For most athletes, a breakthrough similar to disc golf pro Natalie Ryan’s success in 2022 would lead to speculation for a banner year in 2023. True to form, on Friday she was sitting 1 shot off the lead on the first day of the OTB Open with four of the tour’s heavy hitters in a tie for the lead.
Her weekend ended abruptly when a U.S. Circuit Court judge revoked the restraining order she had needed to compete, allowing the Disc Golf Pro Tour to remove the trans athlete from the female competition.
It’s yet another example of being a transgender woman in women’s sports who happens to be a contender in 2023.
Two days prior to the start of the event, Ryan was in a California courtroom. She was fighting against policies of the Professional Disc Golf Association and the Disc Golf Pro Tour put in place in December 2022 that ban trans women who have not experienced certain transition requirements from playing in the Female Pro Open division at major events.
The ban came after nearly a decade of inclusive policy and is another example of a governing body getting cold feet because a transgender woman wins.
In response, Ryan was justifiably livid.
“My removal from the OTB was targeted just as the new policy was,” Ryan said via Instagram. “The DPGT is now enforcing rules that it has no place to.”
Her comments mirrored those of French track athlete Halba Diouf.
The 21-year-old sprinter had performances in the indoor season that hovered near the Olympic qualifying mark at 200 meters. World Athletics made a wide-scale policy change that not only affected transgender women, it affected certain cisgender women with “differences in sexual development,” such as South African Olympic gold medalist Caster Semenya.
The policy change scuttled any chance Diouf had of competing in this year’s World Athletics Championships and making a run at the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.
“I finished first so I was qualified for the French Championships and the elite championships and it is from that moment that it starts to become complicated,” Diouf said in an interview with France 2 on April 21. “We are no longer in 1940. We can longer ban transgender women in 2023. Things must indeed change.”
World Athletics did not specify any of their metrics used in building this decision. Even World Athletics President Lord Sebastian Coe expressed a lack of specifically relevant data.
“There are currently no transgender athletes competing internationally in athletics and consequently no athletics-specific evidence of the impact these athletes would have on the fairness of female competition in athletics,” Coe said.
What possibly influenced the decision was Coe’s public support for FINA’s total ban on transgender participation in elite swimming. Coe hinted at adopting similar policy last year. That policy that was the subject of a blistering historical critique by journalist Frankie de la Cretaz in The Nation.
Among those quoted in the article was University of Rhode Island assistant professor for sports media and communication and former NCAA Division I swimming athletic Matthew Hodler. He looked at the intersections between the normalizations of gender and racial bias as foundation for the rules process on this issue.
“It was one of the sports middle-class white women were allowed to participate in earlier on because it shaped the ‘right’ kind of body for women,” Hodler stated to The Nation. “It was considered a ‘clean’ sport—they could be graceful in the water. It is bound up in these traditional femininities.”
The process of the PDGA under toward a change regulates look to some as mirror of Hodler’s contentions. Much of it stemmed from a public opinion questionnaire open to all PDGA members, where some of the questions were seen by some as attempts to lead to people to favor an anti-trans stance.
Ryan has openly stated she feels the policy change was a response to her success, and the backlash to it.
One top touring pro, Catrina Allen, has publicly spoken out alongside the anti-trans group known as the Independent Council on Women’s Sports. While Allen backdoor-misgendered Ryan while contending her “disadvantage”, she neglected to mention that she won five tournaments to Ryan’s two last season.
A number of pros have spoken out in support. This weekend’s winner and one of the game’s biggest draws, Paige Pierce, called out those seeking to use controversy to put out more negative.
“We just had someone commit suicide in the disc golf community and that is a very real possibility if we continue to spread hate,” she said. “We need to radiate positivity and lift up the people around us no matter how different they are. It makes me sad that this is what disc golf has turned into.”
Pierce could be talking about many sports right now. The tension lies at the feet of governing bodies who speak of “fairness,” yet it doesn’t seem to apply to transgender competitors, especially when they become successful.
The ledger has borne this out in a swimming pool and a velodrome. The UCI may follow suit because of Austin Killips’ overall win at the Tour of the Gila last week. You could see an “Austin Killips Rule” to complement the track cycling “Emily Bridges Rule.”
Elite track and field emphatically joined the line. Disc golf’s win in court allows them to maintain their line. Inclusion loses in all of this, especially transgender women whose only crime was winning even once.