The Zwift community has been buzzing with news that Jillian Bearden was asked to resign from Team Fearless, one of the top women’s teams on Zwift. In this post you’ll read thoughts from Jillian as well as Team Fearless on this thorny issue. I’ve also invited Zwift HQ to chime in.
First, let’s be clear: my purpose in sharing this story today is not to advocate for one side or the other. I simply want to deliver the news, let those involved share their perspectives, and invite civil discussion on this topic. This discussion is important particularly in the Zwift racing community, where leaders and racers will need to grapple with developing policies in the coming months.
While there are undoubtedly other transwomen on Zwift, Jillian stands out as perhaps the world’s most prominent trans cyclist. She writes this about herself:
IRL I race as an elite athlete, competing in races such as the Colorado Classic and currently gearing up for Nationals. I’ve been an athlete for more than a decade, so yes I was an elite athlete before my transition. This has opened the doors for sport researchers around the world to study me. I ended up being the test subject for the International Olympic Committee and help draft their Trans policy. I have worked with USAC for years to help draft there current Trans policy. With these doctors helping to prove through science what HRT (hormone replacement therapy) will do to an athletes performance before and after transitioning, we were able to show the world data never seen before. All these test where performed at CTS (Carmichael Training Center) in Colorado Springs.
USA Cycling granted Jillian a racing license in April 2016. See her race results >
Here’s a short video about Jillian from the Denver Post:
From Team Fearless
I reached out to Team Fearless administrators and asked them to explain their perspective in writing. Below is the full text of what they sent.
The following is a statement from the Team Fearless admins, it does not represent the views of all the members of our team:
We want to lead by saying that we never told anyone they are unwelcome on any of our rides, races, or events. Like many teams on Zwift we have requirements for joining our team. In the absence of any sort of governing body or rules to govern Zwift racing and Zwift racers, we feel a responsibility to try to set some sort of rules for our team. Such rules also must be enforceable, to the capabilities and abilities of a volunteer virtual team. We have removed racers in the past for not meeting other requirements, such as not racing regularly, or for having questionable results/poor calibration and not willing to work on it. We understand other teams do not feel the need to make this distinction, but our goal is to try to avoid race results of our team being questioned.
In terms of the female question, in the lack of a governing body or enforcement, we felt there were two options for what is female and qualifies for the team: cisgender female only, or anyone who identifies as female. We do not see a middle ground that is enforceable on a volunteer virtual team level. Therefore, we chose to use the terminology “biological female” in our application, which traditionally means born female.
Jillian answered our application that she was biologically female and joined the team as such. When this came to our attention, we opened a dialogue with her. Unfortunately, her interpretation of biologically female differs from our definition and our intention as stated above. We want to clarify again, we at no point have said that transwomen are not welcome in our Team Fearless Fans group or any of our events. Our honest hope was that Jillian would understand our limitations and that she would remain active in our Team Fearless Fans group and in our events.
Jillian wrote an article on Facebook about this incident, and I’ve pulled a few quotes (with her permission) below. You can read the entire article here >
Up to this point I was under the radar as I’m fully transitioned and have been for years, not a single women knew I was Trans and I was just the same as everyone else on the team, as it should be. The team made kits for IRL just for fun and of course I wanted a kit to support the team and feel as though I belonged. As our kits came in last week and we all were taking kit picture as Amy the team owner had asked this of us but this was also fun for us girls, we wanted to! Sharing the excitement I posted this picture (above), first ride in the new kit! It got lots of addition with the beautiful back drop of Pikes Peak, so teammates started asking me where I lived and the rest is history.
I broke the news to a friend I have met through Team Fearless not knowing if she would support me, the msg was hard to write. With great anticipation of her response as she had no idea I was Trans, it turned out her response was amazing and she stands by my side as an ally.
I have been welcomed with open arms in real life by the women’s cycling community. These msg’s … came as a huge shock and I cried most of yesterday’s afternoon away. I have built amazing relationships with the women I race with IRL and they also were shocked with this news …I tried to put my best foot forward to show I was just like any other woman on the team but was quickly smashed down … I’m not here to win you over, just laying out what I experienced racing for a virtual team.
I reached out to Emily Mullen at Zwift, and here is the statement she gave:
Zwift’s for everyone who wants to be more active more often and we want to make sure all of our community can find the place that allows them to reach their potential, and most importantly get more enjoyment from their training. We’re continuing to work with all teams and clubs on Zwift to encourage them to adopt established competition policies, like those held by the IOC, and embrace an overarching spirit of inclusion above all else.
Zwift is gaining acceptance daily among cyclists as simply another discipline of bike racing. As more trans cyclists get involved with racing, it is important that the Zwift community works together (and with Zwift HQ) to develop clear and enforceable guidelines for all Zwifters.
To that end, perhaps a look at the policies currently enforced by cycling’s key legislative bodies would be helpful.
Current Transgender Cycling Policies
The International Olympic Committee released new participation rules for transgender athletes in late 2015. Gender reassignment surgery is not required, and males who transition to females must demonstrate a total testosterone level below 10 nmol/L for at least 12 months prior to their first competition. Read the IOC’s Transgender Policy >
I was unable to find direct reference to UCI’s transgender policies, but did find reliable sources stating that the UCI has indicated they are going to follow the IOC guidelines referenced above.
USA Cycling has adopted the IOC’s policy for elite-level athletes. Non-elite athletes (Categories 3-5) may self-select their gender category, and any questions about each athlete’s eligibility may be determined on the basis of civil or medical documentation, how that athlete identifies in “everyday life,” and similar criteria. Read USA Cycling’s Transgender Athletes Policy >
I would love to hear your thoughts on this matter below. Fair warning: personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please keep it civil.