Right at the beginning of his presidency, Joe Biden signed an executive order protecting trans people from discrimination, including trans children involved in competitive sports. This was before the current moral panic had reached the current genocidal fever, but trans people had absolutely been under growing attack. It was a welcome sign of support from someone whose record didn’t exactly mark him as a reliable ally in the fight for civil rights. Unfortunately, Biden has apparently decided that supporting a minority that’s the active target of a genocidal hate campaign is no longer in his political interest:
The Biden Department of Education has issued new Title IX regulations permitting restrictions on transgender athletes, leaving many in the transgender community feeling betrayed. The new regulations detail numerous ways schools can ban trans athletes while remaining compliant with Title IX, alarmingly echoing right-wing talking points about scholarships and risk of injury. These regulations specify methods schools may employ to determine a student’s sex, including invasive physical examinations. Although the administration will likely try to spin it as a nuanced approach, it will likely only add fuel to the fire of schools trying to ban transgender people from sports.
Just a brief point on the issue of scholarships. It has long been noted that when it comes to trans people, and trans women in particular, it seems that “fair” is often code for “trans women musn’t win”. The obsessive belief that men are always superior in athletics, and that trans women are really men, means that to a transphobe no victory by a trans athlete can be fair. Pretty much any time you hear a story about a cis woman athlete who was “robbed” of her place on a podium, it’ll turn out that she herself had beaten the trans woman in question, or that several other cis women placed ahead of both of them. Trans women can compete, but only if they don’t win.
I think this goes for the scholarship issue as well – the starting assumption is that trans women are inherently undeserving of athletic scholarships. Some some people will pretend to be allies, but only in a very paternalistic way that assumes the trans experience will always be pitiable, When trans people don’t fit that image, that allegiance fades away. They will also side with an exploitative education system over trans rights. Biden’s record on student loan debt is not good, and I think it’s very telling that rather than pushing to create a system in which scholarships so important, he’ll lock certain people out of eligibility. There is no good reason why people should be made to compete for the ability to get an affordable education, just as there’s no reason to discriminate against trans athletes.
The new regulations emerged just hours after a substantial victory for transgender individuals in sports. Today, the Supreme Court delivered its first ruling on the recent wave of anti-trans legislation. West Virginia has tried to ban trans students from participating in sports, with a case currently being heard involving a young transgender girl in the state. Although a federal court has halted West Virginia’s trans athlete ban, the Supreme Court listened to an appeal to temporarily reinstate the ban. In a significant 7-2 decision, Justices Barrett, Kavanaugh, and Gorsuch sided with the liberal justices, rejecting the appeal and marking a big moment for transgender rights.
However, the celebration for trans individuals was short-lived. Mere hours after the Supreme Court ruling, Biden’s new Title IX regulations surfaced, appearing to include significant concessions to those opposing transgender participation in sports. While the regulations may also displease conservatives by not permitting outright bans on trans athletes, they leave issues like “concerns over scholarships” and “risk of injury” unaddressed and still allow for broad bans for various sports and grade levels. The regulations outline situations in which schools could likely ban trans individuals from sports, making the new Title IX proposal document resemble a guide on how to discriminate rather than a comprehensive protection for transgender people.
Significantly, the rule does not categorically ban schools and states from enacting sports bans. In fact, the new rule allows for sports bans if they are “substantially related to the achievement of an important educational objective” and “minimize harms” to trans students who are denied or banned from sports. While it does not allow for blanket bans, it still allows bans for particular sports, grade levels, and more.
This concession would be significant enough, but the rest of the document is even worse. When discussing the scope of the rule, for instance, the document states that things such as gender markers on birth certificates, invasive “medical examinations,” and medical testing or treatments would all fall under the new rule. It does not ban the use of these tools, and in fact even seems to tacitly endorse them “as long as they minimize harm.”
From what I can tell, Joe Biden has always been pretty conservative. From his opposition to busing as part of desegregation, to his work making student loan debt inescapable, to his dedication to creating and maintaining mass incarceration, he’s more or less the epitome of “well, the Republicans are even worse, so I guess I gotta vote for him”. He was, and is, a better option than Trump, but I continue to believe that he’s not capable of leading the U.S. away from fascism. There are a lot of ways in which one can oppose fascism, but appeasement, historically, has not helped. Give fascists an inch, and they’ll claim that it always belonged to them, and the mere fact that you used to have control is proof that you want to take everything from them, because you’re evil, and controlled by the Jews. Appeasing Nazis, very famously, didn’t work to do anything except help the Nazis.
I’m framing it this way, because I’m giving Joe Biden the benefit of the doubt here. I’m assuming that his decision to betray trans people, while they are actively trying to defend themselves against a genocide, was made out of political calculation rather than personal bigotry. The best-case scenario is that he thinks that this will demonstrate that he’s willing to “be the reasonable one” and meet the Republicans halfway. If that’s what’s going on, then Biden is once again demonstrating that he has learned nothing from the last three decades of GOP politics.
“Meet me in the middle,” says the unjust man.
I don’t think this will work, because the fascists have no interest in anything less than the eradication of trans people from public life. What seems more likely, to me, is that the fascists will use this as proof that “the left” secretly knows they’re right about trans people. This will embolden them, because fascists cannot be appeased. They read appeasement as weakness, and they view weakness as an invitation to attack.
As Erin says elsewhere in the article quoted above, these new regulations ignore the lies that are often told about trans athletes. I think one of the reasons why this is such a popular line of attack is that most people don’t really understand how sports came to be segregated by gender, or how transition affects athletic ability. If you like videos, Mia Mulder and Jessie Gender both tackled the subject. Cosmos Magazine also dug into the issue just over a year ago:
While research in this field is still in its infancy, it’s clearer than some think. Not only do trans women not have advantages over cis women in sport in most cases, but cis women playing sports are overwhelmingly not worried about trans women competing alongside them.
First, let’s start with the science. When a trans woman decides to transition, usually one of the first medical steps they’ll undertake is to go on hormones. These are testosterone blockers (also known as anti-androgen medications) and estrogen, both of which are common medications that can also be prescribed to cis women to treat various ailments.
These hormones have a number of effects on a trans woman’s body – they add and change the way fat is distributed, they lower the levels of red blood cells, and significantly decrease strength, muscle and lean body mass.
“In sports cheating via ‘blood doping’, red blood cells are raised,” wrote Ada Cheung, an endocrinologist from the University of Melbourne, in a Sydney Morning Herald opinion article. “The opposite occurs in trans women: oxygen-carrying red blood cells drop to female levels. Trans women gain fat mass and lose bone density.
“Further research is coming. My research group at the University of Melbourne, in collaboration with the Institute for Health and Sport at Victoria University, have started the GAME research study examining how feminising hormones impact fitness, endurance, physique and gene changes in muscle over time in comparison groups.”
Although hormones will change many facets of a trans woman’s body if they transition as an adult, it won’t change someone’s height; and one study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, suggested that despite strength and muscle decreasing, they may still have a small advantage over the average cis women.
This is where the controversy comes from. Is it “fair” for someone who went through male puberty to be able to play at the elite level with women? Despite the recent coverage, this is not a particularly new issue. In elite sports, many sporting bodies already have codes in place that allow trans women to play if their testosterone level is below 5–10 nanomoles per litre for a number of months.
But in almost all sports, height or a slight strength advantage are not what gives you the leg-up over competitors. The AFL has called the ideas that trans women will “dominate” on the field, or cause a safety concern to their cis teammates, as “myths”.
“Sporting ability is more than just hormones,” they write in their Gender Diversity Policy. “Like other players, gender diverse players are all individuals and may have a range of physical abilities, fitness, skill levels and different strengths and weaknesses in the multi-skilled game of Australian football.
“For example, a cisgender or transgender woman may be taller and/or stronger than other women competitors but may also be slower and/or less agile.”
The results at the Olympics and other major sporting events back this up. For the very few trans women who have competed in sport at the elite level, there’s been no domination over cis women. Trans women may occasionally win, but they have never broken a world record, or won an Olympic event. If anything, trans women seem very much on an even playing field with their cis counterparts.
It’s also worth pointing out that the cohort of trans girls who transitioned before going through male puberty is only going to increase as more transgender people are able to transition earlier. For example, in 2017 in Australia, a law was overturned in the courts that had required all under 18 trans youth to go to court to be able to access puberty blockers or hormones from their doctor. Although there’s still a long way to go, increased access to gender affirming care for kids means that the issue itself is very likely to get smaller over time.
But, of course, the transphobes are doing everything they can to prevent that last paragraph from being true. They’re fighting to make it impossible for anyone to transition, and they’re starting with children. They don’t want fairness, and they don’t care about the wellbeing of trans people; they just want them to stop existing. They also, as I said, neither know nor care why women’s sports are separated from men’s sports:
This idea that trans women are naturally better at sport than cis women comes back to the impression that men have an innate advantage over women in every sport, which is not true either. Although we’ve mentioned that men are on average taller and stronger than women, at very long distances in ultra-running, research has shown that women start to outcompete men. This seems to be because women are metabolically better suited for endurance. Then there’s sports like figure skating, which became segregated in 1905 after British woman Madge Syers entered what had previously been an all-male World Championships and won silver.
Cis men do have an advantage in some areas, but not in others. I’m sure there are people who believe that men have a “biological advantage” when it comes to marksmanship, for example, but I would hope that none of my regular readers think that. One big reason many competitions are segregated like this, other than protecting men’s egos, is that due to the way history has played out, there are fewer women who go into professional athletics. Having a smaller pool from which to draw talent means that you will have fewer people capable of performing at the very peak. There are other reasons, which are covered by the videos I linked above, but the reality is that the whole situation is a lot more complicated than just “man stronk, woman weak”.
And when it comes to student sports, as the Cosmos article mentions, the point is rarely just to see who’s best. This may come as a shock to some members of the sport-poisoned society of the United States, but when it comes to children, sports don’t exist to train kids for professional leagues. Most of the time, it’s far more about practicing teamwork, getting exercise, building self-confidence, and things like that. If losing a sporting event, as a student, means that you can’t afford to live, or to keep getting your education, something in society has gone very, very wrong.
I don’t know whether this move by the Biden Administration will have whatever political benefits he’s hoping for. As some of the people I follow on Twitter have mentioned, trans people are both a tiny minority, and generally not very popular in USian politics. It’s possible that this will swing some voters in Biden’s favor, and this kind of casual discrimination is better than the wholesale extermination that the GOP is pursuing. Even so, it won’t slake the conservative thirst for blood. You can argue until the cows come home about how this is some sort of cunning ploy, but at the end of the day, it’s still a betrayal. This will directly harm student athletes of all ages, and it will encourage the bigots to redouble their efforts to hurt all trans people. This feels like the trans community is being used as a political pawn by someone who truly does not care of that pawn ends up being sacrificed.
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When we struggled against totalitarian governments in the past, we had to be reasonable and compromise and so Biden felt obliged to take a half-totalitarian position.
It’s just like taking a reasonable view of Easter means a compromise where we all agree that Jesus was half-resurrected into a zombie.
So we are obviously a Zombie Nation. Why is this so hard to accept?
Also, Jonathan Swift notes it would be reasonable for us all to fight Irish starvation by eating babies.
So reasonable. But is it sincere?
I’m genuinely curious what they had in mind when they wrote this part. The only “educational objective” I can think of that’s achieved by banning trans athletes is teaching that the powers that be can dictate there are only and forever two immutable sexes and never the twain shall cross the borders they’ve arbitrarily defined. Also known as the “We’re the boss and don’t you forget it” Rule.