Trans athletes are making gains amidst a hailstorm of hate and ignorance. At the 2019 South Pacific Games, New Zealander Laurel Hubbard won two gold medals for weightlifting. At the NCAA Division II National Championship held the same year, CeCé Tefler became the first out trans woman to win within that division. And in Connecticut, highschool track runner Terry Miller won the 200-meter dash at the state open championship.
What these women have in common isn’t an advantage over the competition but an overwhelming passion and dedication to their respective sports.
However, some would disagree. So much so that a bill banning transgender women from competing on sports teams that align with their gender identity is headed to the Idaho House this week. The bill would bar trans women and girls from competing in women’s sports, while trans men and boys would be unaffected.
According to the bill, if a trans high school or college athlete is thought to be competing on a team for ‘women’, that person would have to verify their gender through a physical examination of their genitals, as well as blood and chromosomal testing. These types of tests are violating, invasive and not the standard practice for routine physicals. The bill would also require that trans athletes compete with teams that match their biological sex as stated on their birth certificate.
The issue with this and a majority of the outrage surrounding trans athletes is the cherry-picking of stories to further an exclusionary narrative. Alex Schmider, producer of the documentary Changing the Game, had this to say during an interview with New Now Next: “What you’ll find if you look and do your investigation is that media only pays attention to trans athletes when they’re winning.” When trans athletes aren’t taking home gold, they aren’t a problem.
Meanwhile, trans athletes continue to compete at the highest levels. In January of this year, Chris Mosier made history as the first trans man to compete in the U.S. Olympic trails. In Oregon, Erica Meacham is the quarterback for the semi-professional women’s football team The Oregon Seahawks and is also a trans woman.
The International Olympic Committee still struggles to come up with what they call ‘fair’ guidelines. Currently, trans women can compete with their identifying teams, so long as their testosterone level remains below ten nanomoles per liter (nm/L) for 12 months. In most cases, that would only apply to women who have been on hormone restrictions for at least a year.
A study published last year in the Journal of Medical Ethics takes issue with this. The authors suggest that trans women do retain some physical advantage over their cisgender competitors. They found that while trans athletes are at an ‘advantage,’ the debate lies in whether this is a tolerable or intolerable unfairness.
“We conclude that that standard set by the IOC for trans athletes is an intolerable unfairness. This does not mean trans women should be excluded from the elite sport, but that the existing male/female categories in sport should be abandoned in favor of a more nuanced approach satisfying both inclusion and fairness.”
The authors suggest doing away with the binary sports categories and, instead, create an algorithm for each sport that would match competitors based on criteria other than their gender identity, criteria like weight, past and present testosterone levels, socioeconomic background, and more. Co-ed sports with team match-ups set by skill and weight class may sound ideal, but the abolishment of gendered sports is still a long way off.
Both the upcoming Summer Olympics and the 2020 U.S. presidential election provide a perfect platform for these issues to come to a head. As of September of 2019, the IOC have yet to make changes to their guidelines regarding trans athletes. Currently, all Democratic candidates are in support of allowing trans women to compete in their identifying sports. While people continue to debate over the advantages or disadvantages of being a trans athlete, those athletes continue to push back against hate and defy the odds.