletic concerns about transitioning proved to be faulty this month, and he hopes that his story can be an inspiration to children who are questioning their gender identity today. “The reception to me [in the sporting community] has been awesome,” he told HuffPost. But he knows it’s hard. The transgender community still faces high rates of violence and harassment. When Caitlyn Jenner came out in April, much of the response was positive. But the ugliness that also popped up online was undeniable.
“For Caitlyn Jenner or for [even] a young person in New York City, which we think of as an inclusive place, there are a lot of challenges that trans people still face,” he said. “Being your authentic self takes incredible courage.”
The athletic world remains another intimidating place for many people who aren’t heterosexual or have non-conforming gender identities. A survey published last month found that 73 percent of people believe youth sports is not a safe or welcoming place for the gay, lesbian and bisexual community (issues related to gender were not discussed).
“[I hope] young people out there can see themselves reflected at this level and know that they don’t have to stop playing sports [just] because they are considering transitioning,” he told me. “You can be your authentic self and still compete in sports.”
“Being your authentic self takes incredible courage.”
Mosier isn’t only an athlete, however. He’s also an advocate for transgender athletes like himself. He’s the founder of TransAthlete.com, a site dedicated to educating and helping trans athletes, and the executive director of GO! Athletes, a support network for LGBT athletes. He knows the athletic transgender community needs support, and he’s dedicating his life to making sure it has as much as possible.
“Trans athletes or gender non-conforming athletes -- I think a lot of them stop playing sports because the barriers to inclusion become so great at a certain point,” he said. “But if folks can fight through that, there is a place out there for them in athletics.”
There are signs of progress. Earlier this year, Schuyler Bailar, an incoming Harvard freshman who has been recruited as a female, announced he was transitioning and would participate on the men's team next school year.
"It’s just important to keep in mind that everybody is already born different."
One of the longest running arguments surrounding transgender athletes has been when they should be allowed to do just that, to compete among those with the same gender identity as them. But Mosier can't help but feel that the debate ignores one of the most obvious truths. No two boys are born the same, nor are any two girls. Everyone is born different with inherent advantages over one another.
“Humans are born with a variety of skills.” Mosier said. “We have men who are very tall and go to the NBA, and we have Michael Phelps and his long wingspan, which gave him an advantage over competitors. We’re born with these advantages and I think that people don’t consider that there’s a variety of skills and abilities even within gender. And so, people often use physical makeup as an excuse as to why trans people should not be able to play sports or participate in gendered sports teams."
“People just need to keep in mind that we’re all born with different genetic makeups, that, [for example], there are cisgendered women out there who have more testosterone than transgender women.” he continued. “It’s just important to keep in mind that everybody is already born different and that trans people should be allowed to play sports.”
Potential hurdles remain in Mosier’s quest to line up with his team in Spain. Mosier injects himself with testosterone, as do many trans males, and he has had to take test after test to prove his testosterone levels are not far above that of the typical male. Before he can compete alongside his team, the World Anti-Doping Agency will have to sign off.
“Their website doesn’t have any information about what their policy is for trans inclusion," he said. “If they use the IOC rules … then I wont be able to compete. And that will be another round of this story.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story said St. Paul is in Minneapolis. St. Paul is in Minnesota. Minneapolis is a city, obviously.