The next time someone says trans people shouldn't get to play sports, send them this.

For about a week before the 2018 Boston Marathon, news outlets around the country were busy freaking out about the idea of transgender athletes competing.

Specifically, the worry seemed to be that trans women (people who transitioned from male to female) would have an unfair advantage over cisgender (non-trans) women. Right-wing commentator and anti-trans ideologue Ben Shapiro painted the decision as a type of slippery slope that will eventually lead to the abolition of gender categories as a whole, saying, "Biological women will never win a marathon — ever — in history because men are faster than women on average."

Do Shapiro and others skeptical about the idea of trans women competing with other women in sporting events have a point? Not really.


If trans women have such an advantage, why haven't there been any truly dominant trans athletes? Because they don't.

A few years back, I wrote a fairly detailed breakdown of trans athletes' fight to be able to compete in the sports they love for Vice Sports. The article, "Heroes, Martyrs, and Myths: The Battle for the Rights of Transgender Athletes," centered around Minnesota's struggle to determine how to handle trans athletes. But the research remains relevant whenever these sorts of controversies arise — which, sadly, is pretty often.

The argument goes like this: Because cisgender (or those who identify with the gender assigned to them at birth) boys and men are typically stronger and faster than cisgender girls and women, transgender girls and women should have to compete against cisgender boys and men.

But this argument leaves out the important fact that trans girls and women are not the same as cis boys and men, especially trans girls and women who've undergone hormone replacement therapy.

In 1976, a trans tennis player by the name of Reneé Richards wanted to compete in the women's division at the U.S. Open. At the time, a number of people argued that she had an unfair advantage and would dominate the women's circuit.

A quick look at the stats shows that's not the case. Prior to her transition, Richards competed in the men's division, where she was fairly mediocre (two wins, five losses). Post-transition, competing against women, she was ... also fairly mediocre (66 wins, 110 losses).

A 1977 photo of Renee Richards on the tennis court. Photo by Gaffney/Liaison.

Since then, a handful of openly trans athletes have surfaced, almost all with the same "unfair advantage" bogeyman attached to them. Trans mixed martial arts fighter Fallon Fox was never as dominant as people warned (to date, she has a career record of four wins and one loss), never making it to the UFC. In fact, in Fox's only fight against a fighter who would eventually compete in the UFC, she was knocked out in the third round.

There are no trans LeBron Jameses dominating the WNBA or trans Cristiano Ronaldos racking up Women's World Cup victories. There's a good reason for that: Despite concerns, trans women really don't have an athletic advantage.

Hormones play a big role in determining what sort of advantage an athlete has — or doesn't have.

"Research suggests that androgen deprivation and cross sex hormone treatment in male-to-female transsexuals reduces muscle mass," said Dr. Eric Vilain, professor and director of the Center for Gender-Based Biology and Chief Medical Genetics Department of Pediatrics at UCLA in a 2010 report. "Accordingly, one year of hormone therapy is an appropriate transitional time before a male-to-female student-athlete competes on a women's team."

In other words, after about a year on hormones, pretty much any advantage a trans woman might have had will be wiped out.

Golfer Mianne Bagger became the first trans woman to qualify for the Ladies European Tour in 2004. She never won a pro tournament. Photo by Fabrizio Villa/AFP/Getty Images.

This is why an increasing number of entities are establishing reasonable rules when it comes to determining a trans athlete's eligibility. The NCAA and International Olympic Committee both require that trans women undergo hormone replacement therapy before competing in women's divisions.

Anti-trans policies aimed at trans women often wind up creating situations where actual advantages exist — for trans men.

In both 2017 and 2018, high school wrestler Mack Beggs took home the state championship in the girls division. Many say Beggs had an unfair advantage, and they're absolutely right: Beggs is a trans boy who takes testosterone to treat his gender dysphoria. He wanted to compete against other boys, but a Texas state rule says that athletes must compete against the gender listed on their birth certificate.

Beggs was left with an impossible decision: compete against girls, end medical treatment, or quit the sport he loves. He chose to compete. After all, it's not his fault that ridiculous rules forced him into a division where he doesn't belong, and he really shouldn't have to stop his medical treatment or quit a sport just because of it. Trans athlete Chris Mosier came to Beggs' defense on Twitter.

Originally, The Federalist, a hard-right anti-trans blog argued that Beggs should compete against other boys — because they thought he was a trans girl (emphasis mine):

"There’s also a distinct athletic advantage for men who transition to women and play on high school and collegiate teams. It’s so clear one would have to be blind not to see how fraudulent this is, given men’s innately greater physical strength compared to women. Transgender male-to-female boy Mack Beggs made waves earlier this year because he won two girls’ wrestling championships in Texas. It’s easy to see why, as a person born male, complete with the testosterone and build of a biological boy, he might have an advantage over female competitors in wrestling."

Once they realized they'd accidentally made the point advocates for trans rights had been making, the site quickly tried to revamp its argument, saying it wasn't about "innate" characteristics at all, but the advantage or lack thereof that hormone replacement therapy offers:

"There’s also a distinct athletic advantage for men who transition to women and play on high school and collegiate teams. It’s so clear one would have to be blind not to see how fraudulent this is, given men’s innately greater physical strength compared to women. Female-to-male transgender Mack Beggs made waves earlier this year because she won two girls’ wrestling championships in Texas while taking testosterone. It’s easy to see why testosterone injections might give someone an advantage over female competitors in wrestling."

(Again, emphasis mine up there. Also, a note that the Federalist's style guide appears to call for the intentional misgendering of trans people, which is why Beggs is referred to as "she" here.)

In other words, many of those who make these types of arguments against trans people competing in sports clearly aren't doing so in good faith.

As for the Boston Marathon, those worried about trans women dominating the women's division will be relieved to know that no, a trans woman did not win.

Yet another false alarm in the never-ending quest to "chicken little" the oncoming trans-athlete-apocalypse. In all seriousness, though, huge congrats to Desi Linden, who, while not trans, is an amazing athlete and the winner of the 2018 Boston Marathon.

Desi Linden won the women's division at the 2018 Boston Marathon. Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less