In 2015, triathlete Chris Mosier earned a spot on the Team USA sprint duathlon men’s team, becoming the first out trans athlete on a U.S. national team.
Mosier, 41, has long campaigned for inclusion in the Olympics—his challenge to International Olympic Committee policies actually resulted in new IOC guidelines to allow transgender athletes to participate in the Games.
In 2020, Mosier became the first trans male to compete in a men’s Olympic trial when he entered the 50km Race Walk, though he was unable to finish the race due to injury.
One year earlier, in 2019, Franklin Pierce University senior CeCé Telfer became the first transgender woman to win an NCAA title, taking first place in the 400-meter hurdles in the Division II Track and Field Championships.
Her time, 57.53 seconds, wasn’t just a personal best: It was two seconds shy of a record.
Though Telfer, 26, wasn’t allowed to compete in the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials this year, she’s focused on the future and training for upcoming meets.
LGBTQ Nation brought Telfar and Mosier together for a first-of-its-kind conversation.
LGBTQ Nation: It’s obviously been a strange year-and-a-half for all of us, but what is day-to-day life like for you right now? With training and just living your life?
CeCé Telfer: I feel like I’ve been training nonstop with nothing to deliver. It’s driving me crazy because I feel like I have all of this momentum and energy building up. On the track, while everybody else is like, ‘Give me a break, I need to breathe for a second,’ I’m like, ‘No, I’ve been training for like almost three years. Let’s go!’
At the same time, I’m taking time for my mental and physical state to align and making sure everything is good with me. Taking the time to really cross my t’s and dot my i’s and make sure that I’m preparing myself for when the season starts and everything picks back up again. For all the noise to start back up.
I’m healthy, I’m injury-free. So that’s on the track side of things.
Outside of track, I’m reconnecting with all my friends that were pretty much on their toes during the competition season. Spending the past couple of months reconnecting with them, going out, having dinner but being safe.
I just changed my license to my actual name, and it feels so good. Because it also says my gender on it and I’m like, ‘Hi, that’s me!’ So, when I go to the bar, nobody got nothing to say about CeCé to her. Because ‘she’ is ‘she.’ So I’m just vibing right now.
LGBTQ Nation: That’s such a wonderful milestone.
Telfer: That literally just happened within the hour. I was at the DMV and somebody was shadowing the person that was doing my paperwork. So I’m like, ‘Here we go.’ I was nervous she was going to give me a hard time, like, ‘Oh, she’s trans.’
But after it was done, I said, ‘I’m so happy I’m getting everything changed over.’ And she said, ‘No, honey, you’re making it right.’
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Because in my town of Franklin, New Hampshire, when I walk to the store and everyone looks like they’ve never seen someone like me before, that was huge. That really touched me.
It just shows that there are still good people out there and there are genuine people. And at the end of the day, I’m a person, they’re a person, and we’re going to treat each other with respect. And that’s exactly what happened. So I’m on this kick where the DMV treated me so well, I’m getting things done, and I’m getting the ball rolling.
LGBTQ Nation: Chris, do you feel that same sense of this downtime building up to something?
Chris Mosier: This last year does feel like it’s been building. We’re all ready to let it rip, but we now have that extra time to get ready, extra time to prepare to be mentally ready.
All of my competitions were canceled, and the one that did happen I chose not to go to because it was in a state with an anti-trans law. So I chose to boycott that race.
I’m actually recovering from hip surgery. With everything canceled, I took the opportunity to get surgery on a torn hip six weeks ago, so I’m still in recovery mode. I’m building back my strength and stability. It’ll be a couple of months before I’m back running again, but I’m so excited because it means that I will hopefully be pain-free.
I’ve been in pain for two years. And so, the downtime here was just a perfect opportunity to take care of myself and to get this fixed so that I can come back even stronger.
Telfer: I know that can take a toll because our athletic identities are so a part of who we are. For you to be recovering now is a lot, I know. You always make it look so easy, but I think that’s the hardest thing for both of us right now, for just any athlete, is slowing down.
And don’t worry, you’re going to recover fast because that’s what we do. We recover fast, and we get back on it.
Mosier: Yeah, it was a shock to me to be, like, ‘Wait a second, my whole job is to lay here?’ I think that the isolation of being injured and of being away from my athletic communities certainly was probably the toughest part of the first part of recovery. Injuries force us to reconsider our identities, I think. My identity as an athlete is as much part of me as my identity as a trans person.
But just because I’m hurt, doesn’t make me less of an athlete, it’s just a part of my journey.
Telfer: Injuries are very normal in our career but no one really shares that part, right? Oh no, we stretch! We do whatever we need to avoid getting hurt.
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Mosier: It’s true — we don’t like to acknowledge it. You see the track highlights, you see the sessions and we talk about, ‘Oh, we had such a hard workout today.’ But once people get injured, we’re less likely to share it.
My wife said to me, ‘You know you really haven’t been talking about your recovery very much, and I think people would love to hear about it.’ Because athletes get hurt and we bounce back. And what does that look like? I’ve really struggled to find the words for it, trying to share a little bit more now, but, certainly, I was really quiet about it even leading up to surgery and after surgery. Because I just didn’t know how to talk about it with other people.
Telfer: I noticed — because you were very absent [on social media] and then you posted and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s what happened!’
Mosier: On the bright side, it gives me an excuse to post some swimming pool thirst trap shots now.
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On an unrelated note, can we talk for a minute about how amazing it was to see you in that Michelob ULTRA ad for gender equality in sports?
Telfer: I’m still speechless! It was everything that I imagined it to be. I look feminine, I sound feminine. These are the things that go through my head as a trans female athlete, you know?
After watching it for the 100th time, I was very happy. But the 101st time, I was like, ‘Oh, that could have been different. Oh, my hairline is bad.’ I was like, ‘You need to stop!’
Mosier: I love watching your star rise. I love seeing CeCé Telfer succeed and be in places. What was so amazing about that spot, in particular, was that you weren’t the ‘trans athlete,’ right? You were a woman among women athletes, and I think that’s so important. It’s exactly what we need when we talk about inclusion.
Telfer: And about changing the narrative. Because everyone who saw that ad isn’t talking about transness, they’re just talking about women athletes.
Mosier: In seeing myself in certain ads, like for Bonobos, where we’re specifically talking about masculinity, or in the Nike ad, which was about me as a trans athlete, I certainly had those moments of self-criticism of, ‘Do I look me enough. Do I look man enough to be fitting into this menswear ad with other men?’ So definitely, there are moments of self-critique.
What did it feel like for you to have that acceptance and not have it be about your transness? To watch yourself with those other athletes?
Telfer: It was like I was finally not only accepted and a part of the girls category that I’ve been dying to be a part of — because I am a girl — but I finally felt seen. It felt so good to be put right next to cis females. We’re girls, period. We are women. To be a part of that is huge. I definitely think it boosted my confidence a lot.
Lately, I’ve started thinking — well, more regularly — that I’m beautiful. That I’m a girl. And also I find myself not caring as much what people think.
Mosier: There’s this moment where it shifts from seeking affirmation from other people to your own affirmation of yourself. Where you say, ‘I don’t care what people think anymore.’ It’s just such a beautiful moment.
I can remember when that shifted for me, from being so worried if I was being read a certain way — if people would say ‘he’ and ‘him’ to me, if I would fit in, if I’d be able to enter a locker room and be safe.
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And I remember when that shifted for me to be like, ‘Oh, actually, I don’t really care what other people think. I’m affirming myself and I’m just so in love with the person that I am now that I don’t need your affirmation.’
Telfer: That’s a big deal, a huge, huge deal. It’s like an epiphany, a wake-up call.
Mosier: There was a moment where I was riding my bike in New York City, and it was a couple of years after I had started to transition. And I passed the window of a store, and I saw my reflection in it and it was almost like the world stopped. I was like, ‘Holy shit, I am exactly the person that I thought I would grow up to be.’ As a kid, I saw a vision of myself but I didn’t see other people like me. I didn’t know that I could exist.
And when I saw that reflection and saw fully myself looking back at me, it was like no other moment I’ve ever had in my life. It sounds like you are at that moment.
Telfer: Oh my God, yes! As of about last week, no joke, I started looking in the mirror and was so happy. That’s never happened to me before, ever. I avoided mirrors. I didn’t like looking in mirrors.
I’m so excited for the first track meet because I’m gonna put this to the test — put this newfound confidence to the test. So watch out, everybody, I’m coming for you.
Mosier: Do you remember what I told you the first time that we met? ‘Never limit your greatness to make other people feel more comfortable.’ And what I have loved is, in the last several months, I have seen you out there, being present, being positive with so much grace and poise and confidence.
Who did you look to for inspiration when you started out as an athlete?
Telfer: That’s a really good question. I feel like growing up, it was kind of just placed on me to be an athlete. And I was always doing something, but track and field was always there, no matter what. Because it’s like, Jamaicans, that’s our thing. You can do other sports, but track is just all year-round.
I looked at Veronica Campbell Brown — if you remember her, she was No. 1 for a while before Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce came around. She was my inspiration. And I was like, ‘Yup, Veronica, girl, you and I are going to go out to eat.’ Oh, and Sydney McLaughlin.
And then you, Chris, showed up at my school, Franklin Pierce University. It was perfect timing. Because I was really going through it. I’d cry before going to practice. And then one day I heard that all the athletes are going to be in the gym, and Chris Mosier was coming to campus to talk to us.
I didn’t know who you were at the time, but I looked you up and was like, ‘Oh my God, first of all, who is this fine man? Like, whoa!’
And then you started talking and I was just like, ‘Boom, I will make sure I follow you on Instagram.’ With everything that you’ve been doing, especially when it comes to the laws and the anti-trans bills, keeping me up to date. I don’t watch the news, so you were a great outlet. And somebody to look up to and inspire me to be great, to be kind, and to also inspire others.
So it wasn’t until the end of high school, going into college, that I started to see I have a path and people to look up to. Because I had more freedom.
Mosier: When I was growing up, I looked for athletes who were good people. My role models when I was a kid were people like Tommie Smith and John Carlos from the 1968 Olympics. And Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson and Billie Jean King. People who were fighting for what they believe in, you know, who had passion for their community and for social justice. Now, of course, looking back it all makes sense.
LGBTQ Nation: CeCé, how did being part of a Jamaican family impact your experience as a young person dealing with their gender identity?
Telfer: I don’t know if it’s a universal cultural thing, but I know that in Jamaican culture girls can be more tomboy, they can get more rough and tough and they can do all these things. But boys cannot step across the line of femininity, they can’t even hold their hands a certain way. If their words are too pronounced — you can’t be doing that.
Mosier: I remember transitioning to the male category in events, and having this terror at the races that I was in. I wasn’t sure if people were looking at me in a certain way or judging me.
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I put so much thought into what other people were thinking about me — worrying about how I was standing, how my hands were, how I was positioned, wondering ‘Is this masculine enough?’ — that it took me out of my game.
Telfer: Every single track meet! When you’re there, you’re there to compete. Nothing else should be in your mind besides executing. Can you imagine? People say that I have an advantage when all my competitors, all they’re thinking about is winning the race and I’m thinking about all these things, ‘Am I standing right, is my body feminine enough, am I showing too much muscles?’ There was no track meet that I’ve just thought about execution. None.
And then, the big one for me is, ‘Am I going too beast mode? Am I going too hard?’ Because that’s too ‘masculine,’ that’s too ‘manly.’ Girls can’t do that, right? We have to be a little bit softer and cuter when we’re running. No! That’s taken away so much from me over the years. So much.
Mosier: Well, this is the reason why I’m so excited for you right now. Because I don’t think that you really give a sh-t about that anymore. And I see this change in attitude. You are affirmed in yourself and you don’t need to worry about what people are thinking about you at the starting line. Because we’ve been there, we’ve done that.
No one can say anything to either of us that we haven’t heard before. People have said horrible things and, honestly, none of their opinions matter.
Racing gets so much better when you stop giving a f–k what people think.
Telfer: Oh my gosh, right. And I’m starting to see that off the track, too.
Mosier: Just being able to show up, to stand however you want and not worry if people are looking at how your uniform fits. Just being able to focus on the race and your strategy on your game plan, focus on your nutrition — just like every other athlete does.
Telfer: These are the things that I need to think about when people ask me if it’s unfair for me to compete. Because I don’t always know how to answer, aside from discussing the science. But, yeah, that’s a huge advantage [they have]. Especially combined with the fact that you usually have your family supporting you 100% unconditionally.
Now I know not everyone has that — even some GOATs don’t even have their parents and a strong support system — but in general, it’s a huge, huge advantage. Having family support and the resources you need, you are set up for greatness right there.
Mosier: I love being trans, but there were definitely moments in my life where I didn’t feel that way. I just did a panel, CeCé, and I talked about how being a trans athlete has been hard because I’ve been denied coaches and I’ve been denied sponsorship opportunities. I was told by one company that they couldn’t have someone like me representing them because, ‘What would that say about the company?’
But then I flipped it during the talk and spoke about how now being trans in sport provides me a platform to talk about big issues that are really important to me, and it provides me a platform to show other trans people can be successful in what they do. You can be your authentic self and play the sports that you love or be whatever you want, and you don’t have to compromise any part of your identity to make other people happy. I want to be that beacon of light for people.
I think that I’m shifting my projection out in the world to just be about trans joy and about the things I love, and why it’s so awesome to have the opportunities that I have.
Even with all this bad stuff in the world — bad legislation, bad people trying to hurt us. All of that still exists, but what I can do is counter it with light and love.
Telfer: Honestly, I didn’t think about this until you were just talking about loving being trans. I don’t know if I saw the joy of being trans until you just mentioned what you had gone through. I have the backbone I do today because of being trans.
I was able to stand up to rumors about me growing up and tell people it was not OK. That’s just one example of how my identity has made me stronger today and made me the person who I am.
Mosier: Well, we need to have some time between those experiences and the present. I’m not going to sugarcoat it — it’s hard to be trans in America, and I’m a white trans man so it is not as hard for me. But it’s still hard.
And, you know, I think it’s important to have that time to reflect and to realize, ‘That was really awful in the moment, but I’m still here. And I’m still thriving. I’m going to continue to be the person I want to be in this world.’
Telfer: And thriving! Not letting anybody tell us different, because we’ve been through that and we’re over it. We’re onto that stage where we’re like, ‘How can you improve my life? How can you benefit me?’ We’re not into that negativity anymore. Been there, done that, and I didn’t like it. So it’s thriving time now!
Mosier: So, you mentioned a couple of role models that you had. How does it feel for you to be a role model now?
Telfer: Actually, It’s really hard [laughs]. I can’t wear a crop top and miniskirt because there might be a little kid watching. I can’t even talk to somebody online because it’s gonna come back to me. I have to be nice all the time.
My mom, she tells me, ‘Let us be your fighter, let us deal with all that bad negative stuff you want to lash out against.’ But it’s hard to turn the other cheek.
It’s a lot of responsibility, but it feels so good. I’m a role model just by being myself and just doing my everyday things and living my life. It feels so good to know that I’m helping somebody who was in their dorm room crying, who knows who they are but they’re scared to come out because of how the world is going to be treating them.
At the end of the day, you are that beautiful flower that is thriving in between the cracks on the sidewalk. That’s us!
It’s a breath of fresh air to know I’m the one having these talks. Because a lot of things that are assumed about trans people, and trans athletes, is out of pure ignorance. And I’m able to shut it down real quick with education, with everything we’re doing. Showing up and shutting it down. So that’s what I love about being a role model. Not only am I here for you but I’ve been through what you’re going through, and it’s going to get better.
Mosier: I love it. Just you being out there and being so poised and graceful in your responses, in how you’re interacting with people — just showing up with kindness and love, even if they don’t give you the same. You’re setting such a powerful example, not just for young kids who are like you, but for everybody.
Telfer: With me, it’s like you said, ‘Kill them with kindness.’ Yesterday, I was being waited on by this woman. And I was reading her whole body language, and she was clearly having an issue with me and not giving me good customer service because of who I am.
But I was being very polite, and said ‘Good morning, I’m here for whatever.’ And she was not having any of it. She was like, ‘Hold on,’ and went in the back. But I killed her with kindness, and when I left there she was like, ‘Oh, you’re so welcome!’ She was a different person.
I was in a space where I didn’t feel welcome, but I needed a ‘good’ and it worked out for everybody. I definitely changed that woman’s mind, whatever she was thinking or whatever she was going through.
LGBTQ Nation: Is that your strategy when faced with people who don’t accept you?
Telfer: Yes, because when you treat them with kindness, they usually don’t have a choice but to be nice back. Because they don’t want to come off being an ass.
If I come in with bad energy, they’re going to dump that whole negative energy on trans culture — on Black trans culture. You know what I mean? So, that’s what it’s about. But if you show up with kindness, then maybe some people would look back on the experience and say, ‘Maybe Black people aren’t that bad after all. Maybe trans people aren’t that bad after all. I just met a nice person.’
Mosier: I think it’s really powerful to hear that from your mouth because I can say as a white trans man that my experience has been very different from yours. And I think it’s important to highlight these differences because if someone has a negative interaction with me, they’re not thinking all white people are bad, right?
People need to understand the intersections of identities that you represent as a Black trans woman. You feel this responsibility to represent all of these different areas of your life — and you’re just one person.
Telfer: One hundred percent.
Mosier: It’s so much pressure to put on an individual, even to put on a group of people. In addition to all the other things we’re dealing with while understanding our sense of self. To have all these extra factors before you say a single sentence is just, you know, beyond what most of us can really understand, even if we are trans.
Telfer: When the Black Lives Matter movement was gaining momentum, I felt like I wasn’t embraced. I’m part of the movement, especially as a Black trans woman, but I felt like I was kind of shunned.
No, we can’t do that! When they see we are a people moving as one, they’re going to have to change their narrative, their mindset. When I tried to bring it up, I was shushed or shut down.
But nobody’s perfect, no movement is perfect, no event is perfect.
Mosier: What are you excited about right now, CeCé? What is exciting in your life — aside from a driver’s license?
Telfer: I’m really excited to finally get all my chips in alignment, to change all my legal documentation over. I’m excited to be in my friends’ lives again and to reconnect. I’m excited to be healthy, and I just want a really good season to come.
I’m excited for a coach to reach out to me and say, ‘Hey, I hear you and I see you and I’m willing to coach you.’ I’ve kind of been coaching myself, and that’s the biggest thing that’s gonna make me happy. I feel like everything would come together once I get a coach. Where if I’m not out there working with my coach, I’m sleeping or eating.
At this point, I don’t care if they even see me [as a trans woman]. As long as they’re willing to coach me, and really buckle down and give me what I’m yearning for. I don’t need your sympathy. Just let’s get it done and get to the World Championships. That’s my mindset.
Mosier: And you might not need someone to see you because they see you as an athlete. And that’s what you need, right? As a contender, as a fighter.
I’m excited for that to happen, CeCé.
Henry Giardina is editor of INTO.