Steamboat Springs transgender snowboarder makes debut in men’s boardercross
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — AJ Juneau has the fingernails on his left hand painted and a large silver ring on the middle finger. Just the left hand, though. The right hand is unpainted and unadorned.
The choice is a semi-intended metaphor for his identity.
Juneau is female-to-male transgender. Juneau was assigned female at birth but now goes by he/him pronouns, although he’s considered going by he/them pronouns, since he doesn’t feel completely male, either.
“I’m not fully male,” Juneau said. “It’s definitely a spectrum. That also made the process of figuring myself out longer.”
Juneau, a Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club member, made a huge leap in his public transition, competing in the men’s class in boardercross at Copper Mountain in a Rocky Mountain Regional competition last Thursday. He finished second in his age group.
In the almost 10 years he’s snowboarded competitively, Juneau has done so as a female.
“I had a really good time racing in the male division. I’ve been wanting that for a couple seasons now. It felt right,” Juneau said. “Last year, when I was competing in the female group, I was not very comfortable, and I felt like I was cheating even though I really wasn’t. It felt wrong. This year, now that I’m racing male, it feels right. It feels like it’s the right place for me.”
Juneau started snowboarding at 5 and began racing in Crested Butte a year or two later after falling in love with the NASTAR course there.
Four years ago, Juneau moved to Steamboat to join the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club boardercross team. Juneau said he loves the sport because it’s head-to-head action and requires guts and sheer speed.
Juneau’s goal is to reach the Olympics and serve as someone who young LGBTQ+ athletes can look up to — something Juneau doesn’t have.
‘This feels right’
Looking back, Juneau said there were plenty of signs that he was transgender starting as early as 3 years old. Thankfully, his parents were supportive of him, not forcing him to wear dresses or conform to other gender norms.
By the end of sixth grade, Juneau was uncomfortable identifying as female. The next year, he requested to be called AJ, rather than his legal name, and he asked people to use they/them pronouns since he wanted to explore his gender.
The summer before eighth grade was when he made the biggest step toward deciding where he fell on the gender spectrum.
At a Rotary Youth Leadership Awards camp, Juneau introduced himself as AJ and said he was using he/him pronouns.
“That was a way to figure that out about myself, because no one knew me as anything else there,” Juneau said. “That’s when it clicked — this is right.”
When making the decision to compete as a male, he thought ahead to if he made it to the professional level of the sport as a female. He thought about how he wouldn’t feel right in an interview. It wouldn’t feel genuine.
So, Juneau made the decision to compete as a male. Last weekend was his first step.
The next step in Juneau’s snowboarding career is moving up to the men’s open class — the most competitive classification at the USASA level. He plans to do that next month.
Then next winter, Juneau hopes to start racing at the Nor-Am or FIS level, but there will be a small hurdle to cross. Juneau, a freshman at Steamboat Mountain School, said he’ll likely start taking hormones, or testosterone, next summer.
Testosterone will induce changes in Juneau’s body such as promoting growth of body hair, voice deepening and more. However, the World Anti-doping Agency considers taking testosterone as doping.
Thankfully, major sporting organizations are making it easier for transgender athletes to compete. The USA Ski and Snowboard Association made a change in the 2017-18 rulebook that states, “People who identify as transgender or transsexual should be treated fairly and with dignity and respect at all times.”
Proof, such as a driver’s license may be required, something that Juneau will get when he’s old enough. Right now, he has a permit with his legal name and the gender he was assigned at birth.
When he gets his license, he will change his gender, and maybe, even his name.
At the Olympic level, anyone making the transition from female to male can compete unrestricted. There is more contention surrounding athletes who transition from male to female who have more natural testosterone in their systems and may have an advantage over other female athletes.
Juneau hopes there are more changes in the future, especially to the rule that considers taking testosterone or other hormones as doping.
“They’re saying you can do this, but you can’t really be who you are,” he said. “It would be more supportive to the community if there was a rule change to show the difference (between a cis male and a trans male taking testosterone), so it wasn’t such a barrier to get over.”
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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