Levon Aronian, dialed in during a chess game.

Oh Great, Now I Can’t Play Chess Because I’m Trans

Do trans women have an unfair advantage at chess? Apparently we do, at least in the eyes of the International Chess Federation. A new ruling from the FIDE officially bans registered transgender women from participating in women’s chess events after transitioning.

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Under the new “FIDE Regulations on Transgender Chess Players’ Registration on FIDE Directory,” players who change their gender on their official FIDE ID (or the identification number attached to their chess career) will face official restrictions and regulations related to FIDE chess events. These rules, which were approved by the international chess organization on Monday and will go into effect on August 21, are especially punitive for transgender women.

“In the event that the gender was changed from a male to a female the player has no right to participate in official FIDE events for women until further FIDE’s decision [sic] is made,” the new regulations declare. “Such decision should be based on further analysis and shall be taken by the FIDE Council at the earliest possible time, but not longer than within 2 (two) years period [sic].”

‘Some sort of threat to the integrity of cisgender women playing chess?’

This raises many questions. Why are trans women being banned from women’s chess? What’s the point? Are trans women innately better at chess? Are we too smart to play with cis women? I for one don’t think I am smarter than most cis women, nor do I think my pre-transition years gave me some sort of innate advantage at chess, so this shouldn’t be the case. Yet FIDE is treating trans women as some sort of threat to the integrity of cisgender women playing chess.

“So FIDE just published (yesterday) a list of anti-trans regulations, like it was ‘the biggest threat of women in chess,'” chess coach Yosha Iglesias tweeted. “Can someone tell me what qualifies as an official FIDE event? Will I be allowed to play the French Championship in 3 days? The European Club Cup in September?”

Additionally, transgender men will be stripped of their titles earned within women’s events, which makes no sense. A trans man won that title fair and square; just because their gender changed doesn’t erase their accomplishments. FIDE seems to think so, as their titles can only be renewed “if the person changes the gender back to a woman” and proves their FIDE ID is the same.

“The abolished women title may be transferred into a general title of the same or lower level,” according to the regulations. “If a player has changed the gender from a man into a woman, all the previous titles remain eligible. The player may use only the published rating at the time the registration was changed, and all subsequent ratings when applying for women titles.”

But don’t worry! Sure, trans women might not be able to play in competitive events designed for women. But we can still play in an open bracket! “There are no restrictions to play in the open section for a person who has changed the gender,” FIDE states. It’s like kicking dirt in my face and offering me a hand up afterwards!

Would I, Ana Valens, even be able to play at women’s events?

It’s worth noting that FIDE’s gender change policy is equally restrictive in its own right. In order to update one’s gender on their official ID, FIDE requires “relevant proof of the change provided” that “complies with [the player’s] national laws and regulations.” This means transitioning players must have some sort of official documentation, such as a “birth certificate, passport, national or international ID, a refugee certificate, final court decision” or any other documents that “prove the transfer/change of the gender.”

Changing one’s legal documentation is a difficult and near-impossible process in some areas, including various U.S. red states, meaning FIDE’s new regulations put some trans players in an impossible dilemma. Additionally, FIDE forces trans players to state that they will comply with the new FIDE restrictions, essentially pressuring them into consenting to the ridiculously archaic expectations mentioned above.

All this raises questions for trans women fresh to the competitive chess circuit. I haven’t played chess competitively since middle school, so I’m not registered with a FIDE ID. But if I did register, would FIDE still ban me from women’s tournaments? Because I don’t have any legal proof that I am a trans woman in the first place, it’s very likely I would not be allowed to play with other women. FIDE would likely treat me as a man.

Which is a dangerous precedent. All that anxiety over trans women in physical sports? It’s spreading to other competitive fields too. It won’t be long until esports—a field I actually participate in and have ambitions for competing in—is in the crosshairs.

(featured image: Frans Peeters/Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0)


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Author
Ana Valens
Ana Valens (she/her) is a reporter specializing in queer internet culture, online censorship, and sex workers' rights. Her book "Tumblr Porn" details the rise and fall of Tumblr's LGBTQ-friendly 18+ world, and has been hailed by Autostraddle as "a special little love letter" to queer Tumblr's early history. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her ever-growing tarot collection.