Becoming Philippa York - Part 2.1

“She wished to find out about this hazardous business of “passing,” this breaking away from all that was familiar and friendly to take one’s chance in another environment, not entirely strange, perhaps, but certainly not entirely friendly.” Nella Larsen Passing

Passing is a sociological construct. The inhabiting of an identity that is free of stigma. The ability to pass seamlessly from one identity to another. Yet the woman on my phone screen, those astonishing razor-sharp cheekbones a distant shadow of a past time, couldn’t be more unapologetically herself. Or give fewer fucks. 

York is talking about her life now, at this moment, as a trans woman. She’s just finished filming - “I might be the random gay person from the gay spectrum” - and opining about her new status: “When you suddenly become a minority, the media imagines that you need the exposure, and you'll be desperate to do it just because they've asked you.” She tells a familiar story about the precocious life of a freelancer in the gig economy, where the transactional currency for content is exposure. Her famous spiky combativity strikes out. “Piss off then, you're annoying me,” she tells an imaginary media Tarquin.

“You know, you're asking for my time. If I put myself out there, I've got to get even more crap than I get now. Why would I do that for nothing?”

She has pertinent things to say about the corporatisation of Pride and its increasingly performative nature. She says she won’t speak to the media “because, for the rest of the year, it's just a constant dose of crap. And then when it's Pride Month, you come along and make this performance. I've watched what you did with trans stuff, and it's just dreadful.”

So is there a way to get trans inclusion right? She talks about two gigs she’s had recently, both in Europe. “They didn't treat me as something else. It’s as basic as that, right? They didn't get one thing wrong. They treated me as a normal human being, not as a trans person, right? From the moment I got there to the moment I left it didn't occur to any of them to say anything. Which is just…” Her voice trails off, perhaps astonished that such straightforward respect isn’t the norm rather than the exception. 

York compares the experience to some of the situations she finds herself in, when “it's a kind of performance to know you, because they feel like that's what you expect from them. But I just want to go, Jesus, you know, somebody's making me do this. I really want nothing to do with people like you.” She’s usually there, she says, “because you tick a box. So the things I did in Europe were just so much better than all the things that I did in the UK.” She chuckles ruefully and adds, “Which is sad, really, isn’t it?”

Then she tells me a genuinely shocking story, typical of her encounters with policymakers and the way that trans voices - when they are heard - are never listened to:

“I sat in a meeting with various people from government and sports bodies. And they went through all this sport for all and everybody's welcome crap. It's just a performance for them. And at the end of it, after we've done all this policy stuff, one of them said, ‘Why don't you tell us what it's like to transition?’ And I told them, and I got to the end, and one of them went, ‘I don't believe you.’ And that was it. ‘I don't believe you’. And not one person who sat on that Zoom call said ‘Why have you said that to this person?’”

“They all sat there and thought that one person was brilliant, because they were prejudiced enough to say, to my face on a Zoom call, ‘I don't believe you, I think you still had advantage.’ No reasons, no examples. And you can feel them all thinking that. And every person at that meeting went away with that ‘I don't believe you.’ And that was the end of the call.”

Shortly after we speak, York - a native Glaswegian and the finest rider Scotland has ever produced - was excluded from any role in the UCI’s first unified world championships. She wasn’t included in any commentary team, despite knowing the roads like the back of her hand and the route going directly past the Robert Millar mural. Her insights into the men’s road race were passed on through tweets by Ned Boulting. She was effectively cancelled from an event to which she could have made an indelible and meaningful contribution. Then, in the official programme for the event, she was deadnamed without her consent and the wrong photo used. Her complete erasure was in stark contrast to the gender critical voices that proclaim their cancellation from every available media platform.

And this despite the UCI and its partners and key stakeholders signing up for an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Pledge in March that promised to ensure that “those who are most vulnerable in society, impacted by stigma and discrimination and excluded from sport and public life are included in this narrative.”

Two months later, British Cycling effectively banned trans women from competition. In July, the UCI followed suit, stating that, as a governing body, they have a “duty to guarantee equal opportunities for all competitors." York’s response: “The very essence of sport is unfair because people beat you. There's nothing fair about competition. You set off at the same time, and you're in the same place. That's the fairness. What happens in between is the competition, and there's nothing fair about it.”

IOC framework on fairness, inclusion and non-discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sex variations, November 2021:


 1 Inclusion
1.1 Everyone, regardless of their gender identity, expression and/or sex variations should be able to participate in sport safely and without prejudice.
1.3 Sports organisations should work together to advance inclusion and prevent discrimination based on gender identity and/or sex variations, through training, capacity-building and campaigns that are informed by affected stakeholders.
1.5 Where sports organisations choose to establish eligibility criteria in order to determine the participation conditions for men's and women's categories for specific contests in high-level organised sports competitions, these criteria should be established and applied in a manner that respects the principles included in this framework. Individuals or parties responsible for issuing such criteria should be appropriately trained in order to ensure that these issues are handled in a manner consistent with these principles.
1.6 The design, implementation and evaluation of these measures and mechanisms should be done in consultation with a cross-section of affected athletes.