Quinn: Canada’s transgender footballer on being ‘visible’ and playing at the Olympics

In early 2014, transgender athlete Quinn toko was playing for the University of Toronto’s women’s field hockey team. By the end of the season, she had switched to the men’s team. Fast forward to the present day, and she is currently playing for Canada’s national team, Toronto Furies. She has also become one of the most visible trans athletes in the country. I spoke with her on the phone to learn more.

In the 11 years since Quinn’s parents first told her she was transgender, she has grown into the person she was always meant to be. She is now a top-ranked athlete at the University of Toronto’s Varsity Blues women’s soccer team. She has become an outspoken advocate for transgender issues, including a recent CBC interview in which she dismissed claims by conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh that transgender athletes are not “real men” and therefore shouldn’t be allowed to play in the women’s team event at the Summer Olympics.

Quinn is a mixed martial arts fighter who competed in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Born and raised in Toronto, he was named “Canadian Athlete of the Year” in 2012 by the Canadian Olympic Committee and Sports Illustrated. He is transgender and, at 20, became the first openly transgender man to compete in an Olympic Games. For much of his life, he was homeless, and he lived on the streets of Toronto before winning a cage-fighting championship and being named a finalist for Canada’s top athlete.

Quinn, a player for Canada, discusses coming out as transgender.

This story was first published in September of 2020.

“It was very frightening when I was finding out who I was, and I didn’t know whether I had a future in football, if I had a future in life,” he says.

Quinn despises being in the limelight. However, as a professional athlete, it is frequently unavoidable.

Sport, on the other hand, offers a larger platform, and despite being a self-described introvert, Quinn understood the need of utilizing that platform and “being visible.”

Quinn, a defender for the Canadian women’s football team, came out as transgender in September 2020.

“When you don’t see individuals like yourself in the media, or even around you or in your job,” she says, “it’s very tough.”

Quinn said to Sport. “I was in the realm of being a professional football player, and I wasn’t seeing others like myself.”

Quinn, who has 63 caps for Canada, earned Olympic bronze in Rio 2016 and is expected to win at least silver in Tokyo 2020, where Canada will face Sweden in the final on Friday.

Despite identifying as transgender, the 25-year-old is still allowed to participate in women’s sports since gender identity varies from a person’s sex – their actual biology.

Unless they are non-binary, most individuals have a male or female gender identity.

Quinn was born a girl, but after years of inquiry, they realized their gender identification did not correspond to their sex.

Quinn told Sport in an exclusive interview in September that there are still “spots of ignorance” in women’s football, that they have Olympic aspirations, and that they are concerned as sports governing bodies consider transgender legislation.

In women’s football, there is still a lot to learn.

Quinn’s coming out as transgender in an Instagram post signaled the end of her “basically two lives.”

“Being a public person, I didn’t want to feel like I had a gap between various sections of my life, therefore I wanted to live honestly,” they added.

“I believe that being visible is very important, and it was something that helped me find out my identity.”

“I wanted to share it with you, and then maybe more people will come out if they feel comfortable to do so, and I’ll be able to build a safer environment for them.”

Quinn met transgender individuals for the first time in college, and it was then that they “truly realized it was who I was,” they said.

Quinn playing for Canada against the United StatesQuinn has 63 caps for the Canadian national team.

“Before then, I couldn’t verbalise what I was experiencing, and I didn’t have the proper words to express how I was feeling.”

“We live in a society that is so binary, and I’ve been getting signals about how I should behave, how I should represent myself, and how I should be since I was a little kid, and anything that deviates from that is basically bad.”

“I wanted to be my true self, dress and express myself the way I wanted to, and it wasn’t always seen positively, so that was difficult to swallow.”

Quinn’s close circle has known their true identity for some time, and their teammates in Canada have been “overwhelmingly supportive,” according to an email they sent.

Women’s football is “for the most part” a friendly environment, according to OL Reign player Quinn, but there are also “spots of ignorance.”

Quinn stated, “It’s been a long journey with [Canada teammates], and they’re individuals I consider some of my closest friends.” “I’ve had a lot of help from a lot of those guys during this process.

“I think there are still spaces of ignorance and a little pushback in the larger realm of women’s football,” she says. “Those are definitely opinions that I want to see change over time and create a completely safe space for me, because quite honestly, I don’t think sport and women’s football are there yet.”

Quinn acknowledged that “there is still a lot of learning to be done” despite their teammates’ acceptance and support.

“If any of my teammates want to speak to me, I’m very open to it,” Quinn stated. “I was never taught what it meant to be trans, or the vocabulary that goes with it, throughout my childhood.” That’s something I believe many folks are unfamiliar with.

“I think they’ve all said to me that it’s really incredible to see me just live my authentic self and how I’ve exuded a different level of confidence, and how it just fits with who I am as a person” since I started living more authentically in my life, whether it’s just how I present myself or coming out to them as trans.

At an Olympics, being ‘openly trans’

Quinn playing for Canada during the 2019 Women's World CupQuinn appeared in three games at the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France.

Quinn said playing in Tokyo 2020 would make them “extremely proud” in September, before they were chosen for the Olympics.

Quinn said, “One of the reasons I came out publicly is because I want to be prominent, and I believe the Olympics is a huge platform for that exposure.”

“It’s my goal that I’ll be the first, which would be fantastic, but it’s also my desire that there will be others who follow in my footsteps, so I’m hoping that it will pave the way for other trans athletes to compete in the Olympics.”

Transgender athletes have been permitted to participate in the Olympics since 2004.

Those who have made the shift from female to male are unrestricted in their actions. However, according to current International Olympic Committee rules, transgender women (those who have transitioned from male to female) must suppress testosterone levels for at least 12 months before competing.

In athletics, the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s most recent decision allowed testosterone levels in female runners to be restricted in order to preserve “the integrity of female athletics,” but also created questions about how the regulations would be implemented.

Non-binary athletes – individuals whose gender identification falls outside of the categories of man or woman – do not have any IOC rules.

According to the IOC, it is attempting to find the appropriate balance. external-link of fair and equal competition, but not excluding trans athletes from competing.

These regulations are in place for Tokyo 2020, but there is still time for public input.

People born biologically male who transition after puberty maintain a physical advantage over their rivals, according to critics of the IOC’s present stance.

Quinn’s statement came at a time when different governing organizations were debating their rules on transgender athletes, with World Rugby prohibiting trans women from participating at the highest level in October.

“I believe we need to concentrate on why we’re in athletics in the first place, and the celebration of our bodies’ greatness,” Quinn added.

“I’m simply another person doing what I like, and I have the opportunity to do it every day on the field.”

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