The number of people who comprise the trans community is small. The number of them who compete in competitive sports and athletics is even more minuscule. And the number of them who are competing at the highest levels has to be tiny. And yet, the last group has become the focus of intense attention by social conservatives who seem to see this issue as an indicator of the end of civilization as we know it.
Nathan J. Robinson takes a long and close look at why this might be so. He says that the effort to institute laws and rules to prevent trans women from taking part as women in sports ignores the vast harm done to all the other members of the trans community in every aspect of their lives. He examines the arguments put forward and says that their focus on only women’s sports is significant.
Note that if you believe in full trans acceptance, the debate doesn’t even arise. If trans women are women, then of course they should get to compete in women’s sports. Mitchell and Soule misgender trans people repeatedly, calling those they are competing against “boys” who want to dominate “girls.” Mitchell and Soule are not just arguing that trans women are on average better physically equipped than cisgender women. They are arguing that trans women should properly be seen as Boys who are invading a space in which they do not belong. (This makes Mitchell and Soule budding TERFs.) Those who argue against letting trans women play women’s sports, then, see themselves as making (in Soule’s phrase) a simple “common sense” point about the correlation between physical ability and chromosomal sex, but they are also rejecting trans people’s self-identifications.
These sorts of arguments tend to claim to be driven not by anti-trans bigotry, but by faith in Scientific Fact. Like Ben Shapiro, the people who make these arguments insist that Science tells us that There Are Men And There Are Women, and they are physically different, and in sports we see the absurd results of denying Biological Fact, which is that you allow Men (by which they mean transgender women) to enter the women’s leagues and crush their competitors. Those arguing against trans inclusion in women’s sports insist that they are not transphobic, in that they do not hate or fear trans people, but they do believe that Reality and Science mean we must exclude trans people for egalitarian and feminist reasons.
In fact, when you actually think beyond Shapiroesque “there are men, there are women, men big, women little, that’s all I need to know about anything” reasoning, you can see that the position of the anti-trans crowd is not actually well-reasoned. They like to bring up Fallon Fox, but they don’t bring up Mack Beggs, a trans man (i.e. transitioned after being assigned female at birth) who dominated Texas state wrestling after being forced (against his will) to compete in the girls’ division. Beggs had a perfect 56-0 record as a high school junior, and a parent even sued to prohibit him from competing because he had been taking testosterone injections as part of the transition process.
Beggs is a man. That is how he sees himself, and how others see him. But the “chromosomes are everything” crowd forces him to compete as a woman. Both Beggs and his female competitors may want to see Beggs allowed to compete in the league of his choice, but the “protect women” crowd, who believe in segregating sports based solely on genders assigned at birth, won’t let him. As a result, Beggs (a man) dominated female wrestling. If, as they say they are, the anti-trans activists are concerned with protecting women from having to fight men, why do they not mention this case? It’s obvious why not: because it complicates their narrative. They would like to make the question of trans inclusion in sports simply a matter of men “pretending” to be women in order to achieve athletic advantages.
I found Robinson’s conclusion particularly well put.
I am not convinced that those opposing trans women’s presence in women’s sports are actually interested in thinking hard about ways to create the fairest competitions. I think they just don’t think trans women are women, and assume they’re just sneaky Men trying to take advantage, the same way they assume trans women are just Men who want to sneak into bathrooms to commit sex crimes. As with many public debates about trans issues, those who profess themselves to have Sincere Concern frequently seem to have an underlying assumption that trans people are malicious liars trying to obtain unfair advantages, rather than human beings trying to live normal lives in a world of horrible bigotry. Trans female athletes are seen as “boys” wanting to win as many awards as possible, rather than girls whose reason for wanting to be on the girls’ team is that they want to live the life of an ordinary girl. The social costs to trans people of the proposed policies are never discussed. Chelsea Mitchell cares a lot about getting to win all the prizes rather than just a lot of them, but she doesn’t seem to care about what life is like for a trans woman athlete forced to be treated as a man (which she is not). Republicans are deeply concerned about protecting cis women, but couldn’t care less if their efforts to do so end up having horrible effects for trans women. (See also: the bans on gender reparative therapy for youths.) Until we begin these discussions by caring about the experiences of everyone involved, rather than just a subset, it will be impossible to have a discourse on gender and sports that is rational and free from bigotry.
It is a long read but worth it.