A wave of anti-transgender bills have been making their way through state legislatures the past few months, with more than a dozen states proposing bans on transgender athletes competing in girls' sports.
The issue of trans people in athletics is a bit of a tricky one on paper. In actual reality, though, it's not.
The justification for banning trans girls from playing sports with cisgender girls is hormones and build. The theory goes that a trans girl has a biological advantage over non-trans girls because they have higher testosterone levels, larger muscle mass, etc.
Besides the fact that physical makeup and athleticism varies greatly among individuals for hundreds of reasons besides sex, this theory that trans athletes are a threat to cisgender athletes appears to be a problem largely manufactured in people's minds and not backed up by evidence.
Transgender women have been competing in sports for a long time at the professional level and have never dominated in any professional field. They don't even dominate in non-professional sports. Proponents of these bills point to one case in Connecticut where two transgender runners won regularly in track competitions, but that's pretty much the only example anyone across the entire country can name. Yes, trans women might actually win some competitions sometimes. But that doesn't mean there's a widespread issue of unfair athletic advantage.
In fact, MSBNC's Stephanie Ruhle asked West Virginia governor Jim Justice to cite a single example of a trans child with an unfair advantage from his own state, where he just signed a bill banning trans athletes from competing in girls' sports at "any public secondary school or state institution of higher education."
"Can you name one example of a transgender child trying to gain an unfair competitive advantage at a school there in West Virginia?" she asked.
He couldn't. He said he had been a girls' basketball coach and that boys had an "absolute advantage" playing against girls. However, he couldn't cite a single instance of that actually happening in his state.
Ruhle then questioned why he felt this bill was worth taking time on in a state that ranks in the bottom five in the country for education, health care, economy, and infrastructure.
"If you cannot name one single example of a child doing this, why would you make this a priority?" she asked.
Watch @SRuhle press West Virginia Gov Jim Justice on the anti transgender bill he just signed: https://t.co/mZy3yrBtmH— Lauren Peikoff (@Lauren Peikoff) 1619791723.0
Her wrap-up said it all. "Sir, thank you. And please come back when, beyond anecdotal feelings as a coach, you can show me evidence where those young women are being disadvantaged."
It's hard to argue that transgender sports bans are vital pieces of legislation when most people would be hard-pressed to even name a transgender athlete, much less a trans athlete who is raking in all the medals.
Speaking of raking in medals and having an unfair advantage, should we talk about how Michael Phelps's body is perfectly designed to dominate in swimming? Should he be asked not to compete because his biology—his short legs, long arms, and broad shoulders—give him a clear advantage over other swimmers? What about the fact that his chest is hyper-jointed and his double-jointed ankles flex 15% more than his competitors? Aren't those biological advantages that make it hard for other swimmers to compete against him?
But we're talking about general biological differences between males and females here, which is why we have men's and women's sports. Sure. But again, trans girls are simply not dominating women's sports, and they've been competing in them for a long time. So this legislation is a solution to a problem that doesn't seem to exist.
According to Dr. Eric Vilain, a pediatrician and geneticist who studies sex differences in athletes, hormonal differences are not a good faith reason to ban trans girls from high school sports anyway. As he told NPR:
"We know that men have, on average, an advantage in performance in athletics of about 10% to 12% over women, which the sports authorities have attributed to differences in levels of a male hormone called testosterone. But the question is whether there is in real life, during actual competitions, an advantage of performance linked to this male hormone and whether trans athletes are systematically winning all competitions. The answer to this latter question, are trans athletes winning everything, is simple — that's not the case. And higher levels of the male hormone testosterone are associated with better performance only in a very small number of athletic disciplines: 400 meters, 800 meters, hammer throw, pole vault — and it certainly does not explain the whole 10% difference.
And lastly, I would say that every sport requires different talents and anatomies for success. So I think we should focus on celebrating this diversity, rather than focusing on relative notions of fairness. For example, the body of a marathon runner is extremely different from the body of a shot put champion, and a transwoman athlete may have some advantage on the basketball field because of her height, but would be at a disadvantage in gymnastics. So it's complicated."
The categorizing of sports by sex or gender may be somewhat complicated, but the pushing of legislation to flat-out ban trans athletes from sports is not. High school and college sports shouldn't be purely about besting the competition—they should be about teamwork and comradery, as well as developing perseverance, resilience, and self-discipline. And let's be real. Most of the people pushing for this legislation aren't doing so because they're worried about unfair advantage; they're doing it because they are uncomfortable with transgender people, period.
Oh, and there's also this tidbit of info. Governor Justice said there are "only 12 transgender-type kids" in West Virginia, which is 1) ridiculous to say, and 2) begs the question of why they would need an entire bill to address trans girls in sports. According to a study from the Williams Institute, West Virginia actually has the highest percentage of 13 to 17-year-olds who identify as trans in the country. That's 1,150 teens who identify as trans, just in that age group. (And yet not a single incidence of sports domination he can name to warrant the need for legislation. Go figure.)
More journalists pushing lawmakers to back up bigoted bills with actual evidence, please.
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