Turn up and compete: run, swim and cycle by Jason Walker
Jason Walker, has accumulating finisher medals in almost 80 events including triathlons, half marathons, and trail runs and has most recently competed in the Brighton and Hove Triathlon. This is his story.
My name is Jason, and I identify as Trans masculine. Sport has played a massive role in helping alleviate my anxiety and has helped me become happier within my body. Competing in triathlons, cross country and road races, and longer distance runs helps keep me mentally and physically healthy. Being muscular and feeling strong in my body helps alleviate my dysphoria as much as being on T does.
I started transitioning about 7 years ago, and identified as non-binary, but nowadays I align more closely with Trans masculinity. I use they/them and he/him interchangeably. A year ago I started on T and since then my mental health has improved massively. It’s not just the T though. Years of therapy, a heavy dose of anti-anxiety medication, as well as lots of physical and mental hard work has made a massive difference.
I knew I was different from an early age. Before I hit puberty, I remember telling my friends and family that I would not grow breasts, and that I would always have a flat chest. When I then hit puberty and had to start wearing bras, I was upset, uncomfortable, and embarrassed because I was convinced that I would always be able to run around without my shirt on. As far back as I can remember, I preferred wearing androgynous clothes rather than "clothes for girls" and played with toys that were either non gendered or "for boys". I was a typical "tomboy". Running, cycling and swimming helped me feel better in my body, but also helped keep my weight down. I developed an eating disorder as a teenager and only by keeping fit did I feel OK in my skin.
When I grew older, I refused my friends' offers of taking me shopping for "girl clothing" and make up tips. I was happiest wearing clothes that did not gender me and when I did wear dresses etc. I felt like I was playing dress up. I remember being a small child, dressing up as a boy and ringing my parent's doorbell and presenting myself as a boy who had moved in next door. I was convinced that my parents believed me but of course they were just playing along. I also remember being heartbroken when my parents bought me a girl's bike because I wanted a boy's BMX.
Throughout my childhood I preferred the company of boys because I felt I could relate to them more. I felt uncomfortable around other girls because I felt I didn't fit in with them. I was lucky that my parents allowed me to express myself in whatever way I wanted.
I’ve been active my whole life, but it was often because I was literally running, swimming or cycling away from my problems. Whenever I was feeling angry, or hated myself and my body, or felt overwhelmed by the world, I would push my body until I was exhausted.
Nowadays, I still use sport as a coping mechanism, but I do it in a much more healthy way!
I started running in 2012 to keep fit after a shoulder injury sustained in a motorcycle accident temporarily stopped me from being able to swim. Since then, I’ve accumulated finisher medals in almost 80 events including triathlons, half marathons, and trail runs. This year I decided to compete as male instead of female and then last month, I did the Brighton and Hove triathlon as openly trans.
The biggest challenge is change rooms. I’m still too shy to use male change rooms and I don’t feel comfortable in female change rooms, so when I train, I arrive in my sport stuff. Even now, after a year on T, I get misgendered at races. However, I still turn up and compete because I’m not going to let other people’s perception of my gender expression stop me from doing something that I enjoy.
I hope that by competing as an openly transgender athlete I will inspire more Trans people to take part! Being active and challenging myself in sport has increased my self-confidence, and helps alleviate my depression and anxiety. It also helps me cope with my gender dysphoria. I have to work that much harder to compete as a male athlete. Conversely, competing as female in the past always felt "wrong" and even though it is harder to compete as male, I feel like I belong in that category.
After competing in the Brighton and Hove triathlon I was approached by Triathlon 220 magazine for an interview on my experience as a Trans athlete. It is scary to put myself out there and talk about my experience. But, I believe that the more comfortable I am with being a Trans athlete, the more people who I encounter may realise that we as Trans people are just people who want to take part and do things that make us feel good about ourselves. We’ve got a long way to go for sport to be fully inclusive of Trans athletes but we’re getting there!