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Quinn: Canadas transgender footballer on being visible and playing at the Olympics

5 min read
Canada player Quinn talks about coming out as transgender

An original version of this article was published in September 2020.

“When I was figuring out who I was, it was really scary and I didn’t really understand if I had a future in football, if I had a future in life.”

Quinn doesn’t like living in the spotlight. Yet as a professional athlete, it often comes with the territory.

But little provides a greater platform than sport, and despite being a self-proclaimed introvert, Quinn recognised the power of using that platform and of “being visible”.

And so, in September 2020, Quinn, a defender for Canada’s women’s football team, publicly came out as transgender.

“It’s really difficult when you don’t see people like yourself in the media or even around you or in your profession,”

Quinn told BBC Sport. “I was operating in the space of being a professional footballer and I wasn’t seeing people like me”.

Quinn, who has played 63 times for Canada, won Olympic bronze at Rio 2016, and will take home at least silver from Tokyo 2020, with Canada facing Sweden in the final on Friday.

The 25-year-old remains eligible to compete in women’s sport despite identifying as transgender because gender identity differs from a person’s sex – their physical biology.

Most people, unless they’re non-binary, have a gender identity of male or female.

Quinn was assigned female at birth but after many years of questioning themselves, realised their own gender identity did not match their sex.

In an exclusive interview in September, Quinn told BBC Sport how there are still “spaces of ignorance” in women’s football, their Olympic ambitions, and their concern as sporting governing bodies start to weigh up transgender policies.

‘More learning to be done’ in women’s football

On coming out as transgender in an Instagram post, it marked the end of Quinn living “essentially two different lives”.

“I really didn’t like feeling like I had a disconnect between different parts of my life, being a public figure, and so I wanted to live authentically,” they said.

“I think being visible is huge and it’s something that helped me when I was trying to figure out my identity.

“I wanted to pass that along and then hopefully other people will come out as well if they feel safe to do so and I can create a safer space for them.”

Quinn had their first interactions with transgender people at college and it was at that point, they said, that they “really understood that was who I was”.

Quinn playing for Canada against the United States
Quinn has 63 caps for Canada

“I couldn’t verbalise what I was feeling before and I didn’t have the right language to articulate how I was feeling before that.

“We live in a world that is so binary and I have been receiving messages ever since I was a young child about how I should act, how I should portray myself and how I should be and anything that deviated from that was essentially wrong.

“I wanted to live my authentic self, dress the way I wanted to, present the way I wanted to, and that wasn’t always seen as positive, so that was really hard to digest.”

Those in Quinn’s personal circle have known their identity for some time, and the reaction from Canada team-mates, who they told in an email, was “overwhelmingly positive”.

For “the most part”, women’s football is a supportive space, added OL Reign player Quinn, but there are still “spaces of ignorance”.

“It’s been a really long ride with [Canada team-mates] and they are people who I consider some of my best friends,” Quinn said. “A lot of those players have been my concrete supports going through this process.

“I think when looking at the larger realm of women’s football there still are spaces of ignorance and there is a little bit of push back, so those are definitely opinions that I want to see change over a period of time and to create a completely safe space for me, because quite honestly I don’t think sport is there yet and women’s football is there yet.”

Despite their team-mates’ acceptance and support, Quinn admitted there is “still a lot of learning to be done”.

“I’m really open for my team-mates wanting to talk to me,” Quinn said. “I wasn’t taught throughout the course of my life what it meant to be trans, all the language around it. I think that’s something that’s new for a lot of people.

“Once I started living more authentically in my life, whether that’s just how I present myself or coming out to them as trans, I think they’ve all said to me it’s really incredible to see me just live my authentic self and how I’ve exuded a different level of confidence, and how it just fits with who I am as a person.”

Being ‘openly trans’ at an Olympics

Quinn playing for Canada during the 2019 Women's World Cup
Quinn made three appearances at the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France

Speaking in September, before they were selected for the Olympics, Quinn said playing at Tokyo 2020 would make them “incredibly proud”.

“That was one of the reasons why I came out publicly, it’s because I want to be visible and I think the Olympics is a massive platform to have that visibility,” Quinn said.

“It’s my hope that I might be the first and that’s really exciting, but it’s also my hope that there are other people following in my footsteps and so I hope that it opens the door to other trans athletes being represented at the Olympics.”

Since 2004, transgender athletes have been allowed to compete at the Olympics.

Those who have transitioned from female to male are allowed to do so without restriction. However, current International Olympic Committee guidelines, issued in November 2015, state transgender women (those who have transitioned from male to female) must suppress testosterone levels for at least 12 months before competition.

In athletics, the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s most recent ruling permitted the restriction of testosterone levels in female runners to protect “the integrity of female athletics” – but raised concerns about how those rules would be applied.

Explicit IOC guidelines do not exist for non-binary athletes – those whose gender identity falls outside the categories of man or woman.

The IOC says it is trying to strike the right balanceexternal-link of fair and equal competition, while not excluding trans athletes from the opportunity to participate.

These rules are in place for Tokyo 2020, but a consultation process is ongoing.

Critics of the IOC’s current position argue people born biologically male who transition after puberty retain a physical advantage over their competitors.

Quinn’s announcement also came at a time when various governing bodies were weighing up their own policies towards transgender athlete participation, with World Rugbybanning trans women from playing at the top level in October.

“I think that we need to focus on why we’re in sports in the first place and the celebration of the excellence of our bodies,” Quinn said.

“I’m just another person doing the thing that I love to do and I get the privilege do that every day on the pitch.”

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