Why The First Ever Trans Olympic Athlete Is Still A Hollow Victory For Our Community

trans olympian
Contributor: Sylvia Aramchek

I was asked for my perspective as a trans woman on Laurel Hubbard, who will soon become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics. How did I feel about it? Was it exciting, nerve-wracking, empowering? “Hit us with an angle,” they said.

Here’s my angle: Fuck the Olympics.

I have nothing against Laurel personally. None of this is on her. She’s going to cop a lot of harassment and I don’t want to exacerbate that. We’ve seen it all before. I could probably type out both sides of the “trans people in sport conversation” out by heart. It’s not a conversation, it’s an excuse for transphobes to legitimise their bigotry under the pretence of science and debate. Trans athletes deserve to compete as who they are and that should have been the end of it long ago.

How do I feel about the milestone of “first transgender athlete at the Olympics”? I feel nothing.

If there is a “trans agenda”, it’s this: we are anti-capitalist, anti-racism, anti-military, anti-police, pro-climate justice, pro-Black, pro-abolition, pro-housing for all. Trans oppression sits at the intersection of all these things, and the Olympics actively works against all of them.

Last year a friend of mine in the US turned me onto the NOlympics LA movement. Right at the top of their website it says, “You can’t support both the Olympics and the movement for Black Lives.” I had never heard anything like this before. I read through their case and it all made perfect sense.

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I learned about how the Olympics are used as an excuse to divert budgets to the militarisation of the police under the pretence of event security. I learned about the “Olympic Gang Sweeps”, the armoured tanks the LAPD bought under the guise of Olympic preparation, and how this all laid the groundwork for the ‘92 riots. I learned that Tokyo are using the Olympics as an excuse to introduce terrifying robots designed to read people’s faces, assess them as a threat based on whether they are “jittery”, and cross-reference them with a facial recognition database.

I learned that the Olympics are an excuse to displace homeless people and accelerate gentrification. This has happened consistently in every host city  for many years – Rio, Vancouver and London, to name a few. We saw it only recently in both Tokyo and LA, as Echo Park and Ueno Park were forcibly cleared of their homeless populations. Along with this comes the inevitable profiling and harassment of sex workers, who are also seen as needing to be “cleaned up”.

All of these issues disproportionately affect trans people, and as Naomi Williams confidently argues, this means that abolition of the Olympics is and has always been a queer issue.

Part of me didn’t want to believe all this. I was ten years old during Sydney 2000 and remember the warm and fuzzy feelings of it all so clearly. But the more I learned, the narrative of a world united in friendly competition dissipated. I felt like I was deprogramming myself from a cult. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) have long sold themselves as a force for good, but in reality the Olympics stand for everything that divides and oppresses us.

COVID-19 has been good for one thing: bringing out the truth. The fact that the Tokyo Olympics have not been cancelled – during a severe wave of a pandemic, in a country with minimal vaccinations, already struggling with overwhelmed hospitals – tells you everything you need to know about the IOC.

Japanese public opinion turned against the Olympics long ago. The Asahi Shimbun, despite its own Olympic sponsorship, ran a full front-page editorial calling for cancellation. You’d think it would be common sense. But the IOC won’t budge, and are even allowing 10,000 spectators per event. They apparently don’t care about their athletes, sport, their host cities, world peace, or human lives. Just money.

“It is a bit like [the IOC] is a drunk driver and is behind the wheel of a car,” said Annie Sparrow, population health expert, in a recent interview with the ABC. “And I can’t stop it. None of us can stop it. The athletes are in the car.” This quote has literally kept me up at night.

Good for Laurel. But to focus on the achievements of individual trans athletes is to contribute to pinkwashing. No trans person should support the Olympics in any way.

Sylvia Aramchek* (a pseudonym) lives in Perth with two cats and her husband, James H.