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Transsexual Women
and Female Sports

 

Note: This page assumes that a reasonable definition of sport is a "competitive physical activity". Since before the Second World War questions have been raised (sometimes justifiably) regarding the "femininity" of some highly successful female competitors.  Initially rather crude visual methods were used to detect male impostors at major sporting events, but from 1968 these were replaced by various tests that verified female gender (or slightly more correctly, physiological sex) by not detecting the presence of either a "male" XY chromosomal pattern or a Y gene.  Unfortunately these tests identify as male those athletes who happened to have an XY chromosomal pattern but were otherwise unassailably feminine. 

Genetically "XY" men are on average bigger, stronger and faster than genetically "XX" women due to their many physical differences.  As a result men tend to be significantly better than women at sports, as demonstrated by the following 2014 world records:

Event Men's World Record Women's World Record
100m 9.58 seconds 10.49 secs
800m 1 minute 40.91 secs 1min 53.28 secs
10,000m 26 mins 17.53 secs 29 mins 31.78 secs
Marathon 2 hours, 2 mins 57 secs 2 hrs 15 mins 25 secs
Javelin 98.48m 72.28m
Long jump 8.95m 7.52m

These records show that men have about a 11% advantage in running events, and significantly more than that others events such as the Javelin where muscular strength combined with a large skeleton is key.  Due to genetics and hormones, many men can beat the very best woman in sporting events that require physical size, strength and stamina.  When that is not the case, something is very strange.
  

Renee Richards
Renée Richards

Sport and Transwomen
Since the 1970's discrimination against male-to-female (MTF) transsexual women has become increasingly unacceptable - both legally and socially. 

It seems reasonable that if a MTF transsexual is living as woman, is legally a woman, has a passport stating 'sex: female', and is married as a woman - that she should be able to compete in sports as a woman.  But some people - even some transsexual women - have severe reservations about the fairness of allowing this.  For example, if the world record holder of the men's 100 metres race had a sex change and two years later set a new world record as a woman - should that really count?  The closest known example of this happening is when in 1975 a 6 ft 2 inches tall, 40 year old, an American eye surgeon and amateur tennis player called Dr Richard Raskind had SRS and became Renée Richards.  After a legal fight, in 1977 she won the right to compete in women's professional tennis.  In 1978 she reached the women's quarter-finals of the US Open tennis championship and in February 1979 - at the amazing age of 44 - was ranked the 20th best female tennis player in the world.  Even Renée subsequently expressed doubts about the fairness of this.

Mianne Bagger
Transsexual Australian / Danish golfer Mianne Bagger

Another factor - if rarely openly mentioned - is that women's sport has become financially very lucrative.  For example the Ladies European tour offers prize money of over €11 million a year, the USA tour about five times that.  Top 10 female competitors in sports such as tennis, golf and athletics can now earn more than $1 million a year in prize money and sponsorship deals.  A man ranked 250 - 1000 in these sports will barely earn enough to pay his expenses, but as a woman can earn far more.  Denmark born golfer Mianne Bagger is sometimes (very unfairly) quoted as example of the potential problem.  After moving to Australia she had SRS age 19 and subsequently never hid the fact that she was transgender as she progressed from an amateur golfer to becoming a professional female golfer in 2003.  She then had considerable sporting success, and was the first openly transgender woman to compete in top ranking events such as the Women's British Open and the US Women's Open.  Canny investment of her prize money has resulted her being worth $82 million in 2019!

Woman's sporting associations are desperately trying to develop rules that on the one hand are fair (and legal) in allowing male-to-female transsexuals and genetically 'XY male' intersex individuals to compete as women, but on the other prevent men or transsexuals with excessive physical advantages competing as women.  I.e. they are trying to square the circle!


It's Physical
Experts have been saying that women are rapidly closing the performance gap on men in sports, and some studies even optimistically claim that women could overtake them in the future (e.g. "Will Women Soon Outrun Men?" by Brian Whipp and Susan Ward, Nature, 1992).  But the the brutal reality is most men are still taller, heavier, faster, stronger, bigger, and more powerful than most women, and are likely to remain so.  A controversial study in 1997 by Seiler and Sailer published in Sportscience News found a male-female performance difference of 11-12 percent.  But the table of World Record's given in table at the top of this page has very similar differences.

Upon investigation, the difference in performance is best explainable by the substantial list of physical differences between men and women - even if we only consider factors directly related to sports.

Males typically have greater bone strength and density, greater muscle bulk and broadness in the shoulder area, and greater subcutaneous fat in the upper half of the body.  At maturity, females are generally shorter in height, have more flexibility in their joints, have more delicate ligaments and tendons, have more subcutaneous fat in the hips and lower body regions, have less erythrocyte and haemoglobin mass (which directly affects the ability to of the blood to carry oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide), and exhibit a greater degree of pelvic tilt and obliquity.  The female elbow offers a greater carrying angle and tendency toward cubitus valgus (i.e. the lower arms stick out more), and the female has smaller lungs, heart, liver, and kidneys than the male.  Female joints are more subject to injury in sports requiring an expulsive effort, sudden stopping, sudden checking of speed and turns, and landing in jumps.  These differences are partly to the man's X chromosome, and partly due to the fact from about age 13 the bodies of boys are powerfully influenced and "masculinised" by a flood of testosterone from their gonads, while simultaneously the growth of girls is actually limited and "feminised" in a more delicate direction by the flood of oestrogen's from their ovaries.

According to a US Army manual:

  • The average 18-year-old man is 70.2 inches tall, the average woman of the same age is 64.4 inches tall - a difference of 9%.

  • The average 18-year-old man weighs 144.8 pounds, the average woman of the same age weighs 126.6 pounds - a difference of 14%.

  • The difference in physical size affects the absolute amount of physical work that can be performed by men and women.

  • Men have 50 percent greater total muscle mass, based on weight, than do women.

  • A woman who is the same size as her male counterpart is generally only 80 percent as strong. Therefore, men usually have an advantage in strength, speed, and power over women.

  • Women carry about 10% points more body fat than do men of the same age.

  • Because the centre of gravity is lower in women than in men, women must overcome more resistance in activities that require movement of the lower body.

  • Women have less bone mass than men, but their pelvic structure is wider. This difference gives men an advantage in running efficiency.

  • The average woman's heart is 25 percent smaller than the average man's.

  • For any given work rate, most women will become fatigued sooner than men.

  • The lung capacity of men is 25 to 30 percent greater than that of women. This gives men an advantage in the processing of oxygen and in doing aerobic work such as running.

What the Army study does not really emphasise directly is the fact that the "typical" young untrained male has an absolute oxygen intake (termed VO2 max) of 3.5 litres/min, while the typical same-age female has about 2 litres/min - a 43% difference which translates in to reduced performance and increased fatigue.  The difference reduces to 15 to 20% when the difference in body weight is allowed for, but is not eliminated. 

Part of the reason for the V02max difference is that the male sex hormone testosterone promotes the production of haemoglobin, an oxygen-carrying protein found inside red blood cells, and testosterone also increases the concentration of red cells in the blood.  The female hormone oestrogen has no such effect.  As a result, each litre of male blood contains about 150-160 grams of haemoglobin, compared to only 130-140 grams for females.  The bottom line is that each 'male' litre of blood can carry about 11% more oxygen than a similar quantity of female blood.

If we compare average body fat in males and females, we find the other part of the answer. Young untrained women average about 25% body fat compared to 15% in young men.  If we factor out body composition differences by dividing VO2 by lean body mass (bodyweight minus estimated fat weight) the difference in maximal O2 consumption decreases to perhaps 7-10% - close enough to 11% difference in blood carrying capacity just calculated.  But this is a theoretical paper exercise as a female athlete cannot reduce her body fat down to the sub 7% levels often observed in elite males without severe consequences to her health that would soon rule her out of competition anyway.

 

The Physical Advantage of Transwomen

The table below shows the relative advantage that a genetically XY transsexual woman may have in sports over a genetically XX cis-woman.  It is rather speculative, but is supported by the limited research available.  For example one study found that androgen deprivation in MTF transsexuals increases the overlap in muscle mass with women but does not reverse it.

Physical Advantage

Male

MTF transsexual
Pre-puberty SRS

MTF transsexual
Post-Puberty SRS (>2 years)

Height

Yes

Reduced

Yes

Skeletal Structure (pelvis etc)

Yes

Reduced

Yes

Muscle Mass

Yes

Reduced

Reduced

Body Fat Ratio

Yes

Reduced → No

Reduced

Bone Mass/Density/Ruggedness

Yes

Reduced

Yes → Reduced

Heart size

Yes

Possibly Reduced

Yes

Lung Capacity

Yes

Possibly Reduced

Yes

Red blood cells/Haemoglobin

Yes

No

Reduced → No

 

Fallon Fox became a focus of opposition to transwomen competing in women's sports after her success as a mixed martial artist.  However she is just 5 ft 7 in (1.70 m) tall and weighs only 144 lb (65 kg)

It has been suggested that transsexual women who have SRS after puberty are actually at a disadvantage in sports compared with other women as they are lugging around the large and heavy skeleton of a man without the compensations such as big muscles.  Dr Alison Carlson of the University of California suggests :

"A man who's castrated and takes oestrogen therapy loses a lot of strength advantages" ...  With someone like Renee Richards, she didn't suddenly become this winning player on the women's [tennis] circuit.  In fact, she didn't do that well, because although she was tall, she actually had female musculature being carried around on a large male skeleton.  It weakened her." 

Personally I'm not quite sure that the overall balance and weighting of advantages and disadvantages of adult transwomen agree with this view - although it does depend on the sport (e.g. weight lifting vs rhythmic gymnastics).  More importantly, Renee Richards now believes (see below) that she did have a physical advantage as a transwoman playing against CIS-women.

Complete AIS is sometimes presented as the ultimate form of male-to-female transsexual - the suffer is genetically male XY but has a completely normal female body (albeit lacking internal reproductive structures) due to the total inability of their bodies to use the male androgen hormones produced by their testes in anyway, including for muscle development or VO2max.   But a very interesting paper "Complete Androgen Insensitivity "Syndrome": A Model For Human Performance in Sports" does nothing to support the suggestion that AIS women, or indirectly male to female transsexuals have no advantage in women sports.

 

Sex Testing
As described above, a man competing as a woman would in many sports have arguably an unfair advantage.   It is possible that ever since competitive sports began there have been suspicions that some of the female competitors were not actually women - but the reality is that female sporting events weren't considered very important until the 20th century. 


Stella Walsh (left) and Dora Ratjen

The potential scale of the men-competing-as-women problem first became apparent after the 1932 and 1936 Olympic Games. 

At the 1932 Olympics the Polish sprinter Stanisllawa Walasiewicz (later Stella Walsh) was the winner of the women's 100-meters , but the IOC recovered her medals after learning that she had male reproductive organs. A post-mortem in 1980 revealed that she had male genitalia as a result of a rare genetic condition called mosaicism. 

Even worse, the German high jumper Dora Ratjen came fourth in the 1936 games.  In 1938 it emerged that "she" was actually a transvestite man called Hermann Ratjen, and unlike Stella he/she had no medical condition as explanation.  The IOC was further worried to learn that three other track-and-field champions who competed as females in the pre-WW2 games eventually underwent reconstructive surgery to remove external, male-like reproductive structures.

After WW2, sport became increasingly super-power politics by other means.  The masculine physique, deep voices and facial stubble of some formidable Eastern bloc "female" competitors became impossible to ignore, and after the 1964 Olympic games. it was decided to introduce sex tests.

Sex testing officially began at the 1966 European Athletics Championships in Budapest.  This was a simple visual exercise - women competitors were required to disrobe so that medical staff could "peak and poke" their genitals to decide whether they were indeed a woman.  Of course, many female competitors found this offensive, but it was also quickly obvious that several dozen athletes were not attending events where sex testing was being conducted.  The most prominent absentees were the Press sisters Tamara and Irina from the Soviet Union - who between them won five Olympic titles in the shot-put and hurdles respectively in the early 1960's.

Tamara PressThe quality of sex reassignment surgery (SRS) was rapidly advancing and it was quickly realised that after SRS a former man could pass the "peak and poke" test as a woman.  Therefore the far more sophisticated polymerase chain reaction (PCR) buccal smear test was introduced to examine the competitors chromosomes - with the blunt rule that if they weren't XX she couldn't compete as a woman.  Ewa Klubukowska, a 1964 sprint bronze medalist for Poland, had the dubious honour of being in 1967 the first woman to fail the sex test on account of possessing an XXY chromosome pattern, although she was clearly female in every other way.  "I know what I am and how I feel" she said at the time.  Soon after Ewa failed her "female" sex test she became pregnant and in 1968 gave birth to a healthy boy.  However, on on the other side of the coin Austrian skier Erika Schinegger (Women's World Downhill Champion in 1966) decided to become Erik after failing her sex test and later fathered a daughter.  Ewa and Erika were in crowded company at the time, as many other female athletes, including five British athletes, failed the new sex test in its early days. 


In 1983 Maria Patino passed a sex test as female and was given this certificate.
 




Maria Patino in 1985 (top), and 22 years later when working as a reporter and coach.

Sex testing began at the 1968 Olympics and from the start the fairness of this gender verification test was hotly disputed, the vast majority of the women affected suffered from Complete AIS (CAIS) and are legally regarded (and regard themselves) as women.  Things came to head in with the  Spanish hurdler Maria Jose Martinez Patino She suffered from AIS, i.e. had male XY genes, but in 1983 she mistakenly passed a sex test and was certified as XX female.  However the now 24-year old was retested when she entered the 1985 World University Games in Kobe, Japan.  On the way to her first race, she was told that she was genetically male and should fake an injury and withdraw (apparently a common practice when a sex test was failed) - if she didn’t it would be leaked to the press that she was a man.  She didn’t back down and she won her race.  The next day, her story was front page news.  She returned to Spain to be stripped of her titles and lost her university scholarship and her boyfriend.  Patino told a reporter “I knew I was a woman in the eyes of medicine, God, and, most of all, in my own eyes ... If I hadn’t been an athlete, my femininity would never have been questioned". 

The Olympic Games organising committee started to face huge pressure from all sources because of the obvious mistakes (so called "false positives") that were being made in relation to sex testing, which potentially ruined the lives and careers of some women athletes.  Exemptions began to be made, starting in the 1988 games with Maria Patino herself.

However genetic testing continued, and this still affected many female athletes.  Between 1972 and 1984, thirteen women "failed" the Olympics' chromosome test and were barred from competing.  Like Maria Patina, the vast majority were still women that suffered from partial or complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome:

  • In the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul an unnamed top women's tennis player was prevented from competing when her AIS condition was identified. 

  • In the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona 5 out of 2,406 women tested as genetically "male", all with some form of AIS. 

  • In the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta 8 women out of 3387 didn't pass as female - 4 with cAIS, 3 with pAIS and 1 with another condition (5-alpha-reductase deficiency).  6 of the 8 had had surgery to remove their gonads.  All were allowed to compete. 

  • In the 2012 Olympics in London  4 women were identified as genetically XY "male", all had some form of AIS and were allowed to compete. 

Between 1972 and 1990, one in every 504 elite female athletes was found ineligible as a result of sex chromatin testing yet not one was found to be a "normal male".  This statistic is still interesting as almost all disqualified athletes had from AIS, but only about 1 in 3500 women suffer from the syndrome, i.e. a genetically XY woman with AIS is roughly seven times more likely to become an elite athlete than an XX cis-woman.

However gender authentication (sex testing) for athletes had by now become unsustainable.  Clearly the vast majority of failures to pass the "sex test" were due to AIS and as no one seriously argued AIS women were not women, the results were effectively false positives.  It was also clear that any benefits that an AIS woman may naturally have because of her "male" XY genes are largely offset by the disadvantages of her condition, and at worst are trivial compared with the effects of illegal performance enhancing drugs such as steroids on the genetically XX female body.  Finally in February 1999, the Athletes' Commission of the International Olympics Committee urged its parent organization to do away with sex analysis entirely and rely instead on observed urination during drug testing to pinpoint any obvious male impostors. 

A New Era
By the early 1990's the whole process of sex testing was becoming far more trouble than it was worth as the most blatant cheats (i.e. a man with out surgery trying to compete as a woman) could be easily picked up by other means, for example when giving a routine anti-doping urine sample which had to be visually observed by an official. 

Erika Coimbra
Erika Coimbra at the Sydney Olympics.

Mandatory sex testing for women was thus thankfully abandoned for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, but unfortunately considerable publicity was still given by the media to two Brazilian women - Judo competitor Edinanci Silva and volleyballer Erika Coimbra - when it was leaked to the press that both were born hermaphrodites, with non-functioning male genitalia which had been surgically removed.  As they actually suffered from AIS they were not banned from competing under the revised rules, but sadly some of their opponents made it known that they were unhappy about this fact - the young, pretty and elf-like Erika (age 20, weight 64kg, height 180cm, with long blond hair) perhaps unsurprisingly receiving much less abuse than the much plainer looking Edinanci (age 24, weight 71kg, height 175cm), whose opponents disgracefully started to refer to as a "he". 

Although "gender verification test was dropped before the the 2000 Olympics, there remained a question outstanding about whether sex-reassigned individuals could compete in their new sex.

In February 2004 an  IOC advisory group recommended that individuals undergoing sex reassignment after puberty could compete in the Olympics, but only under certain conditions:

  • Surgical changes must have been completed, including external genitalia changes and removal of gonads.

  • Legal recognition of their assigned sex must have been conferred by appropriate official authorities.

  • Hormone therapy -- for the assigned sex -- must have been given for long enough to minimize any gender-related advantages in sport competitions, a period that must be at least two years after gonadectomy.

On Monday, 17 May 17 2004 the International Olympic Committee announced  - albeit with some mixed reactions - that it was dropping all sex testing for woman's sports Transsexuals passing the prescribed conditions were also cleared to compete in the Olympics by the IOC Executive Board.  The  IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies said the situation of transsexuals competing in high-level sports was "rare but becoming more common."  IOC medical director Patrick Schamasch said no specific sports had been singled out by the ruling.  "Any sport may be touched by this problem," he said. "Until now, we didn't have any rules or regulations. We needed to establish some sort of policy."

The decision, which covered both male-to-female and female-to-male cases, went into effect starting with the Athens Olympics in August 2004.  The new rules allowed the classification as female all men who had undergone a SRS operation, regardless of whether this was before or after their puberty.

The decision of the IOC to let transsexual women compete as female athletes, and a similar  decision by the International Athletics Association (IAA) seemed to usher in a new era.  There was no doubt that some Olympic events (e.g. running, javelin, pole vault, marshal arts ...) and many professional, semi-professional women's sports such as tennis, golf, football (soccer), basketball, bowling, running et al seemed to face a gradual influx of top ranked women who were transsexual.

Michelle Dumaresq became an early example of the apparent future.  After her sex-reassignment surgery in 1995 she claims to have lost bone density, three inches of height [which is extremely unlikely], and 30% of her muscle mass along with her testosterone, but nevertheless she still became the Canadian women's downhill cycling champ in 2002 - just a year after entering the sport. 

Renee Richards (who has some regrets about her own transition and SRS) believes that it all comes down to fairness.  Renee would bar transsexuals from women's sports if they were in their 20s and still had muscular male physiques that gave them an advantage over other women:

"That's why we have junior events and senior events, men's events and women's events, and why 130-pound fighters don't fight against 180-pound fighters.  We have categories in sports to have level playing fields.  Tiger Woods or Jimmy Connors or John McEnroe, if they're 25 years old and they have a sex change and within the next five years they go out to play against women, of course they have a great advantage.  

But Renee has also warned that the decision by the International Olympic Committee means that unscrupulous competitors could use the new rules to change from men to women to give them more chance of success.

"It's ironic that everyone has tried so hard to keep a level playing field - from corked bats to doping - but now the IOC has come up with a decision that defies fairness in a similar vein.  Sex-reassignment surgery is based on putting materials into your body."

Putting things in a UK context, the new reality was that Tim Henman could become Tina Henman and probably this become a [female] Wimbledon champion at last.  With Henman’s strength and speed, height and muscle density, added to his skills, it would be a near certainty even after year of female hormones and aging.

A counterview to Renee is offered by Alisha Kia Siadeski (formerly Paul), a trangender 'cowgirl' whose title winning passion is barrel-racing - a minor women-only sport.  She says: "I'm 5'5" and weigh 112 pounds - I have no strength advantage, never did ...  half the women I compete against are bigger and stronger than I am".   

Indeed, in 2007 Renee herself argued against the theory that desperate athletes will do anything to win the gold, even change their gender.

"How hungry for tennis success must you be to have your penis chopped off in pursuit of it? .... It's unlikely there will be a rush of men ... switching sex to clean up on the women's tour. Those fears are silly"

The Woman's Tennis Association (WTA) has led other sporting organisations in its acceptance of post-operative male-to-female transsexuals and hermaphrodites born with male genitalia - despite the doubts of some of its members.  As well as Renee Richards, publicized cases include (from left to right) Samantha Stosur, Sarah Gronert and Andrea Paredes von Roth. The muscular physique of Samantha has led to a renewed debate in Women's tennis about whether transwomen should be allowed to compete, with Martina Navratilova among those to express reservations.


Caster Semenya

Doubts Return

... and then Caster Semenya burst onto the scene.

A junior champion in 2008, the South African teenager took seven seconds off her personal best for 800m over the next nine months, breaking the South African record and setting a world-leading time in the process. The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) felt "obliged to investigate", if only to rule out doping.  Hours before the start of the 800m final at the 2009 World Athletics Championships - a race Semenya would win by a huge margin - it was leaked that the sport's governing body had also asked for a gender test. The findings of the test were never released but she was cleared to compete again in women's athletics, and she was chosen to carry her country's flag during the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

What ever Caster's circumstances, she seems to have triggered increasing reservations at governing bodies such as the IOC as to the extent to which women's sports should be open to transwomen - and other individuals with XY genes. 

These reservations focussed on androgenic hormones - the best known being testosterone.  These are natural or synthetic substances that control the development of male characteristics - everything from the formation of testes, to male pattern baldness.. to strong muscles.  In general, men have higher testosterone levels than women, with gap becoming substantial during puberty.

An IAAF working group, in conjunction with the IOC's Medical Commission, decided that female athletes with more than 10 nanomoles of Testosterone per litre (nmol/L) of blood would be bared from competition unless there were "reasonable grounds" for an exemption.  The AIS condition being an example. 

In April 2011, the new rules came into force. From this moment on, a confidential investigation could be made into any athlete where there were "reasonable grounds". This could be a complaint from a rival, or as a result of an anomaly in a drugs test.

 
Former male Olympic decathlon champion Bruce Jenner reappeared as female Caitlyn Jenner in 2015

In January 2016 the International Olympic Committee issued recommendations that transgender athletes should be allowed to compete at the 2016 Rio Olympics without undergoing sex reassignment surgery.  Male-to-female transsexual athletes would only need to prove that their testosterone level had been below a certain cut-off point for at least one year before their first competition.

The new guidelines - which the IOC say have been brought in to adapt to current scientific, social and legal attitudes on transgender issues - are not fixed rules or regulations but are instead designed as recommendations for international sports federations to follow.  

Former IOC medical commission chairman Arne Ljungqvist, who was among the experts involved in drafting the new guidelines, said:

"It has become much more of a social issue than in the past.  We had to review and look into this from a new angle. We needed to adapt to the modern legislation around the world. We felt we cannot impose a surgery if that is no longer a legal requirement."

Under the previous IOC guidelines of 2004, athletes who transitioned from male to female or vice versa were required to have reassignment surgery followed by at least two years of hormone therapy in order to be eligible to compete in their reassigned sex.  

The 2016 Olympics saw widespread claims that the Hungarian swimmer Zsuzsanna Jakabos was transsexual, but this was a fake news story - she had passed numerous sex tests since first appearing in the 2004 Olympics.  A report in the the Daily Mail newspaper that two British female athletes in the country's 2016 Olympics team were transgender was undermined by a complete lack of detail. 

Chloe Psyche Anderson is transgender and played women's volleyball in the USA at college level.  By 2017 she had been on female hormone therapy for five years, which had reduced her testosterone level's below even female norms.  She was still pre-SRS when she wrote in May 2017:

"I never doubted I could be an athlete and transition. I just had to do extensive research prior to make sure I fit into the associations legally, but my body and I have had a long and frustrating relationship to say the least.  Having low doses of testosterone for a long time has made building up muscle much more of a challenge than [it is for] my teammates, as well as muscle recovery time. As a transgender athlete I have felt that I’ve been struggling to fight an uphill battle against stereotypes that I am physically superior to my teammates and that I’m not like them. While the physical superiority couldn’t be more false, the reality that I am very different than my teammates couldn’t be more obvious.  [But] I am myself, I don’t want to hide who I am to anyone.  Nobody should be put into a situation where they should feel ashamed or belittled for who they are."

Whilst it's very dangerous to generalise, Chloe seems to be a reasonably typical example of a undoubtedly transwoman in her teens or 20's who wants to participate in competitive sport.  And she makes a strong case as to why this should be allowed. 

 

A Backlash

The first two decades of the twentieth century may become seen as a 'golden age'  for transgender athletes.  Medical barrier after medical barrier has fallen.  Genetics tests once set an insurmountable barrier for transwomen, gender confirmation surgery still a high bar, but the testosterone level test is far more modest - and that is difficult to enforce except at an elite level,

Further, in the EU and many other countries, laws have been passed which recognize male-to-female transwomen as  being a woman - from marriage to pension rights ... to gender discrimination.  For example, in the USA the Ladies Professional Golf Association's requirement that players were “female at birth” had to be removed in 2010 after a transgender woman, Lana Lawless, successfully sued the tour in a Federal court, arguing that the rule violated California civil rights laws.

As a result of legal threats and changing social attitudes, many sporting bodies have given up trying to define who can enter their "male/men's" events and who can enter their "female/women's" events.  In order to participate in women's sports, medical requirements are now very rare and even documentary requirements such as a female passport or birth certificate uncommon.  Essentially athletes have become free to compete as male or female!


Transgender woman Hannah Mouncey (right) plays Women's Australian Rules Football.  She claims that she is "treated like shit" by opponents, fans and even the Association.

Superficially this the culmination of 50 years of campaigning, but there are unintended consequences that are leading to a backlash against this freedom. 

One example is the Boston Marathon, arguably the most prestigious marathon in the world.  It's popularity means that the number of runners has to be capped, and this is done by means of minimum qualification times for the male and female marathons.  However the organizers no longer set any medical requirements for sex of athletes and there is a concern that the increasing number of transwomen entering the race is lowering the qualifying time and preventing cis-women from competing.  For a cis-woman who has spent several years desperately trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon, losing out to a transwoman who has had no medical treatment and easily managed the qualifying time in their only prior marathon is understandably annoying.


Rachel Kinnon (centre) celebrating her victory

Renee Richards' comment "How hungry for [sporting]  success must you be to have your penis chopped off" no longer applies, whilst at the same time the number of transwoman is increasing rapidly, e.g. a 2016 study from the Williams Institute, estimated that 0.6% of USA. adults identify as transgender - so potentially nearly one million transwomen in this country alone.  The unsurprising result is that more transwomen are competing in women's sports at all levels, often with great success.  Social media is increasingly filled with photo's of large and heavily built transwomen competing in various woman's sports with complaints that "it's not fair" that these are allowed to participate, and suggestions (hushed at first, but increasingly strident) that these are not "real women". For example, Rachel McKinnon claims that she received more than 100,000 hate messages on Twitter after she won the UCI Masters Track World Championship cycling title in October 2018.

Another example is the article below:

Parents Launch Petition after Transgender Athletes Place First and Second in Girls Track Championships

June 18, 2018


Andraya Yearwood

Two athletes who were born males placed first and second in state track championship events for high school girls, causing anger among other competitors and parents who say they had an unfair advantage over the girls.

Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood dominated Connecticut’s races, sweeping gold and silver medals with little competition and stirring outrage among fellow competitors. Miller placed first in both the 100-meter and 200-meter dash, while Yearwood placed second to Miller in the 100-meter dash, CBS Pittsburgh reported.

Both Miller and Yearwood are biological males who identify as females. Neither has undergone surgeries or used hormone blockers to lower their testosterone to a level comparable to females.

The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference allows athletes to compete according to their gender identity and implements no hormone testing, as regulatory bodies do at the university level.
 

Parents began a petition after transgirl Andraya Yearwood took first place in the women’s 100 meter dash for a second consecutive year, it soon gained hundreds of signatures.  “I think it’s unfair to the girls who work really hard to do well,” said another sprinter, Selina Soule. She explained that she doesn’t think it’s fair for boys who identify as girls to race together when boys are faster and stronger than girls.

In October 2019,  Cheryl Radachowsky, a mother of a high-school female athlete wrote an impassioned piece in the New York Post about how her daughter was among those being affected by a 2017 Connecticut state ruling that boys who subjectively identify as female could compete against girls.

“Since then, two biological boys have won 15 women’s track championships, titles held by nine different girls in 2016.  As a parent, it is gut-wrenching to know that no matter how hard my daughter works to achieve her goals, she will lose athletic opportunities to a pernicious gender ideology. A biological boy’s subjective sense of his gender doesn’t cancel out his physical advantage over girls.

 

What Next? 

If the question is posed as to whether male-to-female transsexuals can compete in all fairness with other women, the answer is probably "no" for most sports, particularly if SRS is conducted after a normal male puberty. The long-term effects of SRS (androgen deprivation) and oestrogen hormone therapy partially reverse some of previous effects of testosterone on the transwomen's body, for example they become much closer to women norms in terms of muscle mass - but even in this category not completely.  Whilst the IOC's 2004 decision to allow post-SRS transwomen compete in women's supports caused some mutterings of discontent from female athletes, the reality was that the number of (known) transgender athletes was so low that this seemed a reasonable compromise.

In a earlier version of this article I noted this decision had not led to the feared influx of male-to-female athletes competing in women's sports, and that possibly the further lowering of thresholds for the determination of sex would again have little actual impact on women's sports.  I now fear that this statement is no longer correct, and that the LGBT bandwagon may have pushed things too far where sport is concerned.

The first problem is the shear increase in the number of transwomen who want to participate in sports, the second is that most sporting organizations now allow transwomen to compete in women's sports, indeed they would now face legal challenges in many countries if they didn't.  Finally and most important problem is the advent of transwoman athletes who are not handicapped by SRS or even female hormone therapy - and no one disputes that the average male body is much better at sports than the average female body.  Parents understandably get upset when they see their daughter trying to compete physically with much bigger, heavier, stronger and more aggressive transgirls.


Press reports said t
hat Lauren Hubbard "crushed" her opponents in women's weightlifting competitions in 2017-18.  Before transitioning, she had set several records in male categories as Gavin.

We seem to be moving to the situation where transwomen will dominate some women's sports, the leading contenders being: weightlifting, track, wrestling, football, basketball, and mixed martial arts. 

When a transgender weightlifter won (yet again) a competition, Deborah Acason, from the Australian Weightlifting Federation, said "We all deserve to be on an even playing field, it’s difficult when you believe that you’re not. If it’s not even, why are we doing the sport?”  

It takes only a small amount of research show that transwomen are now participating in women-only sports such as synchronized swimming, rhythmic gymnastics, softball, netball and lacrosse.   The OIC apparently allowed an unnamed transgender/intersex athlete to compete as a female gymnast as long ago as the 2012 London Olympics, whilst simultaneously baring American transwoman Keelin Godsey from representing the USA in the women’s hammer throwing competition.

So far no openly transgender woman has reached the very top of a major and financially lucrative sport, when this happens (and it will) there will undoubtedly be much debate, particularly if the woman in question had previously competed with little success as a man.

Renee, Kia and some sports organizations such as the Women's Sports Federation seem to believe (albeit from an interpretation of their different approaches) that transsexuals should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis before being allowed to compete as women.  But there is then an implication that transwomen will have to be below a certain age, height, weight or strength before they are allowed to compete as women - and "discrimination" is a word that will inevitably be raised in court by someone that fail the tests.

 

Caster Semenya Part II
With no barriers to her competing as a woman, Caster Semenya easily won the women's 800 metres races at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympics.  However genetically 'XX' and CIS-female athletes increasingly complain that Caster has an "unfair advantage".  In 2017 the IAAF commissioned research which found that female athletes with high testosterone levels had a "competitive advantage" of up to 3%.  In April 2018 the IAAF introduced new rules for female runners with naturally high testosterone that effectively required them to take medication to reduce their testosterone levels for six months before competing as a women in events from 400m up to the mile.  Caster appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) against the new rules. 

On 1 May 2019 CAS published its decision, it found that the rules for athletes such as Semenya, were discriminatory - but that the discrimination was "necessary, reasonable and proportionate" to protect "the integrity of female athletics".  This is an important and  potentially controversial decision as it essentially decides that the human rights of an individual are less important than trying to ensure that genetically 'XX' women without medical disorders can remain competitive in women's sports.   

Two days after the CAS's decision Caster won a women's 800m race in Doha by a large margin, clocking the eighth fastest time ever by a woman.  She had set all the faster times.

What Next?

A poster for a campaign against transwomen being allowed to compete in female sports.

Despite an increasingly vocal lobby to prevent the participation of transwomen in female-only sporting events, implementing this would now face a legal challenge in most countries and would almost certainly be ruled against.

For example the 2019 CAS decision is unlikely to be upheld in the EU.  Indeed, in the UK it is now possible for a genetic man to be legally "female" for sporting events without having had any feminising medical treatment at all. 

I'm not sure what the answer is but allowing adult men to self-certify themselves as female for sporting purposes without having any hormonal treatment is undoubtedly not "fair".  I suspect that women's sport federations will try to find legally acceptable ways of limiting some competitions and events to cis-women.  For example, it can be argued that requiring a competitor to prove that they have "XX" genes in order to enter a particular sporting event is a clear definition that is no more discriminatory than requiring competitors in an over-45's road race to prove that they are over the age of 45.  But this takes us right back to the situation 50 years ago.

 

 


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Last updated: 20 April, 2019