Chris Mosier's ESPN Body Issue Feature Inadvertently Highlights The Trans Bodies We Never See
While reading the feature on Chris Mosier in ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue (out July 8), I was consumed with inner conflict and a sense of guilt over being unable to unreservedly celebrate his inclusion in a publication that has continually pushed the limits when it comes to celebrating diverse bodies. Mosier is the first out trans athlete to appear in the prestigious publication, so this is a huge moment for trans visibility. But on the other hand, it's also a troubling one — because, even as I'm proud of Mosier for his accomplishments, as a fellow trans person, I can't help but feel that ESPN is glorifying a particular kind of trans body, and that has big repercussions for the rest of us.
First, the good: Mosier is a talented runner who has fought hard for inclusion in sports. His struggles have included being turned down by multiple coaches simply because he's trans, and fighting the International Olympic Committee's transgender guidelines, which were only recently updated to reflect changes in sports training, medical practice, and social attitudes. Historically, the guidelines required athletes to meet strict hormone level and surgery requirements — now, they still need to be on hormones, but they don't need to complete surgical transition. It's good news not just for trans athletes, but also for people with disorders of sexual development (DSD), like Caster Semenya, who made headlines after being outed because of her androgen insensitivity syndrome.
And Mosier hasn't just fought for a place on Team USA. He also promotes trans athletes, and advocates for people at all levels of competition, while also taking a very public stand on issues like equality in bathroom and locker room access. The trans community needs people like him — he's an ambassador, an advocate, a fighter, and a man doing something he loves. His accomplishments deserve recognition, and I'm really excited to see where he goes next with his career.
Posing nude can be tough for anyone, but it's especially loaded for many members of the trans community, as Mosier himself talked about. It is incredibly empowering and affirming to see a transgender man posing for ESPN The Magazine, to see his body celebrated for the incredibly finely-calibrated and amazing thing that it is. Athletes at his level have a rare combination of drive, natural talent, and determination, and the results are really stunning — I love looking at the Body Issue every year, because athletes have such diverse, fascinating, and powerful bodies.
For me, it's especially important to see his top surgery scars, which ESPN could easily have simply erased as they prepped the images for print. His scars look like they're from a double incision, which is an extremely common surgery for those of us with larger chests. Double incision scars are prominent. They can be keloided and wide and gnarly, depending on how your body heals. They're always going to be visible, to some extent, though surgeons do their best to make them flow with the lines of your body.
And often, they aren't visible in depictions of the trans community, which can give some people a real complex about them. They're part of our bodies, and they're something we see in the mirror every day. But it's rare to see images in magazines of bodies that look like ours, to see people with visible top surgery scars and a sense of pride about them — these are battle scars, not something to be ashamed of. I am always drawn to trans photography with highly visible chest scars, and it's the kind of photography that I tend to pass on to trans youth, as well.
Yes, you will have scars from double incision surgery. Yes, they will be visible. But also, yes, they can be beautiful, and they will be a part of your amazing body with all its amazing history.
But that's what brings me to my sense of conflict with these images — because Mosier has an amazing body in all senses of the word. He's lean and cut, with outstanding musculature, not just because he's an athlete (athlete bodies come in all types), but because he's a runner. In many ways, he's the epitome of a masculine ideal: This, we hear over and over again in all kinds of media, is what a man is supposed to look like.
Which raises uncomfortable questions for me about passing privilege and trans bodies; if you don't know Mosier's history, you might not immediately read him as trans. In many ways, he's the safest possible representation of transness: a man who looks like people think a man is supposed to look like.
Just over a year ago, another prominent transgender athlete exploded onto the public consciousness, in the form of Caitlyn Jenner. Jenner's Vanity Fair cover featured a stunning woman performing femininity to the utmost, from luscious hair to flawless skin. At the time, Laverne Cox expressed what I was thinking: "There are many trans folks because of genetics and/or lack of material access who will never be able to embody these standards. More importantly many trans folks don’t want to embody them and we shouldn’t have to to be seen as ourselves and respected as ourselves."
We don't see those trans people represented in media. I don't see bodies like mine — fat, soft, short, scarred — in major magazines.
Part of that is the simple tyranny of beauty culture, which only allows a very narrow range of bodies. ESPN The Magazine is a sports magazine, and is obviously going to feature prominent athletes, not random people off the street; that's going to result in promoting very normative bodies. People who look like me are not Olympic athletes, unless using your inhaler has suddenly become an Olympic event.
There aren't a lot of prominent trans athletes out there, but they're there. There's weightlifter Janae Marie Kroc, for example. Swimmer Schuyler Bailar. Renee Richards, a trans tennis pioneer. But beauty culture takes on particularly cruel twists for the trans community, because we must pass in order to be pretty. Those who fail to pass, especially women, are considered grotesque, unattractive, monstrous — and I feel that the "body positivity" movement has largely failed us, with its panoply of cis bodies, but very few trans people, let alone trans diversity. Changing the way people think about transness and trans bodies must include showing people the full and diverse spectrum of what we look like, from the Chris Mosiers and Caitlyn Jenners to, well, people like me. Seeing a beautiful trans man in the pages of a major magazine means a lot to me, but it would have meant even more if he were "ugly."