The short answer is yes. Transgender athletes are allowed to participate in the sport of rugby. It's the eligibility requirements that have changed for the better.
In 2015, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) changed what made a player eligible to compete citing the importance of autonomy of gender identity in society. USA Rugby, the national governing body for rugby in the United States, chose to follow the IOC's policy:
"Now, surgery will no longer be required, with female-to-male transgender athletes eligible to take part in men’s competitions without restriction. Meanwhile, male-to-female transgender athletes will need to demonstrate that their testosterone level has been below a certain cutoff point for at least one year before their first competition."
So why should transgender people consider playing rugby? We could list a bunch of reasons, but instead, we'll let one of our players do the talking. We'd like to introduce you to Eli Baynes, a 22-year-old college student from O'Fallon, IL. He has been playing with our team for about two and a half years primarily as our loose-head prop.
What prompted you to play rugby?
I was around 15 or 16 when I watched my first rugby match. One day, while channel surfing, I happened to stumble across a college rugby game. I had no idea what I was watching, but I was instantly hooked. Seeing these giants smash into each other with no real protective gear was exhilarating. At first, I focused on the smaller players who were making the flashy moves. The combination of their speed and raw power shocked me. Then, I saw a scrum: sixteen massive men colliding with each other while ripping up the field in their struggle. The amount of power they put out was incredible. I wanted to do what they were doing. I wanted to play rugby.
Why did you join the Crusaders over other rugby teams in the area?
I didn't pick a team till a few years after that since I didn't even know the area had rugby teams. One of my acquaintances in high school told me there was a team in Belleville so I went out to practice with them when I was 18. I didn't last long because, at the time, I was almost 340 pounds and could barely run.
A couple of years went by before a friend, a guy I got interested in rugby and had been working out with, sent me a text saying he found someone who played for a gay-inclusive team. We were invited to practice the following week. I had no idea that the St. Louis area had an inclusive rugby team or that an entire inclusive league existed! That was a huge factor in why I chose to join them over other closer teams.
Has it been easy or difficult to be open about being transgender?
Being transgender, I had no idea if I would even be allowed to join the team at first. I showed up to practice and spoke to the captain. When I told him I was transgender, he immediately said that I had nothing to worry about because the team welcomed anyone. I'll occasionally have to talk through what being transgender is like, but I never have to justify my choices to my teammates. They have always welcomed me as a brother. In rugby, there's always someone supporting you. It's that mentality that creates a real brotherhood among teammates.
What have you gained from playing rugby and with an IGR team?
I joined the Crusaders at one of the lowest points in my life. Less than two years prior, I had begun to transition from female to male and had hit a point where I thought it would make no difference. I feared that people would never accept me as the person I was supposed to be. I didn't see a reason to live and considered taking my life. The Crusaders gave me a chance to hang out with a group of men who unquestioningly accepted me as one of them. I got the opportunity to interact with people who didn't question the validity of my humanity. In many ways, rugby saved me. It saved my life.
If you had to pick one reason, why should more transgender people participate in rugby?
The team welcomes everyone who comes to practice as part of the family without question. I can't think of another sport that ignites a sense of pride like rugby. Pride in the cuts, the scrapes, the sore shoulders, and the battered legs. Pride in those who don’t hesitate to bruise their bodies to help their team. Pride in yourself and pride in everyone who pulls on your jersey.
I might be different from the rest of my teammates, but they don't care. We are brothers when we walk onto the pitch together. The Crusaders is a group of men that very much believes rugby is for everyone; that everyone has a place in rugby.