Compassion was not my initial response to the news that a
transgender mountain biker was creating a stir in Canada. My
initial response was gratitude, as in, Thank you, God, for the
easiest column I will write this year. Sure, there would be a
few gray areas with pronouns. But here was a column whose kicker
practically composed itself. Whether you agree with her or not,
you have to admit: What she did took balls.
After an hour on the phone with Michelle (nee Michael) Dumaresq,
however, I came away enlightened and sympathetic. I came away
with a deeper respect for Dumaresq, some of whose opponents want
her banned from competition. It's not fair, they say,
inadvertently echoing what Dumaresq used to say to herself in her
most despairing moments: Why me? It isn't fair!
"Your gender identity comes from your brain, and it's pretty
overpowering," she says. "There were times in high school when I
was just really confused. I'd ask myself, 'What is going on? I'm
the captain of the damn hockey team!'"
Around the time she was five, says the 32-year-old Vancouver
native, she was dimly aware that "something wasn't right." Those
feelings of confusion returned when she was 10 or 11,
intensifying with the onset of adolescence. "I didn't know what a
transgendered person was," she says. "I just knew there was a
voice inside of me saying, 'Hey, try this on!'
"You either go for help or you hide it. I chose to get help."
At 18 she came out to her closest friends. Four years later she
joined a support group. She went on a regimen of hormones and
psychotherapy and underwent a "real-life test," in which she
lived as a woman for two years. In 1996 she underwent the
three-hour operation from which there could be no return.
An avid athlete all her life, Dumaresq has been riding mountain
bikes for 14 years. Only last year, however, did she take up
competitive downhill. After just three races her license was
suspended by the sport's international governing body, the UCI,
which was responding to complaints that she had an unfair
physical advantage. After reviewing her case over the winter, the
UCI reinstated her in April. Dumaresq won her country's Canada
Cup series, thus qualifying for a spot on the national team that
competed in the recent world championships in Austria. "That's
when the s--- hit the fan," she says.
She became a national story in Canada. Two of her teammates,
Sylvie Allen and Cassandra Boon, argued that she shouldn't be
allowed to compete. Their surreal suggestion, that Dumaresq
compete in a separate transgender category, was rejected out of
hand by Pierre Hutsebaut, executive director of the Canadian
Cycling Association. "She is legally a woman," he said.
She is hormonally a woman too, says Dumaresq, who used to be 6
feet, 210 pounds but who now goes 5'9 1/2", 180. She points out
that she has lost 30% of her muscle mass since she started taking
female hormones and probably has less testosterone in her body
than most of her opponents. That didn't stop world champion
Anne-Caroline Chausson of France from criticizing her in Austria.
"It's not fair," Chausson, who won her 10th world title, said to
her. (Dumaresq placed 24th.) "You are stronger."
"You don't know that," said Dumaresq. "You're just guessing."
Not everyone gave her such a frosty reception. "Goddam!" said
U.S. downhiller Missy Giove, who came in third in Austria. "If
you're here, it must be 2002!
"I stand for acceptance and open-mindedness," continued the
voluble Missile, who is gay. "If she says she doesn't have a
competitive advantage, then I believe her."
Rather than whisper behind her back, Giove peppered Dumaresq with
questions. "You'll have to excuse my ignorance," Giove said at
one point. "I don't meet a lot of transsexuals in my line of
Dumaresq is happy to tell her story. She wants to educate people
on transgender issues, even as she herself makes new discoveries.
She had no idea, for instance, that the hormones she takes would
affect the way she thinks. But that has happened, she insists. On
a recent training ride she and some guy friends came across a new
jump on one of their regular trails. While the four guys in front
of her took the jump without hesitation, Dumaresq got off her
bike, then had this exchange with the guy behind her:
"What are you doing?" the guy asked.
"Checking out the landing."
The next SI ADVENTURE will appear in the Oct. 14 issue.
COLOR PHOTO: TOM MORAN MAN POWER? Some of Dumaresq's rivals argue that she has a physiological advantage.
"Excuse my ignorance," said Giove. "I don't meet a lot of
transsexuals in my line of work."