So first of all this post was inspired by GGExMachina
's brief statement on the issue:
For example, it is objectively the case that biological men have a physical advantage over women. Yet if someone points this out and suggests that transgender people shouldn’t be allowed to fight in women’s UFC, or women’s soccer or weightlifting competitions or whatever, suddenly you’re some kind of evil monster. Rather than saying that of course trans people shouldn’t be bullied and that we could perhaps have a trans olympics (like the Paralympics and Special Olympics), we are expected to lie.
I've found that this position is incredibly popular among liberals/left-leaning people, especially here on reddit. It seems like, once or twice a month, like clockwork, a thread stating more or less the same thing on /unpopularopinion
will get thousands of upvotes. And while I completely understand the thought process that leads otherwise left-leaning people to come to such conclusions, I feel like the issue has been, broadly speaking, dishonestly presented to the general public by a mixture of bad-faith actors and people who have succumbed to the moral panic. And, as I've seen, there are plenty of people in this subreddit and elsewhere who are itching to be as supportive as they possibly can to the trans community but find themselves becoming very disillusioned by this particular issue. By making this post I hope to present a more nuanced take on the issue, not only in regards to my personal beliefs on what kinds of policies are best to preserve fairness in women's sports but also in regards to shining a light on how this issue is often times dishonestly presented in an attempt to impede the progression of pro-trans sentiments in the cultural zeitgeist.
Sex & Gender
The word "transgender" is an umbrella term that refers to people whose gender identities differ from those typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey
, the approximate composition of "the trans community" in the United States is 29% Transgender men (Female-to-Male), 33% Transgender women (Male-to-Female), and 35% non-binary. (The remaining 3% were survey respondents who self-identified as "crossdressers", who were still included in the survey on the grounds of being gender non-conforming)
While non-binary people, as a group, are probably deserving of their own separate post. the focus of this post will be on trans men and trans women. I will also be primarily focusing on transgender people who pursue medical transition with Hormone-Replacement-Therapy, as they are most relevant to the issue of sports. (Mind that while the majority of binary trans people fit into this camp, there is a sizable minority of trans people who do not feel the need to medically transition.) What do trans people believe about Gender?
The views of transgender people in regards to Gender are actually pretty varied, although the most prominent positions that I've personally seen are best summed up into two different camps:
- The "Trans-Medical" camp
Transgender people who fall into this camp usually consider Gender Dysphoria to be the defining factor of what makes somebody trans. The best way I can describe this camp is that they sort of view being transgender akin to being intersex. Only whereas an intersex person would be born with a disorder that affects the body, a trans person is born with a disorder that affects the brain. Trans people in this camp often times put an emphasis on a clinical course for treatment. For example, a person goes to a psychologist, gets diagnosed with gender dysphoria, starts hormone replacement therapy, pursues surgery, then emerges from this process of either cured of the gender dysphoria or, at the very least, treated to the fullest extent of medical intervention. This position is more or less the original position held by trans activists, back in the day when the word "transsexual" was used instead of "transgender". Though many younger trans people, notably YouTuber Blaire White, also hold this position. Under this position, sex and gender are still quite intertwined, but a trans man can still be considered a man, and a trans woman a woman, under the belief that sex/gender doesn't just refer to chromosomal sex and reproductive organs, but also to neurobiology, genitalia, and secondary sex characteristics. So someone who is transgender, according to this view, is born with the physical characteristics of one sex/gender but the neurobiology of another, and will change their physical characteristics, to the fullest extent medically possible, to match the neurobiology and therefore cure the individual of gender dysphoria.
Critics of this position argue that this mentality is problematic due to being inherently exclusive to transgender people who do not pursue medical transition, whom are often times deemed as "transtrenders" by people within this camp. Many people find it additionally problematic because it is also inherently exclusive to poorer trans people, particularly those in developing nations, who may not have access to trans-related medical care. Note that there are plenty of trans people who *do* have access to medical transition, but nevertheless feel as if the trans community shouldn't gatekeep people who cannot afford or do not desire medical transition, thus believing in the latter camp.
- The "Gender Identity" camp
I feel like this camp is the one most popularly criticized by people on the right, but is also probably the most mainstream. It is the viewpoint held by many more left-wing trans people, (Note that in the aforementioned 2015 survey, only 1% of trans respondents voted Republican, so trans people are largely a pretty left-wing group, therefore it makes sense that this position would be the most mainstream) but also notably held by American Psychological Association
, the American Psychiatric Association
, and other mainstream health organizations and activist groups.
While people in this camp still acknowledge that medical transition to treat gender dysphoria can still be a very important aspect of the transgender experience, it's believed that the *defining* experience is simply having a gender identity different from the one they were assigned at birth. "Gender identity" simply being the internal, personal sense of being a man, a woman, or outside the gender binary.
Many people in this camp, though, still often maintain that gender identity is (at least partially) neurobiological, but differ from the first camp in regards to acknowledging that the issue is less black & white than an individual simply having a "male brain" or a "female brain", but rather that the neurological characteristics associated with gender exist on more of a spectrum, thus leaving the door open to gender non-conforming people who do not identify as trans, as well as to non-binary people. This is where the "gender is a spectrum" phrase comes from.
"52 genders" is a popular right-wing meme that makes fun of this viewpoint, however it is important to note that many trans and non-binary people disagree with the idea of quantifying gender identity to such an absurd amount of individual genders, rather more simply maintaining that there are men, women, and a small portion of people in-between, with a few words such as "agender" or "genderqueer" being used to describe specific identities/presentations within this category.
It's also noteworthy that not all people in this camp believe that neurobiology is the be-all-end-all of gender identity, as many believe that the performativity of gender
also plays an integral role in one's identity. (That gender identity is a mixture of neurobiology and performativity is a position held by YouTuber Contrapoints) Trans people and biological sex
So while the aforementioned "Gender Identity" viewpoint has become quite popularized among liberals and leftists, I have noticed a certain rhetorical mentality/assumption become prevalent alongside it, especially among cisgender people who consider themselves trans-allies:
"Sex and Gender are different. A trans woman is a woman who is biologically male. A trans man is a man who is biologically female"
When "Sex" is defined by someone's chromosomes, or the sex organs they were born with, this is correct. However, there is a pretty good reason why the trans community tends to prefer terms like "Assigned Male at Birth" rather than "Biologically Male". This is done not only for the inclusion of people who are both intersex and
transgender (For example, someone can be born intersex but assigned male based on the existence of a penis or micropenis), but also due to the aforementioned viewpoint on divergent neurobiology being the cause for gender dysphoria. Those reasons are why the word "Assigned" is used. But the reason why it's "Assigned Male/Female At Birth
" instead of just "Assigned Male/Female" is because among the trans community there exists an understanding of the mutability of sexually dimorphic biology that the general population is often ignorant to. For example, often times people (especially older folks) don't even know of the existence of Hormone Replacement Therapy, and simply assume that trans people get a single "sex change operation" that, (for a trans woman) would just entail the removal of the penis and getting breast implants. Therefore they imagine the process to be "medically sculpting a male to look female" instead of a more natural biological process of switching the endocrine system form male to female or vice versa and letting the body change over the course of multiple years. It doesn't help that, for a lot of older trans people (namely Caitlyn Jenner, who is probably the most high profile trans person sadly), the body can be a lot more resistant to change even with hormones so they *do* need to rely on plastic surgery a lot more to get obvious results) So what sexually dimorphic bodily characteristics can one expect to change from Hormone Replacement Therapy?
(Note that there is a surprising lack of studies done on some of the more intricate changes that HRT can, so I've put a "*" next to the changes that are anecdotal, but still commonly and universally observed enough among trans people [including myself for the MTF stuff] to consider factual. I've also put a "✝" next to the changes that only occur when people transition before or during puberty)
Male to Female:
- Breast development and nipple/areolar enlargement, including in some people, the development of mammary glands and the ability to breastfeed
- Thinning/slowed growth of facial/body hair
- Cessation/reversal of male-pattern scalp hair loss
- Softening of skin/decreased oiliness and acne
- Decreased muscle mass/strength
- Widening and rounding of the pelvis
- Changes in mood, emotionality, and behavior (anecdotally crying is way easier to do)
- Decreased sex drive (anecdotally, taking progesterone helps a lot in regards to regaining sex drive, though attraction is often noted as being experienced a bit differently than how it feels with testosterone)
- Decreased sperm production/fertility
- Decreased testicle size
- Decreased penis size
- Decreased prostate gland size
- Voice changes (As far as I've heard, most people only experience minor changes from transitioning in adulthood, so it's common to do vocal training on top of everything to actually get a female-passing voice. I'll add a ✝ here since vocal changes seem to be a lot stronger in people who transition before/during puberty)
- Changes in body odor (It's been documented that men and women often times have different smelling body odor, and trans people commonly notice a change in this regard) *
- Changes in how arousal, sexual pleasure, and orgasms are experienced *
- Changes in facial complexion *
- Slight changes in hair color, texture, or curl *
- Slight changes in eye color *
- Changes in alcohol/drug tolerance *
- Experiencing pubescent skeletal development and bodily growth along female-typical lines, including both bodily size/shape and facial bone/cartilage features ✝
Female to Male:
- Growth of facial/body hair
- male pattern scalp hair loss (in some individuals)
- Roughening of the skin and prominence of veins
- Increased muscle mass/strength
- Increased sweat
- Changes in mood, emotionality, and behavior (I forget the source for this sadly but I remember reading that trans men are significantly more likely to commit crimes and get into fights after starting HRT)
- Increased sex drive
- Cessation of ovulation and menstruation
- Acne (especially in the first few years of therapy)
- Alterations in blood lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides)
- Increased red blood cell count
- Deepening of the voice
- Enlargement of the clitoris
- Changes in body odor *
- Changes in how arousal, sexual pleasure, and orgasms are experienced *
- Changes in facial complexion *
- Slight changes in hair color, texture, or curl *
- Slight changes in eye color *
- Changes in alcohol/drug tolerance *
- Experiencing male pubescent skeletal development and bodily growth along male-typical lines, and closure of growth plates ✝
For the sake of visual representation, here are a couple of images from /transtimelines
to demonstrate these changes in adult transitioners (I've specifically chosen athletic individuals to best demonstrate muscular changes) https://preview.redd.it/ntw333p9sbty.jpg?width=640&crop=smart&auto=webp&s=5fe779757dfc4a5dc56566ff648d337c59fbe5cb https://www.reddit.com/transtimelines/comments/dpca0f/3_years_on_vitamin_t/
Additionally, here's a picture of celebrity Kim Petras who transitioned before male puberty, in case you were wondering what "female pubescent skeletal development" looks like in a trans woman: https://cdn2.thelineofbestfit.com/images/made/images/remote/https_cdn2.thelineofbestfit.com/portraits/kim_petras_burakcingi01_1107_1661_90.jpg
How does this relate to sports?
Often times, when the whole "transgender people in sports" discussion arises, a logical error is made when *all* transgender people are assumed to be "biologically" their birth sex. For example, when talking about trans women participating in female sports, these instances will be referred to as cases of "Biological males competing against females".
As mentioned before, calling a trans woman "biologically male" strictly in regards to chromosomes or sex organs at birth would be correct. However, not only can it be considered derogatory (the word "male" is colloquially a shorthand for "man", after all), but there are many instances where calling a post-HRT transgender person "biologically [sex assigned at birth]" is downright misleading.
For example, hospitals have, given transgender patients improper or erroneous medical care by assuming treatment based on birth sex where treatment based on their current endocrinological sex would have been more adequate. Acute Clinical Care of Transgender Patients: A Review
Conclusions and relevance: Clinicians should learn how to engage with transgender patients, appreciate that unique anatomy or the use of gender-affirming hormones may affect the prevalence of certain disease (eg, cardiovascular disease, venous thromboembolism, and osteoporosis), and be prepared to manage specific issues, including those related to hormone therapy. Health care facilities should work toward providing inclusive systems of care that correctly identify and integrate information about transgender patients into the electronic health record, account for the unique needs of these patients within the facility, and through education and policy create a welcoming environment for their care.
Some hosptials have taken to labeling the biological sex of transgender patients as "MTF" (for post-HRT trans women) and "FTM" (for post-HRT trans men), which is a much more medically useful identifier compared to their sex assigned at birth.
In regards to the sports discussion, I've seen *multiple threads* where redditors have backed up their opinions on the subject of trans people in sports with studies demonstrating that cis men are, on average, more athletically capable than cis women.
Which I personally find to be a pathetic misunderstanding of the entire issue.
Because we're not supposed to be comparing the athletic capabilities of natal males to natal females, here. We're supposed to comparing the athletic capabilities of *post-HRT male-to-females* to natal females. And, if we're going to really have a fact-based discussion on the matter, we need to have separate categories for pre-pubescent and post-pubescent transitioners. Since, as mentioned earlier, the former will likely have different skeletal characteristics compared to the latter. The current International Olympic Committee (IOC) model for trans participation, and criticisms of said model
(I quoted the specific guidelines from the International Cycling Union, but similar guidelines exist for all Olympic sports)
At elite competition levels, members may have the opportunity to represent the United States and participate in international competition. They may therefore be subject to the policies and regulations of the International Cycling Union (UCI) and International Olympic Committee (IOC). USA Cycling therefore follows the IOC guidelines on transgender athletes at these elite competition levels. For purposes of this policy, international competition means competition sanctioned by the UCI or competition taking place outside the United States in which USA Cycling’s competition rules do not apply.
The IOC revised its guidelines on transgender athlete participation in 2015, to focus on hormone levels and medical monitoring. The main points of the guidelines are:
Those who transition from female to male are eligible to compete in the male category without restriction. It is the responsibility of athletes to be aware of current WADA/USADA policies and file for appropriate therapeutic use exemptions.
Those who transition from male to female are eligible to compete in the female category under the following conditions:
The athlete has declared that her gender identity is female. The declaration cannot be changed, for sporting purposes, for a minimum of four years.
The athlete must demonstrate that her total testosterone level in serum has been below 10 nmol/L for at least 12 months prior to her first competition (with the requirement for any longer period to be based on a confidential case-by-case evaluation, considering whether or not 12 months is a sufficient length of time to minimize any advantage in women’s competition).
The athlete's total testosterone level in serum must remain below 10 nmol/L throughout the period of desired eligibility to compete in the female category.
Compliance with these conditions may be monitored by random or for-cause testing. In the event of non-compliance, the athlete’s eligibility for female competition will be suspended for 12 months.
Valid criticisms of the IOC model are usually based on the fact that, even though hormone replacement therapy provokes changes to muscle mass, it does *not* shrink the size of someone's skeleton or cardiovascular system. Therefore an adult-transitioned trans woman could, even after losing all levels of male-typical muscle mass, still have an advantage in certain sports if she had an excessively large skeletal frame, and was participating in a sport where such a thing would be advantageous.
Additionally, the guidelines only require that athletes be able to demonstrate having had female hormone levels for 12-24 months, which isn't necessarily long enough to completely lose musculature gained from training on testosterone (anecdotally it can take 2-4 years to completely lose male-typical muscle mass) So the IOC guidelines don't have any safeguard against, for example, a trans woman training with testosterone as the dominant hormone in her body, and then taking hormones for the bare minimum time period and still having some of the advantage left. Note that, while lower level sports have had (to the glee of right-wing publications sensationalizing the issue) instances of this exact thing happening, in the 16 years since these IOC guidelines were established, not a single transgender individual has won an Olympic medal Also note that none of the above criticisms of the IOC policy would apply in regards to the participation of pre-pubescent-transitioned trans women. After all, male-pubescent bone structure and cardiovascular size, and male-typical muscle levels, can't possibly exist if you never went through male puberty to begin with. What could better guidelines entail, to best preserve fairness in female sports while avoiding succumbing to anti-trans moral panic?
- The most extreme way for female sports to reasonably go about addressing this issue would be to only allow for the participation of transgender women who are documented to have, with puberty blockers, carried out their transitions without having gone past Tanner Stage II or III of male puberty.
- Sports leagues willing to be a bit looser could accept adult transitioners under the stipulation that their bodily measurements in regards to certain skeletal features fit within a standard deviation of the cis-female average
- Sports leagues willing to be even looser could copy the IOC guidelines, but require documentation of having gone through HRT for a greater period of time rather than just the 12 months, (3 years would probably be better) to guarantee full loss of male muscle mass
In my personal opinion, sports leagues should pick one of the three above options depending on what best fits the nature of the sport and the eliteness of the competition. For example, extremely competitive contact sports might be better off going with the first option, but an aerobic sport such as marathon running would probably be fine with the third option.
How this issue has been misrepresented by The Right
- Right-wing rhetoric surrounding this issue assumes that the issue exists as an innate consequence of trans activism (Ie. "This is what the left is pushing!") rather than as a result of individual sports leagues failing to have solid rules for participation. Often times, certain low-level sports leagues have failed to even measure trans athlete's hormone levels, and have, in some cases, let completely male-bodied athletes participate as women. This is obviously the fault of these specific sports leagues failing to implement or enforce reasonable rules for participation, but right-wing articles surrounding such instances will act as if these occurrences are an ideological goal of the pro-trans left. This runs off of the assumption that a majority of trans people and "the left" are specifically pushing for muscular males (who merely "identify" as women, and nothing more) to dominate female sports. When, in reality, we really had nothing to do with these occurrences, and the majority of trans people would even likely agree with the sentiments expressed in this post. Additionally, accepting the gender identities of trans people is something you can do irregardless of your opinion on the sports issue.
- Over-exaggeration of the problem. The issue is often sensationalized to the extent of coming off as a call to action, to stop the trans activists and their SJW bullies from ruining female sports! They're coming after your daughter's lacrosse team! In reality, out of the hundreds of thousands (perhaps even more) of sports competitions that exist in the United States and throughout the world, an incredibly small percentage of them are actually ruined by trans participants. You hear the stories of the 6'5'' trans woman with the broad frame winning a weightlifting competition, but not of the hundreds of more average-sized trans-female athletes turning out more mediocre performances. This isn't to say that the niche cases don't present a problem that indeed needs to be fixed, but presenting the problem as more prevalent than it actually is acts as a rhetorical strategy meant to provoke anger as well as a more dramatic response. Buying into this rhetorical strategy, especially if you're is already somewhat ignorant to the issue to begin with, will make it much easier to convince you of accepting drastic solutions to the problems. Ie. "ONLY XX CHROMOSOMES ALLOWED IN FEMALE SPORTS", instead of any of the three more measured approaches suggested above. The provoked response of anger is also meant to turn people off of accepting trans rights in general.
- Infuriatingly, I've noticed that right-wing rhetoric usually doesn't even mention pre-pubescent transitioners at all. Like, these people are fine with acknowledging the existence of puberty blockers when they're trying to make them illegal, but they refuse to talk about them in regards to the sports issue. There have been cases where conservative jurisdictions have banned the participation of all transgender students in girl's sports, period. Meaning a transgender girl who never went through male puberty at all, and has pre-pubescent hormone levels as a result of puberty blockers, could be banned from participating in girl's sports, while in reality said trans girl could possibly even be at a disadvantage compared to the cis girls, as a result of not even having started puberty yet. Nonsensical. And liberal allies are at fault of this too, I've noticed. I've seen countless reddit threads where left-leaning people voice their take on the trans sports issue without mentioning the existence of pre-pubescent transitioners. It's honestly ridiculous.
- The sports issue is also used as an excuse to say derogatory things about trans women that would be less justifiable in other instances.
I'll use Joe Rogan as an example of this last thing:
She calls herself a woman but... I tend to disagree. And, uh, she, um... she used to be a man but now she has had, she's a transgender which is (the) official term that means you've gone through it, right? And she wants to be able to fight women in MMA. I say no f***ing way.
I say if you had a dick at one point in time, you also have all the bone structure that comes with having a dick. You have bigger hands, you have bigger shoulder joints. You're a f***ing man. That's a man, OK? You can't have... that's... I don't care if you don't have a dick any more...
If you want to be a woman in the bedroom and you know you want to play house and all of that other s*** and you feel like you have, your body is really a woman's body trapped inside a man's frame and so you got a operation, that's all good in the hood. But you can't fight chicks. Get the f*** out of here. You're out of your mind. You need to fight men, you know? Period. You need to fight men your size because you're a man. You're a man without a dick.
I'm not trying to discriminate against women in any way, shape, or form and I'm a big supporter of women's fighting. I loved watching that Ronda Rousey/Liz Carmouche fight. But those are actual women. Those are actual women. And as strong as Ronda Rousey looks, she's still looks to me like a pretty girl. She's a beautiful girl who happens to be strong. She's a girl! [Fallon Fox] is not a girl, OK? This is a [transgender] woman. It's a totally different specification.
Calling a trans woman a "man", and equating transitioning to merely removal of the dick, and equating trans women's experiences as women as "playing house" and "being a woman in the bedroom". These things are obviously pretty transphobic, and if Rogan had said these things about just any random trans woman his statements would have likely been more widely seen in that light. But when it's someone having an unfair advantage in sports, and the audience is supposed to be angry with you, it's much more socially acceptable thing to say such things. But the problem is, when you say these kinds of things about one trans woman, you're essentially saying those derogatory things about all trans women by extension. It's the equivalent of using an article about a black home invader who murdered a family as an excuse to use a racial slur.
Now, I'm not saying that Rogan necessarily did this on purpose, in fact I'm more inclined to believe that it was done moreso due to ignorance rather than having an actual ideological agenda. But since then, many right wing ideologues who do
have an ideological agenda have used this issue as an excuse to voice their opinions on trans people while appearing to be less bigoted. Ie. "I'm not trying to be a bigot or anything and I accept people's rights to live their lives as they see fit, but we NEED to keep men
out of women's sports", as a sly way to call trans women "men".
Additionally, doing this allows them to slip in untrue statements about the biology of trans women. I mean, first of all in regards to the statement "You have bigger hands, you have bigger shoulder joints", obviously even in regards to post-pubescent transitioners, not every trans woman is going to have bigger hands and shoulder joints than every cis woman (My hands are actually smaller than my aunt's!). It's just that people who go through male puberty on average
tend to have bigger hands and shoulder joints compared to people who go through female puberty. But over-exaggerating the breadth of sexual dimorphism, as if males and females are entirely different species to each-other, helps to paint the idea of transitioning in a more nonsensical light.
I hope this thread has presented this issue in a better light for anyone reading it. Let me know if you have any thoughts/criticisms of my stances or the ways I went about this issue.