I try to find other things to write about. Really. But terrible arguments are a pet peeve of mine, and nowhere lately are there more terrible arguments than for allowing trans women (a.k.a. persons who have benefited from athletic performance enhancements granted by male puberty) to compete in women’s sports.
One terrible argument is that we don’t have women’s sports because male and female bodies are inherently different, conferring athletic advantages to each sex that the other can’t hope to match. No, you terrible transphobe! We have women’s sports for inclusion, so every person can compete in the sport corresponding to their self-concept of gender. Because way back in the 1900s, we only let men run against men because they all like trucks and football and don’t wear makeup and dresses, I guess, and we had to come up with races for the makeup and dresses runners.
When anti-trans groups harp on the issue of fairness, they are framing the issue in a misleading way. We need to be asking, fair to whom? When we think about fairness we should think about justice, which requires centering the most marginalized people in the room—and that is transgender women and girls. It is that group that we should be most concerned about including, rather than making rules at their expense.The Nation: Joe Biden Has Betrayed Trans Student Athletes
Of course! When we’re talking about creating an competition where athletes are matched based on equivalent physical capabilities, naturally our first consideration should be reparations for the historical injustices having nothing to do with athletics. Whatever we have to do to escape the shackles of plain-meaning words like “fair” or “man” or “woman.”
This author is engaging in an rhetorical tactic I call The Oppression Olympics. It goes like this: since trans people win the gold medal for being the most murdered abused oppressed targeted vilified people in all human history, we have to abandon all critical thinking and do whatever they say. Anything less and you’re an evil transphobe who wants to make little trans girls cry. It’s rhetorical hostage taking—”do as we say, or the trans kid gets it!”
By the way, when confronted with “trans women are x times more like to be victims,” a good follow-up question is, “victimized by whom, other women?” If they take the bait and note that it’s overwhelmingly men, you can counter, “oh, so men and women are different.” Then note how it’s never on men to change, it’s never on men to accept gender-nonconforming men1 in their locker rooms and sports, it’s always a given that men are horrific monsters who abuse and murder gender-nonconforming men, so we have no choice but to force them into the spaces we made to protect women from those evil, vicious, incurable men.
I’ve already pushed back on the inclusion argument by noting that since we have sports for both kinds of human bodies, isn’t everyone already included? If the trans girl wants to race, there’s a race for her and everybody else with a male body.
Then I found a fascinating parenthetical tucked away in another piece by the same author, which is about how swimming became so transphobic (tldr; because swimming pools were racially segregated and accessible only to those of higher class, so, of course, swimming hates trans people, duh) following the inclusion of a person who formerly swam (not so well) on the men’s team, then transitioned and won a D-1 title on the woman’s team, Lia Thomas.
It was hard not to see World Aquatics’ new policy as a direct response to Thomas’s success in the sport—according to the website Swimcloud, Thomas was ranked 32nd among women college swimmers in the United States for the 2021–22 season and was the first openly transgender swimmer to win an NCAA D-1 National Championship—particularly since she wasn’t even the first trans woman to compete in NCAA swimming. (In 2019, Natalie Fahey came out as trans but continued to swim for the men’s team. She competed in one women’s meet but entered as an exhibition swimmer.)The Nation: How Women’s Swimming Got So Transphobic
Wait, what? The argument has been that the trans woman athlete must be allowed on the women’s team, because that’s consistent with her gender identity. Now, they tell me that a trans woman athlete in 2019 swam on the men’s team—the team inconsistent with her gender identity?
I guess it’s all about equality, but the trans athlete gets to be more equal than others. While men and women are restricted to sports of their own sex, the trans athlete gets to choose whichever one feels right.
They can’t ever acknowledge that males and females are fundamentally different, and sex segregation of sports based on those differences to provide fair competition is no more offensive than weight classes in combat sports are to the small skinny kid and the tall beefy kid. Because that thwarts the conflating of sex (immutable physical characteristic) with gender (malleable personality trait) necessary to the goal of eradicating all sex segregation.
But they could at least have better arguments. Do Democrats really think they can convince voters—especially parents who see an until-last-year boy handily beating the daughters they chauffeured to a million practices—with an appeal to justice for the trans women who largely are assaulted by intimate partners? “It’s only fair that she got the scholarship and not your daughter, Mr. Jones, and you’re a horrible transphobe for even bringing it up. Don’t you know trans women are eleventy times more likely to be murdered?” Good luck with that.
The author even tried the hack Michael Phelps argument to argue for inclusion over fairness. That’s the one that tries to counter the fact that at every age and level, male bodies are faster and stronger, something we’ve all known since grade school recess. It goes something like this: so what that, say, Hannah Mouncey used to be a 6’2″ 220lb man, but now plays against women, so what that male puberty gave her thicker bones, more red blood cells, greater lung capacity, more muscle mass, smaller arm and leg joint angles, wider hands and feet, and so on. She’s just a special athlete like Michael Phelps, whose body produces less lactic acid, has wider hands and feet, has bigger lungs, a longer back, dolphin skin, gills, etc.
The counter here is to go along. Yes, Michael Phelps was a special athlete. Now, let’s suppose that about half the athletes were just like him, more or less, and the other half had no way to ever physically match the Phelpsians, so we made an entire separate competition for non-Phelpsians, but then one day, a Phelpsian says he really identifies as a non-Phelpsian and wants to swim in that competition. Do we let him?
The miracle of Michael Phelps is that he is the combination of the perfect swimming body, total dedication to his sport, and the access to training to perfect it. Somewhere out there is a little boy whose body shares those Phelpsian characteristics, whose parents can afford the access, and he knows that if he dedicates himself to the training, he can meet or exceed what Michael Phelps did.
There is no rich little Phelpsian girl who can dream that. But she can dream of beating Katie Ledecky. Unless some little Phelpsian boy transitions someday and beats Ledecky first.
Another canard is that there is no evidence that trans women athletes have advantages over female athletes, or are dominating any sport. I call this the Fallacy of Low N (the variable used to denote a population sample in statistics). The N in this case is “just how many trans athletes are there?”
Sure, when there are hundreds of thousands of girls and women competing and just a handful of trans girls and women, of course they’re not dominating any sport or showing any statistical advantages, any more than one single strikeout significantly affects a player’s lifetime batting average. Especially when many of them are transitioning following being middling-to-bench-warmer athletes as males, or even middle-aged males.
Yet. It won’t always be that way. When the first trans athlete wins an Olympic gold, it’ll be, “oh, it’s just one sport.” Then, “oh, it’s just one world record.” “Oh, it’s just one medal sweep.” Sports rewards success, and there’s no reason to think trans athletes wouldn’t become more successful over time, given access.
Which is all fine until you recognize that this is a zero-sum game. There are a limited number of those opportunities in sports—a spot on the team, a scholarship, a medal, a career—and every one taken by a trans woman is lost to a woman. That’s counter to the whole reason we created women’s sports in the first place, the very inclusion argument they’re trying to use.
1 And as I’ve posted before, if that gender-nonconforming man can give you 5 points, 16 rebounds, and a lock-down defense every game, men are more than willing to welcome him in the locker room.