As a cis-woman, I may have no right to an opinion. As a human being who has been a teen and taught teens for 25 years, I think my observations about children and adolescents may be meaningful to someone, somewhere.
I have taught thousands of teenagers in the last 25 years and have observed the miracle of human diversity and complexity in every class and every student. At the same time, I have also seen how devastating adolescence can be and how difficulties are often compounded for LBGTQIA2S+ students. An astronomical 35% of trans students attempt suicide in high school. The camaraderie and joy of a sports team, a place where a student can excel and belong, could literally be a life saver. Politicizing and excluding trans-girls from girls’ sports is cruel, inhumane and violating our duty to students.
I started thinking about this issue when I read Jude Allison S. Doyle’s article about how conservatives are suddenly interested in “protecting” cisgender female athletes. I also loved Lindsay Krause’s Opinion piece in the New York Times which points out the hypocrisy of people like Donald Trump suddenly pretending that they care about women’s sports. After enjoying the articles, I had a bit of a shock while scrolling through the comments section in each article. I was really surprised by how many readers happily confused school sports with elite adult events. I was also sickened by how many many used the topic as a sounding board to scream and shout about their so-called physical superiority. Men, apparently “destroy” women in sports and trans women will “take over” female sports. Victorian leftovers bumble on about female “fragility.” Still others invoke the myth of the M/F gender binary. All of them forget that we are talking about school sports for very young people here. I want to respond to a few of these comments.
Comment 1: Trans women will take over women’s sports!
People in favour of the trans ban sometimes talk as if there is a horde of elite male athletes who transition for the sole purpose of winning a few races in the female division. Seriously? Do people really think that a teenager, suffering from all the other indignities and miseries of being an adolescent, is going to elect to reassign their gender just to do a little bit better in sports? I am sure that trans students and their parents have far more pressing concerns than making the Junior Volleyball team or placing at a Cross Country meet. As Rahsaan Yearwood says of his 17 year old track-star daughter Andraya “Track is number 100 on my list of concerns as a father of a transgender daughter. I’m talking about raising a child for a life…”
It is important to remember that these debates are about teenagers in high schools. Yes. TEENAGERS: vulnerable young people, barely out of childhood that should be encouraged, protected and supported.
Not only that, there is no massive army of elite trans girl athletes planning to elbow cis girls out. Even if trans girls were, by some medical miracle, all elite athletes, only 2% of the student population identifies as transgender. A tiny fraction of that 2% is going to be interested in sports or have the special talents that a girl like Andraya Yearwood has. Is this tiny number of trans girls really a threat to the (generally undervalued) institution of women’s sports? I don’t think so.
Comment #2: Women are weaker than men!
Men often love this argument and I’m not even sure why they bring it up in the context of school sports. This debate, after all, is not talking about men vs. women. It is about trans girls who are on HRT and are committed (far more than I ever was) to being female.
Yes, men, on average, have stronger upper bodies, and are taller. HRT diminishes most of those strength advantages within a year. How is a transgender girl, who has fought to be accepted as a girl and has agreed to the “strength disadvantage” of HRT, is considered a dangerous interloper on the girls’ team? Not only is this a slap in the face to transgender girls, it’s really insulting to the strength of cisgender girls as well. I’m a cisgender runner and martial artist descended from a long line of peasant-stock. I can wrestle my husband into submission in a few seconds. Does that mean I’m going to attack or abuse anyone weaker than me? Am I no longer eligible to be called female? Should I be disallowed from the ladies’ restroom?
There is a wide variety of size, talent and strength amongst humans. A tiny percentage of us will ever achieve elite status. However, these debates aren’t about elite Pros or Olympic athletes, they are about school kids. None of these arguments should affect whether a trans girl, barely out of elementary school, is allowed to play on a girl’s team and have fun, make friends and feel comfortable. School sports shouldn’t be all about grooming one or two professional athletes. School teams are there to raise the health, sportsmanship and general happiness of the maximum number of young people.
Comment #3: Trans girls will destroy our girls!
There is an argument that the so-called fragile cisgender girls will be “hurt” by their trans girl opponents and team mates.
Contact sports have rules in place to protect players from each other. That’s why we have red cards in soccer. If there weren’t a penalty box, the entire NHL would be on disability by now. Combat sports have fighter weight categories, comprehensive pads and some pretty strict rules, especially in junior divisions.
If people want to get upset about girls getting hurt in sports, I think it’s important to remember that the most frequent and devastating injuries actually occur in Cheerleading and not in traditionally “masculine” sports.
Comment #4: Trans girls should play on boys teams!
Hmmm… I remember being a 13 year old girl. I sure can’t think of anything I’d enjoy less than getting stuck in a locker room and subject to awkwardness and mockery from all-male teammates. I can only imagine the bullying and discomfort would be worse for a trans girl. The whole point of high school teams, especially in the younger grades, should be to encourage, support and cheer up teenagers who are often undergoing the most unsettling and difficult years of their lives. This seems like a bullying argument meant solely to force a trans girl out of playing sports at all. I would love to see a world where gender lines in sports get dissolved and school and pro teams are composed of a variety of genders. We don’t live in that world yet and forcing trans girls to choose between boys’ sports or no sports is not a fair choice.
Comment #5: There are only two genders!
Gender in most modern societies is a heavily constructed and policed binary. Our languages, performative cultures and rules bind most of us into one of two categories as soon as we are born. Some people are born externally ambiguous and doctors or parents decide for the baby, sometimes incorrectly. Others are born internally ambiguous. If your apparent gender works for you and your genitalia are unambiguous then “hooray for you!” but you have to understand that not everyone is born the same way. Gender ambiguity is not a new thing and it is not “unnatural” in the human or non-human world. Read this wonderful Scientific American article if you don’t believe me.
There are still serious members of “Flat Earth Societies” who hold that the world is flat, but that does not change that the world is Ellipsoid. A person might also hold to the belief that there are only two fixed and immutable genders, but that also flies in the face of scientific fact and observation. Understanding the true shape of the Earth unlocked tremendous Scientific advances and knowledge of the universe. Likewise, an understanding of the complex nature of both physical and constructed gender will make our societies richer, more tolerant and more advanced.
I really wish that, as a species, we could get past defining and policing gender at all. Nevertheless, since we live in a world where people get shoved into one of two categories based on a small handful of characteristics, then it has to be conceded that trans girls ARE girls. They present a rich and diverse spectrum of genetic, hormonal, environmental, physiological and sociological characteristics that mark them as female. Not only that, they have suffered, soul-searched and generally paid a huge social, emotional and financial cost for the right to be classified as female. The incredible extra burden that is placed on a trans teenager is hard for me to even fathom. Sports provide a healthy outlet for energy, opportunities for real friendship, and a chance to excel and feel special. Organized sports have rules in place to foster inclusivity and protect weaker athletes from stronger athletes. There is also absolutely no reason or evidence to assume that a trans girl would be the strongest girl on the team. Why would we deny any young person this chance?
ABCNews. (2018, June 22). Transgender track stars speak out as critics allege unfair advantage. Retrieved April 09, 2021, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHqiG_hrbsc
Cheerleading: The most dangerous sport. (2016, March 02). Retrieved April 09, 2021, from https://www.activekids.com/cheerleading/articles/cheerleading-the-most-dangerous-sport#:~:text=The%20wrists%2C%20shoulders%2C%20ankles%2C,largely%20from%20tumbling%20and%20stunts. Originally published in BetterBraces.com
Crouse, L. (2021, March 24). So you want to ‘save Women’s Sports’? Retrieved April 09, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/24/opinion/trans-athletes-womens-sports.html?smid=url-share
Doyle, J. (2021, February 17). The sports arena has Become CONSERVATIVES’ Favorite Anti-Trans Battleground. Retrieved April 09, 2021, from https://gen.medium.com/the-sports-arena-has-become-conservatives-favorite-anti-trans-battleground-8cc3adc533cf
Johns MM, Lowry R, Andrzejewski J, et al. Transgender Identity and Experiences of Violence Victimization, Substance Use, Suicide Risk, and Sexual Risk Behaviors Among High School Students — 19 States and Large Urban School Districts, 2017. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2019;68:67–71. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6803a3external icon
Sun, S. (2019, June 13). Stop using phony science to justify transphobia. Retrieved April 09, 2021, from https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/voices/stop-using-phony-science-to-justify-transphobia/