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South Dakota trans teen shares his fears of new anti-trans-athlete state bill

A trans athlete in South Dakota and his mom talk about the harmful effects of SB 49, and misinformation about trans athletes.

Track and Field: 58th Mt. San Antonio College Relays
Trans athletes in South Dakota will be pushed into the shadows if SB 49 becomes law.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s Note: The names of the athlete and his mother have been changed due to personal and private concerns. Outsports has confirmed their identities.

In the last couple years Ethan, a teen athlete in South Dakota, was granted the right to play on a boys team in high school sports.

It’s something he had been dreaming of for a long time. He had struggled for years with his gender identity, and he had already transitioned genders in his personal life. To be able to play sports with the boys affirmed who he truly was.

Now some legislators in Pierre, the state’s capital, are looking to take that affirmation away from Ethan and all transgender student-athletes in South Dakota. Senate Bill 49 was introduced after the new year in an attempt to force trans youth to participate in sports strictly as the gender they were assigned at birth.

If passed the new law would force Ethan, a trans boy, to play high school sports on girls teams, a situation he would find untenable.

“I wouldn’t like that at all,” Ethan told Outsports earlier this week with his mother, Mary, by his side. “And I think the girls on the team wouldn’t like it either because I am a boy. I’m a boy. I act like a boy. And it would be a bit weird to the girls if I were on the team.”

In fact, Ethan said he simply won’t participate in school sports if he is forced to play with the girls. That dynamic makes the proposed law deeply flawed for his mother.

“I grew up in a family where we played sports, and I learned a lot from that,” Mary said. “I think it’s really important for kids int heir teenage years because it’s a great outlet for them to let off their stress. Having that outlet helps. And it keeps them out of trouble. It’s important that my kids have that opportunity to participate in sports.”

Why is SB 49 on the docket?

SB 49 in South Dakota isn’t the result of some sudden flood of trans athletes into scholastic sports. In fact, similar bills have been unsuccessfully floated around Pierre for years, previously in 2015 and 2016, according to Mary. There is no outcry across the state to prevent trans athletes from expressing their gender in sports.

On the contrary, Ethan paints a picture on his team and at his school of near-unanimous acceptance, tolerance or complete inclusion.

“All of my friends on the boys team want me to play on there,” he said. “I’ve talked to some of my friends about it and they say they want me playing on the boys team.”

Beyond the friendship circle he’s built playing his sport, he said the rest of the kids at school have also been welcoming.

“I’d say 98% of the kids at school treat me the same,” he said. Some of them knew Ethan both before, and now after, his transition. “They don’t care.”

Mary, likewise, said all of the adult friends in their life, and virtually all of their extended family, have been very supportive of Ethan and the family in his transition.

Testosterone and young trans athletes

Ethan will begin hormone treatment soon, and that will mean adding testosterone to his body. It’s something he’s incredibly excited about. Mary quips that Ethan asked him “eight times a day” about making the initial appointment with an endocrinologist.

“I just want to start it,” Ethan said. “I want the changes because I hate how my voice sounds right now and I hate a lot of stuff about my body and I feel like this will help with that.”

If he does in fact choose to participate in high school sports under the new law, it will force Ethan into the same position as two-time Texas high school girls wrestling champion Mack Beggs.

Beggs is, like Ethan, a trans boy. Texas law forced him to compete as a girl as well. Not only did he win two straight state titles in girls wrestling, but he went undefeated both seasons.

This prompted outrage from anti-trans forces, claiming he cheated and all sorts of nonsense. In reality he simply wanted to compete as a wrestler, and state law forced him to compete in girls sports.

“I’ve seen people say we need this law [in South Dakota] to avoid what happened with Mack Beggs in Texas,” Mary said. “But this law is going to create that same exact situation.”

Sports teams, bathrooms and locker rooms

Ethan is a boy now in all facets of life. He wears boys clothes. He uses the boys restroom. And as of now he participates on boys sports teams. That could all change if a group of anti-trans people in South Dakota get their way.

“To me, having a trans boy using the girls bathroom makes for weird situations,” Mary said. “People are terrified of exactly what they are trying to make happen.”

The fact is, Ethan is a boy. He looks like a boy traditionally looks. He acts like a boy traditionally acts. And while he said he doesn’t like his own voice, he sounded like a boy to me over the phone.

Ethan is a boy.

Sending him into a women’s restroom, or forcing him to play on a girls team, would look and feel far stranger, and have a much higher probability of raising controversy or safety issues, than simply letting him compete as, and be, a boy.

Trans athletes and the myth of advantage

While much of the pushback against trans inclusion in sports is a blinded rejection of the idea that trans people exist, some of the conversation also swirls around the idea of competitive fairness. The argument is that a trans girl might have an “unfair” advantage over cisgender girls if she is allowed to compete without hormone therapy.

The emergence and immediate success of Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood in Connecticut, which has a wide-open trans-inclusion sports policy, has given fuel to that debate.

Yet none of that applies to Ethan. He is a trans boy looking to participate in boys sports.

“If anything I have a disadvantage,” Ethan said.

The mother and son duo are afraid some people believe that trans athletes, in particular trans girls, are simply boys looking to get an advantage in sports. The concept is that these “boys” would rather win in girls’ sports, so they transition genders to do just that.

“If they had a conversation with someone who is trans, they would realize that no one is doing it for any competitive advantage,” Ethan said. “No person in their right mind would go play on a girls team just to be good at that sport. And I don’t know if they realize that.”

Mary is now fighting against a mounting tsunami of misinformation about her son and other trans athletes like him. Seeing the incredible psychological benefits of Ethan competing in boys sports, she is worried the state legislature will rely on fear, stripping her son of the joys and life lesson of participating in sports and affirming who he is as a young man.

“They are taking the choice to play sports away from him. He will not play on a girls team. He’s not a girl.”

If you are an athlete who opposes SB 49, you can sign Chris Mosier’s petition to oppose the bill.