September 1, 2023 - 11:30am

For a while, I thought: “why aren’t they more embarrassed? When male sportspeople barge into female categories, stealing places on teams and prizes reserved for women, why don’t they feel a bit, well, ashamed?”

It was one of the reasons I — along, I suspect, with many others — considered male intrusion on female sports unlikely to be a consequence of gender self-ID. However else it might be misused, surely no one would wish to stand on a podium looking so petty, so selfish and so deluded. If sports is about pride, wouldn’t that just be too degrading?

It has just been announced that Danielle McGahey, a biological male, will represent Canada as the first trans cricketer in an official international women’s match. What’s more, McGahey isn’t remotely ashamed to be stealing the place of an elite female cricketer. All the rules have been followed: blood tests, declarations of gender identity, and all the rest. As long as a series of arbitrary hoops — none of which turn males into females — can be jumped through, McGahey assumes the right to pose as the injured party should anyone object. 

The cricketer follows Lia Thomas, Veronica Ivy, Laurel Hubbard, Lindsay Hecox, Hannah Mouncey and CeCé Telfer. Objection to any exclusion of male people from female categories has been recast as trans people not being allowed to play at all. In tandem, it has transpired that women themselves are to be considered petty and selfish for complaining. Turns out we sceptics had a lot to learn. 

The inclusion of male people in female sporting categories may not be the most important feminist battle, but it could be the most instructive. It exposes the degree to which people will bend, twist and outright deny everything we know about human biology to ensure that the same half of the human race gets whatever it wants. 

We all know that women are not just men with lower testosterone. We all know that having a female gender identity (whatever that means) has no influence on one’s ability to run a race or kick a ball. Nonetheless, we have been obliged to pretend otherwise, lest one look — God forbid! — like a bigot who just doesn’t want to play on a team with someone whose haircut doesn’t match their sex assigned at birth. 

Over the past few years, women have fought hard to defend and reclaim their own sports. All the while, they have been vilified by those who are nominally in favour of smashing the gender binary, but consider “winning” an inappropriate priority for anyone lacking a penis. 

Recently, World Athletics, International Rugby League, Fina and British Cycling have been among those finally making moves to protect female categories. Given the historical exclusion of women from top-level sports, it’s a disgrace that these battles had to be fought at all, let alone that any wins for women continue to be framed as “bans” on trans people. 

McGahey’s selection is grossly unfair. Then again, it’s an unfairness that is in keeping with the boorish side of male sporting culture, not least its desire to keep women in their place. If McGahey can be proud of anything, it is not challenging gender norms, but reinforcing them. There’s nothing binary-smashing about misrepresenting sex differences in order to take things which don’t belong to you. 

McGahey claims not to have had any backlash “for just expressing who I am”. But what’s meant by that? Having long hair and calling yourself Danielle? Or behaving in a way that is completely in line with your sex’s disregard for female boundaries? Either way, why should anyone be surprised?

When you have a male body and compete against women, any prizes you win are for shamelessness, not sporting prowess. You show who you really are. The trouble — for women, at least — is how many people don’t care, just so long as the same sex gets to win.

Victoria Smith is a writer and creator of the Glosswitch newsletter.