British cyclist Emily Bridges was honored today by British Vogue as one of the “Vogue 25,” an annual round up of “Britain’s 25 Powerhouse women.” The list showcases the women defining—and redefining—Britain in 2023, according to the magazine.
Earlier this year, Bridges, who left the Great Britain National Cycling team in 2020 to begin her transition, was in talks with the team about rejoining and targeting the 2024 Paris Olympics. However, that dream ground to a standstill when the British Cycling Federation, the national governing body for the sport, announced in May that it was banning transgender women from competing in women’s events.
“I had foreseen it happening, but the confirmation was still devastating. Cycling competitively was my life for the past 12 years,” Bridges wrote in an essay earlier this week, also published by Vogue.
Despite the toll the last several months have taken on her, Bridges is undeterred in her fight for the rights of transgender athletes. She has donated her body to science —literally—to aid research that is examining whether transgender women have any physical advantages in elite sports by giving samples of her muscle tissue to researchers at Loughborough University, where several studies are currently underway aiming to provide scientific data that is sorely lacking about this issue.
At this time, claims that transgender athletes have a physical advantage over cisgender women in competition are unsubstantiated by any scientific data. In fact, a recent scientific review of all available data by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport found no available evidence that transgender women have any biological advantages over cisgender women when competing in elite sports.
“Sport is built around such explicit binaries. When those are blurred, people freak out,” Bridges writes. “We, as trans people, challenge something that most people see as so unchangeable, so innate. Once those barriers start to break down, you see how socially constructed much of our world view is, and how other things—like power, class, money and capital—can also be challenged. We pose a threat to the status quo, and it’s one of the reasons why, I believe, transphobia is rife.”
As an example of just how rife, and how little it actually has to do with physical advantages in sports, the International Chess Federation recently banned trans women from competing in women's events.
The next step according to Bridges is “to fight the decision legally, in the courts,” she tells Vogue. She also admits that she has had to take a step back from the sport that she has loved and been defined by for so much of her life.
“As a kid, cycling was the thing that made me happiest in the world. But my relationship with the sport is complicated now,” she says. “My experience over the past few years has tainted the positive memories, and I’ve had to really focus on the things that made the sport so enjoyable in the first place.”
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