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Some Thoughts on Transgender Athletes Inspired by a Conversation with a Tamil Student
An overwhelming amount of research has shown that trans women have higher levels of testosterone - a hormone which helps athletic performance and physical ability - giving them an unfair advantage when competing with cisgender female athletes.
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I don’t know where to begin to explain my frustration towards an increasing amount of trans women athletes imposing their physical dominance over cisgender women. Perhaps this is why I detest the insanity of ill-informed opinions asserted by certain Tamil folks. 

Before I tackle this proposition, I want to make clear that I am not a discriminatory person and certainly not transphobic. However, the idea that one is labelled as transphobic because one’s views don’t always align with the greater trans community is absurd. Unfortunately, this is the agenda of many sports fans – one of whom I had the displeasure of speaking to on the bus as I returned from a “Sport in Canada” presentation led by Scott Russell, CBC sportswriter and broadcaster.

Our discussion was interminable, and after an hour of debate it was growing late so we left before settling on good terms. However, these thoughts are still reverberating in my head. 

I explained to him that if there was a trans woman (male to female) athlete competing with women in mixed martial arts (MMA), she would have an unfair advantage. It is for this reason that I think they should not be allowed to compete with cisgender women. 

He jumped on me as if I was a mendacious sports fanatic, claiming that I was transphobic. He argued that (1) gender doesn’t matter in sports – gender is socially constructed; (2) transgender women deserve equal treatment and respect to other types of women; (3) sport should be a social phenomenon, not scientific.

I responded by stating that gender does matter in sports, for if it doesn’t then the idea of competition diminishes at a rate faster than the rate at which a high level of competition is created. Let me explain further.

First and foremost, one must understand that there is a salient difference between a trans woman (male to female) competing in female sports and a trans man (female to male) competing in male sports. An overwhelming amount of research has shown that trans women have higher levels of testosterone – a hormone that helps athletic performance and physical ability, giving them an unfair advantage when competing with cisgender female athletes. 

Consider Fallon Fox, the first openly transgender athlete in MMA history. She appeared to impose her physical dominance upon cisgender women. She wasn’t simply winning these fights – she was overpowering these women. Fallon Fox has higher bone density, larger lung capacity, and larger fists – all of which are critical factors that help a competitor win fights. Joe Rogan, an MMA commentator, expressed his disapproval for Fallon Fox to fight with cisgender women by saying,

“Fight guys, yes. She has to fight guys. First of all, she’s not really a she. She’s a transgender, post-op person. The operation doesn’t shave down your bone density. It doesn’t change. You look at a man’s hands and you look at a women’s hands and they’re built different. They’re just thicker, they’re stronger, your wrists are thicker, your elbows are thicker, your joints are thicker. Just the mechanical function of punching, a man can do it much harder than a woman can, period.”

I agree wholeheartedly with Rogan. It’s hard to turn against scientific evidence and facts, especially when it has been well documented countless times. Despite this, there are sports organizations that are sensitive to the controversy surrounding transgender athletes.  

For example, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) proposed to amend a rule that requires a trans woman athlete to undergo hormone therapy and prove that the total level of male testosterone in their blood is below 10 nanomols per litre for at least a year prior to competing. While this new rule is what is commonly endorsed by scientific, social and legal experts, there has been very little attention from academics on the idea that some effects of testosterone cannot be reversed (even with hormone therapy) such as height and lung capacity. 

It worries me when people such as the Tamil guy on the bus deny physiological differences between men and women that are significant in physical sports as outlined above. Though there are more similarities than differences between men and women, the variance in physical ability is significant

This variance is manifested in the following example.  Let’s say that in the Tamil community we take the 10 best male basketball players and the 10 best female basketball players. Out of a pool of these 20 athletes, we choose the top 10 basketball players. Almost invariably, the top 10 will be predominantly men.

Why is that? Because this experiment conforms to scientific evidence that men have an upper hand in physical and biological characteristics compared to women, an important indicator for success in physical sports. We can do this experiment in almost every physical sport and the outcome would produce similar results. 

Meanwhile, trans men do not have an advantage because their testosterone levels, bone density, genetic level and muscle mass do not compare to men. They are actually at a disadvantage, and it’s for this reason that we don’t see many successful transgender male athletes in professional sports. The IOC agrees, which is why they no longer require a transgender male athlete to undergo sex reassignment surgery and have the ability to compete in men’s competition without any restriction. 

I hope that the integrity of competitive sports remains strong. We cannot afford to lose the beauty of sports competition to political correctness or radical leftists who are now infiltrating the sports entertainment business. I want to see Tamil women succeed and become the best possible athletes. In order for that to happen, we can’t have trans women athletes who have an unfair advantage take away from the potential and stardom of cisgender women.

The Tamil guy I spoke to on the bus left without a detailed explanation from me. Therefore, I’ve dedicated this article to him.  

Created By
Vinu Selvaratnam
Sports Researcher @ UWaterloo
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