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  • Alexi De Greef

Alexi De Greef

1. What does the queer community mean to you or what does being queer mean to you?

I have been thinking about these questions for weeks now and still didn't find a satisfying answer :). My current conclusion is that I'm not sure what a 'queer community' is. Does this mean everyone who openly identifies as queer and is publicly visible? Or the people active in the 'organized' queer world, like in non profits, cafes, online platforms, events,...?

For sake of not overthinking the question, I'm going to go with openly queer people.

I'm approaching 'queer community' as a conceptual pocket of society that allows everyone who deviates from the heterosexual / cisgender norms to discover who they are without fear of mockery, discrimination, harrassment or having to defend themselves. I place a great deal of importance on representation. Partly because I didn't have any growing up myself, but mostly because it just is undeniably important. You can't be what you don't see.

When I discovered that I was bisexual I was 14. I lived in a very small village and it was the year 2000. I knew I was bi, but didn't have any resources, references or role models. My only 'community' was the lesbian chat on During my entire highschool period there was 1 gay boy and 1 lesbian girl. Not in reality, ofcourse. There were about 500 kids at my highschool so there definitely were more, including yours truly. But 2 out of 500 were out of the closet. 2/500 when statistically speaking you'd expect more like 50/500. That should tell you just how difficult it was to be openly LGBTQI+ in my village.

I came out a year later (to a select few) and got less than encouraging reactions. My fears and hesitations turned out to be justified, so I crawled back into the closet. I remember trying to shrug the whole thing off and ‘move on’. The butterflies and homecoming I felt when I kissed a girl for the first time as a part of a game of truth or dare I told only my diary. That was my little secret.

Until I was 18 and went to film school in Brussels.

I started seeing a boy and came out to him after about a year of being together. We talked for hours and hours that night. Well, "talked"... I poured out my heart and looked for the words through my tears. He listened and comforted me. Apart from him there were a handful of other straight people who were supportive and didn't try to talk me out of it. But that 'queer community' remained a distant fairytale. Slowly I discovered my bisexual orientation. Mostly in silence and by myself.

Fast forward to my coming to Ghent aged 23. It is here that I found my voice. I came out as bisexual with a Bang! I started meeting more LGBTQI+ people and even got a job at an LGBTQI+ organization. At this point I also knew I wasn't cisgender, but didn't say anything to anyone. Not even to the lovely people in my queer circle. It felt like the bi thing needed to exist out there for a while before i could add another layer of queerness. In retrospect I think I must've learned from my coming out journey as bisexual, that I had to discover these things on my own, independently. So coming out as non-binary went more or less in the same way: slowly, cautiously, and with a lot of introspection.

Around 25 I came out as non-binary. Aged 30 I officially changed my name. Thanks to my place of employment and the people I surrounded myself with, this was never an issue. I was so much part of 'the queer community' that I didn't even see I was in it. I went from the shadows to the spotlights with a violent passion. Full of energy from feeling suppressed by society's expectations for an entire decade, I became visible and decided to dedicate my life to making the world a more queer friendly place. In whichever way I felt capable.

Over the years and with a bunch of ups and downs I grew more and more comfortable with who I am. I personally don't care which pronouns people use for me anymore and brush being misgendered off like it's a speck of dust landing on my shoulder. At this point I just *am* queer. It's just as much part of me as the fact that I have brown-green eyes or size 41,5 shoes. It's a take it or leave it situation.

2. What would you like to change (in society, sports, for yourself or whatever goes through your mind) and how would you change it?

I am a powerlifter and founder of Zacht Beton, a strength training PT studio that aims to make strength sports more accessible to everyone. For a few months now, Zacht Beton has been an official club at the powerlifting and weightlifting federation of Flanders (VGPF).

Safe to say that my life is deeply embedded in the world of sports.

Gender and (organized) sports aren't the best friends though. It's hard to think of a topic that creates more polarization in my life. Even when I worked for LGBTQI+ organizations we often called sports 'too complicated' to vocalize a firm statement about. The world of sports seems to put a magnifying glass to gender norms and bombard it as its primary source of division. Gender norms in society can be circumvented. You can buy your son a barbie doll if he prefers to play with a doll over a monster truck. In contrast, it is not as easy to conquer these binary gender norms when they are the foundation of your construct. No matter where you look -with some exceptions like roller derby and quidditch- male / female divisions are the first thing you face. In a way it's understandable. We prefer to simplify things into an easily digestible binary and there are a lot of anatomical, hormonal and chromosomal differences between (cis)man and (cis)woman that makes this binary division seem logical. Wouldn't it be easy if society was neatly divided into male / female, with all the physiological attributes that are associated with those boxes?

Unfortunately for the binary minded, the world is a beautifully diverse tapestry of variations to this male / female binary. Not just in anatomical, hormonal, genital, chromosomal ways, but in ways of gender identity as well. To divide sports into a neat binary is to choose to ignore the diverse reality we live in. Binary division excludes entire groups of people in society. This is a fact.

As a non-binary and competitive powerlifter I am pretty directly affected by this. I compete in the female division and register as 'F' for my insurance. As things stand however, I'm alright with this. My physiology is 'female'. I have an estrogen dominant body, XX chromosomes as far as I’m aware, and I’m not on any hormones. I wouldn't stand a chance in the male division, nor would I want to be there. As things stand -by which I mean the binary female / male basis upon which sports are built- I wouldn't want it any other way. The first few years I struggled with this, but I’ve found a way to shelf these feelings out of love for my sports.

In a way I am lucky to be able to do this. There are trans and intersex people out there who are inadvertedly banned from practising the sports they love. Trans people who go through medical transition are straight up excluded from competing. And not just in elite competition. Very often this exclusion happens with kids and adults practicing sports on an amateur level. In several states in the US there are state laws prohibiting trans kids from participating altogether. This is outrageous and 100% fueled by transphobia, despite the 'rationalizations' often given.

Elite trans athletes have to meet very strict WADA (World Anti Doping Agency) rules before they get the green light to compete. These rules don’t cut it for many though, and as a consequence trans athletes who dare to follow their dreams are faced with horrendous hatred. Intersex people with variations in hormones, chromosomes and sex characteristics face the same exclusion. This affects not only trans, non binary or interesex people but all of us, since now girls who are deemed to be more 'masculine looking' or manage to reach unseen levels in their sports are forced to undergo intrusive testing, violating not only their right to privacy but their dignity and sense of self as well.

If we take a step back, remove transphobia from the equation and look at this from an objective standpoint, we’d have to conclude that if divisions don’t reflect reality, they need to be revised and altered. Back to the drawing board! However, this is such a huge task that it could not be done in a few years. And in bridging this period until everyone is treated equally and fairly, I don’t see any other option than to include everyone. Trans, intersex, elite, amateur and novice alike.

Note: some voices have gone up to create a separate division for trans people, drawing a parallel to the paralympics. However, there are some big issues with this idea they seem to miss. There would be hardly any participants in this category since exclusion of sports starts on a local level. Also, treating trans and intersex people as a separate category also further 'others' them and removes them from regular competition. This entire idea sounds like a 'let's group the weirdos and toss them aside so the real athletes can do their thing'. Frankly, it's disgusting and segregationist. Other issues are to be mentioned, like lack of attention and therefore sponsorship. There is however, in my mind, inspiration to be gathered from the way the paralympics organize their (competitive) categorization. This is based on physical characteristics and ability, not gender or sex. What this would look like in practice I don’t know, but I strongly feel like this is worth investigating.

What offends me maybe most about trans exclusion from elite sports is the message it sends to trans kids out there. They are -in a very real sense- told they are not welcome. That there is no space for them and they will face hatred if they walk into their local sports club. There is almost no bigger deterrence from participating in anything than this. Add this to the lack of openly trans inclusive policies in local gyms and sports clubs, the prevalence of homophobic and transphobic jokes and slurs, and you end up with an impossible uphill battle for a trans kid to start their journey.

Practicing sports should be empowering, strengthening, inclusive. It shouldn't be such a fight for anyone to take even the first steps into any type of sport. If you want to keep sports fair and honest, like so many anti-trans voices out there claim, you welcome trans and intersex people - both in amateur and elite sports. Banning someone from participation is as far removed from the olympic mindset as can be.

Instagram : @alexi_beton and @zacht_beton

Text by Alexi De Greef, founder of Zacht Beton, powerlifter,

PA and advocate for inclusive power training.

Photo by Marijn Achten


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