29 December 2020

Trans athletes

The question of trans people participating in athletic competition is the one area where antagonists against trans liberation make arguments which are not simply bullshit. It is reasonable for a person who sincerely favors trans liberation to pause over the possibility that trans athletes have an unfair advantage.

Except that the experiment has been done. And the short version of what we have found is that trans women just do not have the advantage which one may reasonably imagine they might.

(The long version is that we face a long overdue general question about athletics and fairness in a time when body modification technologies have progressed so much and will only progress further. Any good solution to that challenge needs to give every kind of athlete — trans and disabled and willing to ruin their health and unwilling to risk their health and so forth — real inclusion.)

A few articles debunking common worries:

Four Myths About Trans Athletes, Debunked

  1. FACT: Including trans athletes will benefit everyone
    MYTH: The participation of trans athletes hurts cis women
  2. FACT: Trans athletes do not have an unfair advantage in sports
    MYTH: Trans athletes’ physiological characteristics provide an unfair advantage over cis athletes
  3. FACT: Trans girls are girls
    MYTH: Sex is binary, apparent at birth, and identifiable through singular biological characteristics
  4. FACT: Trans people belong on the same teams as other students
    MYTH: Trans students need separate teams.

Wave Of Bills To Block Trans Athletes Has No Basis In Science, Researcher Says

But the question is whether there is in real life, during actual competitions, an advantage of performance linked to this male hormone and whether trans athletes are systematically winning all competitions. The answer to this latter question, are trans athletes winning everything, is simple — that’s not the case.

We Finally Understand That Gender Isn’t Binary. Sex Isn’t, Either.

For generations, the false perception that there are two distinct biological sexes has [...] caused humiliation for athletes around the globe who are closely scrutinized. In the mid-1940s, female Olympic athletes went through a degrading process of having their genitals inspected to receive “femininity certificates.” This was replaced by chromosome testing in the late 1960s, and subsequently hormone testing. But instead of rooting out imposters, these tests illustrated the complexity of human sex.

In real life, transgender girls in sports are a non-controversy

Competitive equity is a beautiful and elusive objective for those of us who coach or oversee high school athletics. It is why we have junior varsity teams and freshmen and sophomore teams and why we try to match up teams that won’t slaughter one another. It often does not work out that way and we have all seen and heard about lopsided scores in high school football and basketball and pretty much every other sport.


The possibility that a trans female athlete might enjoy any degree of physical advantage, then, will in no meaningful way alter the competitive equation.

In fact, it rarely has. In the more than eight years since the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) began allowing high school athletes to compete as the gender with which they identify — regardless of what they were assigned at birth — there has not been a single case in which a trans female athlete has been dominant enough to stir protest.

This fascinating paper tries to find a logically rigorous standard for “fair” competition, closely examines both longstanding sport regulations and some some very interesting medical evidence ... and concludes that assumptions that trans atheletes using hormone therapies having an unfair advantage simply do not hold water:

Including Trans Women Athletes in Competitive Sport: Analyzing the Science, Law, and Principles and Policies of Fairness in Competition

Biological restrictions, such as endogenous testosterone limits, are not consistent with IOC [International Olympic Committee] and CAS [Court of Arbitration for Sport] principles [...] in place of a limit on endogenous testosterone for women (whether cisgender, transgender, or intersex), we argue that ‘legally recognized gender’ is most fully in line with IOC and CAS principles.
Thus, the divide policed by the HRs [Hyperandrogenism Regulations] is a divide between one set of female athletes with a particular physical characteristic and those that lack it, namely, a particular level of androgens and androgen sensitivity. Enforcing the HRs would thus create a group of females who were unable to compete at all. However, both the Charter and the HRs themselves either imply or outright state a right to compete.
In short, all available scientific evidence suggests that there is no overall relationship between endogenous testosterone and sport performance. It will take the rest of this section to substantiate this. There is also no available scientific evidence that post-transition trans women have an unfair competitive advantage. Instead, what little research we have indicates that post-transition trans women have no competitive advantage over cis women.
One-eighth of cisgender men are naturally already below the upper ‘normal’ range for cisgender women. There’s no relationship between endogenous testosterone and performance in men. There is a highly dubious relationship, at best, in women. Testosterone is a hopeless unreliable predictor of performance in post- puberty athletes. It cannot serve the function the IOC, IAAF [International Association of Athletics Federation], and other sports organizations want it to.

People who assert that trans athletes should compete in the same class with the gender they were assigned at birth need to contend with the example of Mack Beggs, the high school wrestler who was forced by Texas law to compete against girls, though he was a trans boy taking testosterone as treatment to enable his transition.

Trans boy wrestler forced to compete with girls, qualified for state tournament

Baudhuin now blames the state’s governing body for public school athletics and a vote a year ago by school superintendents and athletic directors that required athletes to compete under the gender on their birth certificates.

Baudhuin said his outlook changed because he said he read reports that Beggs had asked the governing body, the University Interscholastic League, to compete as a boy and was turned down.

Sauce for the trans goose is sauce for the trans gander. Of course many opponents of trans women athletes competing with cis women turned around to assert that it was also unfair for this trans boy to compete with cis girls. The rules they had insisted on did not satisfy them.

It should be evident that a separate competitive class just for trans athletes is a ghetto. So what do we want?

That connects to this clarifying observation from Aaron Bady.

The GOP's war on trans athletes is about transphobia, yes, but I think it also very nicely demonstrates what so many people think youth sports are for: COMPETITION. Not a communal activity that brings people together; sports is a WAR for victory that trans kids are STEALING.

For so many people, the idea that we have physical recreation for youth some reason other than a Nike-branded "SECOND PLACE IS FIRST LOSER" deathmatch is completely foreign to them

If a kid's experience of youth sports was RUINED because they didn't win--which is the subtext of every "Trans athletes are DESTROYING sports" story--then maybe youth sports aren't serving all the kids who don't win (which is most of them) very well at all?

But hey, what do I know, I'm just someone who played a little baseball and ran track in school and sucked at all of it and never won anything

In other contexts, people will say that "learning to lose" is the most important character-building aspect of youth sports, along with working as a team.

Combines nicely with their contempt for "participation trophies"

This is a good point! The open hostility to recognizing the value of mere competition without victory, or the idea that "it's not whether you win or lose but how you play the game" as they say

Dread of trans athletes has disqualified two African runners from the Olympics, Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi. One does not need to know a whole lot of history to see the deep racist resonances in authorities declaring that African women are not really women.

This development only furthers the belief held by many that Mboma as well as her compatriot Beatrice Masilingi (49.53 pb), who also is listed as withdrawn from the 400, did not meet the World Athletics eligibility regulations for female classification that apply to running events from 400 meters up to the mile. Those same rules are preventing Caster Semenya, Francine Niyonsaba and Margaret Wambui from competing in the women’s 800 this year as they have all refused to lower their testosterone with birth control pills.

And in case you need it, I have handy a succint overview of the biology of sex and gender from Scientific American demonstrating that no, there are not simply two distinct biological sexes.

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