23 June 2022

Trans athletes have every right to compete alongside cis-gender athletes

| Zoya Patel
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Lia Thomas

Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas. Photo: Lia Tomas Instagram.

This past Sunday, the International Federation of Swimming announced that transgender women athletes who have not completed transition prior to the age of 12 will be prevented from competing in women’s races; now, the International Rugby Federation has followed suit, and it seems inevitable that other sporting federations will jump on board.

This decision is a clear example of the ongoing transphobia and lack of understanding of transgender identity that continues to pose a barrier for trans people in our communities to have safe, fulfilling lives free from prejudice.

Supporters of the ban follow a simplistic line of thought that argues that trans women have an unfair advantage over cis women as their bodies develop with higher testosterone levels before transitioning. The loophole sports are using to freely discriminate against trans athletes under the guise of fairness is that if someone transitions before puberty, they will not have this ‘unfair’ advantage, and therefore the competition will remain reasonable for participants.

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But not only does this system completely ignore the reality of transition for many people – where there are medical and societal reasons that mean transitioning before the age of 12 is highly unlikely for the vast majority of trans people – it also masquerades as fairness while really reinforcing prejudice.

At the same time as preventing trans women from competing as women, the Swimming Federation has created an ‘open’ category where anyone can compete. By doing so, they’ve demonstrated that they do, in fact, have the power to change the nature of sports if they so choose. This means, instead of retaining the current gender-based system of competition, they could have dismantled it in favour of a system that better represents both gender diversity and physical diversity more broadly in society.

Here’s the thing – sport, by nature, is not fair. And at the risk of shocking some, I should also point out that sport is, in fact, the product of human invention. That means we have the power to change how and why sport exists in society at our will.

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The idea that trans athletes have an ‘unfair’ advantage makes no sense because every elite athlete is there because of physical advantage. Our bodies are all different, and some are better disposed to different sports, and basically, the people that reach the top all have physical advantages that allow them to achieve success at that level.

All women also have testosterone in their bodies, and some have more than others. If this is considered such a barrier to competition, why not create categories across sport based on a clear universal measure of ability? For example, time trials or another category that can separate competitors to compete against people who most closely match their level of ability.

Professional sports should progress alongside society when it comes to things like gender, class and ability. But banning trans athletes from competition is an archaic approach that is trying to retain an outdated way of understanding gender despite the modern awareness we have that challenges this approach.

At the end of the day, the question it comes down to is what we think is more important – holding to the principle of gender as the defining trait of athletic ability, or having an inclusive, fair and equal system for all people, which includes trans people who continue to suffer significant marginalisation across society?

I know which one I’d pick.

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Clever Interrobang7:45 am 25 Jun 22

This issue is not about trans people. It’s about (biological) women.

Women should have the choice to decide that they do not want biological men in their bathrooms, sporting competitions, prisons, etc.

Women have had their voice taken away and it’s time we all let them have it back.

Shero Canberra10:20 pm 24 Jun 22

Zoya, there are fundamental and factual problems with your article. The most obvious is that it is not, and can never, come down to one question. Definitely not simple! That concept is discrimination in itself – against biological women. You’ve told them their gender doesn’t matter.

Further, there is plenty of evidence that biological males have an advantage over biological women, physically. Don’t take away from their fight.

Your article assumes much. Time trials? That’s already the mechanism for ranking in swimming? Testosterone? Give me science and facts. The evidence suggests otherwise…

Lia Thomas is a test case. There’s no research, but 554th to 5th in less than 12 months and a change in gender suggests strongly that there’s an advantage.

Testosterone in a female v a male is two different things, testosterone being the strength builder and Lia not being without that which produces this in her body more than a biological female, regardless of methods to address this.

The reasons this often doesn’t happen before puberty adds to the reason why it contributes to FINAs decision, advised by scientists, doctor etc…

And finally, the assumption that any person who agrees with the ban holds any prejudice or bias, or is nonsensical, transphobic or exclusionary is wrong and offensive. Let every woman, biological or not, compete in the same race. Side by side, inclusively. Just create two platforms so we can celebrate side by side. Just don’t take away another thing from women.

Salem witch trials. Thousands of females raped and killed every day by biological males. Female genital mutilation etc. Males abusing the rights of biological females has gone on for centuries and it is time for society to stop allowing biological males to encroach into the spaces of biological females, or to dictate to females what to do. No biological male should ever be allowed to compete in physical sports against a biological female, nor should they be allowed to demand that biological women give up their rights so that biological males can feel better. Women’s rights is about society protecting biological women (who have been discriminated against, been abused, harassed and murdered by males for centuries). Biological women deserve (want and need), safe spaces away from biological men.

If FINA hadn’t had changed the rules, do you think that Kaylee McKeown, Ariarne Titmus and Emma McKeon would bother to devote the next two years to train and qualify, knowing that they had no chance against biologically enhanced former male swimmers?

Why are almost all comments so fixated on defining people instead of defining sport? Zoya noted that all sports are defined by us, and alluded to alternative category definitions.
Make an arbitrary count of categories (e.g. 2-4) within a sport then allow anyone who qualifies on time (or whatever is the scoring method) into the appropriate category for competition, re-ranking on performance.
We already have handicapping in the Stawell Gift, in horse racing, in almost any sport or activity. I allow that handicapping itself has problems with gaming the system though it can be subject to various management controls.

I would love to see a cheetah compete in the 200m sprint provided it were appropriately handicapped and promised not to bite anyone.

Zoya, you may claim that transgender athletes are being discriminated against, but isn’t the discrimination really the other way around?

FINA appears to think so, by determining that transgender athletes have an unfair advantage.

I guess FINA, being the ruling body has the final say.

East German athletes took drugs to increase performance and were pariahs. Transwomen take drugs to decrease performance and are encouraged

Vinson1Bernie4:34 pm 23 Jun 22

They created separate categories for men and women – that might give you a hint why there is a distinction – If peter Fitzsimons (or Ian Roberts or Wayne carey) wanted to trans when at his peak there is no way they would let him play against women – it would be murder if he was fair dinkum so again it depends on the sport but you cant make judgements based on the relative ability of each individual so unfortunately the default option is “no entry” BTW do they have separate dressing rooms to allow inclusion?

Interesting that all the arguments I have seen revolve around trans playing in women’s sport. No issues with trans playing men’s sports? Perhaps there’s no issue because there’s no perceived/actual advantage in that situation as there is in the reverse.

Luna Dhaniswara3:09 pm 23 Jun 22

Some of you would do well to talk to real-life trans people. That and imagine life if you were a trans person.

I talk to trans people on a daily basis in my work. They just do their jobs, and there is no song and dance

It goes without saying you will have a transgender wanting to become a woman and then wants to compete say in the womans weight lifting, who do you think is going to be holding the gold everytime.I watched a program on transgender one of these people went from girl to boy, 8 years later this same person has said that he has now regreted most if not all of her transition. Because she then was unable to experience what it was like going through pubeity as a girl, and now she will never know upon saying that she rekons that she might not of had the thoughts to transition.

You are quite right for community sport. If you are playing at a local level, it doesn’t matter whether or not a trans woman has an advantage over a cis woman, as competitions are graded anyway. What does it matter if someone who would play in a D grade men’s competition instead plays in a B grade women’s competition? However, for elite sport, where a large amount of sponsorship money and prestige may be at stake between winning an Olympic gold medal or not, fairness matters a lot, and elite sporting bodies are doing their best to balance different priorities.

From previous articles from Zoya, I’m not sure that she’s ever been involved in competitive sports at all.

The core of sport is competition and fairness.

The entire reason why we have women’s sport in the first place is to create a restricted competition that allows women to fully participate.

This type of thing also exists in other sporting areas, such as grading, handicaps, weight divisions etc.

Otherwise we would just have open competitions and large parts of the benefits of sport would be lost.

So when considering “women’s” sport in general and particularly elite women’s sport, the restriction fundamentally is based on biological factors around being a female. It goes to the core of why those rules exists, it isn’t around societal factors, it isn’t around creating a fully level playing field where every competitor finishes equal 1st. Which wipes away the strawmen around some people always having advantages of some sort or another.

And the science (whilst still an ongoing area of study) is showing now that regardless of their medical transition, male to female trans athletes retain structural advantages based on going through puberty as a male. The hormones and levels they are exposed to through that period leaves them with ongoing benefits that cannot be removed.

So no matter whether you think it would be nice and inclusive to allow these people to compete, it changes the fundamental definition of why those restricted competitions were set up in the first place.

You might be OK with that, a lot of people aren’t. And it’s not bigoted or transphobic if you aren’t OK with it. It’s simply a recognition of what the restricted completion is for.

Otherwise, why not just go the whole way and remove all restrictions and just have fully open competitions?

By definition, a transgender person has a gender identity that differs from the sex at birth. It is an emotional or personal self-identity, not a physical or chromosomal reality. Being transgender does not necessarily mean the person has had, started or finished any hormone replacement therapy or sex reassignment surgery. Transgender may be defined to include cross-dressers/transvestites.
The risk is that a male yesterday may identify as a female today so as to complete in a sport when they have a physical advantage over women and girls to dominate the opposition.
And win the gold medal. A large ‘transgender’ male wearing (or not wearing) a dress is not in the interests of women’s or girl’s sport at the international or local community or schools level.

swaggieswaggie10:55 am 23 Jun 22

It’s hard to know where to begin when it comes to pulling part this sad excuse for an article but suffice with this gem “”clear example of the ongoing transphobia”… It’s nothing of the kind, it’s just a dose of common sense

Stephen Saunders8:50 am 23 Jun 22

It was “inclusive” for Thomas to swim against cis women, but in sporting and not societal terms, it was visibly unfair. That was the point Cate Campbell made, and her speech is worth reading.

Capital Retro7:48 am 23 Jun 22

What is a cis-gender athlete

A person – wait can’t say that – son indicates male and that offends. A human – wait can’t say that – it’s got man in it and that offends. A two legged – wait can’t say that – it’s discriminatory. A carbon based being – wait that offends the Greens. I give up

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