PSO’s Amy Guion: Transgender Polers in Competition
With the start of Pole Sport Organization’s competition season underway, we thought it was a great time to talk to them about their updated policies regarding transgender athletes. PSO has decided to lead by example and help create a more inclusive pole community, one where all are truly welcome. We sat down with PSO co-founder, Amy Guion, to find out more about their decision.
Bad Kitty: What inspired you to take the initiative to change your policies to be more inclusive? When did you get the ball rolling on these changes?
Amy Guion: We have been talking about this for over a year. We had been approached by some amateur competitors asking for a policy, as well as others in our pole community, so we started looking into what other athletic organizations were doing, and getting feedback from people that we knew in the transgender community.
To be honest, I didn’t understand the issue too well when we started talking about it, because I figured that PSO had been open to everyone in the past, and we didn’t need to point out specific groups and say “Hey, we see you, and yes, we want you at our shows!”. However, now that I’ve listened to a lot of different viewpoints, I can see that welcoming specific groups can be a better approach than assuming that everyone knows they’re welcome! It’s kind of the difference between letting someone walk up to you and being open to them starting a conversation, and being the one to take the initiative, walk across the room, and start the conversation yourself.
I also have a very good friend who is transgender, so there was some personal motivation there for me to get a policy posted publicly.
BK: What does being more inclusive mean to PSO? Do you feel that you can lead by example within the pole industry?
AG: Being inclusive means giving the opportunity for everyone to be onstage, regardless of their dance style, age, gender, or skill. I would hope that we can lead by example!
I believe that the qualities of leadership are: ability to learn about the issue, ability to critique the issue, ability to suggest a new path, and the ability to convince others that your path is a good one. If you want to lead this community, then you need to have all of those abilities. Hopefully, the community sees that PSO does possess those leadership abilities. We learned that dancers of all types needed a place to perform, we critiqued the older method of submission videos, and then we suggested a new type of event, which took off. I would hope that others would be able to learn from our approach and apply that methodology to the issues that they see in our community. I hope that we would be able to inspire a more productive approach to conflict resolution.
In light of the recent rants and discussions regarding the Florida Pole Fitness Championships and Philip Deal’s posts, I do not condone the harassment and internet bullying that has gone on when one individual disagrees with another. If anyone in our community has an opinion, that is fine, but comments need to be addressed respectfully and thoughtfully in order to be taken seriously. Filming hateful videos and making memes of a particular individual is not the way to promote change, and reflects very poorly on the producer of such materials. I disagree with the rule that being a sex worker should disqualify you from entering a competition, but I also strongly disagree with the methodology that has gone into making that a public debate.
BK: What other changes would you like to see to benefit transgender and LGTBQ polers in our community?
AG: [Our] policy is really in its infant stages, and so I would like to welcome feedback from members of our community, both cisgender and transgender, to let us know their feelings about the policy. I’m sure that it’s going to take several iterations in order to get it quite right. I’ll be the first to admit that we don’t know everything, and we probably will make mistakes along the way! It’ll also be interesting to watch other athletic committees, such as the NCAA and the Olympic committee, make updates to their existing policies.
We already got some great discussion on [the PSO] blog…and on our Facebook Page when we released the policy. You can read opinions for and against there if you’d like to see what others had to say.
I’m personally a big fan of anyone allowed in classes. BeSpun, where I train and teach, has a great policy of “if you’re here to learn pole dancing, then you’re welcome”. I can see how other studios have different branding and marketing strengths and challenges that may not make that kind of statement possible, but we have never had any bad experiences with the BeSpun policy. Pole for all!
BK: What went into developing these new policies? Did you work with any advisers?
AG: Yes, we worked with several individuals, some of who do not wish to be named. The ones who are open to speaking about their roles in the policy are Kate E. Gaga and Juno Krahn. They are both former competitors in PSO, and Kate will also be competing at 2016 PPC.
BK: Can you share the specifics of the new policies?
For professional level competitors who identify as transgender: One year living as the gender you identify as, including average gender testosterone levels. Documentation may be required to confirm current status on a case-by-case basis. If documentation is requested, all information can be sent to email@example.com for confidential review. Any inquiries, questions or comments by competitors will also be kept confidential. Medical documentation of average target gender testosterone levels for our purposes are defined as approximately 270-1,070 ng/dL for men and approximately 15-70 ng/dL for women.
For amateur level (levels 1-4) competitors: Competitors may enter as the gender they most identify with and are currently living as. Any inquiries, questions or comments by competitors will also be kept confidential.
Just to briefly comment on the pro policy, we intended that to mean that we will only require further steps to be taken (i.e. medical documentation) if there are any issues brought up during the course of the events about which division someone belongs in. From the comments that we have received, I don’t think we communicated that message as well as I wanted to. The biggest issue that opponents of our wording cite is that it’s overly discriminatory towards transgender individuals by making them “prove” something. I can see how that is a relevant argument, but I can also see how we need to balance being fair towards competitors who want to compete against those who are of their same gender only. What I would love to invite the community to say is not just “this policy is bad and here is why” but please, help us develop something really great, and submit a rewrite so that we have some suggestions from which to base updated language.
Thank you to Amy, for taking the time to speak with us, and to B.J. and the rest of the PSO Family for creating a safe, inclusive, welcoming, and positive environment for polers of all levels! For more information on Pole Sport Organization, or to find out how you can get involved – as a competitor, judge, or volunteer at their events – please go to www.polesportorganization.com or visit them on Facebook.