Saturday , September 18 2021

Olympics For deaf transgender athlete, Tokyo 2020 brings hope for change

TOCHIGI, Japan, July 22 (Reuters) – Sato, a transgender pole vaulter, expects to represent Japan at the Deaflympics in Brazil next year. But for now, he is following Tokyo 2020 closely, where transgender athletes will compete in the Olympics for the first time.

Sato, 25, sees the inclusion of New Zealand transgender weightlifter Lauren Hubbard in the Olympics as hope for young people struggling with their identities, which he also strives to do.

“When I was younger, there was information about being deaf or transgender, but I could not find much on that crossover,” Sato, who was born deaf, told Reuters via a sign language translator.

“I hope younger people who have similar struggles can see me and feel safer in the fact that I manage well. True, there are difficulties, but there is absolutely nothing unhappy about both deaf and transgender,” he said.

Sato first questioned his gender identity at 13 in question and gradually began to identify himself as a man in his youth.

When he was in high school, he was introduced to pole sitting by a teacher and was soon hooked by the tension and liberation from floating above the ground.

By the time he started college, he adopted the male name “So” and came out as a transgender.

He had his breasts removed at 22, but has not undergone overtime or hormone therapy. Although he identifies himself as a man, he is legally a woman and competes in the women’s competition.

Competing as a man would require transition and hormone therapy and would bring other complications, he said.

“I get mixed feelings about it. It just doesn’t feel right to me,” he said. “If I win in the men’s category, I imagine people will say I won because I take hormones.”


On a sunny day in mid-July, Sato slammed into the air in a training stadium where he was preparing for his third Deaflympics. During breaks, he shared tips with other athletes, sometimes breaking into laughter.

Sato won silver at his first Deaflympics in 2013, a year after picking up the sport. He arrived empty-handed in 2017 and hopes for gold next year, after the event, like the Olympics, was also delayed by a year.

Sato will not participate in Tokyo 2020, as deaf athletes typically do not participate in the Paralympic Games, but he hopes that the upcoming Games will help bring about social change.

The selection of weightlifter Hubbard at the Tokyo Games has rekindled a debate about inclusion and fairness in sport. The 43-year-old Kiwi participated in men’s competitions before moving on in 2013.

In Japan, there were calls for the government to introduce an LGBT + equality law prior to the Games to keep its promise to make increased diversity one of the legacies of the Olympic Games.

A bill was passed in June due to strong opposition among conservative lawmakers.

“I hope that with the help of the Olympics, Japan can become a little more inclusive for all kinds of minorities,” Sato said.

“Although I wish we did not have to rely on the Olympics for that change at all.”

Reported by Sakura Murakami; Edited by David Dolan and Michael Perry

Our standards: The principles of the Thomson Reuters Trust.

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