The Other Olympians

Fascism, Queerness, and the Making of Modern Sports

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Pub Date Jun 04 2024 | Archive Date Jul 04 2024

Description

"Michael Waters performs an Olympian act of storytelling, using the stories of these extraordinary athletes to explore in brilliant detail the struggle for understanding and equality." —Jonathan Eig, author of King: A Life

The story of the early trans athletes and Olympic bureaucrats who lit the flame for today’s culture wars.


In December 1935, Zdeněk Koubek, one of the most famous sprinters in European women’s sports, declared he was now living as a man. Around the same time, the celebrated British field athlete Mark Weston, also assigned female at birth, announced that he, too, was a man. Periodicals and radio programs across the world carried the news; both became global celebrities. A few decades later, they were all but forgotten. And in the wake of their transitions, what could have been a push toward equality became instead, through a confluence of bureaucracy, war, and sheer happenstance, the exact opposite: the now all-too-familiar panic around trans, intersex, and gender nonconforming athletes.

In The Other Olympians, Michael Waters uncovers, for the first time, the gripping true stories of Koubek, Weston, and other pioneering trans and intersex athletes from their era. With dogged research and cinematic flair, Waters also tracks how International Olympic Committee members ignored Nazi Germany’s atrocities in order to pull off the Berlin Games, a partnership that ultimately influenced the IOC’s nearly century-long obsession with surveilling and cataloging gender.

Immersive and revelatory, The Other Olympians is a groundbreaking, hidden-in-the-archives marvel, an inspiring call for equality, and an essential contribution toward understanding the contemporary culture wars over gender in sports.

"Michael Waters performs an Olympian act of storytelling, using the stories of these extraordinary athletes to explore in brilliant detail the struggle for understanding and equality." —Jonathan Eig...


A Note From the Publisher

Michael Waters has written for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times, WIRED, Slate, Vox, and elsewhere. He was the 2021-22 New York Public Library Martin Duberman Visiting Scholar in LGBTQ studies and lives in Brooklyn.

Michael Waters has written for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times, WIRED, Slate, Vox, and elsewhere. He was the 2021-22 New York Public Library Martin Duberman Visiting Scholar in LGBTQ...


Advance Praise

★ "[A] revelatory debut investigation . . . Waters’s propulsive storytelling is bursting with insight, especially into the lives of trans men during the interwar period. It’s an eye-opening look at how fascist philosophy undergirds gender regulatory regimes in sports." Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"A significant deep dive into the queer historical evolution and significance of transgender athletes in organized sports . . . Densely factual, impeccably researched, and written with dramatic flair, this book intensively probes gender bias in the Olympics amid the rise of European midcentury fascism and the epic challenges to gender essentialism." Kirkus Reviews

"Sports buffs and historians will enjoy his deeply researched book." Booklist

"A riveting and important work of history. Michael Waters performs an Olympian act of storytelling, using the stories of these extraordinary athletes to explore in brilliant detail the struggle for understanding and equality. The Other Olympians is a book of great originality, deeply researched and beautifully written." —Jonathan Eig, author of King: A Life

“Michael Waters masterfully puts into focus the long-overlooked, yet remarkable stories of a cadre of Olympians who battled for their right to compete on the world’s biggest stage as their true selves. A crucial read for anyone interested in the intersection of sports, identity, and social justice.” —Neal Bascomb, author of The Perfect Mile: Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less Than Four Minutes to Achieve It

"A remarkable and compelling chronicle of a forgotten episode in both the history of sport and the history of gender that demonstrates their centrality in the Nazis' rise to power." —Drew Gilpin Faust, author of Necessary Trouble

“The 1936 Berlin Olympics take center stage in Michaels Waters’ fascinating, erudite account of the lives and careers of acclaimed athletes who challenged the conventional boundaries between men and women, decades before ‘transgender’ became a flashpoint in contemporary social struggles. He charts a clash of ideologies over how to regulate gender in international women’s sporting events—and beyond—that still animates headlines today.” —Susan Stryker, author of Transgender History: The Roots of Today's Revolution

"The Other Olympians is a stunning addition to queer and sports history, an inspiring and cinematic account of perseverance, identity, activism, and, ultimately, joy. Michael Waters has achieved what all great historians aim to do: changing our understanding of the present by illuminating the hidden stories of the past." —Eric Cervini, author of The Deviant's War: The Homosexual vs. The United States of America

"Michael Waters’s account of queer athletes caught up in the global drama of 'Hitler’s Olympics,' and its overlapping fanaticisms of racial and gender purity, feels as remote as a folk tale and as familiar as today’s Title IX battles. This is first-rate history—impressively researched and captivatingly told." —Sam Tanenhaus, author of Whitaker Chambers: A Biography

"Deeply researched and evocatively written, Michael Waters's The Other Olympians impressively interweaves the lives of early 20th century trans and gender non-conforming athletes with the history of the modern Olympics, the rise of European mid-century fascism, and our complicated—and often nonsensical—attempts to define and regulate sex, gender, and the multitudinous human body. The Other Olympians adds crucial prehistory to understanding our modern thinking on gender and athletics." —Hugh Ryan, author of The Women's House of Detention and When Brooklyn Was Queer

"Michael Waters has written a book that should revolutionize the way we think about sport and gender. By examining the history of the gender-diverse athletes who have always competed—as well as the systems that have tried to limit their participation—The Other Olympians is as relevant today as it would have been during the events it chronicles nearly a century ago. In showing us our history, we will perhaps not be doomed to repeat it. The Other Olympians is a warning; let us heed it." —Frankie de la Cretaz, coauthor of Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National Women's Football League

"Dive into the heart of sports history with Michael Waters' riveting The Other Olympians, where the forgotten tales of pioneering trans and intersex athletes like Zdeněk Koubek and Mark Weston are brought vividly to life. Waters' masterful storytelling, powered by exhaustive research, sheds light on a neglected chapter of the Olympic saga, unveiling how these athletes' groundbreaking journeys were overshadowed by a backdrop of political intrigue and societal upheaval. This book is not just a celebration of their courage and resilience but also a critical examination of the International Olympic Committee's controversial history, from its complicity with Nazi Germany to its problematic stance on gender. The Other Olympians is an essential read, offering an inspiring call for equality and a nuanced understanding of the complex culture wars surrounding gender in sports today. Once you finish it, you'll want to read it again. Prepare to be enthralled by this hidden-in-the-archives marvel that challenges us to rethink the narratives we've been told and to recognize the true champions among us." —Rowan Ricardo Phillips, author of Silver

★ "[A] revelatory debut investigation . . . Waters’s propulsive storytelling is bursting with insight, especially into the lives of trans men during the interwar period. It’s an eye-opening look at...


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ISBN 9780374609818
PRICE $30.00 (USD)
PAGES 368

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Featured Reviews

THIS WAS SO FASCINATING! The Other Olympians details the stories of several athletes who publicly transitioned in the 1930s, calls for sex testing in women’s sports, and how that was tied into the Nazi Party and the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. It’s always so interesting to go back and see true stories of queer/trans individuals in history, it just makes it so clear that this is something that has always been around no matter what certain people try to say. It’s also so frustrating to see how current ideas about needing to ban trans women from women’s sports can be traced back to misinformation, fascism, and the Nazi Party.

Seriously, this book is so eye opening. I had never heard of the stories of these athletes who transitioned on the world stage. The trans men featured in the book all transitioned after competing as female athletes. This caused a stir about keeping men out of women’s sports, but none of these men wanted to go back to competing against women.

The author covers all the different conversations people were having about wanting to start sex testing for women's sports. He details how there was actually a lot of public support for the men after they transitioned, and a lot of the detractors or the people who were the most adamant about implementing sex testing came from the Nazi Party or were sympathizers. There’s a lot of discussion in the book about how sex isn’t a binary category and how these men trying to set up the rules couldn’t even really describe who they were trying to keep out of women’s sports.

I definitely recommend this book for people who are interested in LGBTQ+ history. It makes so much sense to see how the history of sex testing in women’s sports was tied to fascism, especially when thinking about who is continuing that messed up cause in the present. I ended up listening to the whole book in one day because it was just so engrossing.

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