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Quinn, Alana Smith represent non-binary Olympic excellence

Despite moments of erasure and disrespect, Quinn and Alana Smith showed that non-binary athletes belong on the Olympic stage and aren’t going anywhere.

Canada vs Sweden in Gold medal match
Quinn won soccer gold with Canada at the Tokyo Summer Olympics.
Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The 2020 Summer Olympics are over, leaving in its wake an Olympiad unlike any ever seen for the LGBTQ community. Team LGBTQ’s medal haul ranked top-eight in the world. The list of out Olympians grew to historic heights. Athletes used the Olympic stage to come out publicly and show the true power of embracing their identity.

We even capped it all off with the emergence of a new LGBTQ power couple in international soccer.

But among these moments of joy and triumph, forever etched into our collective memory, were performances that took aim directly at the rigid philosophical constructs of the International Olympic Committee.

The Tokyo Games were the first to feature out trans and non-binary athletes. While the excitement of what that fact represented coursed through me, I knew in the back of my mind that not everyone would get with the program.

Skateboarding - Olympics: Day 3
Alana Smith not letting the vibes subside during the skateboarding street heat
Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

It’s the unfortunate expectation that accompanies any large-scale step into a world that kneels at the altar of the gender binary as hard as Olympic sport does: Someone will get misgendered, traditional sports broadcasts will be ill-prepared when speaking on non-binary identities, and non-binary fans tuning in will have to reconcile disrespect, whether tacit or direct, with the inspiration of the moment.

This is what we saw in Tokyo. Canadian soccer star Quinn was misgendered during their first game in Tokyo. The same happened to American skateboarder Alana Smith just days later. The first two out non-binary Olympians ever had their identities undermined right out of the gate.

Chalk it up to some heavy baby enby energy on my part (I’ve only been out as non-binary since March), but fury took the wheel for me in the immediate, and rightly so. The IOC and its broadcasting partners failed non-binary viewers on their first try.

To call those early moments erasure on an international stage may be a bit hyperbolic, but only a bit. For a community that regularly fights just for the acknowledgment of our existence, erasure on an international stage wasn’t a great first step.

But what I missed in letting anger drive me was that Quinn and Smith, like so many who step beyond the binary, refused to let anyone else’s thoughts or slip-ups about their identity rob them of their joy. Or, as fellow non-binary sports journalist Britni de la Cretaz put it on a recent episode of the Outsports podcast LGBT In The Ring, “pure vibes.”

Canada v Sweden: Gold Medal Match Women’s Football - Olympics: Day 14
Quinn (left) shares a moment with OL Reign teammate Megan Rapinoe after medal ceremony
Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

The beaming smile that came across Smith’s face, when they showed off their “they/them” pin and grip tape message, never left their face during the competition.

Quinn anchored a stellar Canadian midfield on their way to becoming the first-ever out trans non-binary Olympic gold medalist.

Neither let the joy of the moment be consumed by anything. They defined their experience in Tokyo, just the same as they helmed their path to such a large stage.

That doesn’t mean that some fragment of the anger I felt wasn’t present somewhere deep down in them as well, but they didn’t let it sour the vibes.

That’s what makes Quinn and Smith’s presence so impactful. I know I will always have issues with the Olympics and the makeup of the IOC, and both of those entities will face a reckoning in some form down the line as the concept of gender and its interpretation in sports continues to evolve.

But no matter what, the non-binary excellence the world witnessed in Tokyo can never be erased.

Quinn has the medal to prove it.