Date of Award

Fall 11-2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) in Education


College of Education, Doctoral Program

First Advisor

Amira Proweller

Second Advisor

Karen Monkman

Third Advisor

Anna Marie Frank


This empirical study explores how transgender athletic adults assigned female at birth narrate their identities and experiences related to gender and sports participation. Using the methodology of social science portraiture filtered through a lens of queer feminist theory, semi-structured interviews were conducted with two trans men and three nonbinary participants. The participants are diverse in terms of age (21 to 54), race (white, Asian American, and African American), current primary sports interest (squash, CrossFit, powerlifting, baseball, and rock climbing), and pronouns (he/him/his, ze/zir/zirs, and they/them/theirs). Media reports and extant research on transgender athletes tend to recount bleak histories of exclusion, vitriol, and violence. Athletic eligibility policies at all levels reflect transphobic unfounded assumptions as well as primary concerns for cisgender (i.e., not transgender) athletes. This study’s findings show that participants have overcome significant internal and external barriers in order to understand and assert their unique trans identities, and their growth mindset and determination have facilitated steep learning curves. Negotiating and embodying tension, these transgender recreational athletes draw on resources useful for successful sports performance—such as strength, resilience, cognitive abilities, and strategies of self-advocacy, picking their battles, and educating others—to re-articulate gender-variant identities that challenge cisnormative binary discourse. This study’s educational implications stem from its implicit critique not only of binary gender-segregated sports but of all policies and practices that exclude, marginalize, or otherwise oppress transgender and nonbinary people. Breaking free from binary-entrenched thinking will help educators and coaches to support students of all genders.