Transcending

Chris with bike

Pioneering athlete Chris Mosier pushes the limits

By Lucy Blair ’12 BS, ’14 MA

In his first visit to Marquette in nearly 10 years, alumnus Chris Mosier ’03 BFA woke up early and ran 20 miles before starting his day. He ran along Lake Superior and through Presque Isle and, to keep himself busy as he ran, tried to see his surroundings as if for the first time. And in some ways, it probably feels like the first time. Mosier has changed a lot since his time as a student at Northern.

“I had a great experience as a student, but my biggest thing was that people didn’t see me the way I saw myself. I always have felt this way inside and I just didn’t know what that was. It wasn’t until people started reflecting back different things at me that I was like, ‘No, that doesn’t fit for me. That’s not how I see myself.’ Then that became a problem,” Mosier said.

Mosier was considered a girl as a child but that never fit. He never identified as female. He remembers that he wanted to be a man when he grew up. There were a number of situations where family members or friends would try to tell him that he wasn’t acting like a proper girl. In college, he didn’t have an understanding of what it meant to be transgender, so he never considered that as an option for himself.

“I think I felt discomfort with myself and I didn’t really know what that was, and since I didn’t have the terminology for it, I really couldn’t pinpoint it,” Mosier said. “By the time my last year came around, I had a good sense that I needed to figure out what was going on.”

When he knew he had to make a change, he took to YouTube. There was a video called “Transgender Basics” that laid the groundwork for what being transgender and helping transgender people can mean. As he moved forward with transitioning, deciding to take testosterone and telling his friends and family, he worried a lot about how people would react. Would it affect his competitiveness in sports? Would people be disrespectful? But the worrying tapered off.

“I’ve actually become so much more chill since I’ve started taking testosterone, partly because I feel really comfortable with myself. I was a shell of a person before and now I really feel like I’m whole,” he said. “I really feel like this is truly who I knew myself to be. I know I wasted a lot of energy in the early part of my transition worrying about what other people would think or how other people would react.”

Athleticism in Mosier’s life reached a new height in June when he qualified to join Team USA, making him the first trans man on a national men’s team. For that accomplishment, he will compete in the Duathlon World Championships in Spain in June 2016 and has been featured in media throughout the country. During his return to NMU to speak at the Uniting Neighbors in the Experience of Diversity conference in September, he was shadowed the entire time by an ESPN reporter.

Mosier is a proud trans guy and an amalgamation of his experiences: professionally he works at Marymount Manhattan College in residence life, which reflects his enthusiastic involvement at NMU; his activism is based in helping trans athletes; and his free time is spent running and pushing himself to reach athletic goals that he’s been setting for himself along the way.

 

Pushing Himself

Chris ran that 20 miles as the sun rose over Marquette because he was training for the Chicago Marathon at the time. It took place on Oct. 11 and his time qualified him to compete in the Boston Marathon. His name had been picked in the lottery so he decided to embrace the opportunity, although marathon training is a lot different than the training necessary for competing in a sprint duathlon (running/cycling/running) for Team USA.

“The way I qualified for Team USA was a 1.5 mile run, 14 mile bike ride, 1.5 mile run. That sort of race is short and fast and red line the entire time, whereas marathon training is very different because it’s endurance,” Mosier said.

Mosier got here because he believes in goal setting. Team USA was his goal this year and is now a reality. Reaching this particular goal is a huge deal for him for a couple of reasons.

“I think it’s every athlete’s dream to compete for their country,” he said. “The other thing was just that lack of trans visibility in athletics is a motivating factor for me, that I can do things and provide a little bit more visibility for trans athletes.”

Mosier is motivated by the fulfillment of athletic goals that others tell him he can’t achieve, which happens a lot as a trans athlete.  But he also appreciates the opportunity to hopefully be the role model that he wanted to find when he transitioned. He believes that if he had known a trans athlete while he was transitioning it would have made the process a bit easier. He was worried that transitioning would make it harder to compete in the sports and races that he loved and that were a huge part of his life.

“When I was thinking about transition, I was looking for role models or people who had done this before. I didn’t see any trans guys competing with men and being competitive,” Mosier said. “Being a competitive athlete has always been a big part of my identity.”

When Mosier first transitioned, he felt that other people’s response was that he could still compete if he wanted to, but that he would likely be middle of the pack. He wouldn’t be able to lead because he was designated a female at birth and would be competing against men, and therefore not as strong of an athlete. Mosier still sometimes faces that belief, and he doesn’t tell people they’re wrong. He shows them.

“I’ve been disproving those ideas. My results have spoken more than I’ve needed to speak, which has been really great.”

He has a coaching certification so that he can teach himself how to be a better athlete and train his body to do what he wants it to do. He wakes up at 5 a.m. to train six days a week and he continues to set goals to push himself to be a stronger athlete.

Because of his activism and his desire to be a role model for other athletes who are considering transitioning, Mosier thinks a lot about the challenges of walking the line between being an athlete and being a trans athlete. He sometimes gets frustrated when he is identified solely as a “trans athlete” because it narrows his identity.

“It’s a very minimal part of the story that I’m trans, but there’s still also this balance of it’s important for people to see that a trans triathlete exists. So it’s very much a negotiation of visibility.”

When he decided to write an article for The Advocate, the nation’s leading LGBT magazine, on what it was like participating in an Ironman competition just after transitioning and navigating the very gendered space of competition results, he leapt into that very visible identity.

“I knew when I clicked ‘send’ to send that to the editor, that was it. There was no turning back.”

And Mosier hasn’t turned back. Along with leading the way for trans athletes, he’s also affecting positive change in schools and athletic organizations. 

 

Educating Others

A number of obstacles prevent transgender people, specifically youth, from participating in sports at any level – recreational to competitive. Often the biggest boundary is access to play a sport after changing or transitioning one’s gender identity.  

“All people should be able to play and participate in athletics regardless of their gender identity. That should not be a barrier to allowing people to play the sports that they love. All of the work that I do is to show people that you can be your authentic self and continue to play the sports that you love,” Mosier said.

Mosier’s website TransAthlete.com is designed to help schools and universities better navigate these issues and create inclusive policies that are welcoming to all students. He said that many schools are open to creating such a policy but simply don’t know where to start. So he’s working with his organization to identify a model policy that high schools can use as a foundation.

He believes that an ideal world for trans athletes (and all athletes) would be allowing individuals to participate “without having to jump through a lot of hoops and explain themselves. Having well-trained administrators, coaching staff and teachers who are allies and then having the policies in place that say ‘You will be valued and you will be allowed to play as your true self and we’ll have the structure in place to do that.’”

A project Mosier supports called “All 50” works to encourage trans-inclusive policies in high schools in every state, not only in sports but in all aspects of high school life.  Creating an inclusive and welcoming community is not just a feel-good measure—it could be life saving. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention citing a national study, LGB youth in grades 7-12 were more than twice as likely to have attempted suicide as their heterosexual peers. Another survey revealed that about 25 percent of transgender youth had attempted suicide. Being in a positive school climate free of homophobic teasing reduced suicidal feelings, depression and drug use among all students, regardless of sexual orientation.

Mosier’s other primary effort, GO! Athletes, is a network for current and former LGBTQ student athletes and provides visibility, education and advocacy for those students. Mosier is helping to launch a mentoring program to connect students facing challenges in college sports with those who have already gone through it. It’s an avenue to provide the kind of support that Mosier said was missing when he transitioned.

“We provide that support network for people who are either in the process of coming out, have come out or are navigating different sports experiences on their campuses, or navigating the world after college as an LGBT person who still wants to be involved in sports. I’m very excited to launch that,” he said.

Ultimately, this work is above and beyond his day job and continual athletic goals. It can be draining. Mosier said that the biggest challenge in this work is how emotional it is to relive his experiences over and over in order to find the experiences that might be the most helpful for the people he’s working with. But the occasional examples that his work is benefiting others are incredibly rewarding, he said. He has received photos on social media from students who have taken the plunge to play the sports they are passionate about because Mosier inspired them to. Sometimes he receives letters asking for help.

“I got an email from someone who’s in fifth grade who said, ‘I identify as transgender and I was wondering if you could help me with things like confidence and navigating school and working with my parents.’ I can’t even imagine being in fifth grade and having that understanding of myself,” Mosier said. “It makes me teary to think about it. It’s so cool that I could help someone that young.” 

 

On NMU

In his UNITED presentation, Mosier identified a number of suggestions for how universities like Northern and other organizations can improve resources and assistance for transgender students. His suggestions include:

Create a safe zone program to identify allies on campus who are advocates for LGBTQ students. To be a part of the program, faculty and staff should have to learn terminology, challenges and how to be a good ally.

Institute policies and procedures to support trans students such as a name change process and a pronoun policy.

Address facilities and whether all on-campus facilities offer gender neutral restrooms or locker rooms.

Offer gender-blind housing options for students who don’t fit into the pre-prescribed male/female housing expectation.

Increase programming around LGBT issues that go beyond pride months or Coming Out Days.

Generate a webpage with resources and supports for trans students, specifically highlighting how students can change their pronouns, a list of gender-neutral bathroom locations, how to apply for housing, etc.

Northern has begun to offer concrete avenues of support for trans students. In the past, many things were done in housing or with the registrar on a case-by-case basis. It’s now a priority to formalize these support systems. For instance, Northern recently instituted a preferred name policy that allows students, faculty and staff to choose to identify themselves with a preferred first name that differs from their legal name. Preferred names will be listed on nearly all university documentation including class rosters and student IDs. Additionally, at the start of 2015, the housing and residence life office began offering mixed-gender apartment housing which allows students to live with students of other genders. This will hopefully eliminate the gendered binary that comes with only being able to live with people of the same gender. 

There is also an organization on campus, Allies, which is made up of primarily faculty and staff who are interested in supporting LGBT people on campus. It was started in 1999 by Shirley Brozzo ‘92, ‘94, ‘06, assistant director of the Multicultural and Educational Resource Center (MERC), and Dr. Mary Pelton Cooper ‘86, a psychology professor. Both are still active in the organization and its role in promoting and encouraging inclusivity on campus.

“I’m starting my 21st year here professionally, so I’ve seen a lot of positive changes,” Brozzo said. Specifically with the preferred name policy, she said, Northern is in a great position because only 13 percent of universities in the nation have done this.”             

She does believe that there’s room for improvement. For instance, she hopes that moving forward, the university will be more intentional about creating unisex bathrooms, especially in new construction. But she hopes students know that there are a number of resources on campus that are supportive of transgender students, such as MERC, the Health Promotion Office, Counseling and Consultation Services, Dean of Students and Public Safety.

“There are people here who care,” she said, “We have always been here.”

 

To learn more about Mosier and the LGBTQ community, visit Transathlete.com

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