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In the transgender debate, Mianne has seen it all from both sides of the ropes

Opinion

Almost two decades after her very appearance on the women’s golf tour brought headlines, Mianne Bagger is still changing opinions and breaking prejudices, writes Jim Tucker

 

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There was no burly bloke in a dress waiting for me on the first tee when I decided to investigate for myself what being a transgender golfer really meant.

There was no crunching 280m drive or an early era “Bryce” DeChambeau sitting in the golf cart beside me as we played nine holes together.

It was an interesting nine holes because, well, it was a normal, chatty nine holes like you’d play with any new acquaintance.

I tried to see advantageous musculature or some edge that being born a man might have given my partner. Couldn’t find any.

My golf partner was Mianne Bagger. We played nine holes at Pelican Waters on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast back in late 2004 before a pro-am.

The women’s tour in the US didn’t want to know her but she was looking forward to an exciting 2005 on the Ladies European Tour.

With no little angst, she was the catalyst for a change in the rules governing women’s golf, or at least the “female at birth” stipulation in Europe and Australia.

She happily agreed to play a quick round with me, as a golf writer, to more openly defuse some of the outlandlish notions that had been whispered about her.

The Danish-born golfer was 12 when she moved to Adelaide with her family. In her mid-20s, she started hormone therapy and a few years later underwent sex reassignment surgery.

A few years on she won three South Australian Women’s Amateur titles (1999, 2001 and 2002) in her early 30s and was a member of the SA state team.

When she did turn pro, judgemental eyes heaped extra pressure on the late-starting rookie of 37. She became the first transgender athlete to compete in a professional golf tournament at the Women’s Australian Open at Sydney’s Concord Golf Club in 2004. She opened with an 84.

“The battle is hard because the stereotypical ideas are out there. Some people are expecting a burly bloke in a dress on the first tee,” Bagger said.

That was something I instantly respected. Bagger was assured, up front, engaging…and she hit the golf ball like a female pro.

She cracked her one wood about 200m on the fly, well short of the biggest hitters in the women’s ranks of that time.

Like the best female pros, she had an immaculate short game. That skill, not twitches of manly strength off the tee, got her through qualifying school and onto the Ladies European Tour and Aussie tour for a decade.

She set up her own website and personally answered questions because “I’m open and understand people being curious.”

“No one should feel afraid of me or be turned off because of ignorance. Get over it…I’m just like any other girl out there,” Bagger said.

“People don’t realise the physiological changes you go through with loss of muscle mass and strength when you go through hormone replacement therapy.”

Leading golfers like Laura Davies and Rachel Hetherington gave her support to just go out and play.

Playing with her, had people modifying their opinions, mine included.

“The notion that some bloke who didn’t succeed on the men’s tour would reappear a few years later on the women’s tour is preposterous,” she said.

The Great White Shark isn’t going to become the Great Queen Parrotfish in his 60s just to bid for another major.

“It’s a life decision and going through hardship, surgery and so much more,” Bagger said.

“In my youth I had depression and didn’t want to live anymore.”

She found the happier place we wish for everyone.

All sports are different. Olympic sport and community sport are different too.

The reasoned, up-front approach Mianne Bagger took then is the same she is taking now as she demonstrated on a recent TV episode of Insight on SBS.

She questions trans-inclusion policy in elite women’s sport in cases where gender reassignment surgery is no longer required for a trans female to compete for medals, money and world records.

She talked of tougher rules not “softened policies that are requiring less and less medical intervention of a male-bodied person entering women’s sport.”

She added: “We want equality, lack of discrimination and, of course, every single person should have equal access to life and services and work in society.

“In sport, it’s different. Sport is about physical ability. It’s not just about discrimination, it’s not just about equality and equal access.”

Australia’s multiple Olympic gold medallist Cate Campbell spoke with feeling in front of swimming’s ruling body FINA in Budapest.

“It is about investigating and developing a policy which accurately represents the science and draws a line to protect the fairness of the female category distinction in elite sport,” Campbell read from her prepared speech.

“Not community sport, not amateur sport – elite, professional sport. I want the broader swimming community to be a place of safety and acceptance for the gender-diverse.”

Like most things in life, there is no perfect answer and no one should think there is.

Jim Tucker has specialised in sport, the wider impacts and features for most of his 40 years writing in the media.

 

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