This months readers puzzle addresses the issue of biologically male trans athletes competing and winning in women’s sports. Transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, who competed in men’s weightlifting before her transition, recently won 2 gold medals and a silver medal in the women’s heavyweight categories at the Pacific Games in Samoa and is set to compete in next year’s Tokyo Olympics. While the Olympics and other sporting organizations have made an effort to be more inclusive of trans athletes, many women’s groups have insisted this is unfair competition. IOC guidelines say any transgender athlete can compete as a woman provided their testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per liter for at least 12 months prior to their first competition. Yet scientists say this is still much higher than women’s testosterone levels and does not mitigate natural biological advantages male born athletes have, including bone and muscle density. (https://nypost.com/2019/07/30/transgender-weightlifter-laurel-hubbards-gold-medal-sparks-fierce-debate/).

We ask our readers, should male born athletes be allowed to compete against female born athletes, and if not, what would be a good solution that would maintain the integrity of fair competition while still being inclusive of trans athletes?

Full Citation for this Article: Editorial Board, SquareTwo Journal (2019) "Readers’ Puzzle, Summer 2019: The Issue of Trans Athletes," SquareTwo, Vol. 12 No. 2 (Summer 2019), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleReadersPuzzleSummer2019.html, accessed <give access date>.

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COMMENTS: 3 Comments

I. Savannah Johnston

No, male born athletes should not be allowed to compete against female born athletes. You'll notice that the reverse question ("Should transgender males be allowed to compete against male born athletes?") is not an issue! This is because the physical advantage of males has been commonly accepted for thousands of years. This fact is the reason why we even have gender divided sports. Men compete against men in sports like track and field and weightlifting because they are naturally stronger and faster. Female born athletes could not compete with Usain Bolt on the track. As a woman, how can I not acknowledge this most fundamental fact? The physical superiority of males is the root cause of female oppression for thousands of years. Thankfully, modern science and technology have leveled the playing field between men and women by reducing the importance of physical strength. Still some natural facts cannot- and should not - be fixed by the tinkering of modern science, nor has the impact of physical advantage been completely expunged from all sectors of society. Sports will remain an arena of male physical advantage until e-sports take over the entire globe. Women cannot fairly compete against men in most sports. Transgender female athletes are still biological males in terms of bone and muscle construction. Their physical advantage is not reducible to testosterone levels. Hence women cannot fairly compete against transgender women in most sports. Let's not allow ideology to blind us to fairness, science, and basic biological fact.

So how can we maintain fair competition while still being inclusive of trans athletes? First I think it important that we recognize that we are dealing with exceptions and not the rule. The vast majority of the global population still recognizes two genders and identifies with the sex of their birth. The vast majority of athletes identify with the sex of their birth. With but few exceptions, female born athletes compete in female sporting events, and male born athletes compete in male sporting events. The question is what to do about the very small minority of male born athletes who identify with the female gender and wish to compete in female born competitions. As we have already concluded that male born athletes possess an unfair physical advantage over female born athletes, I propose two alternative solutions. First, we can have separate transgender female competitions for sports that rely on physical advantage. E-sports, equestrian sports, and competitions like Miss USA do not overly rely on physical advantage, so transgender females should be allowed to compete alongside cisgender females. Second, we can allow male-born athletes to continue to compete in the male-born competitions as openly transgender females. These athletes would perhaps be at somewhat of a disadvantage because of hormone suppressants, but at the very least it would be the minority and not the majority disadvantaged. This would also require acknowledgements that the male-female divide in sports is based on biological sex at birth and not gender.


II. V.H. Cassler

I largely agree with Savannah’s position on this issue. While one’s current hormonal state can be altered by hormone pills and injections, how one’s hormones shaped and developed one’s body before those pills and injections cannot be completely undone. Particularly in the case of those who originally developed as male, the average physical advantage will continue to exist. It is completely unfair to those who originally developed as female to compete with individuals who originally developed as male.

What has struck me about the Readers’ Puzzle is how few people, even among our editorial board, want to engage with the topic. True, the topic was suggested by a member of the board, but there is no enthusiasm for saying anything. Perhaps people fear their reputations will suffer? Perhaps people fear articulating their opinions, lest they be considered anachronistic or hateful? Perhaps people fear there will be retaliation against them for their views?

I’d like to challenge that calculus of fear. The latest Rasmussen poll suggests that 54% of Americans do not support male-to-trans athletes competing in women’s sports. 18% were undecided. Only 28% of Americans supported such competition. This is an issue on which the majority of Americans agree; such competition in patently unfair.

When the majority feel they cannot express that they think something is unfair, even wrong, that should raise alarm bells for our entire society. Rod Dreher has penned a series of articles commenting on how he traveled to the former Soviet bloc to interview those who had refused to bow to the big lies of communism. The interviewees told Dreher that even though the vast majority of their countrymen felt the very same things they did, they self-censored out of fear. These folks felt if they could just keep their head down, they could live their lives in peace. That’s not the way it works, of course. If you bow to the big lie, bowing will never be enough.

I’d also like to challenge this calculus of fear, on the basis of feminism. Why does it seem that when the rights of more than half the population are at stake, those rights pale in significance next to the rights of less than 1% of the population? Is it because those majority rights are women’s rights? Are women really still the lowest and the least in our society? Who will stand for women? Who is Against the Erasure and Replacement of Women (AEROW)?

I’d like to end with a poem I only stumbled across recently, written by Philip Larkin in 1954. It’s called Myxomatosis. Read what it was used for in Australia before approaching the poem.

Caught in the center of a soundless field
While hot inexplicable hours go by
What trap is this? Where were its teeth concealed?
You seem to ask.
I make a sharp reply,
Then clean my stick. I'm glad I can't explain
Just in what jaws you were to suppurate:
You may have thought things would come right again
If you could only keep quite still and wait.


III. Michelle Brignone

No, male born athletes should not compete against female born athletes. There is a reason the Olympics and almost all other sporting events separate male and female athletes and do not have them competing against each other. There are natural, biological differences that must be acknowledged and accounted for. However, I do not want to exclude trans athletes from competing either. Unfortunately, I do not have a solution other than to have a separate category for trans athletes. I have no doubt that would not be considered a solution, by many.