OPINION: Letting Transgender People Participate in Sports Isn’t Just Fair, It’s Compassionate

OPINION: Letting Transgender People Participate in Sports Isn’t Just Fair, It’s Compassionate

This opinion piece was written and submitted by Mack Kramer as a response to the article “Transgender Athletes in Girls Sports is ‘Unfair'”.

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There are biological differences between each and every single one of us. Michael Phelps, the greatest Olympic swimmer of all time, was born with an above-average lung capacity — is that not an unfair advantage? Should he have been barred from competing in swimming? Some people born female are naturally taller than others — does that mean that, in the interest of fairness, they should be barred from the basketball team?

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The answer is no, of course not. There is no simple line you can (or would even want to) draw between what is and is not “too tall” to participate. Even more complex than height, there is no simple line you can draw between what is “too masculine” and “too feminine.” Some female athletes naturally have more testosterone than other female athletes. Does this mean they shouldn’t be allowed to participate out of fairness?

Practically speaking, there’s not an effective way someone could go about testing students for their “transness.” Are all trans people excluded from sports, or would it just be those who aren’t on hormone therapy? If they are on hormone therapy, is there a way you measure if they are truly “hormonal” to the gender they want to compete with? And, I’ll go out on a limb here, if women injected testosterone, would they still be allowed to compete?

You may have read that last question and thought “that’s entirely unrealistic! Why on earth would a girl inject testosterone just to gain a competitive advantage against boys?” but then, why is that scenario any less realistic than the narrative of boys “pretending to be girls” solely to participate in and win women’s sports competitions? Girls who inject testosterone and cis men who “pretend” to be women only for sports may exist on the fringes of a sporting community, but that’s not a reason to limit access to sports for all girls because of they risk they might inject testosterone; it is not a reason to limit access to sports for all trans girls because of the (infinitesimally small) chance they are just a cis man “pretending.”

For the people who believe cisgender women would feel uncomfortable being in the locker rooms with someone who’s trans, I urge you to look up what trans girls actually look like. They are not “big beefy men dressed as women,” they are girls. They are often feminine presenting. And I bet the last thing on their minds in the locker room is how they’re mischievously planning on making everyone around them feel unsafe.

For a second, though, let’s imagine trans people not being allowed to participate on the team whose gender they align with. Arguably, most trans athletes would probably quit — a trans woman would feel quite alienated having to compete against only cis men. Of course, though, there’d be a few who stick around. Would it not make cisgender women even more uncomfortable, then, to have a transgender, masculine-presenting person in the locker room with them? Suppose this trans man had been on hormone blockers and then had recently started testosterone, which lowered his voice, broadened his shoulders, and gave him more muscle. Not only would this seem to make cis women just as uncomfortable, it seems to be the exact same “unfair advantage” people were concerned about in the first place.

I’ll be honest here, the world of navigating gender expression and identity in sports is incredibly difficult, and I can’t say I’m not sympathetic to certain concerns about fairness in sports. But even if there were a way to make sports “completely fair for girls,” the “fairness” of a high school girls’ softball team in Wyoming pales in importance to making other students feel accepted, belonging, and happy. Around 30% of transgender women have attempted suicide in their lifetime; that number is 42% for non-binary folk and more than 50% for transgender men. In an epidemic of trans suicide, it seems the least our legislators can do is provide the opportunity for trans folk to participate in a supportive, loving, growing community.

The opportunity to give a student a place of belonging and friendship, in my mind, is not only more valuable to trans athletes, but for everyone. Treating high school sports as a cutthroat competition instead of as a place of teamwork and collaboration only places more stress on students, drives them away from others socially, and doesn’t teach them the communication skills that should come naturally with team sports.