So, Let’s Talk About Transgender Athletes in Sports

Photo by Scott Webb

Mila Madison wonders why we only talk about fairness when people of privilege are affected.

As transgender people, we often become accustomed to watching members of society literally fight it out over what to do with us as a community. We get to watch as everyone else decides where we can pee, what accommodations we can use, whether or not we can get fired from or jobs, whether we should have any rights, and much more. It is tragically funny if you think about it. After all we are people just like everyone else, even if a large portion of the world doesn’t quite see it that way.

Just in case you haven’t heard about it, the debate is now raging on regarding transgender athletes and whether they should be allowed to compete in sports. It is the latest in the saga of society trying to figure out what to do with us. I really get a kick out of people weighing in on the issue with zero understanding of what they are actually talking about, but then again as transgender people this is something we are used to.

So now as the debate goes on we hear people talk about fairness. It all came to a head when two transgender runners in Connecticut recently finished first and second in the Connecticut High School State Championships. We saw athletes like Martina Navratilova get all “TERFY” on the subject as she laid out some arguments that were pretty transphobic. From there, everyone else decided to weigh in.

Before I go any further, let’s get one thing straight. Even if transgender athletes did have an advantage in sports, society already gives cisgender people an advantage in most other aspects of life. We don’t see people talking about fairness in those cases. It is only when the privileged lose that we hear about fairness. I mean god forbid any privileges ever being afforded to transgender people.

To prove a point, no one seems to be concerned about fairness when it comes to transgender men competing against cisgender men. If we were to adhere to the argument that transgender women are at an advantage in athletics, why are we not hearing the same people talk about a disadvantage for transgender men? Oh right, transgender people competing is okay as long as they don’t ever win. Let us be serious for a moment, where is the transgender female tennis champion? We had Dr. Renee Richards who was transgender, but she lost to Martina Navratilova. It seems Navratilova didn’t care about her being transgender when she was busy beating her or when Richards was her coach. We still don’t see any transgender football stars or baseball players signing $100 million contracts. If transgender people are at such an advantage, why aren’t they all winning? It seems as though the few who have ever won anything had to overcome significant hurdles in life to get to that point, did they not?

To be honest this all looks like transphobia to me.

"ON ONE HAND YOU HAVE A BUNCH OF PEOPLE SAYING TRANSGENDER WOMEN ARE NOT FIT ENOUGH TO SERVE IN THE MILITARY JUST A CISGENDER WOMEN DO, AND ON THE OTHER, YOU HAVE A BUNCH OF PEOPLE SAYING TRANSGENDER WOMEN ARE TOO FIT TO COMPETE IN WOMEN’S SPORTS. SO ARE WE UNFIT OR TOO FIT? "

Society is going to have to make a choice. On one hand you have a bunch of people saying transgender women are not fit enough to serve in the military just a cisgender women do, and on the other, you have a bunch of people saying transgender women are too fit to compete in women’s sports. So are we unfit or too fit? Even though both arguments are problematic at best, you can’t have it both ways. Pick your problematic argument and stick to it, otherwise it is clearly a bias against transgender people that you are revealing.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) already has guidelines for transgender athletes that they have issued to 55 different sports federations. It is obvious that they continue to monitor these guidelines as they made changes in April 2018 that made it even more difficult for transgender women to compete by changing testosterone requirements from from ten to five nanomoles per liter. Martina Navratilova is arguing that more science should be considered when it comes to transgender athletes, however at the same time she not asking for more science when it comes to the committee’s performance enhancing drug policies where different forms of testosterone often used to gain an advantage, so why is she singling out transgender people? Shouldn’t she be concerned about that science? If we are going to discuss fairness, shouldn’t that fairness be considered for transgender athletes as well?

Therein lies the problem, hormonal advantages would not only pertain to transgender people, they would have apply to all athletes to not be discriminatory. In 2014, Indian sprinter Dutee Chand was banned and dropped from the Commonwealth Games as she was found to have a naturally higher level of testosterone than was permissible in female athletes according to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) hyperandrogenism rules and she appealed the decision to be allowed to compete. South African runner Caster Semenya had naturally three times the testosterone level of the average female athlete and was asked by the IAAF to undergo a sex-verification test. She is currently contesting these standards. If it is determined that these athletes are able to compere despite their elevated levels of testosterone, than transgender athletes should also be allowed to compete without restriction as well.

Things get even trickier with high school sports as there are no guidelines based on hormones or physical development. The thing is that these factors have always come into play when it came to high school sports. For example, when I was young I played little league baseball and along with a few other girls who were in the league I was able to hold my own. The problem is that when I had turned 13 and puberty had yet to hit me I was playing with other kids who had gone through it. Some of those boys I had to play against were 3 feet taller than me while literally having facial hair and muscles. Obviously I couldn’t compete. Kids are always placed in sports based on age, and those who were more developed at those ages always had an advantage. The thing is that no one ever complained about it. Not until a couple transgender kids won.

“IF BABE RUTH WERE TRANSGENDER THEY WOULD HAVE RUN HIM OUT OF TOWN.”

People come in all shapes and sizes. Babe Ruth was an unusually big guy, and thus he hit a lot of homeruns. No one ever complained that his size gave him an advantage. If Babe Ruth were transgender they would have run him out of town. That is the issue. In society we consistently divide things by gender and age, where in the case of sports, particularly high school sports, there will always be kids who are at different points of development and size who would therefore either have an advantage or disadvantage. If we are concerned about fairness, we should not only be looking at transgender kids but all kids because there will be advantages or disadvantages based on each individual. The other option is just to accept these differences as we always have and not single out transgender kids. Contrary to popular beliefs, transgender people come in different shapes and sizes just like cisgender kids, some may have an advantage and some will not. I am a transgender woman and I am pretty sure that at this point in my life most cisgender women would kick my ass in sports.

The real problem is that the people who complain about transgender people competing in sports don’t see transgender women as women. They see them as men who changed into women. If they cannot get their heads around the fact that some women are just born differently than they were, and that transgender women were always women who just accepted that fact, then they will never understand.

As a society we have to accept that people come in all variations. They come in all colors, shapes and sizes. Some of those attributes may be more rare than others, and yes in some cases, they may give a particular individual an advantage in sports. If you are unable realize that these variations exist, and continue to persecute those who you personally view as having attributes that are “different” then yours, then don’t surprised when you find yourself being referred to as a bigot. Fairness means including everyone, and not just a privileged few.

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