Transgender Women’s Professional Golf Pro
By Sara Benson
This interview with Mianne Bagger was conducted by Sara Benson, editor of the thought provoking Beyond Gender Blog.
Mianne Bagger is a strikingly beautiful woman with long blond hair, blue eyes, and a golf swing worthy of the Ladies European Tour. Her golfing abilities and her compelling looks are not the only things that draw the attention of the media. Although she does not appear to be, Mianne is a minority. She is a transsexual woman. Due to her gender change, Mianne has been the focus of a significant amount of media attention and gossip. The golfing community has allowed her to play, but only after she spent one year of her time writing to various golf tours in order to have the “female at birth” clause removed from her entry forms in order to compete. Her story sounds disturbingly similar to the battle fought by tennis professional Renee Richards, who successfully sued the U.S. Tennis Association when she was barred from playing in the U.S. Women’s Open. Fortunately, Mianne did not have to wage a legal battle. However, her struggle within the golfing community highlights how little society has truly progressed in recognizing the rights of every citizen, including the transgendered.
Mianne is a strong woman, who is pursuing her dream despite the attention that it draws to her life, her gender, and her community. Perhaps, she is pursuing her dream because of her community. Mianne’s story, opinions, and inspirational views are published below. I hope that her words provide guidance for others who are fighting against discrimination due to their transsexuality.
Sara Benson: When did you first come to the realization that you were transsexual?
Mianne Bagger: I always have difficulty with that term, or word, ‘transsexual’. It sounds so harsh and horrible. Also, my thought is that someone is not ‘transsexual’, but rather it’s a condition we are born with and get treated for. Once we’ve been treated, we no longer suffer from this condition. Anyway, my first memories of realizing that there was something different about me, compared to other kids, was when I was 6 or 7 years old. I have never thought of myself as ‘transsexual’ (or a man for that matter). I have always felt myself to be female.
Sara Benson: Was it difficult to “come out” to the world as transsexual?
Mianne Bagger: It was difficult, and I think more so because the world has been led to see us as ‘a transsexual’ ….not as a person or as a woman like any other. Women like myself have usually been portrayed as something less than human, and somewhat of a person of lesser standing in society and associated with sexual fetishistic behavior ….a novelty. That was a big part of the difficulty of ‘coming out’ for me and also part of my motivation about being open about my life. I was lucky to have good friends and family and always had a lot of support and understanding around me.
Sara Benson: What advice do you have for others who are trying to transition to a different gender?
Mianne Bagger: It’s difficult to give advice on something that can be so complex and I think can be dealt with in so many ways. I think to be honest with yourself, and your motivations, is always a good way to be, and try to be a little understanding of what people around you might be trying to deal with as well …particularly with those close to us. We will always need to push boundaries and people’s comfort zones a little, but too much at once can be hard for others to take. Just be yourself and don’t always try to force things too much.
Sara Benson: How have you been received in the golf community? Are you facing challenges due to your gender?
Mianne Bagger: I think I’ve been welcomed very much into the golf community. I have a lot of friends through golf in Australia and Denmark, and a lot of friends on tour. The main challenges I face now are those in the world at large. Not so much in the golf ranks.
Sara Benson: How do you feel about the fact that Renee Richards, in your ABC special, stated that perhaps transsexual athletes should not be able to compete?
Mianne Bagger: I’m not really sure what to think of that? I don’t quite understand her comments and opinions. Being someone that has dealt with gender identity issues and has been through gender correction surgery, she would know how absolutely consuming it can be, and is, in one’s life. Suggesting that someone like Tiger Woods could go through treatment to then play on the women’s tour is unbelievable to me ….and quite inconceivable. She stated that “if Tiger Woods was a real transsexual”, well that’s like saying “if Tiger Woods wasn’t really Tiger Woods”. With what we have to deal with, with regard to our own identity, I doubt very much that any one like that could become a top sports person. Also, with her being a doctor, she should know of the physiological effects of HRT and surgery on muscle mass and strength.
With more and more being known about transsexualism and intersexed conditions, I hope that it will create greater awareness and acceptance of the condition that it is. With that, more and more people are going to be treated earlier on in their lives, and more so before puberty (there are numerous accounts of this from treatment of kids in Holland and now more frequently around the world). This means that masculine effects will be minimized and there is likely to be less ‘older’ people going through treatment. Basically what I’m saying is that there is going to be less likelihood of any accomplished sports person going through transition to then pursue sports as the opposite gender.
Sara Benson: Do you think that transgender/transsexual rights are progressing in Europe faster than they are in the United States?
Mianne Bagger: Unfortunately I only have a perspective from outside of the US, and from that perspective, it certainly does seem that Europe is progressing faster. I have my own experiences here in Europe but I have also read a lot of what the situation is like in the US and also have contact with a lot of people who give me their opinions. It’s sad that in this day and age, there can still be such stubborn, narrow-minded views on something so complex as human nature.
Sara Benson: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced in your life?
Mianne Bagger: It has been one of becoming, and accepting myself for who I am. To challenge a lot of ‘norms’ in society and not live by it’s restrictive superficial rules. To push the boundaries and challenge the notions of what it means to be a human being born into a society that wants to tell us how we can and can’t live our lives according to someone else’s ideals.
Sara Benson: Do you believe in the concept of a third gender? Or, would you rather be considered a woman within the confines of our gender binary?
Mianne Bagger: It’s funny you should ask that. I have a friend who, for years, has had a theory of a third gender and of it becoming more prevalent in society in coming years. The way our society is structured at the moment, gender is binary and one needs to be one or the other. There isn’t room for anything else. That doesn’t mean it should stay like that. I think this binary needs to change and acceptance of people outside of that should be considered. There are more and more intersexed people that opt not to have surgery these days. What does society class them as? Where do they fit in? Where does a person like me fit in for that matter? Society can’t continue to ignore it or try to explain it away.
Sara Benson: Do you believe that there is a genetic predisposition to transsexuality? Some modern researchers have found a different brain chemistry in transsexuals. Do you think that this research makes sense?
Mianne Bagger: I look at is this way. Gender and ones own core identity is something hard wired and determined at birth. There are many things that are influenced through environmental factors and upbringing, but not of ones gender. That has been proven many times from what I understand. What the reason is and what the determining biological factor is, I have no idea. The research I have read about does make sense, but whether it explains why and whether it is ‘the cause’, I don’t know. It seems there is more to learn.
Sara Benson: What do you hope to accomplish through your golfing career… both personally and professionally?
Mianne Bagger: I intend on becoming the best golfer I can be and to make a living from playing on tour. It’s been a passion for a long time and now I have the opportunity to pursue it and it can be done no less than with 110% effort. On a personal level I think there are a multitude of things to achieve. I think one grows tremendously in character by going outside of your comfort zones, going to new foreign places and meeting new people. As well as the media focus on me while I’m pursuing these goals. With such media attention I hope to create better awareness of what it means to deal with transsexualism and various gender variant conditions in general. People are all just people in this world and the huge variation that exists should be welcomed and embraced.
Sara Benson: Do you suffer from discrimination on a daily basis? If so, how?
Mianne Bagger: I guess it depends where I look. (you can always find what you’re looking for!). If I decide to have a look around on the internet, I am discriminated against daily, but I also choose not to focus on that. I have too many wonderful people in my life and I rarely face discrimination. After all, in day to day life, I’m just Mianne, and that’s who people meet.
Sara Benson: At what age did you transition to your new gender? Why did you make that decision at that point in your life?
Mianne Bagger: It was a long process for me. Starting with my own sense of ‘something wrong’ from 6 or 7, to starting counseling at 18 to finally starting treatment when I was 25. For me it took to getting deeply depressed and becoming suicidal. I simply did not, and could not, go on living the way I was any longer. I knew absolutely what I had to do.
Sara Benson: When you transitioned, did you foresee the media attention that you would receive? If not, how have you handled the spotlight?
Mianne Bagger: I realized that if I was to go back to playing golf, it wouldn’t be a matter of ‘if’ someone found out about me, but merely a matter of ‘when’. When I went through treatment I resigned to the fact that I would no longer be able to pursue professional golf and was one of the furthest things from my mind at that time. After then progressing with my golf and getting an invite to the Women’s Australian Open in 2004, I knew there was likely to be significant focus on me. I really had no idea how much though.
I am comfortable with the position I’m in and the media attention I get. Everyone that I have actually done interviews with have handled the issue with respect and with an open mind. It has all been very positive and I think they appreciate there is someone being open about what needs to be discussed. When there is nothing to hide there isn’t anything to fear from [intelligent] media.
Sara Benson: Do you have any additional comments or concerns that you would like to bring to the general community?
Mianne Bagger: For people to open their minds. Realize there are so many different ways of life that people lead and there is no ‘rule book’ on how to live. There are many different perspectives, opinions, likes and dislikes, rituals, beliefs and belief systems. It doesn’t mean you have to be a part of other peoples’ lives that differs from your own, and it doesn’t mean you should dismiss or shun them (or even destroy them) either. Don’t shut it out just because it differs from your own, embrace this wonderful variation that can make this planet such a fantastic place to live.
Visit www.miannegolf.com to learn more about Mianne and her golf accomplishments.
Interview Copyright 2005 by Sara Benson, Editor of Beyond Gender Blog.
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