A Conversation With Chris Mosier, Team USA's First Openly Trans Athlete
The duathlon runner and Nike athlete is a role model without a role model.
BY SARAH RENSE | Aug 18, 2016 | Fitness & Health
Last week, during primetime Olympic coverage, Nike aired an ad featuring Chris Mosier, the first out trans man to represent the United States on a national athletic team. Mosier, 35, competed for Team USA in the duathlon sprint—run, bike, run—in June of this year, six years after he transitioned.
Mosier didn't know what would happen if he tried to make the national team (this is the theme of the ad). He was the first transgender man to try. If all had gone wrong, he could have continued to compete—run, bike, run—alone. But he made the team, he helped change IOC policy for transgender athletes, and he appeared on the screens of countless American households, all in the span of a year. People know his name. He is Team USA.
In the meantime, Mosier made a second national team with whom he will compete in Switzerland in 2017, and as of this week, he has a full-time gig as Vice President of Program Development and Community Relations for You Can Play, which works to ensure safety and inclusion in sports for LGBTQ athletes and coaches. He is a busy man.
Mosier spoke with Esquire about transitioning, competing for Team USA, and being a role model for trans kids.
ESQ: Was adjusting to the transition difficult when you were first competing?
Mosier: In the first year of taking testosterone, I gained 10 percent of my body weight in muscle, which sounds like a lot. I was 120 pounds, and by the end of the year, I was 132 pounds. It took me a little while to get used to the fact that I was a fast guy. My instinct, my mental default, for a very long time was my high school mile time. The time I ran in my high school gym class was what I thought, Oh, this is the pace that I probably should be running. But I'm a lot faster, obviously, after years of training. Mentally, I had to adjust: I was running a 7:15, and now I'm running a 6:30—am I going to die? No, I'm totally fine.
Where you cognizantly holding yourself back from running faster?
I was stuck in this default, thinking that when you do something once, that's the way it should be. No one wants to race off at the starting line and then fizzle out at the end, so I think it took me a couple of times to be like, Wow, I'm actually not fizzling out at the end. I can hang with the fast guys in the practices.
And this was even before I started taking testosterone. I was still a good athlete, a fast runner and a good cyclist, and getting better every day, but I was holding myself back because no one expected a trans guy to be able to compete with men. No one expected me to do well in my races, and it wasn't until a year or two later when I was like, Actually, I should be starting at the front of the pack, because I'm going to pass all these guys in the first half mile. Once I got over other people's expectations, I was able to do a lot better.
"I was holding myself back because no one expected a trans guy to be able to compete with men."
Did you feel like a different athlete?
No, I've always felt like me. Regardless of what others called me in terms of pronouns or where I lined up at the starting line, I've always felt the same inside. Lining up at the starting line with men felt a lot more comfortable than in it did lining up with women, and that was the only change I really felt.
You were recently in the ESPN Body Issue. How has confidence in you body factored into your life?
I wasn't very confident in my body before transition, because what I saw reflected back in the mirror at me was not how I imagined my body to be. If I was to close my eyes, I pictured the muscle guy, six-pack abs—what I thought I would grow up to be. Sometimes, walking by a mirror before transitioning would throw me off. I think that as I started to transition, my confidence grew. It's really been life changing to have more confidence in myself, because for a very long time I just wanted to blend into the background. To be now as confident as I feel in my athletic performance and in my own skin has been tremendous.
Transgender duathlete Chris Mosier for @ESPN's 2016 Body Issue. Having lugged two smoke machines upstate I wasn't going to come back without putting them to use... See this picture as a nice big double spread in the current issue of ESPN. Photo editor @nancyweisman, photo director Karen Frank (@frankie626), grooming Brandie Hopstein (@brandiebeauty), set design Todd Wiggins (@toddsets), production by Spur Productions.
You made the U.S. team last year and competed this year at the duathlon world championship in Spain. How did you do?
I did great. I was very pleased with my results. I think top third, and I think I was the second fastest American in my category. It was my first time competing internationally. It's very much a team experience, which was really cool to be abroad and be a part of Team USA. It felt like a big deal.
Since then, you've been featured in the Nike ad, which blew up. I think it's safe to assume that was the first time a lot of people outside the athletic world had heard of you. What was that like?
Wow, man, it was amazing. I plugged my TV in for the first time in three years to try to catch the ad—I missed it for the first two days, so I saw the YouTube clip. The first time seeing it, all I could think of was: What would my life have been like when I was younger if I had seen an ad like this?
Being associated with Nike, one of the biggest and most respected sports brands in the world, and also having that platform of primetime coverage, I expected I'd get a little bit of feedback. But I've really been blown away by the number of young trans kids who have reached out to me: I'm a 10-year-old kid; I'm a 13-year-old trans boy, and you make me want to play sports again; I was thinking about giving up playing, and you made me think I could do it. Since I came out publicly—doing the world championship, being in the Body Issue, being in the Nike ad—I want people, young people, to know it is possible to be their authentic selves and still continue to play sports. I think my life would have been profoundly different if I had a trans man playing sports against men to look to.
And parents too. Oh man. Just incredible. Parents of young trans kids reaching out to say, "Thank you for being someone my kid can look to. It makes me feel safer about my child's future, seeing someone like you out in public and in primetime."
The people at Nike are just such tremendous storytellers, too. I wasn't just an actor in a Nike ad—I'm a Nike athlete, and Nike allowed me to tell my story in one of their ads, and I think that's just amazing.
Thanks to your advocacy, the IOC changed its ruling on transgender athletes. Do you think those rules still need work?
It's a good start. I think what we'll see over the next year to two years is evolving research around trans women and what the right policy is for them.
Do you think you'll ever compete against an openly trans athlete on a world stage?
I hope so. I would love to. I cannot wait to see an openly trans Olympian. That will be such a fulfilling moment for me. That's what all of my work is about. All of me being out and all of the challenges that I've faced and the policies that I've pushed to change, all of that is about paving the way for the next athlete to come through and have an easier time. And I hope that I compete against openly trans folks in international competitions in the near future.
I'm not a unicorn. Trans athletes are out there. The barriers in place made it so that it's easier to not play sports. You really had to jump through hoops and put yourself out there in order to participate. In many sports, in many organisations, in many sports leagues, it's still not safe or comfortable to compete as an openly trans person. The more the policies change, the more we'll start to see trans folks coming into sports.
From: Esquire US.