Exclusion or Fairness?

By Giulia Pincetti (‘24)

Transgender and non-binary athletes have taken large leaps over the years, integrating themselves in many professional competitions, including several of them being the first transgender Olympians to ever win certain athletic events in history, breaking many barriers in today’s society. There is still confusion however around the discussion of allowing transgender females to compete in the industry as many believe they have an unfair advantage, slowly pushing biological women out of their division due to the inability to compete against these stronger, faster women. As more and more trans women have been earning medals and recognition for their successes, there has been backlash from many, creating this idea that men are just becoming women in order to achieve the impossible as an average male athlete.

Laurel Hubbard, a transgender athlete, who competed in the Tokyo Olympics in women’s weightlifting, representing New Zealand

Before diving into the many fallacies that this claim brings up, I believe it is first important to discuss the differences between women and men and the reasons for this differentiation of ability when it comes to sports. Testosterone is a hormone that both males and females possess, stimulating the body to make new blood cells affecting one’s bone density, fat distribution, and most importantly when it comes to this topic, strength. Men usually have a higher testosterone level, which causes them to develop a larger muscle mass than the average female when doing the same amount of bodybuilding or exercise. 

Transgender women, in this case, would also have higher testosterone levels as their male sex contributes to their strength levels, however, what many people don’t know is that transgender women have to undergo two years of HRT, hormonal replacement therapy, in order to counteract these advantages. This therapy uses exogenous estrogen to feminize while anti-androgens help to decrease masculinizing features. This transition can be brutal, as puberty is occurring within the women’s body a second time, causing a rollercoaster of up and down emotions that are hard to endure. There are also many physical changes such as painful buds underneath one’s nipples that can be quite painful in the breast development phase, a growth in fat, a decrease in muscle mass, and many other effects. These changes not only make all women have an equal playing field when it comes to fitness, but it also creates so many additional hurdles that they must face when preparing to compete. 

Let us however ignore hormonal replacement therapy for a moment and look at the testosterone levels in biological women. There are several female-born athletes that are hyperandrogenic, meaning they have a high testosterone level even if female. If we were to apply this idea that transgender women would be too strong to compete, would this mean removing hyperandrogenous women as well, even if they have been born and raised as females their entire lives? Caster Semenya for example is a tall, overly muscular woman who won several world titles at track events due to her abnormal testosterone levels and was scrutinized by many for being a male even though “gender tests” confirmed her as a female. In 2018, they allowed her to still compete, however they changed the rules so that women like her are required to take androgen blockers, ridding her of her advantage. Why can’t we just accept transgender women under these same regulations as they too are females?

An image of Caster Semenya, a hyperandrogenous women athlete 

Not only is including transgender women about being fair and inclusive, but it affects millions of others facing the world in a body in which doesn’t represent who they truly are. Schuyler Bailar, the first division one transgender male in the NCAA, discussed his own struggles that he faced feeling as though he didn’t belong since he didn’t know anyone struggling through their own transition similar to him. Over 40 percent of trans adults attempt suicide, which he believes is due to this inability to feel as if they belong. If we as a society can allow successful transgender people to be shown, it can help eradicate these out-of-place emotions as they will see others like them prospering globally. Excluding transgender people from sports is just another way to make someone feel as though they will never truly be accepted as many will never be able to do what they love professionally, sports.

When will we face these stereotypes head-on and help others understand that the transition process to the opposite sex is harder than a name change, in which men can’t fake for medals? When are we going to stop disregarding transgender achievements that were earned through hard work and effort, as we feel they threaten other females? Let’s start now by helping our transgender people flourish, allowing others to feel comfortable to be their own true selves, and stopping this discrimination due to the lack of education. 

In order to promote transgender acceptability, I hope that you not only bring up this topic amongst your friends but also make sure to include everyone when it comes to labeling a group of people, creating a norm to ask for pronouns, and asking questions to better your understanding in order to become a better ally to those around you. Thank you for taking time out of your day to understand a fragment of transgender athletes before blurting out lies that can poorly affect others all around you. It’s time to make a change and everyone is in charge of doing their part. 

One thought on “Exclusion or Fairness?

  1. I understand how these transgenders may feel about being ‘unfairly excluded’ from these athletic groups. However, even if these once-men undergo many surgeries and medical therapies in order to become what they are now, our human technologies no matter how advanced are not enough to overpower what nature has given us. It cannot be overlooked that many of these woman-transgender athletes are much taller, bulkier, and naturally stronger than even the hyperandrogenous women you mentioned in your article. Also, the fact that the ratio of trans-women in female competitions vastly outnumbers the number of trans-males in male competitions actually supports the claim that you tried to counter: “men are just becoming women in order to achieve the impossible as an average male athlete”.
    I respect everyone’s ideas and opinions, but I still felt a need to put my perspective out there after reading through the article. I hope this comment will be seen not as an attack (which it is not intended to be), but as an example that disagreements are an often overlooked part of literate discussions that can make analytical reading and writing all the more exciting.

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