On Jan. 24, 2016, the International Olympic Committee ruled that transgender athletes can take part in the Olympic games without needing to have gender reassignment surgery. The ruling was primarily driven by Chris Mosier, a trans man who made the men’s US national duathlon team in 2015, becoming the first openly transgender athlete on a US national team different from his birth-assigned sex.
After making the team, he wrote to the IOC, unsure of his eligibility to participate in the Duathlon Age Group World Championship Race the next year. With the IOC’s blessing, he raced in the 2016 world championship, placing 26th out of 47 men in the 35-39 age group. (Mosier did not compete in the 2016 Rio Olympics because the duathlon, which consists of running and cycling, is not an Olympic sport.)
Mosier is the founder of transathlete.com, a site that can help people involved in all levels of sport—athletes as well as coaches and administrators—better understand the nuances and policies surrounding trans athletes’ inclusion. He is currently a consultant on policy and better practices for LGBTQ inclusion in sports.
In conversation with Quartz, Mosier explains how his experiences with gender bias at work shifted post-transition, what it means to “transition into privilege,” and how even as a trans man, he’s made the mistake of staying silent when conversations turned sexist.
1. Did you actively think about workplace gender inequality prior to the Me Too movement? What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from Me Too?
I did think about workplace gender inequality prior to the Me Too movement. I identify as a transgender man—I was assigned female at birth, raised and socialized as female, and navigated the world perceived as a woman until about age 29. I experienced life in the workplace as a woman, which granted me first-hand experience with gender inequality at work. I presented more androgynously or more masculine than most of my peers, but I would both experience and bear witness to the many incidents of discrimination, inequality, and subtle sexism my female colleagues would face during that time. My time at one particular job coincided with my own exploration of gender and my eventual transition to male, which made me hyper-aware of how I and those around me were treated, and I noticed countless situations and micro-aggressions intended to keep women in a subordinate role, in both job title and within their daily work.
The most important lesson I’ve learned from the Me Too movement has been that this behavior can and must be called out. There was a normalization of behavior that has silenced women’s voices for years and created and perpetuated negative stereotypes about women if they ever did speak out or stand up for their rights. I have learned it is not just the role of strong women to speak up—it is also the role of strong men to stand up and stop this behavior. As someone with the lived experience of a woman but the privilege granted to me in navigating the world as a man, I feel I have an obligation to be that man who stands up and speaks out.
2. Do you identify as a feminist? Why or why not? How do you define your feminism?
I find in many conversations, particularly with cisgender men, the label of being a feminist is off-putting and immediately causes defensiveness and barriers to meaningful conversation, so I don’t often hear myself using the word—but in ideology and action, I am very much a feminist.
I think it is important for me, particularly as someone who has transitioned into privilege—having been perceived as a woman to now being perceived as and navigating the world as a white man—to use my voice and platform to name, discuss, and work to end the inequalities that exist.
3. What do you do on a daily basis to advance gender equality?
An important piece for me is naming what I see and beginning conversations around the inequalities that exist in athletics, in the workplace, and in my communities. It begins with calling it out, but I also work every day to ensure my actions are matching my values. If an organization or event doesn’t believe in bringing women’s voices to the table as part of the leadership structure, that’s not an organization I can support.
In my experience of transitioning, I recall how difficult it was for me to advocate for myself when I felt I was in a vulnerable position, when my speaking up would have led to direct negative interactions, experiences, harassment, or loss; with that as my foundation, I believe it is my responsibility to speak up every time I see something—not just when it’s comfortable or convenient for me to do so. I know how big of an impact allies had on my life, and I know that is my duty as an ally myself.
4. What’s the biggest threat to men in America today? Why?
The idea of what a man is and should be today seems like it was passed down through a game of telephone—what started with a generally positive description, at least in my mind, has morphed into an unrealistic and largely aggressive, negative caricature of what a man should be. By holding ourselves to this unrealistic set of expectations, we are boxing ourselves in.
There is no singular correct way to “be a man.” Men can have emotions. Men can be vulnerable and still be strong. Men can express themselves. The greatest threat to men today is our inability to be who we are instead of who we think we should be.
5. Do you talk about sexism with your male peers? If so, what strategies prove most effective, and if not, what inhibits you from doing so?
I talk about sexism a lot in the context of my work in LGBTQ inclusion in sports. Much of the language used in sport, when we are talking about an athlete who is underperforming or trash-talking another team, is homophobic and sexist. Homophobia is rooted in sexism—in equating weakness to being a woman or girl.
My approach is through conversation. This is not a matter of political correctness; it’s a matter of being a respectful human being. I think the impulse for many, anytime this is brought up, is to become defensive. I think conversations can help us take ownership of our own roles in sexism and creating and perpetuating the environments where it thrives.
6. What is your biggest anxiety about being a man?
I think my perspective on this is interesting as I came into being a man in my late 20s and had to learn what that meant for me over time. But skipping the male upbringing also allowed me to research, evaluate, and create the image of what type of man I wanted to be. Initially, my biggest anxiety about being a man was “will I be accepted?” As a transgender man, I feared that I would not be accepted by other men in the world—in the workplace, in sport, in locker rooms and restrooms, and with those I knew. My daily experience was about making sure I did everything I could to really “be a man.”
But that was short-lived, because I quickly realized there was not just one way to be a man, and my being a man can look different than others around me, and it doesn’t make me less of a man. I know who I am and I am confident in my identity as a man. Now, I believe it is my responsibility to share my identity with others to break down stereotypes and help others understand identity. I think there is a power to my vulnerability and standing in my own truth that can help others understand themselves.
7. What do you wish your female co-workers, and women at large, knew about you?
My hope is that everything my female co-workers and women at large need to know about me, they learn and understand through my actions. I don’t want to be a man who tells women what to think about me. I want to be a man who shows everyone, regardless of gender, what integrity and respect look like. I believe good men don’t need to tell women they’re a good man—they need to tell other men how to be a good man.
8. Some men feel like they can’t win: They’ll be criticized by men for speaking up, and by feminists for not speaking loud enough. What would you tell these men?
I live by a quote I’ve heard Gary Vaynerchuk say: “Doing the right thing is always the right thing.” It takes strength to stand up, be vulnerable, and risk being criticized. But others will see that strength and perhaps that will motivate them to take a stand.
9. If you could take back one thing you’ve said or done that contributed to bias at work, or at home, what would it be? Why?
I’m not sure it would be taking back a statement—more likely, it would be not saying anything. I can think of a number of times in my experience as a man where I have seen women talked over, had their ideas dismissed or taken by a man who took credit for them, been called “emotional” or “irrational” for speaking with passion, and on and on. In my early experiences of being a man in the workplace, I failed to speak up and call this out in a conscious attempt to be accepted as a man.
10. What’s the best advice you’ve received from another man, and what’s your best advice for young men today?
The best advice I have received is also the advice I would pass along: “You are who you are when no one is looking.” It’s not enough to just say you believe in something when the spotlight is on—you must live it every day.