First let me say this: this is not a perfect post. It is not meant to be an exhaustive treatise on trans involvement in sport. I’m not trying to present it as a definitive argument. What I AM trying to do, is to remind you of what’s important, and to express what I know in my heart to be right. I have been afraid to share this - not because I worry what people will think of me, but because I am afraid that I will be misunderstood, or not able to satisfactorily express my thoughts and opinions. I am worried that I will say the wrong thing or use the wrong language. But being afraid of messing up is not a valid excuse for staying silent. And as an Olympian, professional athlete, and lifelong human, I cannot stay quiet any longer.
I am alarmed by the current discussions and actions regarding trans people’s involvement in sport. I am shocked that sporting organizations feel the need to create blanket policies that ban trans women from competitions. I am angry, and sad, that these organizations are so afraid (of what?????) that they feel the need to regulate womanhood, and who can claim that identity within a sporting context.
If you aren’t up to speed on these decisions, let me share with you the following:
I’ve also recently seen “open letters” shared on Twitter that, under the guise of “protecting” women’s sports (what do they think they need to protect us from, exactly?), are nothing short of hateful, and honestly, seem to advocate for a very messed-up attitude towards trans people.
If you're curious what cycling's stance is on this, the UCI has recently updated their policy regarding trans athletes. The UCI allows trans athletes (particularly those who have transitioned from male to female) to compete in the women's category. They have placed restrictions on testosterone levels and set a time frame for when competition may begin after the transition to low testosterone. I am not an expert, but this seems to me to be relatively inclusive (please correct me if I'm wrong), and I feel like the wording used in the document is positive.
I have so many thoughts on this, but I honestly don’t have the eloquence to express them properly. An article I read recently, written by Laura McPhie & Andrea Carey of Inclusion Incorporated, sums up my own thoughts and contributions very succinctly (and obviously adds a lot more expertise than I can bring to this conversation). It is an easy-to-read and relatively short article, and I encourage you to read it. It is linked here. It highlights some important data in this area, particularly that it’s likely that LESS THAN ONE HALF OF ONE PERCENT of high school athletes in the USA are transgender. Keeping that in mind (and also keeping in mind how few high school athletes actually go on to pursue professional athletics) how likely do you REALLY think it is that a transgender athlete is going take away from your sport involvement? Be honest. It’s not likely.
Another really important point they make is this:
“We don't need [blanket policies]. These types of policies are rooted in protectionism – protectionism of a sport world that doesn’t actually exist. Each athlete has advantages and disadvantages based on their genetics, their circumstances, their experiences and their access.”
They also draw attention to the fact that these policies are not founded on evidence. And if they’re not founded on evidence, then what are they founded on? Do you want my opinion? I think they’re founded on fear, and the need to control women. They are rooted in misogyny, and far from protecting women’s sport, they hold us all back.
Often the argument - and the metric that organizations are honing in on - is centred on testosterone. There are big variations in testosterone levels between those who were born biologically female. There are also big variations in testosterone levels between those who were born biologically male! Why are we so concerned with this one hormone? Do people honestly believe that that single hormone is responsible for what makes a good athlete? If they do, well, I have to say I find that a little offensive. What about mental toughness? Skill acquisition? Knowledge of the game? Tactics? I could go on and on. I will remind you of the quoted paragraph above: “each athlete has advantages and disadvantages based on their genetics”. So, how do we feel about height? What about lung capacity? Should we start measuring and restricting those things, too???? I hope you understand that this question is rhetorical and sarcastic.
And yes, I know that there are typically differences in performance between males and females. I’m not debating that. Keeping in mind the rarity of a situation where this even needs to be discussed, what’s more important: you/your athlete placing 15th instead of 14th because a transgender athlete finished one place in front of you/them, or that transgender athlete’s right to play? Sure, at the absolute highest elite levels of sport, there may need to be a discussion on how to proceed on an individual-by-individual basis. But at the recreational level? Inclusion is the ONLY avenue to fair sport, where everyone is given an opportunity to play as themselves.
I said at the beginning that my purpose here is to remind you of what’s important. So let me ask: why does sport have meaning and value?
Sport is important because it makes us better; it challenges us to grow and evolve, to strive for better versions of ourselves. To aim for progress. It is important because it brings joy and purpose. It is important because it improves our mental and physical health. In the grand scheme of things, it is not about winning in the absolute sense. It is about personal wins, and the process. Any professional athlete worth their salt will tell you this. More important than who wins the gold medal (and, again, remember how RARE the circumstance would have to be for that winner to be a transgender athlete), is that every person should have the unalienable and absolute right to participate in sport as their true self, and to reap all the benefits that sport provides. To be honest, I don’t want any part of a sport system or organization who loses sight of that.
I will sign off with this: I am firmly against any blanket policy that excludes trans athletes from women’s sport. This attitude is small-minded, and it is regressive.
I hope that you read this post with the intent to understand, and if my opinion differs from yours, to hold these ideas with an open mind. We don’t grow by responding with anger, we grow by listening with the intent to understand, and discussing things in a nuanced way.