Savannah Burton is the only known transgender athlete to represent Canada internationally
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When Canada goes for gold in August at the World Dodgeball Championship, the team will include what’s believed to be a first for any Canadian sports team on the international stage: a transgender athlete.
Canada’s dodgeball team is only three years old and not yet officially sanctioned, but it’s already making its mark.
Savannah Burton of Toronto, once a player on the men’s team, will play on the women’s at the upcoming world championship in Las Vegas.
“Growing up, I didn’t know of any trans athletes at all.” Burton told Torstar News Service in an interview. “People see me out there, and if it encourages them to play sports, I think that’s great.”
Burton, an actress by profession, enquired about trying out for the women’s team earlier this year, a process that turned out relatively easy.
Canadian Dodgeball Association spokeswoman Bethel Lascano said the group — which was dealing with the question of transgender participation for the first time — decided Burton needed to have a legal sex change and receive hormone therapy for a “sufficient length of time.”
Burton, who started started transitioning soon after she played on the men’s team in 2012 dodgeball competition in Malaysia, met the conditions.
Lascano said the association then brought the matter to the sport’s international governing body, and Burton’s participation was approved.
Other sporting events, however, have more stringent criteria. Most — including the upcoming Pan Am Games — impose Olympics-inspired participation conditions that include surgery as well, which Burton says prevents participation for many transgender athletes.
“A lot of trans people just don’t want surgery — they can’t afford surgery,” Burton said, adding that surgery does not necessarily do anything to affect performance. “It doesn’t have any athletic benefit.”
She added that the only criteria should be hormone therapy and testosterone blockers, citing her own experience.
“You basically don’t have any testosterone in your body,” she said. “You’re basically at the same hormone levels as any other girl, any other woman.”
Making the dodgeball team is not Burton’s first trailblazing moment. Last summer, she and a friend became the first transgender women in Canada to participate in a female rowing competition.
“I want to bring across that it’s OK for trans people to participate in sports,” Burton said. “Trans people — we have such a hard time in society just walking down the street sometimes.”
Burton, however, is only Canada’s first known transgender athlete in terms of team sports. In individual sports, mountain biker Michelle Dumaresq, who first competed in 2001, is regarded as the first.