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CrossFit, It’s Time To Fix Your Ways

March 7, 2014

1013018_392520527520746_2121630102_nThe CrossFit Games has made an altogether unsurprising move to cement their reputation as being sexist. Though they’ve upped the ante by throwing in a healthy dose of Transphobia. As a CrossFitter, a CrossFit Trainer and the owner of a CrossFit affiliate, I wish I could say I was surprised. As a woman, and the mother of three girls, and a human being, I wish I could say I was surprised.

But I’m not, I’m just fed up.

For those not following along, The CrossFit Games has said that Chloie Jonsson cannot compete in the Games because she was born a man.

As reported on Queerty:

“We have simply ruled that based upon [Jonnson] being born as a male, she will need to compete in the Men’s Division. The fundamental, ineluctable fact is that a male competitor who has a sex reassignment procedure still has a genetic makeup that confers a physical and physiological advantage over women.

Our decision has nothing to do with ‘ignorance’ or being bigots — it has to do with a very real understanding of the human genome, of fundamental biology, that you are either intentionally ignoring or missed in high school.”

I was okay with them being confused. Lots of people are confused. I am not okay with that last sentence, in which they were nothing but a bully. That degree of snark is just uncalled for, not to mention inaccurate. They showed themselves to be precisely the ignorant bigot they claim not to be.

So now I’m looking for a way that those of us who live and love this sport can stand up against the bigotry and incessant douchebaggery. Because my gym, which is both my family and my home, is not represented by this behavior. And my members, who are all manner of queer and open-hearted, deserve better than having to fight off the bad reputation that the behavior of CrossFit HQ and the CrossFit Games gives us. We’re here to build bodies and communities, we don’t have time to constantly defend and justify our sport.

That said, I’m also damned good at PR. It’s what I did before I left it all for the world of matrimony, motherhood and CrossFit. So, CrossFit, it’s my turn to train you. There are no MODs for this. Here’s how you fix the mess that you’ve made.

1. Admit that you made a mistake.

Look, we all fuck up. I say and do things all the time that I have to either apologize for or explain. So let’s call this a mistake. Let’s even give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that it was made because you really didn’t understand what it means to be transgender, much less the complicated biology of it.

But you have to own it. You can do that with both strength and grace in a way that saves face and creates change. Here, I’ll do it for you.

“CrossFit Community, we heard you. Not only that, we heard ourselves. And we didn’t like what we heard because we disrespected our athletes and our affiliates. We represented ourselves as the type of people we don’t want to be.

Our response was a knee-jerk reaction, and we used words that we shouldn’t have used. It was also based in a fundamental misunderstanding of the impact of hormones and sexual reassignment surgery on the athletic performance of the human body.

Since those statements were made, we have reached out to experts and to the community and have learned things that we wish we knew at the time. Fortunately, though we can’t change the past, we can change the future.”

2. Tell us what you learned.

Yes, the many issues associated with being transgendered, and intersexed (though we’ve not crossed that bridge yet, you’d best prepare for it now) are complicated. But here’s a quickie lesson for you.

Although we like to think that our gender is decided by the simple presence of either a penis and testes, or a vagina and ovaries, it is much more complicated than that. Much more.

Gender isn’t a binary. It is nice when our genitals and our perceived gender match-up. Roughly 1 in 1000 babies is born with some combination of genitals and chromosomes that don’t fit in the gender binary. That’s more babies than have Down’s Syndrome. But it’s not always apparent.

The outward manifestations of gender that we think of, things like muscles, strength, aggression, body hair, and athleticism, are actually a complicated stew of chromosomes steeped in hormones. It’s not just estrogen and testosterone. Not by a long shot. Last time I checked there were about 48 known factors – chromosomes and hormones – that dictate things like muscles, strength, aggression, body hair, athleticism and the like.

Not a binary.

I am willing to bet that if we mapped the hormones and chromosomes of seriously athletic men and women and compared them to those of men and women who show no interest or skill in sports, you’d see a whole host of similar factors that make them “how” they are. I have long said that I have more testosterone than your “average” woman. And many men.

Anyway, you need to let people know that you actually learned something. So here, here are some words that you can use:

“Like many people in our society today, we thought men and women existed on a binary, and it was safe to assume that if someone had a penis, they were male. If anything good has so far come of our mistake, it’s that we learned how wrong we were.

We have always loved and been amazed by the human body, now we are even more amazed. We understand that no one is defined by their genitals, that it is a complex combination of hormones, chromosomes and conditioning that make us who we are.

Where Chloie in specific is concerned, we learned that her lifelong struggle to become the woman she is was extraordinarily difficult, and made more so by people who didn’t understand it. We also learned that the grueling gauntlet of medical interventions that she has endured confer no benefit to her. Her hormones are those of a woman, her body is that of a woman, because she is a woman. “

3. Let Chloie compete.

This is easy. Look, she has no advantage. She no longer has the testes that produce testosterone (though I am loathe to have to discuss this with you because it should not be anyone’s business!) Further, she takes lots of female hormones in order to finally live as the woman she is. If I were feeling snarkier, I would suggest that you cut off your own nuts and shoot estrogen in your ice-water filled veins and tell me what a great advantage you have, but I am (or at least was) trying to be nice.

Amongst other things, all the estrogen that she has been taking for years has changed how her muscles build and respond, for better or worse, they are women’s muscles now.

She has no advantage. So, here’s how you back your way out of this mess:

“Our initial decision was based on our misunderstanding of the complicated biology that is at play. It was the wrong decision. Chloie will be allowed to compete. And we hope that makes clear that CrossFit is for every body.”

4. Support inclusiveness and anti-bullying programs.

I’ll be honest, you guys have a shitty reputation. As an affiliate and a trainer, I spend a lot of time explaining to people that “we’re not like that.” You are, simply put, my biggest obstacle to growth and success. By become increasingly like the WWF, and creating content that is consistently misogynistic and, for lack of a better word, douchey, you have created a situation in which I basically have to distance myself from your brand in order to succeed as a CrossFit gym. (Seriously, I actually do that on our Web site.)

Walk into any box. Please. Come to my box. Look at my members. You will see people from 15 to 75 working out. You will see every nationality and religion you can think of. You will see gay families, straight families, queer as hell families. And you will see what it means to be a community.

You need to represent US. All of us. You need to be the kind of brand we can be proud to align ourselves with. And you aren’t.  So, at least try. Okay?

“We realize that we have not always behaved in a way that made our athletes and affiliates feel appreciated. It doesn’t matter that it wasn’t our intent, but we do want you to know that it wasn’t. We suffered from our own small perspective, and in order to combat that, we’ve created an advisory panel focused on gender and sexual orientation inclusiveness. Their job will be to look for opportunities – whether it’s anti-bullying programs or CrossQueer classes, we don’t know – to use the strength of our athletes to strengthen the bodies and community that will bring us all together for a stronger future.” 

There ya go.

This was really quick, so I apologize if it is sloppy. I have been at the gym since 4:30 in the morning, coaching class after class of 14.2 – and apologizing for my sport in between classes.

I love CrossFit. I have pretty  much dedicated my life and my family to it. But you guys are really fucking up. Bad.

If these words work for you, go ahead and use them. I won’t even charge you the $250 an hour fee that I would charge most corporate clients. Because I believe in being decent more than I believe in money. You might want to think about that.

Of course, if you need more help, I’m always here for you.

It would be really nice if you were there for your athletes and affiliates. All of them.

___

* Note: If I hadn’t been so tired when I originally wrote this, I would have mentioned the International Olympic Committee’s stand on the issue, which is:

“International Olympic Committee (IOC), the governing body charged with overseeing Olympic competition and those events leading up to the Games, became the first athletic body to adopt a policy of inclusion regarding transgender athletes. The IOC’s policy says only those who have:
1. undergone sex reassignment surgery
2. had hormone treatments for at least two years, and
3. received legal recognition of their transitioned sex

can participate consistent with their gender identities (IOC, 2003).”

It is safe to assume that the IOC (unlike, I am certain, CrossFit,) actually did consult the best doctors, geneticists and human beings on the planet to come to this decision, which they reached in 2004. But if that’s not enough for you, you can look at the policies of MANY international sporting associations on Trans*Athlete’s site. It’s pretty clear that CrossFit is not only wrong, but divergent from almost every other international sporting body.

30 Comments leave one →
  1. March 28, 2014 11:45 am

    Reblogged this on Chris Mosier and commented:
    Great post on CrossFit and inclusion:

  2. Angie permalink
    March 28, 2014 8:38 am

    Thank you so much for writing this! As a trans woman like Chloie, and a Crossfitter, I was stunned when this story broke. I am out in many areas of my life, but hadn’t explicitly said anything at my box as I’m totally new to gym culture and feared reprisal (Crossfitting 6 months, never done weights or a gym before this – just lots of other stuff).

    But, the conflict between losing what I enjoy if I left, and not wanting to support an organization with this policy, lead me to break my silence and write the following letter to my gym’s owner:

    I joined Crossfit in September on 2013 and have really enjoyed my experiences with RCR. The trainers at RCR are excellent and crossfit has been an important part of my fitness goals. As a member of one of the top ten women’s roller derby teams in Canada, crossfit has been an excellent way to train for my sport.

    However, I am also a transgender woman, and as such am extremely dismayed at Crossfit’s stance on forcing Chloie Jonsson to compete in the men’s division for the Crossfit games. As I have registered in the Open WOD as well (http://games.crossfit.com/athlete/302221), this policy directly affects me.

    Numerous organizations, most notably the International Olympic Commission, and, for my sport, the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, already have rules that allow for full participation of trans athletes. Crossfit’s insistence that trans women have an unfair advantage due to their history is not supported by current research, and that is quickly being recognized by policies. An excellent list of collegiate and professional sports organization’s policies can be found here: http://www.transathlete.com/#!policies-by-organization/c1vyj

    Crossfit’s current position requires that trans women prove they are weak before they are allowed to be strong – an attitude at odds with the entire organization’s goal of ‘forging elite fitness’. It also is extremely short sighted, as transgender men, who take testosterone, would then be forced to compete in the women’s division, because of their birth anatomy. I imagine once the marketing department realizes that post-mastectomy bearded men competing alongside the women makes for some very awkward television, they may reconsider!

    I intend to continue participating with Crossfit as I feel engaging on this issue is more productive than a boycott, but I implore the staff of Reebok Crossfit Ramsay to use whatever means are available to help change the organization’s misguided policy
    ____________________________________

    I was happy to promptly receive the following:
    Angela,

    I appreciate your position and am thrilled that you feel comfortable enough with us to share your views.
    My personal belief is that we welcome anyone willing to apply themselves in the pursuit of greater fitness. While we are a major part of the world wide CrossFit community we have little to no influence on how HQ makes decisions regarding competitions. That being said I would not hesitate to share my belief of fair practices as it relates to competition.
    I am confident that CrossFit will apply fair rules in relation to trans gendered individuals once they have had the time for appropriate due diligence. It has been my personal experience over the last 13 years that CrossFit is a fair and reasonable organization.
    In the meantime we will continue you to support you in your pursuit of health and happiness.

    Ken
    ____________________________________

    In followup conversations, Ken offered to forward our correspondence to Chloie’s lawyers, showing, like Alyssa has, that there ARE affiliates out there that disagree with this policy. I encourage everyone to keep the conversation going – education works wonders and is far more effective than a boycott!

  3. March 13, 2014 8:18 pm

    Thank you for this. I’ve struggled with this situation ever since I first heard about it. Reblogging on my fitness blog.

  4. David permalink
    March 13, 2014 5:54 pm

    Too late to post anything now. It’s in the courts, Crossfit probably legally can’t say anything about this. Apology included. Perhaps they want to but under a gag order they can’t?

  5. Susan permalink
    March 13, 2014 9:54 am

    CF HQ once again demonstrates their true colors. Exactly why we de-affiliated a month BEFORE this happened. It’s just one more example of how our business values and CF HQ’s are not in alignment. I suppose there is hope for change, but we’ve been hoping for that transformation for over 8 years, and it hasn’t come. What a relief it is to not have this sort of message affecting our relationship with our athletes, our community, and our business.

    • Alyssa Royse permalink*
      March 13, 2014 9:57 am

      I know so many people who are thinking about giving up their affiliations…… So many.

  6. March 12, 2014 4:53 pm

    The studies you mention have already been conducted years ago by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Bottom Line: if the IOC sees this as an unfair or unnatural advantage, then CFHQ’s stance is justified and not a bias or prejudice. Lifestyle is a choices and I personally don’t think that is their aim. They are not trying to discriminate, they are trying to promote “Fair & Equitable” competition, like the IOC. If there is no or little difference between the genetic make up of males and females, then why not do away with the MALE/FEMALE athlete category altogether. Please don’t make this something it isn’t.

    • Alyssa Royse permalink*
      March 12, 2014 5:18 pm

      Except, according to IOC rules, Chloie WOULD be allowed to compete as a woman. You kinda missed the point on that one. Again, to be clear, according to IOC standards – and that of most international sporting organizations, she would be allowed to compete as a woman. As I said, I’d be willing to chalk this up as confusion or misunderstanding, were it not for the arrogant and condescending tone of their letter, in which they belied not only bigotry, but a total misunderstanding of the science.

      • March 12, 2014 8:11 pm

        Missed that…thought she hadn’t met the IOC requirements. With this being said, I would have to agree with you – let her compete. I sure hope HQ can sort this out before it is too late. Be ashamed to create this type of perception about CrossFit.

  7. March 12, 2014 1:33 pm

    I agree with HQ discussions to not allow the athlete to participant in any catergory other than Male. Perform a Chromsome test for a XX/XY. I recognize her as female in terms of Dress, using the women restroom and any other catergory where genetics do not come in play. She has the heart size of a male, lungs consistent of a male, kidneys etc. I would not allow Sonny and Chers child compete as a man. Again pass the Chromsome test and its all mute!

    I would agree that their letter of denial was immature and inappropriate but by no means bigoted against transgender or gay. Why is Chloe not sueing in a court for participation instead of compensation?

    How did they find out if she was a male or female? Registration never ask my previous sex?

  8. March 10, 2014 12:29 pm

    Alyssa, I want to thank you for your passion and clear leadership on something that many of us forget needs leadership on: respecting people’s basic human dignity. Your gym is a model and I want to thank you for that, too. Owning a gym is hard, and I have no doubt that owning a gym when it feels like you have no support from above on a quest to live your life with integrity can feel daunting. But hopefully you can see from the comments and outreach, your stand for what’s obviously right isn’t a lonely one. Keep blogging and coaching,

    Coach Stevo

    • Alyssa Royse permalink*
      March 10, 2014 1:18 pm

      Thanks, Coach! We’re all in this together, and it will get better. ;)

  9. The Fabulous Flying J permalink
    March 9, 2014 6:32 pm

    Well, Pat, duh! She must be trans or gay, because no straight or not trans person could possibly support fairness or equality! That’s not allowed according to the, um…..

  10. PAT KENMIR permalink
    March 9, 2014 4:15 pm

    Read your whole article and disagree with all of it. Chloie Johnsson just found a good lawyer and figures she can maybe get a lot of money to make this whole thing go away. It’s the lawyer way of doing things. CrossFit is totally right in how they see their position and I agree with how they see it. Chloie Johnsson IS a man. Always was and always will be. Now yes he is considered Transgendered, because he has had surgical and Hormonal replacement procedures. Generically though, he is still a man regarding whole bone structure and muscle structure and internal organ structure. He will for all intent and purpose have an advantage over any and all women on the basketball court. CrossFit understands his advantage and therefore feels it is unfair for him to compete in the woman’s basketball competition. I totally agree with them. You therefore are wrong to force your opinions on them just because you are possibly a Transgendered or Gay person yourself. P.S. I have nothing against Gay’s or Transgendered persons. Except, just sometimes how they try to get what they want, by shoving their own views down other peoples throats.

    • Aja permalink
      March 9, 2014 4:58 pm

      Sounds like you have some personal issues you need to deal with, and you are taking this all out on this article. “P.S. I have nothing against Gay’s or Transgendered persons. Except, just sometimes how they try to get what they want, by shoving their own views down other peoples throats.” You totally just contradicted yourself, you do have issues with other people who don’t have the same preferences as you do. I hope you get help Pat.

    • Kristin permalink
      March 10, 2014 1:10 pm

      Actually, she was outed by someone that knew her. She didn’t intend to say anything about being transgender. Someone called it in, CF kicked her out, THEN she’s like “wait one GD second…”

      • Alyssa Royse permalink*
        March 10, 2014 1:17 pm

        I don’t think I said anything about the “outing.” Just that the behavior of CrossFit and The CrossFit Games is totally unacceptable.

        • Kristin permalink
          March 10, 2014 1:20 pm

          Meant to respond to Pat Kenmir’s statement that “Chloie Johnsson just found a good lawyer and figures she can maybe get a lot of money to make this whole thing go away. It’s the lawyer way of doing things. ”

          I read about the outing from a few other sources. It wasn’t stated here, but that doesn’t preclude that someone should maybe read a little more before making snap judgements like Pat did.

  11. March 9, 2014 9:44 am

    Thank you for your post. It’s well-written, thoughtful, cogent, timely, and informative. I really appreciate the effort you put into it, and your unique perspective as a gym owner and person with PR credentials. I am happy you are using your platform to address a significant and important issue. I, too, am an ally, and I wish the world were not so ignorant and bigoted about transgender people.

    I really, really wish, though, that you hadn’t used the words “douchebaggery” and “douchey.” If you stop to consider the context, I think you can see that it’s on a par with calling a man a “pussy” as an insult–i.e., it’s hostile and demeaning to women. I’m quite sure you didn’t mean it that way, but think about it: women used to be expected to douche for the sake of “hygiene.” They were actually advised to use Lysol for that–to eliminate their own natural odor with the aid of a powerful (and smelly) disinfectant. Because somebody (quite likely including closeted gay husbands) objected to how vaginas naturally smell.

    I know language evolves. Maybe the language is changing, and maybe the words have come to mean just that somebody’s being an arrogant, thoughtless, self-important, ignorant miscreant, without the baggage. But I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who thinks it’s misogynistic to cram all of those ideas into that particular choice of insult. It triggers me. I don’t think I’m the only one who hears it the way I hear it.

    • Alyssa Royse permalink*
      March 9, 2014 1:52 pm

      I actually love the phrase douche to describe the behavior of men towards women that is bad for women. Because douches – the products – are bad for women. They are marketed to women on the premise that there is something wrong with how we are, but are not only wrong, but awfully harmful to our bodies. So, actually, I did mean it that way. Because men who are douches are as bad for women as the products known as douches. I meant it exactly that way. When I see Dave Castro, personally, I just think “DOUCHE! All packaging, obnoxious, predicated on women falling for that crap, and ultimately bad for women.”

  12. isaac everett permalink
    March 9, 2014 8:24 am

    So fort hose of us who are trans allies, what can we do to help? I’d love to get involved in some sort of grass roots organizing, but I don’t even know where to begin.

    • Alyssa Royse permalink*
      March 9, 2014 1:54 pm

      I don’t know yet. But I do think that reaching out to Reebok might be one way. Other ideas? I’m all for it. I’ve heard from a lot of CrossFitters and a lot of affiliate owners, I am starting to have hope that we may be able to make a groundswell here.

  13. March 8, 2014 7:36 pm

    Wanted to say a quick thank you for writing this article. As a trans crossfitter this whole thing really bothers me and makes crossfit appear so unwelcoming for other trans people or other non gender conforming people.

    • Alyssa Royse permalink*
      March 8, 2014 8:20 pm

      You’re welcome, Niki. The CrossFit that I know is welcoming and empowering and inclusive. Every athlete, trainer and owner that I know is offended by the behavior of HQ, and wants to find a way to “fix” this problem. They do not reflect us, and increasingly we do not want them to represent us either. It all breaks my heart and goes so strongly against everything I believe to be true and important. I’m glad my words helped. I’d love to find more ways to help.

  14. kevin permalink
    March 8, 2014 9:36 am

    From a biological pov, CF made the right decision. Most people just mention T production ,but the changes are more fundamentally different from skeletal,muscle, cardiovascular, etc down to a cellular level of how everything functions. For awhile I went to a gym with a transgendered athlete and the difference could be measured by a full weight class. It’s just not an even playing field.

    • Alyssa Royse permalink*
      March 8, 2014 11:02 am

      You are correct in one sense, which is that it is about more than just Testosterone. Which is what I said. There are at least 48 known factors that contribute to what we think of as gender, many of which had to do with athletic ability. Which is why some women are bulkier and stronger than others. Why some men are bulkier and stronger than others. That is precisely why CF made the wrong decision. Her strength, as is true of all of us, is because of a complex mix of hormones and chromosomes and conditioning that has nothing to do with gender at all, because it is not as simple as just testosterone and estrogen. Indeed, the age of onset of sport in someone, regardless of their sex or gender (which are two different things) will fundamentally change how their body responds, which is why my daughter will be much stronger than me.

  15. emily permalink
    March 7, 2014 7:52 pm

    awesome. absolutely awesome. thank you for writing it, feeling it, expressing it and putting it out there!

  16. March 7, 2014 7:13 pm

    Reblogged this on Den of the Red Fox.

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