'It Was Genuinely Quite Unpleasant: Male Transgender Experiences in Physical Education.'

This paper was presented by Grace Chadwick and Richard Pepperell at the 5th International Conference on Gender and Sexuality, 13th-14th October in 2022. Grace has graduated with a BSc (Hons) in Physical Education and Sports Coaching, Richard is a Senior Lecturer In BSc (Hons) Physical Education, and BSc (Hons) in Physical Education and Sports Coaching

Over the past decade a flexible view of gender has hit mainstream media and often creates a lot of questions. What is Transgender and how does it impact me?

The term ‘Transgender’ or ‘Trans’ is an umbrella term to describe those whose gender identity typically differs from their assigned gender at birth. Normally, a person’s gender is based on their biological sex when the midwife announces “It’s a boy!! Or “It’s a girl!”. However, for transgender individuals, as they’ve learnt more about their gender identity, this assigned gender doesn’t reflect them accurately.

Because of biological sex, society is organised in a way that favours those whose gender matches the one assigned to them at birth, this is called heteronormality. This blog explores how sports play a powerful role in maintaining and reproducing heteronormality. For example, stereotypically, rugby is for boys, as boys are more aggressive and muscular, whereas dance is delicate and pretty so, perfect for girls (Molnar and Kelly, 2013). When these norms are “challenged” society often reacts “negatively” which creates negative experiences for Transgender individuals.

 For example, which category of sports Transgender athletes can compete within, male or female? In August 2021, Laurel Hubbard faced backlash for being the first openly Transgender women to compete in the Olympic Games in a gender category different to the one she was born. And in February 2022, a change to National Collegiate Athletic Association rules and regulations occurred ‘amid controversy’ over Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas’ (BBC News, 2022).

The Sports Councils Equality Group (SCEG) said "for many sports, the inclusion of transgender people, fairness and safety cannot co-exist in a single competitive model" suggesting that there will always be barriers to participation and acceptance for trans athletes (SCEG, 2021, p.15). However, what about those that want to participate for fun, what about Physical Education in schools where participation is mandatory? The SCEG guidance doesn’t accurately reflect the real-life impacts of transgender individuals (Scott, 2021).

In turn, our purpose was to explore transgender males’ experiences of physical education to add to growing knowledge and facilitate more inclusive practices in PE. A group interview focusing on individual experiences was undertaken with two self-identified transgender male undergraduate students. Heres some of the ways that educators can support Transgender individuals:

  • Challenge changing room bullying. Participants experienced bullying and felt vulnerable during the changing room environment due to their identity. They felt like their teachers didn’t do enough to stop bullies by using the discipline systems already in place within their schools.
  • Allow all students to participate in a variety of sports without a focus on athletic ability. Participants believed their low physical capabilities highlighted their vulnerabilities to teachers and created barriers between themselves and their classmates. They also felt uncomfortable participating in typically feminine sports because they were masculine.
  • Create inclusive policy. Often teachers don’t know what best practice was when working with transgender pupils. Meyer and Keenen (2018) highlight that policies will need to cover a broad variety of barriers, such as student records only allowing for male or female options or by considering alternative ways or organising PE classes that don’t reply on gender or sex. These policies should be accessible to staff and students and should exist before the student attends the school so that there is no room for barriers to become issues because of the pre-existing prevention.
  • Demonstrate allyship. The individuals in the study discussed how introducing yourself with your pronouns, displaying a pride flag in your learning environment or discussing role models within the LGBTQ+ community can demonstrate allyship and create safe spaces for students.

Gender is a construct that is ever changing and has been made more complex with the idea of gender fluidity and transgender individuals (Flores et al., 2020). There is no one answer for ‘What is Transgender?’ as everyone has a unique experiences and needs. By challenging stereotypes and demonstrating allyship, educators can create positive and supporting environments for transgender students. If you would like to find out more about transgender lives www.stonewall.org.uk is a great place to start!

Student and Staff of the University can discover the support available at Worcester here:

If you would like to learn more about this study, please contact g.chadwick@worc.ac.uk


BBC News (2022) US unveils new policy for elite transgender swimmers Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-60225075?at_medium=RSS&at_campaign=KARANGA (Accessed: 15 February 2022)

Flores, A.R., Haider-Markel, D.P., Lewis, D.C, Miller, P.R, Tadlock, B.L, Taylor, J.K. (2020) ‘Public Attitudes about Transgender Participation in Sports: The Roles of Gender, Gender Identity Conformity, and Sports Fandom.’, Sex Roles, 83, pp382–398. DOI: 10.1007/s11199-019-01114-z

Meyer, E.J. & Keenan, H. (2018) ‘Can policies help schools affirm gender diversity? A policy archaeology of transgender-inclusive policies in California schools’, Gender and education, 30:6, pp. 736-753. DOI: 10.1080/09540253.2018.1483490

Molnar, G., & Kelly, J. (2013) Sport, exercise and social theory: an introduction. London: Routledge.

Scott (2021) Transgender inclusion, fairness and safety often cannot co-exist' says major review. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/58732146 (Accessed 15th November 2021)

Sports Councils Equality Group (2021) Guidance on domestic trans inclusion. Available at: https://equalityinsport.org/docs/300921/Guidance%20for%20Transgender%20Inclusion%20in%20Domestic%20Sport%202021.pdf (Accessed 15th November 2021)