Transgender Golfer Still Faces Barriers

ByABC News
July 27, 2005, 2:39 PM

July 27, 2005 -- -- A year ago, Mianne Bagger made history by becoming the first transsexual woman to ever play in a professional golf tournament.

"That was huge," she told "Primetime" correspondent Jay Schadler of her appearance in the 2004 Women's Australian Open. "It's like I get there and I'm on the course side of the ropes. I'm here. I'm playing. It was like, wow!"

Around the same time, the Olympics and the Ladies European Golf Tour opened the doors to athletes like her, changing their rules to allow transgendered athletes.

However, the Danish-born 38-year-old still has obstacles to face: The LPGA, the body that governs the American tour, won't let her play. It says only natural-born women are allowed.

Ty Votow, the LPGA's outgoing commissioner, says the rule is based on the belief that allowing transsexuals to compete against natural-born women "would create an unfair effect on the competition."

However, Bagger says the physical advantages she had as a man have actually disappeared thanks to the female hormones she has taken since before undergoing gender reassignment surgery. She actually has less testosterone in her body now than many women, she said, and she has to rely more on accuracy and less on strength.

"The physical changes are, you lose muscle mass and testosterone," she told Schaedler. "You lose overall strength I certainly wouldn't be out there playing if I felt I had an unfair advantage."

Bagger, who refuses to divulge her birth name, said she never considered herself a male, even when she was still a teen. She didn't tell anyone about how she felt until she was 18, but she says the experience was unbearable.

"I got thoroughly depressed. I got suicidal," she says.

She had gender reassignment surgery in 1995. She had no doubts, she said. "That feeling of laying on the hospital bed just going in for surgery was like, 'My God, I can't believe this is finally about to happen.'"

The LPGA membership is currently reconsidering its policies on transgendered athletes.