Lately people have been talking about the downturn of the Austin Community of Atheists (see video explaining timeline, or transcript). But the point of me leaving the atheist movement was so I didn’t have to concern myself with all the bullshit that goes on in atheist groups, so I’m not going to talk about it. Instead I’ll address an issue that came up in relation to the drama: the right of trans athletes to compete in athletic events. HJ Hornbeck has been talking about it for literally months, and this is my independent take.
I’ll admit upfront that I don’t care about athletics. The only sports I personally care about are video game speed running and competitive Dominion. I only care about athletics to the extent that I have empathy for things that other people care about.
So a good place to start is with someone else who cares more, and has more expertise. I present Dr. Rachel McKinnon, who is not only a trans athlete, but also a philosophy professor who teaches courses about sports ethics!
Short version: Evidence shows that the competitive advantage of trans women over cis women is so small as to be dwarfed by other “acceptable” variance like body shape, and thus there is insufficient justification to exclude trans women.
Or, if you want a longer version, Essence of Thought has a 48 min video going through a bunch of arguments made by some other YouTuber.
By the way, if you’ve read about trans athletes, you may have already heard the name Rachel McKinnon before. That’s because in 2018 Rachel won some major cycling competition, and TERFs have been crowing about her for the past year. It’s part of a strategy to exploit people’s availability heuristics. By making information available about trans athletes who have won competitions, and repeating that same information over and over, they make it seem like a larger pattern than it really is.
The truth is, trans women just don’t dominate women’s athletics. There are a lot of women’s sport competitions, and maybe you can name three or four examples of trans women athletes winning, but statistically speaking that’s pathetic. And it’s not because trans women have lacked opportunities. Rachel McKinnon had previously participated in cycling events for years and lost all the time. The Olympics has allowed trans athletes since 2004. By only paying attention to trans athletes who have won, and only when they won, people are just blocking out all opposing evidence.
With those basic facts established, I present my philosophical meanderings about sports.
1. Why are performance-enhancing drugs unethical, but performance-enhancing exercise routines ethical? If performance-enhancing drugs were allowed then it would be practically mandatory for athletes to take them, to the detriment of their own health. Furthermore, many people look up to athletes. Those people would either also be encouraged to take the drugs, or else discouraged from participating in sports. On the other hand, if people are encouraged to exercise more, this does not cause harm.
2. Is hormonal replacement therapy (HRT) anything like performance-enhancing drugs? No, because it doesn’t enhance performance. But also, HRT isn’t detrimental to people’s health. Quite the opposite, it can be a lifesaving treatment for gender dysphoria. The thing I’d worry about is if trans women forego HRT to get a competitive edge, to the detriment of their own health and the health of their trans fans. But that doesn’t appear to be happening, so let’s not worry about it prematurely.
3. What guiding principles justify the creation of athletic events just for women? I think what it is, is that people like to see athletes that share certain identity characteristics that seem salient to them. One of the salient identity characteristics is nationality, and thus people like to watch athletes from their own nations in both national and international athletics events. Another salient identity characteristic is gender, and if it takes women’s categories for people to see their gender reflected in athletic events then so be it. On the other hand, body shape is not considered a salient identity characteristic–people don’t mind when certain body types dominate each event.
4. Is trans/cis identity one of the things that people are justified in wanting to see reflected in their athletes? I think so. I think trans people might reasonably want to see trans athletes, which is why it’s important that trans athletes are allowed to compete. By the same standard, I think cis women might be justified in complaining if, hypothetically, trans women dominated the upper tiers of athletics to the point that being trans was practically mandatory. But that’s not even close to happening. So far, this is a case where some cis people seem to think that the presence of any trans women is somehow too much.