Today, March 31, is International Transgender Day of Visibility, an event begun in 2009 by transgender activist Rachel Crandall Crocker to highlight and celebrate the lives of transgender people (particularly as a response to the more well-known Transgender Day of Rememberance, which calls attention to those whose lives were ended by violence).
Everyone has a gender identity. For some of us, that identity matches what a medical professional present at our birth wrote down on a birth certificate, after a peek at our genitals. Male or female. Separate from our future gender identity, gender expression, and who we may be physically or emotionally attracted to. (The Trans Student Educational Resources Gender Unicorn breaks these differences down, and also further defines terminology here.)
If one identifies with gender designation listed on one’s birth certificate, they are considered cisgender. And again, this is separate from who they love or how they express themselves.
A transgender person is a person whose gender identity is other than the one they were thought to be (or assigned to be) at birth. “Trans” is often used as shorthand for the same. (For a deeper dive into frequently asked questions about transgender people, which might be helpful for you before diving into the conversation below, check out this FAQ page by the National Center for Transgender Equality.)
Meet Allayva (she/her, @allayva262 on Instagram) and Jaylynn Rae (they/she, @JayRae_J on Instagram), two of our Volée team members who also happen to be transgender women. Each of them graciously accepted the invitation to be more visible for today’s blog post and to share a bit of their stories. Below is a conversation between the three of us over the course of three weeks.
And in case you’re still not clear where Oiselle stands on this issue (though we posted recently about actual threats to women’s sports), here it is again: Trans women are women. If this statement is one that brings up some feelings, well, that’s what this piece is for. Come on in.
There are so many battles that humanity is fighting right now, as a species. Feminism has to be intersectional if we’re gonna have any hope in ending systemic racism, reverse climate change, and fight oppression in all its various forms.
So get in here, we love you.
Rebecca AKA LilSheba (she/her)
The best way to understand
what being transgender is like is to
talk with transgender people
and listen to their stories.
National Center for Transgender Equality
Rebecca: Allayva and Jaylynn! Thank you so much for sharing some of your stories with us. To start off, can you tell us a little about yourselves and which part of the Volée you run with?
Allayva: I’m a chemist by day and cat-mom by night, but mostly just a huge nerd. When I’m not running I’m often playing games of all sorts as a way to hang out with friends. I’m in the (Upstate) NY Volée and starting to fall in love with trail running.
Jaylynn: My days are spent as a clinical research professional working at the intersection of solid organ transplants and infectious diseases. Before a series of unfortunate recent injuries, I was training for my first sprint triathlon. I run with the DMV Volee and my local run crew, A Tribe Called Run, in Baltimore, Maryland. I have to shout them out because they have been the most welcoming and affirming runners group I have ever encountered.
R: Allayva, as a fellow nerd, I am compelled to ask what your favorite tabletop game is, if you have one.
A: I play a bunch of D&D 5e right now, but I’ve enjoyed a lot of different board games and am playing more and more. A favorite is Bunny Kingdom as it provides some fun strategy in an easy to pick-up format.
R: How did you both first learn about Oiselle and the Volée Team? Did the clothes come first, or someone you met through a running group or…?
J: Small world, but Allayva was actually how I found the brand! She had posted on Instagram under #TransAthlete and I was trying to find more trans athletes to follow and connect with. One day she posted wearing one of the Oiselle crop tops and I asked her about it and she gave me the scoop on the brand. I got my first pair of Rogas shortly after and have been a huge fan of the clothes, especially on really humid summer runs in Baltimore.
A: I learned about Oiselle when I came across their infamous Roga Shorts and fell in love. Then I saw someone wearing a singlet and got curious. A few years later I finally got the courage to sign up and the rest is history. It’s how I came to meet some of my best friends.
R: Favorite distance to race or train for? I find myself enjoying the build up to a half marathon since the workout load is pretty manageable with a job and family, though one of these days I’m gonna go all Speed Racer and bust out a mile.
J: I really love a 10K! Long enough to go through all the emotions of a long run, but short enough that you enjoy the drinks or tacos that come after.
A: To race, I honestly love half marathons. They’re long enough to just get into a groove and go, but short enough that It’s not mentally demolishing like marathons can be. To train for, I’ll admit I kinda like the ultra scene. When I was training for my 50 miler I loved having back-to-back long runs to just vibe for 2-3+ hours and enjoy wherever I end up heading out to, even if my friends and coworkers think I’m weird for enjoying!
R: Have sports led you to feel more connected to your womanhood? How has your journey as a runner overlapped with your coming out as transgender and subsequent transition process?
A: I don’t necessarily connect sports with my womanhood so much as being able to be involved in sports as the woman I am is a form of validation. I have found that being more interested in running relates to when I’m mentally well and part of my return to running after eight years away from the sport was partially brought about by transitioning and feeling better about myself, even if there was a lot of anxiety about how my identity would fit in with running early on.
J: I didn’t fall in love with running until about a year after I began transitioning. In early 2020 when the COVID-19 lockdowns began, I started to feel really antsy, so I went from someone who primarily ran on a treadmill when I was traveling for work to challenging myself to increase my mileage by taking weekly runs outside. As runners, we have felt, seen, or at least read about the concept of “runner’s high.” When I think about my own transition process, it actually is pretty similar to the experience I get after a really intense but rewarding run or workout. Reflecting on these journeys, they are both things that have enhanced my connection to myself. My identity as a runner and my identity as transgender are both important parts of me, although they are not without their own challenges, they also bring the opportunity for joy in so many ways.
R: On a similar topic, Jaylynn, as an athlete, you’ve dealt with several common but frustrating injuries over the last few years and have documented your recovery and setbacks on your Instagram. Can you share a little about how being transgender has impacted your access to medical care or treatment for these injuries?
J: Sure, so for background I dealt with IT band syndrome for about six months, and in August 2021 I broke my ankle during a bike, run, bike brick training session. Among transgender folks, we often talk about what our community has dubbed the “trans broken arm syndrome.” This is a common occurrence when a trans person will seek medical treatment for something completely unrelated to being transgender, yet a medical professional who is not trained in trans-affirming care will unconsciously (or consciously) attribute our injury to being transgender. My experiences with providers and medical staff has ranged from amazing to being repeatedly misgendered and ignored. It definitely has made me hesitant to seek care at times, and I find myself thoroughly researching providers or practices before I make appointments. I have also had to rely heavily on my trans network to find providers who others have had positive experiences with.
R: When did you begin to realize that who you are on the inside did not match your outside?
A: Elementary school, though I didn’t have enough knowledge or understanding to put it to words at the time. I didn’t really come across enough knowledge until my late undergraduate years and after, but it was a long time coming. When I told most of my long term friends there was maybe a moment of reflection which was generally followed by, “Oh yeah, that checks out.” That said, my journey won’t match every trans person’s journey, nor should it, and neither should it be used to determine the validity of a trans person’s identity, regardless of their experience.
J: This is actually a really complicated question for me to answer, but it is one that I have heard and been asked a lot. I tend to only feel comfortable talking about this aspect of my identity with those I have a close, personal relationship with, as it can be difficult to discuss the more vulnerable details of the social and emotional issues I dealt with before transitioning.
R: Your ranges of answers brings up a good point for those of us with less familiarity with transgender people and the community: Everybody’s journeys are different, and willingness to talk about those journeys is going to vary as well. For those wanting to reach out and learn more from trans friends or acquaintances, do you have any suggestions? Or things to definitely NOT ask?
A: This is a great point and the general rule would be if you don’t know a person, don’t start asking questions, and even then be mindful of what questions you’re thinking of asking. If you wouldn’t ask a question to a cisgender person, it probably isn’t appropriate to ask transgender people. If you are curious about some aspect of a person’s identity, it’s best to ask permission before asking questions, and even then don’t be offended if that person refuses to answer or even pushes back and tells you a question is inappropriate to them. While I don’t mind answering a lot of questions, I don’t consider myself an open book and it does get exhausting very quickly to be expected to answer questions that an internet search with appropriate care to sources can answer.
R: That tracks with a lot of what has been said by the Black community in the past, and particularly after the spring of 2020. Basically, “We have already said what needs to be said. Go read it and do the work!”
J: I want to basically echo what Allayva said, especially the last part. It’s important that people who are curious seek out answers on their own before asking the trans person in your life a question that Google could solve for you quicker. Oftentimes, it can also feel like cisgender people can make situations more complicated than they need to be when it comes to interacting with someone who is trans. The same courtesy and respect you would extend to someone who is cisgender is how you should treat someone who happens to be trans.
Trans athletes will never be able to counter the narrative that 'we don’t belong' or
'we’re cheating' without the support and voices of cisgender athletes.
R: What are some common issues you’ve had to navigate as a transgender athlete that you wish more cisgender athletes were aware of?
J: As a transgender athlete, one issue that I find myself and the larger community facing is feeling at times that we are alone in fighting back against policies that try to exclude us from participating in the sports we love, or overly police our body in ways that cisgender athletes are never or rarely subjected to. One thing I love about Oiselle is the concept of “building the sisterhood”. Trans athletes will never be able to counter the narrative that “we don’t belong” or “we’re cheating” without the support and voices of cisgender athletes.
A: The worst part is having to constantly defend my right (and even other’s right) to exist within sports, or at least prepare myself to do so which does get exhausting. I’ve been grateful to never have that experience within the Volée which has made it an attractive group to be part of, but even amongst friend groups I’ve experienced a number of subtle comments suggesting I have some sort of abnormal advantage even now.
J: Yes! The idea that trans athletes have a superpower because of our assigned sex at birth is extremely prevalent. I think it’s something that is harmful for trans athletes AND for cisgender athletes because it takes the focus off of the variables we all obsess over before a race (training, diet, course, mileage, gear, etc.) and the work every athlete puts into training day in and day out.
I read a quote from marathoner and trans athlete Megan Youngren a while back that really stuck with me. Megan said, “People will try to put [my accomplishment] down by saying, ‘That’s too easy because you’re trans.’ But what about the 500 other women who will qualify? There’s probably someone with the exact same story. I trained hard. I got lucky. I dodged injuries. I raced a lot, and it worked out for me. That’s the story for a lot of other people, too.”
I think when we let the narrative of “biological sex” dominate our discussion about trans people in sports, we do a disservice to the hard work of every athlete who shows up to compete.
R: YES. Silence in these moments from the wider community can easily be interpreted as support of the status quo, even if that is not actually the case. In the past, we’ve seen the acronym TERF (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist) occasionally used to describe Oiselle, and I think that was an eye opening moment for the brand. We say we’re “for women, by women,” and yet, once we looked up that acronym and looked around, we could see that not all women were feeling welcomed in. But we’ve been very fortunate to have supportive and patient fans of the brand from more marginalized communities who showed up and held up the mirror for us.
A: I’ll be the first to say that Oiselle hasn’t been perfect and there are definitely times where I wish the responses would’ve been better. The important part is being open enough to learn, apologize, and move forward with a new approach with enough humility to openly say when a mistake has been made without trying to brush it off.
One thing I think would be beneficial from Oiselle would be more open and active support of athletes regardless of their affiliation who aren’t gender conforming, or condemnation of specific actions being taken against trans people, but I also recognize that there’s some skill and nuance to ensuring that’s not where all the effort goes.
J: I agree 100%. People assume trans athletes are asking for special treatment, we’re not. We’re asking for the space to compete with our peers and enjoy the activities that bring us all together. It is pretty ironic but extremely hurtful that cisgender women have fought for decades for inclusion and equality, just for them to turn around and use their platforms and access to exclude transgender women.
Transgender women are women, and transgender women athletes are women athletes. We just want to be given a space at the starting line with everyone else!
R: We don’t have to decide who is allowed to race in the Olympics or not, but we do have a responsibility to welcome everyone we can into the sport, and help them feel supported and heard. And the past five years or so in this country have made it abundantly clear that speaking out is an essential responsibility. Nobel Laureate author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” And as silent trans “allies” stay quiet, stuff like this happens.
The important part is being open enough to learn, apologize, and move forward with a new approach with enough humility to openly say when a mistake has been made without trying to brush it off.
R: Okay. It was important that we touch on some of the heavier topics happening to the trans community these days, but I promised that this piece wouldn’t be a total bummer fest. So let’s pivot a bit for the last few questions…
What is your most memorable racing moment?
J: I was training for the Baltimore Run Festival Half Marathon when I was sidelined in 2021 by breaking my ankle. When race day came, I met up with a bunch of friends from various local run groups, and we set up camp at Mile 16, handing out water and lots of fun snacks. It was the first day that I was able to walk around without using crutches, and I had a blast showing off my unassisted walk and cheering on so many runner friends as they trudged through the race. When we met up for the post-race party later, everyone was celebrating my lack of crutches for the first time in two months, and it was just such an amazing moment of celebrating every milestone, even if you never make it to race day.
A: There’s plenty to choose from, but I think my favorite memory wasn’t the fastest race, but just running the first half of the Buffalo Marathon with my friend in 2019. We chatted and laughed a lot and while I was trying to settle in quietly for a PR it wouldn’t come to play. I had a blast the rest of the race just vibing and enjoying the crowd through the struggles.
R: Favorite flystyle or fabric? Thought the fabric option might help if you can’t choose just one.
A: I love the Flyout stuff. I admittedly get really warm really quickly, so even in the spring I opt for super light layers and this stuff does the job of keeping me warm, but also keeping me cool in those “in between” temperatures. At least for me. Then again, I've raced in single digits temps with shorts on so I'm not one to base relative temperatures against.
J: I’ve had the Lux Mock Neck Jumpsuit in my cart for weeks and I just need to get on that and buy it already! For a run, I am usually throwing on Long Roga Shorts in Black which are the perfect length for those of us cursed (#blessed) with longer legs.
R: A quote that gives you life.
J: I’ve been really into the song “It’s a Good Day to Fight the System” by Shungudzo. It’s a great beat and harmony, and the lyrics are super empowering. “My head is on straight, my heart is at peace, my soul is incredibly ready to change history, it's a good day to fight the system.”
A: I've been playing a bunch of Final Fantasy XIV lately and the main theme, Endwalker - Footfalls by Masayoshi Soken, toward the end has the lyrics "We won't be afraid to forge ahead. Fearless hearts ablaze, No more time to waste. No, it's not too late to forge ahead." And it dawned on me recently, with some things I've been working through, it's been impactful to me on a subconscious level.
R: Wow, this Google doc is now seven pages long! Thank you both so much for your patience with all of these questions and your openness in answering. Oiselle is lucky to have you both as a part of our community, and we’re so glad you’re here.
“Transgender Athletes Rights are Human Rights,” Some Work All Play podcast by David and Megan Roche. A great listen for those new to the subject.
TransAthlete.com, powered by trans athlete Chris Mosier. Includes resources on trans inclusion policies in sport, a regularly updated tracker on anti-trans legislation in the U.S., resources for allies, and much more.
How sport conditions the hearts of both trans and cisgender athletes, a short video by athlete and poet Andrew Gibby.