A (very unathletic) Trans Woman’s Take on Trans Women Competing in Sports
I’m going to take the most good-faith version of the argument that people are making and try to dismantle it as fairly as I can.
But first, I need to get a few things out of the way.
Many discussing this issue will conflate it with why men shouldn’t compete against women in sports. Beyond the obvious misgendering at play, this is still a misnomer. Most women’s athletics already require that transgender athletes have been on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) for a certain period of time, and that their testosterone levels fall below a certain threshold. In fact, for many trans women, after HRT, our testosterone levels are often below that which is average for even cisgender women. HRT causes many physiological changes to the body, most relevant to this case being a loss of muscle mass and diminishing of various other advantages that cisgender men have over cisgender women. HRT doesn’t change everything physiologically, such as trans women still retaining any height advantage they had before starting, but there have been plenty of studies done demonstrating that general athletic ability drops in trans women after beginning the process of HRT.
So the version of the argument I will be looking at is: “transgender women still retain a clear biological advantage over cisgender women in sports, even after a prolonged period of Hormone Replacement Therapy, and as such should not be allowed to compete in women’s athletic competitions, else we will risk trans women dominating women’s sports.”
I think I can break this argument down into two points, at which point if both were to be true, I would likely agree that trans women’s place in women’s athletics would be something worth investigating. These points are:
1. The advantage trans women have in sports after an extended period of time on Hormone Replacement Therapy is non-negligible over cis women
2. There is a clearly repeated pattern of trans women outperforming cis women in sports
In my eyes, neither of these points have yet been shown to be true.
Why do I ask that both of those must be true?
- If the first point is proven to be true, but not the second point, then the reality of the situation would be largely inconsequential. I wouldn’t really care if trans women has a noticeable advantage over cis women in the same way that I don’t care that women with naturally higher testosterone levels have a noticeable advantage over cis women with naturally lower testosterone levels. In this situation, clearly cis women are still winning plenty of competitions, and in my eyes, being transgender in these cases should be seen as a natural lucky advantage like heightened testosterone in cis women is.
- If the second point is proven to be true, but not the first, then you’ve simply shown that trans women happen to be good at competitions, possibly by sheer coincidence. There’d be no evidence that such advantage would be due to biology. How would I know that it is because of biology and not because, say, trans women tend to train more intensely than cis women? Or that trans women tend to be more motivated than cis women? Or trans women who don’t compete at a high level are more likely to not compete in competitions in the first place? You’d be jumping to conclusions by assigning this trend to biology.
But the reality is, both of these things so far seem to be false, or remain undemonstrated. It was only this year that a trans woman has ever qualified for the International Olympic Games, despite being allowed to compete since 2003. Trans women have yet to even make it into high-level competitions in most national or international women’s sports. Most people who parrot these anti-trans-women-in-sports points seem to be unable to even name a trans person who’s competed at a high level in any sport.
And we know that Hormone Replacement Therapy largely diminishes the advantage trans women have over cis women. So the question is, do trans women still have any advantage? Most likely yes, to some extent. HRT can’t change everything, and there probably are some permanent changes that are caused by a testosterone-induced puberty. But is that advantage non-negligible? Well, we don’t really know, that’s something that’s still being studied. It’s possible that the advantage is significant, but it’s also possible that the advantage is largely meaningless. The science simply isn’t fully in yet. But as long as the other point remains false, it is still far too early to be arguing that there is an issue with trans women competing against cis women.