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Trans Women Competing against Cis Women in Sports

Man and Woman in Arm Wrestling Pose

Lauren Jeska,  UK running champion for three years in a row, argued last year with head of UK Athletics, Ralph Knibbs, over failure to disclose being transgender and provide test samples to determine requisite levels to participate as a woman.

Furious over this perceived indignity, Lauren told her therapist that she fantasized about a bloodbath at UK Athletics and killing everyone there.

With two kitchen knives Jeska stabbed Knibbs in the head and face, as though, one witness described, “she was trying to skewer meat.”

Lauren attacked two other men, and was subdued by Knibbs’ colleagues, who also performed first aid to save his life. Jeska won’t be running anywhere for the next 18 years.

Thankfully, most transgender athletes don’t go on murderous rampages to state their claim—they push for fair regulations and laws that allow them the right to compete.

But what is fair?

New Zealand transwoman Laurel Hubbard is the first transgender New Zealand woman competing in this month’s Australian International weightlifting competition. Experts say she is likely to compete at the Commonwealth Games. This does not sit well with all of her cis competitors.

Some experts point out that trans women don’t have a competitive edge on cis women because of hormone therapy, while others draw attention to differences in size, height, bone density and thickness, and muscle mass.

To further complicate matters, female-to-male trans man Mack Breggs recently won a Texas wrestling championship—competing with cis women because of his birth anatomy.

Critics point out that athletes are not allowed to take steroids or drugs to enhance performance, and Breggs’ hormone treatments were just that. Breggs himself says he wanted to wrestle men, but is still legally recognized as female. It’s not fair to be left out altogether just because no one knows where to put him.

Sports is one of the trickiest areas for transgender human rights. On the one hand, excluding transgender folks from sports isn’t fair. On the other, critics  have a point that people assigned at birth as male are not biologically female, even with surgery and hormone treatment, and may have advantages against cis women. Is it fair to trans people to be unfair to cis people?

Are doctors, coaches, and athletic judges transphobic for addressing the complexities of this issue? Was it transphobic to have Breggs compete with women, or would it have been transphobic to place him with men, who naturally have a biological advantage over people born female?

Transwomen have been fighting for rights in sports for a long time. Yet some like tennis icon Renée Richards later changed their mind, admitting that markers like hand and foot size or bone density make their competing unfair to cis women.

Personal attacks and mudslinging  are transphobic, for sure, but professional athletics for all players is filled with the same nasty cutthroat drama as politics or beauty pageants. Vitriol is hate, but it’s not transphobic to hold an evidence-based opinion on either side of this debate.

The truth is, we don’t yet know how to handle this situation.

Some have suggested the answer is to have men’s, women’s, and transgender teams, and there will surely be debates on whether this is segregating or in the best interest of all athletes.

Other considerations have included changing professional sports from gender based to size and weight or muscle mass.

It’s a complicated issue with valid points coming from many perspectives, and I don’t think we have the right answers yet. We will continue to make do until all the facts and observations are in.

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