Gender is a spectrum: an experience on being non-binary and how to be more inclusive

Lucy Brown plays for the Oberlin Preying Manti.

Lucy Brown plays for the Oberlin Preying Manti.

Gender is a spectrum: an experience on being non-binary and how to be more inclusive

By Lucy Brown, April 27, 2017

When I arrived at Oberlin College last August, I immediately became involved with Oberlin’s ultimate community and the Preying Manti, our women’s team. I went to every orientation event I could find and eagerly awaited the start of fall practices. At the same time, I was incredibly nervous. I had spent so much time looking forward to the athletics and community of college women’s ultimate, but I was also figuring out that I don’t fit into the identity label “woman.” I was unsure if a women’s ultimate team would be the place for me.

As soon as I began attending practices with the Manti, I knew that the team had a place for me. One of the captains, a senior, was a non binary trans person, used they/them pronouns, and presented in a more traditionally masculine manner. They were incredibly open about their identity and experience. I had never had someone I could look up to that I identified so strongly with.

I have never felt as safe and supported as I do when I’m with my team. We have an open dialogue around gender and talk frequently about how to better support our non female identifying teammates. One challenge for me and for my teammates has been how to interact with the ultimate community on the topic of gender outside of the so called “Oberlin bubble.” I want to share some advice based on my experiences within my team and at tournaments and community events on how to make ultimate more inclusive for trans and gender non-conforming players.

 

1. Introductions with Pronouns

Standing in a circle, saying names, and sharing a fun fact about yourself is a frequent activity within every team or group. On the Preying Manti and on our open team, the Flying Horsecows, preferred gender pronouns are added to these introductions. Anytime we do names at practices, meetings, or social events, everyone also says the pronouns they use. For example, I say “Hi my name is Lucy, I’m a first year, and I use they/them/theirs pronouns.” This is an automatic part of our team and school culture.

This practice needs to take hold in the ultimate community. When captains introduce themselves before the flip, they can include pronouns in their introductions. At hat tournaments, tryouts, or other community events, the people in charge can also encourage and demonstrate this practice.

 

2. Establish a point person on the topic of gender inclusion

On both my women’s team, and our open team, we have elected safety coordinators as part of each team’s leadership. These safety coordinators monitor general safety and comfort levels at parties and are also people to go to outside of the captains about anything you might need to talk about relating to ultimate or life in general.

I think it’s a great idea for teams to establish some kind of point person to focus on gender inclusion. This person is responsible for being well educated on gender and trans issues and can be someone for players to go to if they have questions or need someone to advocate for them on the team.

 

3. Practice non-gendered language

When I go to tournaments and events, I constantly hear gendered language being yelled on the field. Things like “get on your girl,” “let’s go ladies,” and assuming that everyone uses the pronouns “she/her/hers” may seem like little things, but they are a big part in alienating trans players.

Teams and players should discuss and practice non-gendered language. My teammates and I try to use phrases like “get on your person,” “let’s go Manti,” and using the gender neutral pronoun “them” when referring to players not on our team. These are hard changes to make when our language has been taught by a society that sees gender as binary and not complex, but becoming aware of your language is such an important step to building a more welcoming and inclusive ultimate community. The gender neutral language my teammates use is a huge part of what makes me feel safe on my team.

 

4. Set an example and advocate for your teammates

One of the best things about playing for the Manti is the trust that I have in my teammates. I know that they will correct themselves when they mess up a pronoun and advocate for the trans players on the team. When we go to tournaments and another team is using misgendering language directed towards someone on our team, Manti players have asked “Hey do you want me to go talk to that person?”

If you see someone use unnecessarily gendered language or make a mistake with another person’s pronouns, make sure to correct them and educate them! Everyone on a team is responsible for each other’s safety and advocating for trans teammates is an important way to follow through on that.

 

5. Expand the way the ultimate community sees gender equity

The current push for gender equity within the ultimate community is something that inspires me, but also makes me feel alienated. I love that so much time and energy is being put into talking about and working on gender equity, but for the most part this gender equity is directly focused on equity for women. We’re pushing for better treatment of women, better coverage of women’s ultimate, more playing opportunities for girls and women. This is important, yet the language of empowering women’s ultimate and female athletes excludes the many trans people involved in women’s ultimate from the conversation.

This concept is something I really struggle with. I love the women’s ultimate community. I love attending clinics and pickup games and tournaments for women. I love the fire and the energy for equity from these women, yet I am not a woman. When I attended a women’s hat tournament and clinic in Ohio, I loved getting to know players from other schools and learning from area club players, but when we cheered “women’s ultimate” all together at the end of the night, I felt disconnected.

Gender equity is so important, but it must be for everyone, not just for those who identify within the system of binary gender. Be aware of the words you use on and off the field and help start conversations about the complexity of gender in your community!

Lucy Brown is a first year at Oberlin College in Ohio where they play for the Oberlin Preying Manti. This past season they co-captained the B team. Lucy loves books, spends one crazy night a week cooking for 80 people in their co-op and might be majoring in Religion, but who knows!