Sport is segregated by sex, and for good reason — women would win very little in open competition with men. Yesterday’s decision by FINA should therefore be welcomed. In a 24-page document, the world governing body for swimming declared that transwomen who had experienced male puberty were ineligible to swim against women in FINA competition or set FINA World Records.
At a stroke of a pen, fairness has been restored in a sport where Lia Thomas — a biological male — was leaving female swimmers competing for second place in their own events. But there are caveats.
Firstly, the policy conflates “male-to-female transgender athletes” with “athletes with 46 XY DSD whose legal gender and/or gender identity is female”. In effect FINA is applying the same rules to transwomen and some intersex women. These are not the same. Intersex women have a diagnosable condition — a “difference of sexual development”. Transwomen can be transwomen just because they say they are: there is no qualifying criterion beyond being male.
Secondly, FINA would allow a transwoman to compete if “they can establish to FINA’s comfortable satisfaction that they have not experienced any part of male puberty beyond Tanner Stage 2 or before age 12, whichever is later”.
In a society where children are told that they have a gender identity, that worries me. Children — or their parents — know about puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones. Will this put yet more pressure on ten- and eleven- year old boys who are confused about their gender? It may put ideas in the minds of ambitious parents. Children need to grow up in peace, not worry that puberty might limit their opportunities.
It remains to be seen whether repressive regimes might take interest in a policy that could be seen to permit the doping of children with puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones.
The truth is that our biological sex is innate and immutable. There should be no loopholes, not even for transwomen who transitioned at primary school. All of us who undergo ‘male-to-female’ gender reassignment must accept that some opportunities might be restricted as a result. We may be slower than we otherwise would have been, but we can still compete against our own sex — and beat some of them.
FINA’s policy is to be applauded in that respect: “male-to-female transgender athletes (transgender women) remain eligible for, and are welcome to compete in, the men’s category whether or not they are suppressing their endogenous androgens.”