I have recently been very disappointed by the opinion pieces produced by the DN. Transphobic articles and anti-vaxxer theories have been promoted as valid opinion pieces and that justification has prevented redactions or corrections of the pieces. The job of an editor, and the DN staff as a whole, is to ensure that the news that reaches the public and represents the UNL community is of quality. That includes not giving transphobic pieces that go against our community values any light, and it also includes correcting false information, especially regarding COVID-19. While I understand the importance of the opinion pieces to allow students to voice their concerns on hot button issues, some writers have crossed the line and gone from opinion to false information. It is my hope that the staff of the DN, and specifically the editor, start holding each other to a higher standard and work to uphold the reputation UNL and the DN have built up over time. Thank you.
Imagine that you are a high school women’s volleyball player, moving to a new state. You’re excited to join the team, make new friends and compete in the sport that you’ve dedicated high school life to. But when you arrive, you find out you’re not allowed to participate because you are transgender.
In Emerson McClure’s opinion piece for The Daily Nebraskan, she argued that transgender women should not be allowed to compete in women’s sports at the K-12 level, as we have more testosterone than cisgender women. While studies have found that before puberty, there is no significant difference in either testosterone level or athletic performance, she is correct that people who go through a masculine puberty do typically have higher testosterone. However, her article fails to represent the medical reality that we as transgender women face. The article also reinforces transphobic ideas, whether she intended it to or not.
Although testosterone level is not the only factor that determines athletic performance, it certainly is a prominent one. However, transgender women are not the only group of women with high testosterone. Cisgender women with polycystic ovarian syndrome also may experience elevated testosterone levels, to the point that they begin developing masculine features. Women with “difference of sexual development” (DSD) syndromes also have more testosterone; in 2019, the landmark case of Caster Semenya brought these disorders into the public eye. In fact, most top-performing cisgender female athletes also have more testosterone than the average cisgender woman. Limiting women’s sports on the basis of “normal” testosterone levels will exclude many transgender women, but would also exclude many cisgender women.
Also, transgender women do not always have higher testosterone levels than cisgender women. As part of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), many transgender women (including myself) take an anti-androgen to suppress testosterone. Even when HRT is started after the onset of puberty, it can still lead to a decrease in testosterone, which lowers muscle mass and causes other shifts that affect athletic ability. McClure states that most cisgender women, depending on their age, may have between 20-80 nanograms of testosterone per deciliter (ng/dl); my last blood test was taken in February, seven months into HRT, and reported a level of 16ng/dl. Although most transgender girls are not prescribed estrogen and anti-androgens before 16, they may be prescribed medications to delay puberty. So “XY chromosome” does not automatically mean “high testosterone”; it depends entirely on each person.
McClure also does not mention how transgender boys are affected by the debate. Transgender boys often take testosterone to gain more masculine characteristics, but have often been required to still participate in women’s sports, rather than men’s. This is not only against McClure’s argument that people with higher testosterone shouldn’t participate in women’s sports; it actively harms those transgender boys because they are not recognized as their true selves.
Acceptance is important for transgender youth. When they are supported and referred to by the correct name and pronouns, transgender teenagers have a similar rate of depression, anxiety, and suicide attempts as their cisgender peers. Without support from their society, nearly a third of transgender teenagers report attempting suicide in the last year. Inclusion in sports is a large part of social acceptance in high school, and should be available to every person, cisgender or transgender.
McClure’s article also contains phrases that reinforce widespread transphobic ideas. When quoting statistics about testosterone levels, she repeatedly calls us as “males” and “men;” in other places, she makes distinction between transgender women and “biological females,” even though HRT alters our biology. By saying “allowing transgender women to compete in women’s athletics is unfair and ultimately a violation of women’s rights,” she says that our rights don’t count as “women’s rights.” I don’t read these phrases as necessarily malicious, but I do think they defend harmful ideas that have no place in an accepting world.
Toward the end of the article, she compares our desire to be included in women’s sports to a “plastic participation trophy.” It’s far more than that: It’s acceptance, it’s community and it’s the ability to live a normal life. For those of us living in unsupportive homes, it may be the thing that we live for.
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