Put yourself in the shoes of an athlete who also happens to be transgender. You finally have the opportunity to be part of a sport you dedicated hours of training for, only to be told you can’t participate because someone said “it’s not fair.”
I wholeheartedly believe transgender women should be allowed to participate in sports with cisgender women.
There’s been this little myth that says transgender athletes participating in sports hurts cisgender women. I believe excluding women who are transgender hurts all women. This isn’t really about who is better or not, it’s about excluding transgender people from another space that is public — now, it’s a sports arena.
Including transgender athletes has so many benefits. It can end up promoting values of inclusivity within athletics. Banning transgender women from athletics undermines this inclusivity and compromises the wide-ranging benefits that youth get from sports.
There’s been a lot of talk saying transgender athletes have some sort of advantage because they have higher levels of testosterone. Many people believe that the physiological features of transgender athletes give them an unfair advantage over cisgender athletes.
In fact, transgender women and girls face prejudice and abuse that makes it difficult for them to even attend school. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey Report, 17% of transgender women who were viewed as transgender in school were bullied to the point of dropping out. Another 6% were expelled from school. The notion that being transgender gives women and girls an advantage ignores the realities of their lives.
As stated by Dr. Joshua Safer, executive director of the Mount Sinai Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery, “A person’s genetic make-up and internal and external reproductive anatomy are not useful indicators of athletic performance. For a trans woman athlete who meets NCAA standards, there is no inherent reason why her physiological characteristics related to athletic performance should be treated differently from the physiological characteristics of a non-transgender woman.”
Transgender athletes, like cisgender athletes, have a wide range of athletic abilities. Andraya Yearwood,an ACLU client, explains: “One high jumper could be taller and have longer legs than another, but the other could have perfect form, and then do better ... One sprinter could have parents who spend so much money on personal training for their child, which in turn, would cause that child to run faster.”
In Connecticut, where cisgender female runners have tried to block Yearwood from participating in the sport she loves, the very same cisgender females who have claimed that transgender athletes have an unfair advantage have consistently performed as well as or better than transgender competitors.
Another example is Caster Semenya, a cisgender woman who couldn’t compete in a women’s race. Amid a heated debate over who can compete in women's events, the Court of Arbitration for Sports said in a landmark ruling that female track athletes with naturally high testosterone levels must lower their levels to compete in certain races at major competitions such as the Olympics.
Semenya, a two-time Olympic 800-meter champion from South Africa, was defeated in her legal bid to overturn proposed limits on female athletes with naturally elevated testosterone levels. Doriane Lambelet Coleman, a law professor at Duke University, was an elite 800-meter runner in the 1980s and served as an expert witness for World Athletics.
In regards to Semenya’s case, Coleman said, "The gender studies folks have spent the last 20 years deconstructing sex and all of a sudden they're facing an institution with an entirely opposite story." She added, “We have to ask, ‘Is respecting gender identity more important or is seeing female bodies on the podium more important?’”
Safer explains a person’s sex is made up of various biological features that may or may not all coincide as typically male or female in a specific individual. Furthermore, many cisgender individuals may have hormone levels outside of what is considered common for their assigned sex at birth. When a person does not identify with the sex they were born with, they must be able to transition socially, which includes engaging in sports that are appropriate for their gender identity.
According to pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Deanna Adkins, who is part of the American Board of Pediatrics, excluding transgender athletes from treatment can be extremely harmful and disruptive.
“I know from experience with my patients that it can be extremely harmful for a transgender young person to be excluded from the team consistent with their gender identity,” she said.
Transgender women are women, despite the stubborn and close-minded people who believe they will never be considered as such. Women who are transgender are told that they are not “real” women on a regular basis. Non-binary people are being told their gender isn’t real and that they have to choose between being male or female.
None of these statements are true. People who identify as transgender are exactly who they claim to be. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to women’s bodies. Women who are transgender, intersex or disabled have a variety of physical characteristics.
Transgender people should be allowed to participate in sports. Society makes no room for transgender athletes. Yes, we should preach for women’s rights and equality, but transgender women need to be included in that as well.
Sorry to say this folks, but if you’re getting beat by another woman in a competition, maybe you should be more worried about getting better instead of attacking another woman because she is transgender.
Sara Al-Yasseri is a sophomore social sciences and secondary education major. Reach her at email@example.com