A Response to the Article on Transgender Athletes


The headlines of today are often ripe with controversy. Every story in the news sparks discussion and debate. Recently, that debate has been about the right of transwomen to compete in women’s sporting events. The story of Lia Thomas, a trans woman who recently won an event at the NCAA Division 1 swimming finals, has caused quite a scandal. This controversy hits close to home for me. I am a friend and family member of many trans women. These women are strong and hard-working, and they want an opportunity to compete in sports, as anyone else would. Unfortunately, many people have taken this debate as an opportunity to spread transphobia and make the world more difficult for trans women. 

The start of this discussion is the question of the validity of trans as an identity.  Many groups, like the Heritage Institute, claim those who identify as trans are simply “confused.” They say that “a person either is or is not a man, regardless of what anyone—including that person—happens to believe.” These beliefs are prevalent in our society, especially among trans exclusionists. In reality, science has long been on the side of trans people. According to the Cleveland Clinic, “The male and female brain have structural differences … When we look at the transgender brain, we see that the brain resembles the gender that the person identifies as.” This study and other research into the validity of trans people have consistently affirmed their identity. 

Trans women, who are just as much women as their cis counterparts, deserve to compete in sports. For so long, our society has excluded many people from sports. For example, we often see intersex people banned from competitions. Intersex people do not fit into the sex binary of male/female, whether because of chromosomal, hormonal, or physical differences. They are consistently cut off from competitive sports, even if they identify and were raised as a binary sex. Intersex and trans women often get banned from competitions due to high testosterone levels, which also sometimes occurs in cis women. The only reason a woman should be banned because of high testosterone is if her body did not naturally produce the testosterone – that is to say, it came from steroids. 

An argument often made against trans women’s right to compete in sports is that they have an unfair biological advantage. People claim that because trans women, like Lia Thomas, went through puberty as boys, they must inherently do better in sports. Thomas’ own controversial win seems to discredit this theory. She won the 500-yard freestyle with a time of 4:33.24. That time sounds incredibly impressive, which it is; however, Thomas did not break any records. In fact, her time was 9 seconds slower than the record for this event. Famous American swimmer Katie Ledecky, a cis woman, holds the record. Thomas also competed in multiple other events at the NCAA Division 1 finals but did not win. Thomas is an incredible swimmer, but her abilities do not exceed those of cis women. Skills vary between trans and cis women, as they vary between any groups of people. According to Dr. Joshua D. Safer, a respected doctor of transgender medicine and surgery, “A person’s genetic make-up and internal and external reproductive anatomy are not useful indicators of athletic performance.” A study done by Joanna Harper, a trans scientist and athlete, showed that “[transgender women] have no advantage over non-transgender women.” This study, and many like it, show that trans women do not have an inherent advantage in sports. But even if they did, do biological advantages exclude somebody from a competition? 

Opponents of trans rights widely believe that a biological advantage means that someone should not be allowed to compete. This assumption does not hold up when one looks at current top-level athletes. To stay in the realm of swimming, look at Michael Phelps. His body produces half the amount of lactic acid as an average athlete; he has double-jointed ankles that make his kicks stronger; he has a disproportionately large wingspan. All of these are biological differences between him and other athletes. If advocates against trans people in sports stayed true to their position on advantages, then they would not allow Phelps to compete. But, this does not happen; why? Because Phelps, a cis man, has more privilege in our society than trans women do. 

An important thing to look at is the people who are advocating against trans inclusion. Many are women who feel they are treated unfairly in their own sports. An ABC News article interviewed a cisgender track athlete named Chelsea Mitchell. She said, “I believe that [losing to trans women] was unfair for me and my other competitors.” This is a very logical thought for hard-working cis athletes to have. The pressure to do well at competitions and the disappointment of losing can fuel hurt feelings in many people. Mitchell later beat one of the trans athletes she had previously lost to and now goes to the college of William & Mary on a track scholarship. The two trans women who had once beaten Mitchell were not offered any track scholarships. Mitchell is now a part of a lawsuit against the participation of trans women in women’s sports. This is just one lone situation where a cis athlete has taken action, despite not losing any major opportunities to a trans athlete. However, we can see these inconsistencies in many anti-trans reasoning. Many scientific arguments have faulty logic, and many people who make claims do not have evidence. In reality, trans women do not dominate competitions the way these people would have you believe. 

Now that we have established the validity and importance of trans rights, we must examine how our language can hurt trans people. In the Herd article, “Should Transgender Athletes be Allowed to Compete in Sports?” author Evan Mills discusses trans women’s place in sports. By repeatedly describing Lia Thomas as “a biological man” Mills unknowingly harmed the trans community. Words like “biological man” can reinforce harmful ideas that trans women are not real women. Writers, especially those who share their work with the public, must be aware of the consequences their words can have. As a student at Kennebunk High School, I have witnessed the bigotry that can take place here. We as a community must work harder to include and support our lgbtq+ peers.


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