29 December 2020

Trans athletes

The question of trans people participating in athletic competition is the one area where opponents of 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.)

So I have started indexing articles on the subject.

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.

Shades of Gray: Sex, Gender, and Fairness in Sport

This long article covers a lot of ground; even folks with no interest in sports may have an interest in the medical and biological details:

A scientific consensus does not yet exist regarding the differences between genders, let alone how to define those genders. Because of this uncertainty, rules and policies that encourage inclusion of transgender athletes represent the best balance among the imperfect choices available. Specifically, allowing male-to-female transgender athletes to compete in the division of their choice within sport should not be considered prima facie disadvantageous to other women competitors, though this will need to be considered on a sport-by-sport basis.

Stop Using Phony Science

A succint overview of the biology of sex and gender from Scientific American demonstrating that no, there are not simply two distinct biological sexes.

While this is a small overview, the science is clear and conclusive: sex is not binary, transgender people are real. It is time that we acknowledge this. Defining a person’s sex identity using decontextualized “facts” is unscientific and dehumanizing. The trans experience provides essential insights into the science of sex and scientifically demonstrates that uncommon and atypical phenomena are vital for a successful living system.

Very Long Post about sex, gender, and fairness in women’s sport

An instructive look at both history and science.

Outrage and suspicion based on the idea that men are pretending to be women in order to dominate women’s sports is over 100 years old. When women’s participation in athletics increased in the early 1900s, this created significant anxiety that the position of (white) men in society was being threatened and the (white) ideal of women as delicate, feminine, and passive was in jeopardy.

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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

Christine Mboma & Beatrice Masilingi

Dread of trans athletes has disqualified two African cis women 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.

Twitter thread by Dr Sheree Bekker

I have been hearing more frequently the narrative that women’s sport apparently exists as a ‘protected category’ so that women can win (because on this account without it no woman will ever win again) This is:

  1. not the reason why women’s sport exists as a category
  2. it is not true that women will never win again.

This narrative is profoundly paternalistic and keeps women small. Let’s unpack this a little:

A. Women’s sport exists as a category because the dominance of men athletes was threatened by women competing.

We see this over and over again in the history of sport...

Exhibit A1: Figure Skating

  • 1902: Madge Syers enters the World Champs and comes 2nd (no rule preventing her, though no woman has ever entered before)
  • 1903: Women banned from World Champs
  • 1905: Segregated women’s category

Exhibit A2: Skeet Shooting

  • 1992 Barcelona: Zhang Shang wins the Gold Medal. The event had always been an open event (no gendered categories)
  • 1996 Atlanta: women banned from shooting
  • 2000 Sydney: Segregated women’s category, fewer targets for women

Exhibit A3: Football

  • 1920: Women’s football thriving in the UK with 53000 strong crowds (men had been off fighting in WW1)
  • 1921: FA bans women’s football (men had returned from WW1)
  • 1971: Fifty (50!) years later ban is lifted, women’s football is still recovering

More examples exist but the pattern is clear:

Where women were included (or simply included themselves) it was only when they started threatening men’s dominance/entitlement that we were segregated into a separate category. It is why we still see Sport & Women’s Sport šŸ‘€

Women’s inclusion was on the terms of those in power. They didn’t want women ‘taking opportunities’ away from men so they segregated women. It was never about a benevolent (still sexist) aim of supposedly ‘giving women a chance to win’. It was about control.

And the narrative ...

B. About women being inherently physically inferior to men?

Concocted as a reason to segregate us without threatening masculinity. There are once again actually greater fears here that women may start to challenge men’s dominance more broadly. Indeed we are already starting to see this...

Exhibit B1: ultra-endurance racing

The longer the race, the stronger we get

At the outer edges of endurance sports, something interesting is happening: women are beating men

Exhibit B2: surfing

(this article is excellent!)

This Woman Surfed the Biggest Wave of the Year

Here’s why you probably haven’t heard about it.

Exhibit B3: The ban on men pacemaking for women

Women Who Run Marathons Alongside Men No Longer Allowed to Set World Records

Exhibit B4: shooting again

(fascinating article here for how it tries to explain why women are winning)

10m air rifle: The Olympic sport where women outgun men

The air rifle event is one of only two Olympic sports where female athletes post consistently better numbers than males.

There are some really lovely real-life examples and research studies that show that the more men participate against women, the more they come to accept that women can be good athletes, e.g.

  1. Challenging the gender binary? Male basketball practice players’ views of female athletes and women’s sports
    Kane’s ‘sport as a continuum’ theory posits many women can outperform many men in a variety of athletic endeavors. However, because sports are typically sex-segregated, this athletic continuum is rarely seen but provides a potentially powerful mechanism of transformation relative to views of female athletes and women’s sport. In women’s intercollegiate basketball, it is common for teams to practice against a male scout team. We used Kane’s continuum theory to examine the effects of integrated playing experiences on male practice players’ attitudes towards female athletes and women’s sports. Data from interviews revealed divergent first-order themes (‘Acknowledgement of the Sport Continuum’ and ‘Maintenance of Traditional Gender Stereotypes’) and several related second-order themes. The divergent themes reflect the complexity of gender relations in sport as the men simultaneously experienced and articulated a gender continuum while reinforcing a gender binary, which kept their own power and privilege in sport intact.
  2. Towards the “Undoing” of Gender in Mixed-Sex Martial Arts and Combat Sports

    Based on the accounts of my interviewees, those who stand to benefit most from increasingly sex-integrated practice in MACS are women who wish to achieve ever-higher levels of martial capability. This may involve serious, lifelong commitment to developing combat skills purely for their own sake; wanting to feel more secure or powerful through their self-defense preparedness; or aspiring towards a successful competitive career. But such women following these paths typically find themselves lacking sufficiently talented female training partners and competitive opportunities, given the general over-representation of men at such levels in most clubs and disciplines. Therefore, integrated training (and even competition) often becomes necessary, and so practitioners and instructors invested in this type of training would likely do well to seek ways to encourage integrated practices, perhaps in the ways in which I have suggested [56].

    However, the positive outcomes of integrated training, I believe, go beyond simply the development of particular practitioners’ performance levels. As argued above, activities which promote the “undoing” of gender—that is, those which encourage men and women to identify and behave in ways which challenge sexist understandings of difference—are considered by feminist scholars to be highly useful in undermining gender injustice more broadly. Although such a process is rarely accomplished without difficulty, and in practice may be fraught with contradictory impulses that operate to reassert gender at the same moment as challenge it , I nevertheless contend that MACS represent one such site at which this potential may be at least partially realized. Following their experiences of integrated training, many men and women in my study claimed to reject typical gender ideals, and the sexual hierarchy arising from them:

    Being a real man? That means nothing to me, absolutely nothing… (A real woman?), it’s the same again, nothing. I couldn’t separate them out because they’re the same as much as they are different. You don’t need to be either to be good at kickboxing, to be a martial artist. (Amir, 43, kickboxing)
    I see myself doing something for women, instead of just obeying a stereotype… I think it’s feminism, you know, pursuing something for ourselves and showing that normal everyday women are capable of doing something which a lot of people say we’re not. I think it’s a good thing what we’re doing. (Rachel, 22, BJJ/MMA)

Inclusion is not only the right thing to do, but it also makes us all better. This is why I will always fight for the inclusion of trans women in women's sport.

Just as cis women are kept small, so too are trans women kept small. “The idea that women and girls have an advantage because they are trans ignores the actual conditions of their lives.” Our liberation (and excellence!) is bound up together.

Sport isn’t inherently gendered. We manufacture strict binary gendered differences, and then we naturalise them. Understanding and interrogating this helps us to understand the panic and fearmongering around women’s sport right now, and where we might go next.

I’ll end with this paragraph on women’s sport as a radically inclusive space

Women’s sports is not a defensive structure from which men are excluded so that women might flourish. It is, in fact, the opposite of this: it is, potentially, a radically inclusive space which has the capacity to destroy the public’s ideas about gender and gender difference precisely because gender is always in play in women’s sports in ways that it is not in men’s sports (with a few exceptions — e.g. figure skating). Because men have been so committed to the “end of women’s sports” for so long, women’s sports thrives in the zone of destruction. It has its own character thanks to the gender trouble at its origin. If women’s sports has one job that really is different from men’s sports, it is the destruction of sex/gender difference. Men’s sports (with a few exceptions which prove the rule) reinforce ideologies of gender difference. Women’s sports destroy them.

It is possible to have a different conversation here. Gender expansiveness gives us all permission to break free from - and take up space beyond - societal norms, and I'm very much here for that. Onward.

A Twitter thread from Brynn Tannehill

Not substantively different from the resources above, but crisp and convenient for sharing on Twitter:

The transgender athlete won’t seem to die. This is so frustrating, because from a logical standpoint, the answer is so freaking obvious: the current system is not broken. It does not need fixing.

Quick test: name a transgender Olympian off the top of your head. You can’t, because since the IOC started allowing transgender people to compete in 2004 there hasn’t been one.

The NCAA has allowed transgender people to compete without surgery since 2011, and there has not been a single dominant transgender athlete anywhere in college sports.

These constitute large scale, longitudinal tests of the system with millions of athletes as a sample, and the IOC and NCAA rules for transgender athletes are clearly sufficient to preserve the integrity of sports at this time. 15+ years and millions of test subjects is bigger, and longer, than any clinical trial of a drug that I can think of. The development and deployment of the F-22A, the world’s most advanced stealth fighter, lasted roughly as long.

The clinical evidence and subject matter opinion aligns with the observed results: removal of testosterone for a year is sufficient to remove competitive advantage. In terms of testing this hypothesis, there is literally no disagreement between various results.

The arguments from the other side are either anecdotes (What about so-and-so who won some mid-level event?), or are a form of fearmongering (Transgender women will start dominating women’s sports in the future!) that ignores the large scale, real world testing of the policies.

The implied “solutions” of “Well, they can compete against men or get their own league” replaces a speculative harm with an actual one, because no harm to sport is happening now, but either of the proposed “solutions” represents a de facto ban on transgender athletes. Testosterone, which the NCAA and IOC regulate, is a key factor in performance. Because trans women lack it, they cannot hope to compete against men. And there simply aren’t enough transgender people for them to “get their own league”, nor would there be enough public interest to fund such events even if you could find 32 world class transgender fencers. Or 16 crew teams, etc...

On top of that, segregating transgender people from society, and driving them from public life, is what the right wing wants. When asked about transgender people in 2016, Ted Cruz replied “Can’t they just do that in their homes?” Separate but equal never works out that way.

If, at some point we start to see a disproportionate number of transgender women winning high level athletic events, then it would be appropriate to reevaluate the rules for participation. But for now, there is no data-based evidence that the system is broken.

Athletic leagues do this all the time: if something is giving people a competitive advantage, they ban it (but not the players, unless they cheat on the new rules). Steroids, weird golf clubs, aluminum bats, corked bats, intake manifolds with laser holes in them....

I’m frustrated as hell that we’re still fighting this battle. The empirical evidence all points one way. We have years of data and huge sample set. The alternative is hurting a minority group for no measurable gain (you can’t have less than 0 trans Olympic athletes)

So, when I point these things undeniable facts out, and people still want to argue, I have no issue with calling them bigots and transphobes. They are immune to facts, logic, data, and expertise. But they are willing to hurt trans people based on their own “gut” feelings.

Oh, and Renee Richards was 40+ years ago, never ranked higher than 20th, never won a major event, and Martina Navritilova beat her all three times they met. Fallon Fox never made it to the big leagues, lost once, and is retired. The woman who complained about Rachel Evans winning, had beat Evans in 8 of the 11 events they had met in previously. And with that, I just summed up every major female trans athlete in the past 40 years. This isn’t a big enough sample to decide ANYTHING.

We have thoroughly field tested the hypothesis that transgender athletes will dominate if they are allowed to compete, and statistically we can reject this hypothesis with high degree of certainty. (I’ll do the math and display it for you if you really want).

Let Them Play

We believe that children deserve the right to experience the wide-reaching benefits of organized sports in a fun, safe, and nurturing environment, without having to compromise who they are. We believe that is what is right and fair, from both a scientific and a moral perspective—and in this package we explore exactly why and how. We hope this collection of stories will help people who are new to this issue see that trans kids are simply kids, and will equip you to advocate for them in your own community.

Richard Dawkins used his new podcast to promote more transphobic lies

None of this is new for Dawkins. He’s been pushing right-wing anti-trans talking points for years now.


A very instructive example which raises questions about how we respond to trans kids.
When I said I wanted to be a dancer at six years old, adults took that to mean I’d want certain permanent alterations to my body. Unlike with young trans kids, no one was looking to make sure I fully understood what I was getting into. And unlike with young trans kids, these changes were not reversible when I changed my mind. There wasn’t even a way to delay things to buy time (like puberty blockers), it was all or nothing. If I wanted to be a professional dancer, my normal ass joints were a ticking timebomb.

This is a good place to link an Annotated Bibliography of Point-by-Point Rebuttals of Anti-Transgender Disinformation.

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