A sporting chance

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Easter always seems to contain epiphanies for me, maybe because it’s long and there’s time for thinking, writes Lisa Scott.

Lisa Scott
Lisa Scott

I’d been musing on gender ever since I read about New Zealand downhill racer Kate Weatherly dominating women’s elite competitions since first competing as a woman three months ago, winning by 13 seconds against a former teenage world champ and more than 45 seconds ahead of the rest of the pack; a hell of a lead in a race that only lasts four minutes.

Weatherly’s appearance in the women’s competition raised cries of "unfair" and her dominant win set off a firestorm of calls for her to be excluded. Her testosterone levels are lower than required but her bone density, muscle mass and body weight are still those of a man. Is it fair, asked media, that she gets to compete against the sex she identifies with when she so roundly trounces them?

"She will make the women do bigger jumps," said Muddy Mountain Man, who loves his downhill mountain biking and just rode the trail at Rude Rock above Queenstown, a gendered boulder if ever I saw one. I was born a woman and remain one. I identify as a woman, too, even if some of the traits associated have been used to bash me for lacking: sharing, patience, surrender; when my own -  independence, confidence, passion - are too uncomfortably "male".

Leaving the supermarket with my marshmallow eggs I overheard a young woman proclaiming:  "We should avoid gendering other people’s children" to a coterie of yoga pant-clad listeners with daft haircuts. She was speaking over the head of a child with long blonde hair. Maybe he was a boy, but she was one of those people who always want the world to know how virtuous they are and buy Good magazine for that reason. As I walked away I thought how much things had changed since, 25 years ago, my friend Fenella left her son with his grandparents for the weekend and they cut all his hair off, "so he would look more like a boy."

How that broke her heart, and his. Off I went to a hippy festival in Windsor. I struggle with hippies -  they’re always hugging me and don’t wear underpants. Plus, some of them are hypocrites: won’t give their children medicine not made of broccoli and peppermint, eschew plastic bags to save the planet but buy super-expensive toddler shoes because they’re trendy. It was white van city, everyone had bare feet to connect with Mother Nature and there wasn’t a fat person in sight. Whatever the hippies are eating, we should all be eating it.

"We’re not hippies, we’re Earthens," MMM protested.

Tomato, tomato. An uninvited embrace left me stiff as a North Korean border guard but, as I stood there rigid, arms at my sides, I noticed a number of men in skirts cavorting about the fire and thought with envy how lucky they were to be so happy in their skins. I thought about letters: LGB and T and Q and the fact we all know what it spells and the fact that a musical about a drag queen who goes to Alice Springs in an old bus with a cross-dresser and a transsexual to meet the son he never knew is selling tickets faster than any show Musical Theatre Dunedin has put on in the past five years.

Tramping in the Temple Valley, MMM and I discussed gender in sport and why on earth there were no gay All Blacks when statistics suggested there should be a least 100 while winding through the mushroomed beech forest. Perhaps, as in the case of Kate Weatherly, we, as a nation, could have a relatively calm dialogue on the subject of her transition because the sport of downhill mountain biking is an outsider one?

"I bet," I harrumphed, "we couldn’t if the sport was rugby because the conversation would be too rabid."

Not so. While Cycling New Zealand has a policy for transgender athletes which essentially says they have the right to compete in the category they identify with, New Zealand Rugby has a policy too, awarded the Rainbow Tick for diversity and inclusion. In fact, NZR has led the charge in a pledge to pursue "sport for everyone" and thus break its male, pale and stale stereotype and I guess the day an All Black crosses over to play for the Black Ferns is the day there is nothing more to say on the matter.

Filling the Green Hornet with petrol in Oamaru to return home yesterday, a woman who did not start life as one was doing the same thing. I hoped she knew how level the playing field had become.

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