Transgender Golfer Still Faces Barriers

ByABC News

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.

LPGA pro Christina Kim said she wouldn't mind playing with a transgender individual: "You know, if you can play, come out and bring it is the way I see it," she said. "As long as you have a love for the game, I can respect that."

Beth Daniel, a veteran LPGA pro, said "I think the tour in general, if the research showed that there was reason to change the rule, would be more than willing to change the rule."

However, the woman who was considered a pioneer for transgendered athletes, Dr. Renee Richards, said "the LPGA may be smart in holding to their ideas about this."

After undergoing a sex-change operation, Richards fought for and won the right to be allowed to compete in the U.S. Tennis Open and on the women's tennis circuit in the 1970s. But she is ambivalent about her actions today.

"At the time I thought it was my right to be allowed to play as a woman. Maybe it was too much for me to ask," she said. "Maybe I shouldn't have been allowed the same rights and privileges that a natural-born woman had."

She believes transsexual women maintain a genuine physical advantage over natural-born women, despite scientific evidence to the contrary.

"I will tell you that if Tiger Woods were a true transsexual, had the operation, he would still be too much power for the women on the LPGA," she told Schaedler.

Richards said "there are a lot of similarities" between her and Bagger. "She's a facsimile … We're the best women that we can be, but we're imperfect women."

Bagger is more assertive about her identity, however. "You know in this society, you have either got to be a man or a woman, male or female. And I'm certainly not male. So I'm a woman."

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