Written by: Eve
Edited by: Lucas
Visual by: Anushka
Last week, WNBA star Layshia Clarendon announced that they had undergone top surgery earlier in January. Top surgery, also known as masculinizing surgery, is a process that removes breast tissue to reveal a flatter, more typically masculine chest. In her statement on instagram alongside post-op photos, she revealed that she was feeling “freedom at last.” She continued, “It’s hard to put into words the feeling of seeing my chest for the first time free of breasts, seeing my chest the way I’ve always seen it, and feeling a sense of gender euphoria as opposed to gender dysphoria.” What Layshia describes as becoming the person one has always felt like is a sentiment echoed by many transgender and non-binary individuals who have undergone surgery. The American Psychiatric Association defines Gender Dysphoria as “psychological distress that results from an incongruence between one’s sex assigned at birth and one’s gender identity.” Gender reassignment surgery or Top surgery can relieve gender dysphoria. It is also widely believed that surgery is an integral step in the transitioning process and loving and accepting the body and the identity it houses.
Layshia came out publicly in 2015, in an article in The Players Tribune, she announced, “I identify as black, gay, female, non-cisgender and Christian.” They identify with the pronouns she/her/they/them/he/him, hence why Clarendon has been referred to as such throughout this article. To clarify, Layshia does not conform to a binary gender, such as either male or female, but is gender fluid and non-binary. Non-binary individuals fall under the umbrella of the transgender and transsexual community. Aware of how many cannot understand identifying with both genders and neither, Clarendon says, “There is no one way to be trans.” Clarendon explained his own initial uncertainty surrounding his gender on instagram, where he frequently reflects and speaks up about his own experiences. He wrote, “I just knew what I was not…cis lol. And I knew I wasn’t a trans guy. The images of Trans folx I saw and the mainstream narrative we still largely see (but is changing!) exists in the binary of male or female.” She reiterated the message her friend taught her, which she now continues to share and spread. “The more you embrace all of your gender, the more free you become.”
Unfortunately, the ability to embrace one’s gender is something that many trans and non-binary athletes are finding difficult. Many individuals undergo hormone therapy to increase or stop production of testosterone, a male hormone that may heighten athletic ability. There are strict regulations on testosterone levels that professional trans athletes must pass in order to compete professionally which has brought up questions on ethics and fairness as many athletes have been consequently excluded from sports*. Many have also advocated for the removal of trans girls and women in amateur and extracurricular sports. In the article she wrote for Marie Claire magazine last Friday(linked below), Layshia addressed such policies and their seemingly contradictory impact. “There can be no celebration of women’s sports without celebrating all the women and girls who love sports—including trans women and girls,” she wrote. “Under no circumstances can we abide by segregating trans athletes, policing their bodies, and then claiming it somehow serves the larger fight for gender justice. In that game, we all lose.” She then went on to discuss the greater underlying issue surrounding trans exclusion; the absence of validation and recognition of the trans community. “Young people join sports teams for a sense of community—for a sense of belonging. What message are we giving to young trans people when we say you can’t participate? It’s simple: You are denying our existence by telling us we don’t belong.”
Layshia has brought awareness to this pivotal moment in her, and countless other trans people’s lives. She has helped people outside of the trans community understand the internal battles that many go through every day, struggling to come to terms with their own identity while also fearing the response of others. She even admitted her own apprehension in sharing her important news, saying, “I’m usually not scared to share news publicly but the amount of hate, myths & ignorance surrounding Trans and Non Binary people’s existence actually had me debating sharing this joy. I want Trans people to know and see that we’ve always existed & no one can erase us! I want people to remember that my freedom is your freedom because none of us are free until we are all free.” I couldn’t agree more.
*In December, I wrote another article outlining the controversy surrounding this issue and the challenges that many trans athletes face, alongside athletes with DSD(Differences/Disorders in Sexual Development). If you would like to learn more about sports regulations, laws and research, I would recommend reading that as well. The article is linked below.