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Biography & Autobiography Personal Memoirs

Woman Enough

How a Boy Became a Woman and Changed the World of Sport

by (author) Kristen Worley & Johanna Schneller

Random House of Canada
Initial publish date
Mar 2019
Personal Memoirs, Gender Studies, Sports
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2019
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A powerful and inspiring story of self-realization and legal victory that upends our basic assumptions about sexual identity.

In 1966, a male baby, Chris, was adopted by an upper-middle-class Toronto couple. From early childhood, Chris felt ill-at-ease as a boy and like an outsider in his conservative family. An obsession with sports--running, waterskiing and especially cycling--helped him survive what he would eventually understand to be a profound disconnect between his anatomical sexual identity and his gender identity. In his twenties, with the support of newfound friends and family and the medical community, Chris became Kristen.
     Chris had been a world-class cyclist, and now Kristen wanted to compete for her country and herself in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She became the first athlete in the world to submit to the International Olympic Committee's gender verification process, the Stockholm Consensus. An all-male jury determined she fit their biological criteria--but the IOC ultimately objected to her use of testosterone supplements. They, and other sports bodies, regard them as performance enhancing, when in fact all transitioned female athletes need the hormone to stay healthy and to compete. So Kristen filed a complaint against the sports bodies standing in her way with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. And she won.
     Woman Enough is the account of a human rights battle with global repercussions for the world of sport; it's a challenge to rethink fixed ideas about gender; and it's the extraordinary story of a boy who was rejected for who he wasn't, and who fought back until she found out who she is.

About the authors

Kristen Worley's profile page

Johanna Schneller writes for publications such as The Globe and MailVanity FairGQ, and Toronto Life. The Toronto Film Critics Association named her “one of North America’s leading freelance journalists."

Johanna Schneller's profile page

Excerpt: Woman Enough: How a Boy Became a Woman and Changed the World of Sport (by (author) Kristen Worley & Johanna Schneller)

Prologue: Gender Verification

“Do not show weakness,” I kept telling myself. “Do not let them see you break down.”

As a competitive cyclist, I had discipline. I knew a lot about riding through pain. But what these four men—all white, het­erosexual and over fifty—were doing to me in this non-descript Ottawa boardroom, in the name of Canada’s National Sport Organizations, was wrong.

Ever since I was a kid, when I would run as an escape from a life I didn’t fit into, I had wanted to compete as a high-performance athlete. Sport is supposed to be straightforward, clear-cut. You train, you do your best, and you either win or you don’t. Sport was my safe space.

I wanted to cycle for Canada in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. I was ready. I’d spent the last few years training six to eight hours a day, seven days a week. I’d raced twice a week. I’d ridden through rain, sleet and snow, skidding on wet leaves and swerving away from countless cars. I’d made a million cir­cles on the banked tracks of velodromes, climbing the steep angled corners and dropping down to straights at dizzying speeds. I’d gone to sleep each night with my pulse throbbing in my exhausted thighs, and I’d woken each morning almost too stiff to move, to do it all over again. Canada’s national coach believed I would qualify fair and square for the B-team in pur­suit track racing. All I needed was my licence. Which was why I was here, in this office, in front of these men.

I’m a woman, a fully transitioned XY female. But in 2003, in advance of the Athens Olympics in 2004, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), together with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), had put out a two-page policy statement, the “Stockholm Consensus on Sex Reassignment in Sport,” to govern the process by which transitioned athletes are “authenticated”—verified as the gender they say they are—and permitted to compete. It was now April 2005. I was the first athlete to be tested under this new policy, anywhere in the world.

Of the four men in the room, two were sport administra­tors, one was a lawyer, and the fourth was an emergency-room doctor—not a gender or endocrine specialist. The doctor had no special knowledge of hormone science. This shocked me. I had assumed that the IOC would have done its research before moving ahead with its new policy. But an hour into the encounter, I was sure that I knew more about the science of my body than these four men and the entire IOC put together.

The assumed authority of sport had empowered them to do whatever they wanted to me. It was like handing a layperson a scalpel and saying, “Here, now you’re a heart surgeon. Don’t worry about the law; we answer to no one.” It was absurd, and yet my sport and my livelihood—my life—depended on this panel’s “verifying” that I was who I know I am. “Authenticating” me as a woman.

I’d already endured a humiliating physical examination with an endocrinologist in Toronto, where I live. He asked me intimate questions about my vagina. He did a complete gyne­cological exam. He requested and received an affidavit from the surgeon who performed my transition surgery, and a copy of my birth certificate verifying my gender as female. He asked me about my sexuality—even though who I like to sleep with is irrelevant to my gender description—and included that in his multi-page report. He shared my full medical records—my most private information—with this panel, who eventually shared them with the IOC and the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the international cycling organization I belong to; they also passed my records on to Sport Canada and to Canada’s anti-doping body, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES), and literally anyone else who asked to read them.

I’m uncomfortable talking about sex. Even though I went through a full medical transition in 2004, I was a square kid, and I’ve lived a private, conservative life. So I requested a copy of the UCI medical report, and a list of everyone who had reviewed my private file. My requests were denied. “You just have to trust us, Kristen,” was all the UCI said.

I was trying to play by their rules. I’ve always been a well-behaved person. Often too well-behaved. I am respectful. I treat others as I want to be treated. And I was the one who’d willingly driven the five hours from Toronto to Ottawa to be here, excited that, after this ordeal was over, I’d be able to com­pete in sport as who I really am.

I also knew that this was about something much bigger than just me. I wanted to make sport better and safer for the athletes coming up after me. I grew up in athletics. I’m passionate about the good things in the sport world, the way it’s able to shine a spotlight on issues of ability and diversity. To empower people. So I answered their questions, even when, over and over, they asked me why I wanted to be in sport. I answered honestly: I’ve been a high-performance athlete my whole life. It’s who I am. It’s fun. It’s my community, my tribe. My opponents are also my friends. It’s about competing—for me, and for my country—but even more, it’s about camaraderie.

To be honest, there was something deeper going on, too. I knew I was there to be approved. But what I really wanted was to be accepted. In my life, that’s been rare, and it’s pre­cious to me.

I quickly realized, however, that these men weren’t there to help me. They viewed me as a threat to sport. I was born in a male body, and their assumption was that an XY person will always, naturally and as a matter of course, out-compete an XX person. They had no scientific or empirical data to back up that belief. But their tone was clear: I was not, nor would I ever be, a “real” woman. At best, I was trying to cheat; at worst, I was a freak. They felt utterly entitled to ask me embarrassing, intimate questions about the details of my sur­geries, and talk openly about my body in front of me, as if I weren’t there. They had no idea that their line of questioning was socially constructed, as was their limited idea of “woman.” To them, a woman—even an Olympic athlete—should be pretty and soft. She should look hot in her spandex outfit. She should be marketable.

I did what I always do when I’m under threat. I went still. On high alert. It felt like an out-of-body experience. I wanted to walk out. But I didn’t want to show weakness. I was angry. I was on the verge of tears. I wanted to shout, “Do you ask male athletes about their penises? Their surgeries? Their medications?” But these men had all the power. They believed they had every right to do this to me, and they believed I deserved it.

Only once, when one of them asked if I’d have future sur­geries, did I crack a little. “Yeah,” I said to him. “I’m thinking of getting my ears clipped to make myself more aerodynamic.” That silenced them for a minute.

Finally the grilling ended. I stood up. I shook their hands.

I drove home, alone. For five hours, I kept thinking, “What just happened to me?” They had my medical records, which explained my surgeries. They had the letter from my doctor, which clearly called me a woman. We were in Canada, where women and men are supposed to be equal, and diversity cele­brated. They were the officials of sport, who claimed expertise about athletes’ bodies. But instead of being open to learning, they were closed-minded. Instead of being professionally cor­dial, they were suspicious and hostile. Instead of being inclu­sive, they were prejudiced. They let me down in every way, and now they held my future in their hands.

I didn’t allow myself to break down until I was home. Then, I cried for what happened in that boardroom. I cried for ath­letes all over the world who would have to endure similar humiliation. I cried for the bullied, misunderstood, lonely kid I had been. Bullied all over again now. Sport, my lifelong pro­tector, had not protected me.

I didn’t want to tell my family or friends about what hap­pened. It was too private, too embarrassing. They’d already helped me through so much change, so much loss.

The panel’s verdict was supposed to take three weeks. It took eight months. As I waited for the answer, as my most private information travelled in a five-page report from Ottawa to WADA to UCI, I finally realized what I was feeling: violated. Psychologically and physically, to my core.

My approval to compete finally arrived on January 16, 2006. The letter, from UCI medical chairman Mario Zorzoli, essen­tially said, “Congratulations, you are who you say you are.” But by then, something in me had changed. Of course I felt relief. I wanted to be back in my sport family. But I also knew that no one should go through what happened to me. Sport should not be sanctioned to humiliate people for their differences. No one should.

I stopped crying. I stopped feeling scared. It wasn’t just about my competing anymore. It was about who isn’t allowed to compete, and why.

I fought hard to be who I am—who I was always meant to be. So that’s what I decided to do with these men: fight back. I decided to take on the Ontario Cycling Association, and Cycling Canada (CC), and the Union Cycliste Internationale, and the World Anti-Doping Agency. And then I would take on the IOC itself.

The men at the bottom of that pyramid, the ones on the local level, were the ones who’d violated me. But I was deter­mined to prove how they were linked to the men at the top—how the 205 countries in the Olympic movement, and all their attendant sport organizations, and WADA, follow the orders of the IOC. I knew that the only way to make change is top-down. The IOC doesn’t want the world to see its ignorance, or to learn that its policies are based on prejudice, not science. But I knew the science, and I decided to use it.

I didn’t know that this fight would take a dozen years. I didn’t know that my case would be heard by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO), which would help me to challenge both Canadian and international sport. I didn’t know that I would kick open a door for women and diverse people around the world.

But I did.

Editorial Reviews

“Kristen Worley’s story not only sheds light on women’s issues in international and Olympic sport systems, but illustrates the struggle and complexity of her experience becoming her authentic self. I not only feel better educated after reading Woman Enough, I feel a greater respect and empathy towards all individuals who have gone through a gender transition.” —Silken Laumann, author of Unsinkable

Woman Enough shows the intriguing, brave and personal struggle of Kristen Worley who, as a fully transitioned XY woman, did not fit into the male/female binary system used in sports. At the cost of her own athletic career, she has fought the systematic ignorance that has caused so much damage to many athletes. She has relied on science to advocate that variety has been the motor of evolution, that diversity will thus always be present, and that this biological fact is also true for gender identity. In this fascinating book we see her breaking through barriers and dismantling assumptions about gender. Her efforts will be of tremendous importance for diverse people not only in sports, but everywhere in this world.” —Dick F. Swaab, MD, PhD, Professor Emeritus, University of Amsterdam

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