May 20, 2024


Automotive to Us

‘The UK is 15 years behind Holland when it comes to trans women in sport’

But reading the coverage of Bridges’ participation in the UK has made her want to speak out about her experiences. “It feels almost to me like we’ve been, I’ve been there. I’ve been there done that. Why does it suddenly pop up? Now in other countries, the same stories, the same beliefs that were there 20 years ago?

“In the case of Emily, we’re not even giving her the chance to prove what they are believing is wrong. I think the UK is now maybe at the point where the Netherlands was 15 years ago.”

One of Van Gogh’s best finishes came in the 2017 Dwars door de Westhoek, a 131.2km race where she came second overall in a time of 3:25.49, 11 seconds behind the winner. “I am, as far as I know, the only transgender [woman] in 20 years who managed to win the lowest level UCI race that the UCI has,” she says now. 

“I don’t believe [trans women] are a threat to women’s cycling like some people are worried about and signing petitions for,” Olympian Gracie Elvin tells Telegraph Sport. “Natalie raced like any other female professional in the peloton, I never felt like she was taking away opportunities from other riders,” said Elvin, 33, who retired in 2020 and says she is inspired by Van Gogh. “There needs to be rules in place to make sure that sport is fair for all, but when you really think about it sport is inherently unfair. I always knew that there was always going to be better athletes than me, but that I still had to try my hardest.”

‘We’re all physically different… everybody’s genetics are different’

Van Gogh retired in October last year, after she could no longer find a new team to compete, due to her age. But her commitment to cycling continues as she now manages the WV Schijndel under-23 women’s team. She says she would not describe herself as an activist, but she is passionate about people understanding the complexities around trans women. “We’re all physically different,” she says, carefully explaining that trans women are not a monolith, “everybody’s genetics are different. You can do good at one sport and you can fail at another sport, that’s one part of it.

“The other part is, especially nowadays, each transition is different. For the Dutch standards, 20 years ago, there was more or less only one possibility. And that was almost fixed by law and on how a transition should go. Nowadays, you have more ways to transition. And that does make the whole discussion on sport so difficult.”

Gender reassignment surgery is no longer required for an individual to transition, a fact reflected in the International Olympic Committee’s policy which updated the regulation after trans athlete Chris Mosier qualified for the US duathlon team in 2015. Hormone therapy is still necessary to compete in elite sport, but identifying as trans is no longer a single unified experience.

With current research so limited due to the tiny numbers of trans women in sport, Van Gogh believes that current policies are often based on assumptions of advantage and fear. “We are pushing away a whole group of people [with these policies], trans gender young people who just want to enjoy life and do sports, not even at a professional level,” Van Gogh explained.

“Let there first be a precedent on this. We have some rules now, let the rules be as they are and let it all play out. At some point, if we see if physically there are discrepancies, then we have to sit around the table to review what is going on. First see what happens, because I still believe that, in the end, nothing will happen.”