K.R.C. LogoThe Book of Kara

Forced Open

Published 20 February 2023

Illustration of a woman standing at the starting line a race, the banner above her head has icons for swim, bike and run. Under her feet, a male symbol points toward the course. She is frowning.
Illustration by Andrea Rosales.

Last December, tears rolled down my cheeks as I clutched my medal, dazedly absorbing hugs from my coach, friends and family. I'd just completed Ironman 70.3 Indian Wells - La Quinta: almost seven hours of racing through the Palm Desert. I'd been training over a year for that race; it was the single most difficult feat I'd ever accomplished.

Doing it again just got harder.

Training for an Ironman isn't easy for anyone, but for trans people there are additional complexities. Trans people have to ask permission to race in their gender category. We have to wrangle a doctor into writing a letter proving to Ironman that we are trans. Women have to carefully monitor their blood testosterone levels; every time my doctor adjusts my medication, I have to worry about whether it'll reset the clock on my eligibility. Additionally, because race-day check-ins require picture ID, we also have to deal with the rigamarole of legal name changes, documentation and potentially outing ourselves to random race volunteers.

Bad got worse

This year, Ironman went a step further. The 2023 competition rules, released this month add new hoops trans people have to jump through. The threshold for testosterone levels was halved and the period doubled, but — more importantly — trans women have been barred from competition if they competed in the men's category any race within four years. Four years.

This policy applies to athletes of all levels — from elite to age group — and is both immediate and retroactive. It means that regardless how carefully you've been tracking your blood levels, if you raced in a men's category the year before the world had heard of COVID-19 then you can't race competitively in 2023. Even if no other option existed at the time. Ironman also has a process for challenging other athletes' gender-based eligibility, which might open even cis women up to invasive investigations if anyone, even a bad-faith actor, thinks they appear insufficiently feminine.

The alternative is a new "open" category for which anyone can sign up. I'm a big fan of non-binary categories in races; it's awesome when people who don't feel comfortable opting into a gendered category can choose one. However, that's not what Ironman's open category is. First, it's a non-competitive category with no podium or ability to qualify for Kona. Second, it's the only option open to binary trans athletes affected by the new policy.

A season of discrimination

Ironman's changes come in the context of a right-wing moral panic attacking trans people. Elected politicians in state and federal government, under the auspices of protecting children from nebulously defined "wokeness", are trying to push trans adults from every aspect of public life. They're ignoring the recommendations of every major medical organization, harassing teachers and doctors, and doing everything they can to make treatment for gender dysphoria for people of any age illegal or financial untenable.

This change reminds me that even in solid blue California, surrounded by supportive people, I'm not safe. Every morning I wake up and wonder what new thing will be taken from me.

Ironman's rule changes dropped after 2023 race registration opened, and — at least in anything they've published so far — Ironman doesn't offer any refunds related to the rule changes. I'm not a lawyer, but they also seem illegal under California's Unruh Act:

(b) All persons within the jurisdiction of this state are free and equal, and no matter what their sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sexual orientation, citizenship, primary language, or immigration status are entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever.


(e) For purposes of this section:


(5) “Sex” includes, but is not limited to, pregnancy, childbirth, or medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth. “Sex” also includes, but is not limited to, a person's gender. “Gender” means sex, and includes a person's gender identity and gender expression. “Gender expression” means a person's gender-related appearance and behavior whether or not stereotypically associated with the person's assigned sex at birth.

And of course, even if competition was more important to me than my gender (it isn't), I couldn't race in the men's category for 2023 either, because that would reset the four-year sit-out clock to 2027.

How this affects me

While I came out four years ago, it took me a while to qualify for the women's category. Rather than sit out, I bade my time in the men's category for several races. My first in-person race as a woman wasn't until 2021, and it's difficult to express just how meaningful that race was. I trained with a group of ladies that welcomed me unquestioningly, and for the first time, it just felt … right.

Photo of a group of women in triathlon wetsuits and swim caps on the beach, all smiling.
A photo with my training team from my first race in the women's category.

This year, if I want to participate in the race I've already paid for, I'll be forced open.

  • Forced into an open category with which I do not identify.

  • Forced to open my medical history to strangers so they can deem me trans enough or not.

  • Forced to open myself to harassment by people who don't consider my humanity valid.

And even if I follow the rules perfectly, there's no guarantee Ironman won't change their rules again for the worse in 2024.

What if I think this is fair?

Don't tell me. I don't want to hear it. I've read all the same arguments about bone density and Q-angles and it doesn't matter. No one cares about genetic "fairness" in athletics unless it's with regards to trans people. I know — in high school football I was a 160-pound offensive guard expected to block three-hundred pound nose tackles. Trans athletes have been eligible to compete in most sports for over a decade now, and if we haven't taken over yet, it's not going to happen. The real way to protect women's sports isn't through excluding trans people, it's through equal salaries, equal facilities and stopping abusers.

Also, I know that this policy aligns with World Triathlon's policy. Their policy is similarly bad.

Faking transition to cheat at sports is a joke. It's not a thing. There is no legitimate rationale to force trans people quit sports for four years. Zero. None.

How can I help?

Many, many people have reached out to me offering condolence and support. I am eternally grateful. For now, there's not a lot you can do, however the following are all ways to show your support.

  • If you know anyone who works for or with Ironman, let them know that their policy stinks. Tag them on social media. And if they have the audacity to put up a rainbow logo during pride month, drag them mercilessly for it.
  • If you're a race director, have a transgender policy, and make it a good one. Runners for public lands has an excellent example policy.
  • If you race in an Ironman or 70.3, consider racing in the open category in solidarity.
  • Let your wallet talk for you, and sign up for sports that don't discriminate against trans people. USA Triathlon's races are very inclusive. Clash Endurance and ÖDYSSEY Swimrun also use USAT rules.

And of course, of course please tell the trans people in your life that they are valid and valuable. It's a scary time to be trans.

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