This week’s conversation is with Chris Mosier, a hall-of-fame triathlete, All-American duathlete, and a 6-time member of Team USA.
But Chris is far more than an elite athlete – he is a trailblazer. In 2015, Chris became the first transgender man to represent the United States in international competition – he is also the first transgender athlete to be sponsored by Nike, featured in the ESPN Body Issue, and to qualify for the Olympic Trials in the gender they identify.
He continues to be a leading voice for gender-inclusive policy in sport and is a mentor, role model, and inspiration for transgender athletes, teams, and leagues around the world.
To do anything at the elite level is extremely challenging and rare – and Chris has done that while navigating an internal experience that is uniquely different from anyone else we’ve had on this podcast.
In this conversation, we dive into the complexities (and controversies) surrounding transgender athletes – certainly a hot topic in today’s society that deserves more open discussion. Moreover, you’ll hear from someone who has exemplified a true commitment to know himself, a relentless and uncommon pursuit of truth, and the extreme courage to live authentically.
“Never limit your own greatness to make other people feel more comfortable. Never limit the fullness or exceptional-ness of who you are, because you’re worried about what other people might think or say.”
In This Episode:
His childhood experience and what sport meant to him
I can remember the moments, the situations, the instances of people telling me like, “You can’t play sports like that. Little girls don’t do that.” Or, “You can’t wear your hat backwards. Little girls don’t wear their hats backwards.” And at that time being a young girl, someone assumed to be a girl, just for the listeners, I was assigned female at birth. I was raised and socialized as a girl and a young woman and grew up playing girls and women’s sports. And so I didn’t have the language or the terminology or the understanding of trans identity, even through high school I don’t think that I knew truly what it meant to be trans. I didn’t have people in my life. I didn’t have any examples. I didn’t have movies or media to watch to see that. So I always just sort of felt like me and I just felt like I knew I wasn’t like my brother and I also knew I wasn’t like the girls in my class. And I didn’t see a place where I really fit. And so sport was really the place where I found my sense of self. It’s where I found my confidence. It’s where I found my community because all of the rest of me sort of went away.
A pivotal moment in his life
When I finally could say something, I just said, “I never thought my life would be like this.” Like I couldn’t imagine living to another birthday as the person that I was in that moment, how I was showing up in the world. And it was truly just a breaking point for me in so many ways. Like it really kind of made me face this understanding about emotions, about vulnerability, about sensitivity, and all those things that I was told were wrong as a child how I was showing up, of being sensitive, of being able to connect to people and feel emotions, all that stuff that I had suppressed through sports and through training. And it also made me confront this sort of idea of like how I am showing up in the world right now just isn’t the real version of myself and I’ve known that for a little while and I’ve suppressed it for even longer. And if I don’t take action, I don’t think I will be on this planet to have another moment like this.
What gets me to that emotional point- It’s thinking about the young kids today who are in that situation who are just looking for some glimpse of hope that would say it’s okay for you to be who you are. And it’s actually not just kids, right? All of us need that. Representation is so important and there are so many people out there who question whether or not it’s okay to be themselves in this world and they’re bombarded with messages that it’s not okay, particularly transgender and non-binary kids right now. And so I think that’s what really gets me to that point of just feeling the gravity of it all, of just how heavy it is to carry that with me in every moment.
Gender assignment and socialization
We are assigned something at birth, and then we have these expectations, and a lot of that, it’s just so social in terms of thinking, okay, my mom had two sons and a daughter, and I think that the expectations that she had for me were different than those of my brother, and that was at no fault of hers, that is completely typical of a lot of people’s experiences, and so maybe she did picture me in a white wedding dress marrying some dude, I don’t know, we’ve actually never had that conversation, but I assume that there were, based on the way that we were parented, my brother and I were parented, that there were different expectations of how we would show up. And I experienced that, not just from parents, but every adult in my life, from the age of four years old, when my aunt pulls me behind the house and says, “you can’t run around with your shirt off, little girls don’t do that.”
A case study of one
I’m a case study of one, and so while I am a role model for some people, or I’m a visible trans person and people can learn from my experience, I really truly am a case study of one. I can’t speak for all trans people, I can’t speak for all trans men, I can’t speak for all white trans men who live in my neighborhood, I don’t know actually another trans men in my neighborhood, but I am a case study of one, so for me, my process was trying to understand how I would feel most comfortable showing up in the world.
The early stages of his transition
I was as stoic as could be, and I would not show any emotion and not even not show emotion, I was actually kind of hard. I wanted to make sure that people knew I was a man, and this is a very interesting thing about my experience, and man, I love being trans, I just have to say that, I love being trans because what an amazing unique experience to navigate the world, being perceived as a woman, have all of those experiences growing up in the way that I was spoken to and learned different things and then have the opportunity to make myself and to go, I didn’t get those expectations that my brother had when he was eight and nine and 11 and 15. There was nobody in my world putting that toxic masculinity on me. There was nobody in my circle who was telling me that I needed to perform masculinity in a certain way, and so there was this time period where I was trying on a lot of different versions that I had seen in my life and trying to see what fit, literally two years where I would not wear pink or purple because I did not want to be seen as feminine.
I adopted this idea that other people’s opinions of me is none of my business, and that changed everything for me because I took ownership and control of what I could control, and I think I had been seeking that my entire life, I just didn’t know that it was possible, I didn’t know that I could show up in the way that I wanted to show up and not care about how people perceive me, part of that is a safety issue, I’ll say, so part of my deep desire to blend in with men, to be seen as a man, to be acknowledged in that way, was that I had a deep fear of violence against me, and that’s based on incidents that have happened in my experience where people lashed out verbally or physically attacked me, because they couldn’t immediately understand or identify my gender.
Gender on a spectrum
When we think about gender on a spectrum, not the two check boxes, but align in between and recognizing that people may fall anywhere along this line, they may feel more masculine, feel more feminine, they may identify more with being a man or less with being a man, but have been identified male at birth, I think to allow that flexibility is the key first step, I think, of shifting our perspective on gender and identity and how we define ourselves.
Identifying as a transgender man
Why do I plant my flag as a transgender person? I realized that there was a severe lack of representation – in sports, in media, in society, in pop culture – of trans people. And I wanted to be that person that I wish that I would’ve seen when I was a kid that would’ve opened up possibilities for me to more fully express myself and articulate that sense of self to others.
His experience in sport
My coaches, my competitors, my teammates, I’m the first trans person that they’ve met. And for, I would say, almost all of them and definitely the first person in sport. And so again, it was both of those things. Sport was really a safe space, a space I loved, the space I felt most like myself, as well as a space that felt really hostile and scary. And so that started to change as I felt more comfortable in my own skin. And so I didn’t start off, I wasn’t on the women’s national team prior to transition. I was very early in this athletic journey. What transition gave me was the confidence to let all of the other things go and really focus on my training and my racing. Prior to transition, I was showing up at every race, nervous about if someone would call me out on my gender, if someone would say I’m in the wrong space, having to tell people that I was in the women’s category. I was even nervous about getting my race photos. Triathlon uniforms are pretty form fitting. And I was like, oh, somebody’s going to see my chest. And then what is that going to mean when I see these photos later on? So many of these things about transition and about things that were so outside of my control were swirling in my head every moment. And so when I finally came to that point of saying other people’s opinions of me are none of my business. And also, I’m confident in and able to own the power of my identity and stand here and say, no, no, this is who I am.
Coming out was an act of service
All of this has been for me to try to open doors for other people as well. And so when I initially started this off by saying, me coming out was an act of service to myself and owning the power of my identity and being comfortable with myself again, but also service to every trans person or non-binary person who comes after me, who wants the opportunity to be their authentic self and pursue their passions and not have to give any of that up.
Sport as a vehicle for change
Sport is such a special place and I think it’s such a special, unique environment where it is a microcosm of society. And I believe sport is a vehicle for social change. And that’s really the perspective that I take. And so any listener who is grappling with some of the things that I’ve said today, that doesn’t quite understand where I’m coming from, I get it. I feel you. And I just challenge you to just sit with it and unpack some of the things that you learned when you were younger that might lead you to your position today. I think this is an amazing exercise for everybody to do, to think about what was your earliest messages that you received about trans people when you were younger? When did you first learn about trans people and who told you those messages? Were they positive? Were they negative? Were they neutral?
The idea of “fairness” in inclusion
The thing is we don’t know what we don’t know. That is one of my core philosophies that we need to be open to learning of other people’s experiences. And you’re right. So many people come to this with this idea of fairness being at odds with inclusion. That it’s impossible to include trans people and still have competitions be fair. And I will also say the asterisks on this is that people aren’t largely talking about me. When I made Team USA, I got a shrug and a hypothetical pat on the butt and was a good job buddy. And that was it. Very few people pushed back against me on that. But if we have a trans woman or a trans girl who just wants to play the sport that they love, they receive exponentially more pushback and discrimination and harassment just for expressing interest in playing girls or women’s sports. There’s a real difference in the dynamic.
Inclusion policies in different levels of sport
Taking the rules that apply to professional and elite athletes and applying them to our youth sports, which is what’s happening, youth and recreational sports, which is what’s happening in the United States right now is wrong. It’s unfair to children. And you think about the purpose of sport. When we’re talking about high school volleyball or you’re talking about your middle school track team, it’s not about winning championships, gold medals, world titles. It’s literally to have an educational experience, to move your body, to participate, to be a part of a team, and to learn all those amazing values that young people get in sports. All those things that I love about myself, I learned through youth sports. And so we should be able to say that there should be differences in the different levels of play.
Including trans voices in governing/decisions
I’ve consulted on multiple national governing policies, international federations, professional sports teams, collegiate, high school and so on. And what I find is that when people are coming to the table, often that they’re coming from this place of the Ace Ventura, Maury Povich, Jerry Springer background of this very media crafted idea of what a trans person is. And now that’s even more complex as we’ve had higher profile stories, as we had Laurel Hubbard in the Tokyo Olympics, as we’ve had Lia Thomas in NCAA swimming. To have an athlete, who’s had moderate success, tends to throw everybody off to say that every trans person is going to dominate in sport when the truth of the matter, there are very few people who could mention the names of trans people. Trans people win and lose just like anybody else. And for the most part, there’s a lot of mid-pack trans athletes out there who are just experiencing sport for fun. And so I think we have to keep all of those things in mind as well as we’re having this conversation and think about how we’re coming to it and also to include trans people’s voices as we’re making policies.
Chris’ advice for living true to yourself
It’s so individual for every person. And I think I would just encourage them to decide what’s right for them, because I spent so much time in my life being worried about what other people would think about me or say about me. And that’s time. I don’t get back. And I have very few regrets in my life. And I think that teeters on the edge of one of saying like, what would my life have been like had I just followed my own path and not been so concerned about what people would say or think about me. Because again, what they think or say is none of my business. And so, and I can’t control that. I can only control how I respond to that. And so, the advice I often give young trans people who are in sports or even not trans people. I mean, so many people from marginalized communities can lean into this advice of just saying, never limit your own greatness to make other people feel more comfortable. And I wish that was something that I knew earlier on, to say like never limit the fullness, the wholeness, the exceptional-ness of who you are, because you’re worried about what other people might think or say.
Listen via: Apple Podcasts | Android | Spotify | Stitcher | Pocket Casts | RSS
Sign up for our weekly newsletter to receive the transcript to this conversation and additional premium content!
Please support our partners!!
We’re able to keep growing and creating content for YOU because of their support. We believe in their mission and would appreciate you supporting them in return!!
Click HERE for all links and codes to take advantage of deals from our partners.