Students gathered in the Napoli Room in the Gosman Sports and Convocation Center to watch a fishbowl-style panel featuring transgender athletes from across NCAA sports, divisions, and schools on Thursday, March 31. The panel was sponsored by the Gender and Sexuality Center, Brandeis Athletics, and Athlete Ally, an organization working to dismantle the systems of oppression in sports for LGBTQIA+ people. The panel featured four student athletes, as well as a moderator from Athlete Ally. 

The moderator, Emet Marwell, represented Athlete Ally and provided questions and topics for the panelists to give their opinions on. The panelists included Alexander Wicken (he/him) ’23 from Brandeis University, Malakai Chukas (he/him) ’20 from Mount Holyoke College, Natalie Fahey (she/her) ’19 from Southern Illinois University, and Priyana Kalita (they/she) ’21 from the Miami University of Ohio. Each panelist spoke to their personal experiences as transgender athletes and provided valuable insight as to what it’s like being accepted in their sports, as well as what cisgender allies can do to make these experiences as comfortable as possible. 

Brandeis’ own Wicken spoke about his experiences coming out during high school, and what it was like interacting with people who were supportive, as well as those who weren’t. The other panelists had similar experiences, discussing the dysphoria that comes up with gendered sports, and especially the language used in “locker room talk,” typically used out of habit, even by those who may be supportive of their transition. Kalita spoke about the experiences they had in the tennis locker room when a coach would consistently use the phrase “okay ladies!” Even after describing their discomfort with that phrase, the coach didn’t make an effort to stop saying it, or change it to a more gender-neutral option. This frustration was expressed across all the panelists at the event. Kalita emphasized that making the switch to use more gender neutral terms, even in gendered sports, is not incredibly difficult to do, and prevents dysphoria for trans athletes, even ones that may not be out yet. 

One of the more positive discussions during this panel was how passionate all these athletes are about their sports and teams. All the panelists spoke highly of their teams and emphasized how much their sports and being a part of a team meant to them. 

This feeling of being a part of a team isn’t just important to transgender students — it can be found in most student athletes regardless of gender or orientation. Chukas spoke about how his teammates would frequently correct coaches or other leadership when they would use the wrong pronouns. Chukas also reminded the audience that not every transgender athlete can find a team in which they feel safe and welcomed. The panelists emphasized how many LGBTQIA+ individuals experience difficulty finding a group they identify with, and some of these individuals lose friends or family due to their orientation. Finding a group where they can be themselves, and feel safe doing so, is all the more important to them and it shouldn’t be a rarity to find that supportin a sports team. 

The panel concluded with the athletes giving several pieces of advice for anyone looking to be a better ally, especially in athletic settings. One of the topics was the importance of helping a trans friend or acquaintance when someone misgenders them. However, it is also important to ask before you start correcting people’s pronouns, as some trans people are not out to everyone yet. As Chukas said, “Use your, what I refer to as ‘cis privilege,’ to intervene in a lot of ways. And it doesn't have to be this big show. It doesn't have to be this whole, ‘oh, you did something wrong that we're all correcting.’ It's as simple as, ‘Hey, my friend does not use those pronouns. Could you please use the right pronouns?’” Chukas explained that going the extra step to stand up for friends and acquaintances can take some of the pressure off of transgender individuals by drawing negative attention away from them.  

Marwell ended the panel with a call to action. He concluded with a reminder to students to help their transgender friends by using their proper pronouns, correcting others (if they want you to), and donating to organizations that help fight bills currently being passed in states such as Texas and Florida that are actively hurting and prosecuting transgender people. He named some organizations that are at the forefront of assisting the trans communities in these states, such as the Transgender Education Network of Texas, as well as several other organizations that are listed on the Athlete Ally Instagram (@athleteally).