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Trans athletes make a mockery of women’s sports

Credit: Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Credit: Scott Barbour/Getty Images

March 5, 2019   6 mins

“I can’t really say what I want to say, but there’s not much I can do about it,” Kate Hall, a junior at Stonington high school in Connecticut told the Hartford Courant. “It’s frustrating. But that’s just the way it is now.” Hall is a high school sprinter, a very successful one, winning a state title in the 100-metres in 2016. Then a year later she lost to transgender Andraya Yearwood.

Last month, it was Yearwood’s turn to take second place, this time in the 55-metre sprint at the state open track championships. First place went to Terry Miller, another transgender student, who in the process set a new girls’ state indoor record. Last year, the two students had sparked controversy when they took first and second place in the 100-meter race at the State Open Finals.

It was back in 1972 that the United States enacted Title IX of the Education Amendments, to ensure that high schools and universities had to offer equal academic and athletic opportunities to both men and women. Prior to this, women’s and girls’ sports were not taken seriously, not supported, and not funded.

The impact of this legislation was revolutionary: in 1974, 300,000 girls played high school sports in the US. Today, it is well over three million. But, like so many other hard-fought women’s rights, today’s generation seems to have forgotten the history and importance of the laws and policies that ensured females were no longer treated as second class citizens.

Today, we are at risk of losing women’s sports entirely. All in the name of ‘trans inclusivity’.

That women’s sports had to be specifically and explicitly supported should signal to people that, without sex segregated athletics, females will be out of the game. We simply cannot compete on equal ground against men. And this has nothing to do with lack of talent — there are basic physical differences between male and female bodies that are unchangeable.

To start, men, in general, are bigger than women. They have larger bones and organs than women. They have longer limbs, bigger hands, and larger lungs. They have more muscle mass, which means they are stronger than women. As females, our ability to reproduce has meant that our bodies have evolved for different purposes than men’s, which affects how our bodies develop and function. There is no self-identifying out of biological reality.

Fair Play For Women (FPFW), a grassroots campaign group fighting for women’s and girls’ sex-based rights, explains that peak male bone mass is around 50% more than women’s, and that women are around 30-35% muscle by weight, while men are 40-50% muscle. While of course muscle mass can vary based on factors like age and fitness, FPFW point out that “women can’t match the bulk or strength of men’s skeletal muscles.” In measuring hand grip, a widely-used marker for strength, FPFW found data that showed the strongest 10% of females can still only beat the bottom 10% of men.

There is a mistaken view that feminists see men and women as exactly the same. That, in other words, they take the word ‘equality’ literally. This is not the case. Feminists are well aware that male and female bodies are different, and that our lot in life has been determined in many ways (though of course not in all ways) by reproductive capacity.

Indeed, women’s oppression has been historically rooted in men’s desire to control their so-called bloodline and, therefore, the means of reproduction. What feminists have fought against is the notion that women should not be allowed to participate in public life — to live full and independent lives, outside the home, and have access to things like education, political power, and a full range of career options – because of their ability to bear children.

Feminists are rejecting gender stereotypes, not biology. We don’t agree that simply because one is born female, we must dress a certain way, act a certain way, think a certain way, or be treated as second class. We do know women are physically weaker, and that this makes women vulnerable to male violence.

There is little women can do, no matter how many push ups they perform, to fight off a male attacker. Men are, simply, stronger. This reality — tied to social and cultural norms that put men in positions of power — is why feminists have fought hard for legislative and social changes to deter male violence against women, protect females from being assaulted, and hold men who do perpetrate violence against women accountable.

Because men are most commonly the perpetrators of violence against women, women and girls have had access to separate spaces, where they might otherwise be particularly vulnerable: changing rooms, washrooms, shelters, and transition houses for women escaping male violence for example. These physical and social realities have also meant female and male prisoners are housed separately.

And, of course, the reality of physical differences between men and women have meant that almost all elite sports are sex-segregated. If women were forced to compete against men, they wouldn’t just lose, they would cease to exist in sport at all.

So forgive our “feverish hysteria” – as The Independent’s chief sports writer Jonathan Liew recently put it – over the new policies being adopted by athletic bodies around the world which allow males who identify as transwomen to compete in female sports.

Liew’s patronising call for us women to “chill out a bit” is based on his view that “hordes of male athletes” will not “suddenly declare themselves female simply to game the system”. But why not? Why wouldn’t mediocre male athletes declare themselves female in order to win at competitions they couldn’t otherwise win? There is, after all, power, glory, and financial gain in being a top athlete.

And while Liew may see a transphobic “straw man”, women are already seeing it happen. That males would compete against women and win is not, it turns out, a figment of our imaginations.

It was Canadian cyclist Rachel McKinnon’s world championship win last year that led tennis legend Martina Navratilova to tweet: “Clearly that can’t be right. You can’t just proclaim yourself female and be able to compete against women. There must be some standards, and having a penis and competing as women would not fit that standard.” Other elite female athletes, including Olympic swimmer Sharon Davies and Women’s World Marathon Record holder Paula Radcliffe, have since expressed their concern.

In January, powerlifter JayCee Cooper set a new state record in Bench, becoming state champion, and winning best overall lifter. This was in the women’s division at the USPA Minnesota State Championships. Cooper, who was born male, but now identifies as a woman, lifted 57.5kg more than the closest female competitor.

After this happened, USA Powerlifting (a different organisation) instituted a ban on males competing as women, meaning Cooper’s application to compete was denied. The USAPL explains that “Transgender male to female individuals having gone through male puberty confer an unfair competitive advantage over non-transgender females due to increased bone density and muscle mass from pubertal exposure to testosterone.”

This comes after Laurel Hubbard, representing New Zealand in women’s weightlifting, won gold after beating fellow competitors by 19kg in Melbourne in 2017. Hubbard, who transitioned to female in her mid-30s, went on to compete in the Commonwealth Games last year.

The very real results are being felt by girls already. Last week, Selina Soule, one of the female students who lost to Miller and Yearwood in Connecticut, told Fox News that, when applying for track college scholarships, it is not specified if an athlete is transgender — students are either in the boys’ category or the girls’ category.

“So if a college coach looks at the results in the [championships], they will see the wide margin between first and/or second place, and the rest of the places  and they’ll say, ‘Hey, why aren’t the rest of these girls running as fast as these two’.

“It’s very frustrating because I know I have put in, and some of my friends and fellow competitors have put in, so much time and effort to take down our times and compete ourselves better, but we are not physically able to be competitive against someone who is biologically a male.”

Liew calls the scenario being painted by critics of this ‘trans inclusive’ approach to women’s sport “fantastical”, in part because he doesn’t believe there will suddenly be an influx on male athletes undertaking “the protracted and often traumatic transition process, securing the necessary medical and psychological documentation”.

But this fails to recognise that under new gender identity policy, males are not required to go through lengthy “transition processes” in order to declare themselves female. This is precisely why such heated debate has erupted around gender identity, as self-declaration is fast on its way to becoming the sole determiner of sex. Fill out a form, and you can now legally become the opposite sex in many countries, including Brazil, Argentina, Ireland, and Norway, where there are no judicial or medical requirements at all to change your sex.

In the UK, this is what changes to the Gender Recognition Act propose. In Canada, you need only a note from an accredited physician or psychologist stating that an individual identifies as a different sex; there are no medical requirements.

Many states, including Washington, Oregon, New York, California, and Connecticut also only require a note from a doctor or nurse practitioner (or a note from someone even less qualified, including, in Washington, a naturopath or social service worker). Nevada requires an affidavit from the individual, stating they are the opposite sex, and an affidavit from a second person confirming this.

Naturally, this new normal has impacted sport. Until 2016, the International Olympic Committee required male athletes who wished to compete among females to undergo sex-reassignment surgery. Under the new rules, they need only declare themselves women and demonstrate that their testosterone level has been below a certain point for a year before their first competition.

But lowering testosterone levels for a year does not change the physical body to such an extent that it negates the inherent advantages of being biologically male. It does not alter bones, limbs, or organs. It does not decrease muscle mass to an extent that renders the body equal to a woman’s. These men will still be much bigger and stronger.

Women’s sport is the just the latest example of the fundamental problem at the heart of trans activism: if we dissolve the definition of ‘woman’ to mean nothing more than a declared ‘identity,’ women – along with our hard-won rights – cease to exist.

Meghan Murphy is a writer in Vancouver, BC. Her website is Feminist Current.


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3 years ago

This sort of common sense fact-based reality simply will not do.

3 years ago

This is the kinda of sensationalist very rare phenomenon that comes up in the media to kind of prove ‘how silly us trans people are and we need to just grow a pair and stop being special snowflakes.

I’m a trans man, and i have competed in sports and severely lost everytime because i was at a biological disadvantage but i enjoy taking part and I don’t kick up a fuss about it, most trans people are just trying to live their lives and enjoy the same things everyone else does.

I think trans women who take estrogen and or hormone blockers are probably at a disadvantage compared to biologically female athletes because often athletic women actually have naturally high levels of testosterone compared to average females and have naturally higher estrogen too than the amount prescribed to trans women (estrogen is also anabolic, muscle building) .. but those trans women who still compete while at a disadvantage probably also just want to take part and while still beIng themselves. I think that is fair enough. They are chosing to be at a disadvantage in sport so they can live a life that fits with their sense of self, that is quite a sacrifice that possibly a lot of cis female athletes might not choose if they had that choice themselves.

If a trans women is not taking HRT or hormone blockers, she is at an advantage and should compete against other people with similar advantages .. in this case it would probably be Men.

Categories in sport are not about identity they are about advantage. Otherwise i think sport would be mixed. For example I identified as Male before i took hormones, i did not really mind being classified as female in the competition.. because i did have female biological limitations.

In fact i would suggest we have even MORE categories based on advantage.. why stop there!

why not have high jump for short people for the short people who always wanted to compete but were at a disadvantage?

I’m fairly short for a man and it is a disadvantage in loads of sport, lets have a short persons strongman competition! We have weight catagories .. we could have more!

At the end of the day sport is a pretty useless but enjoyable part of society .. we basically just like watching beautiful genetics freaks do amazing things we could never imagine doing for our amusement… so I don’t really see why trans people can’t be included in that.