Why Transgender Athletes are Unfair?
Just over a year ago, in June 2018, a 27-year-old South African ran a record-setting race at the World Championships. Her name is Caster Semenya. Sound familiar? That’s because Semenya is the fastest transgender athlete, or ‘trans-athlete’, of all time to compete in the 800-meter event. 12 months ago, Caster Semenya set a record less than one second short of the female record holder for that event, making her the fourth-fastest female to run the 800, ever. This historical event reignited the discussion surrounding the fairness of trans-athletes competing in ‘traditionally cisgender’ events.
Some people believe that trans-females in particular, aren’t ‘real women’ -whatever that-, and that therefore they should not be allowed to compete in events respective to their gender identity. Others label the previously mentioned as transphobes and protest that trans-athletes should have the freedom to participate in the category of their choice. The stance I have taken on this issue, however, is not as black-or-white; as whilst I believe that trans-females should not be allowed to compete with cis-females, I also believe that it is unjust to prevent trans-athletes from competing at all.
Therefore, today I am going to provide some insight on the history of transgender athletes in sport and the biological and social advantages they possess, as well as propose a solution as to how trans-athletes could compete in sports without disadvantaging either sex.
Sports organizations have sought a test for sex verification to ensure fairness across all sports. This began in the 1940s with “femininity certificates” provided by a physician. In the 60s, visual genital inspections were used to confirm sex, followed by chromosomal analysis. In 2003, the International Olympic Committee constructed guidelines for the participation of athletes who had undergone gender reassignment. The report contained three conditions for participation: First, athletes must have undergone sex reassignment surgery. Second, athletes must show legal recognition of their gender. And third, athletes must have undergone hormone therapy. Only 4 years ago, in 2015, the IOC modified these guidelines so that trans-female athletes only must demonstrate a testosterone level of fewer than 10 nanomoles, or NM for short, per litre.
As we all know, testosterone is the primary male sex hormone, playing a key role in the development of reproductive organs and other puberty side effects. But did you know that testosterone is also an anabolic steroid? This means that it can be additionally taken as a drug to increase the growth and repair of muscle tissue, which provides a huge advantage to the athlete, and is also highly illegal.
The International Olympic Committee claims that testosterone levels less than 10 NM per litre provide no advantage to trans-female athletes, as the average male has 10-30 nanomoles of testosterone per litre. If this is the case, and testosterone levels of up to 10 NM per litre are truly not advantageous to trans-females, then why is it that the maximum amount of testosterone allowed in a competing, biologically female athlete, is only half of that, being 5 NM per litre? And this figure is still far, far above levels of testosterone in the average female.
The average elite female athlete has from 10 to 83 times less testosterone in their bodies than the 10NM threshold trans-females must meet. This means that trans-females can repair and grow muscle tissue at substantially higher rates than biological females, enabling them to fit in more practice time, compete in more events, and do it with more energy too. I’d say the elevated levels of testosterone which still remain in authorised trans-female athletes provides a pretty good explanation for their domination in female events. The whole purpose of hormone regulation in sports is to ensure equity in competition, but all it is currently doing is creating further inequality for cis-female athletes.
Still not convinced? Alright.
Even IF by some incredulous possibility transgender females could lower their testosterone levels to match those of biological females, there is no possible way that their muscle mass, fibres & vital organ sizes and capacities could be changed. Ever.
In a study published in the “Journal of Applied Physiology,” researchers determined that on average, men had 13.6 kilograms more muscle mass than females. This means that biological males have significantly more muscles and muscle fibres than biological females. The heart of a trans-female is approximately a third larger than that of a cis female. Their lung capacity is also typically 12 percent larger than a cis female’s. All of this means that trans-female athletes, who have unchanged muscle fibres & mass, heart and lung sizes, are already predisposed to succeed as they are able to produce more energy at a faster rate in comparison to biological females, and therefore can run faster, throw further and jump higher, even disregarding hormonal levels. These physiological advantages provide trans-athletes with unfair advantages over biological females and sometimes even enable them to unintentionally injure their peers in contact sports.
The inequity of trans-athletes competing in female events is also causing psychological stress on cisgender females. Take Selina Soule for example. At the time, Selina was just 16 years old, racing to qualify in the New England regionals. In order to qualify, you had to have placed in the top 6, however, Selina came 8th. What makes her situation unique is that she had been racing against 2 transgender females, who had both qualified in the top 6. Herself, and several others from the competition believed that if not for the transgender females competing in their race, they would have qualified for regionals. Soule quoted “We all know the outcome of the race before it even starts, it’s demoralizing.”
However, the solution to the inequality in female events as a result of trans-female domination is not to prevent trans-athletes from competing at all. I believe that the best resolution is to create two more categories in sporting events for male and female trans-athletes. This way, hormone levels and sex-dependant characteristics are not unfairly advantageous to the athlete. This proposition aims to prevent disadvantage to either sex, whilst creating opportunities for more diversity and acceptance in sports.
The step away from surgical gender reassignment is considered an important milestone towards greater equality and inclusion in the sporting world, but the increasing rights of transgender athletes in sports have compromised the ability for biological females to fairly compete. It is clear that there is an issue of inequity in regard to the biological nature of trans-athletes competing in sports; and that current regulations have not created true equity. Will we continue to ignore the hate, unsatisfaction, and inequality surrounding this issue, or do we implement a solution which removes the inequity, and ultimately promotes diversity and celebration? I prefer the latter option, what about you?