As a kid, I loved football and I played all the time with the boys in my neighborhood. But when everyone else got to join pee wee leagues, there was a problem: I was the wrong gender. At the time, it was so hard to understand because I was bigger than most of the boys in my grade, yet was told that I would get hurt if I played football with them. It wasn’t until I was an adult I realized how illogical this thinking is. The risk of getting hurt is inherent in all sports. I simply wasn’t a boy and, at the time, there were no football leagues for girls.
Sadly, all these years later, this same nonsense is used to keep transgender people from competing in sports from Little League to the NCAA and beyond.
Transgender athletes are especially ostracized because sports are deeply gendered. When an athlete is joining a team, they are almost always required to disclose their gender before they are allowed to compete. While this may seem like no big deal to most, it is a huge barrier for many young athletes.
To tell a young transgender girl or boy that they cannot play with their gender is outrageous. It is an egregious overstep by any school, city, or state to deny someone’s gender identity. It is state-sanctioned gender policing coupled with fear mongering that trans athletes (specifically transwomen) will jeopardize the safety of their cisgender peers and take over the underpaid and underfunded world that is women’s sports.
Don’t transgender athletes have a clear advantage against ciswomen?
Not necessarily, because the idea that there is an even playing field even without trans athletes is false.
Having an inherent advantage has never barred someone from playing sports. Athletes with abnormally long arms or legs, better than average sight, double jointed, slower lactic acid production, or even an overall bigger body size have distinct advantages in their sports. This is the nature of elite sports.
Britney Griner had a clear advantage in high school basketball at 6’5”. Should she have been banned because she was taller than other players? No.
Michael Phelps has 28 Olympic medals. He also has an unusually-wide wingspan and produces lower-than-average levels of lactic acid, which allows his muscles to recover more quickly than other athletes. He also has short legs, an extra long torso, and double jointed ankles—all of which are advantages in swimming. Did he win fairly despite this? Yes.
This same arguments were used by people who were against desegregating professional sports. Jackie Robinson, for example, was famously accused of having an unfair advantage by a commentator who claimed Black athletes naturally had “larger heel bones” than their white peers.
What is to stop any man from dressing as a woman and competing in women’s sports?
First of all, there’s a talent gap. The average man can’t compete with a woman who is top in her sport. This kind of thinking is pure misogyny.
Put any weekend tennis player on the court with Serena Williams and I’ve got my money on Serena.
Pull a male jogger off of the Lake Shore Path to race Laura Muir and he wouldn’t even see her finish. Top female athletes are smashing male records.
Second, transphobia runs deep. Trans athletes are not celebrated—they are bullied. MMA fighter Fallon Fox was dehumanized, verbally attacked, and the victim of blatant lies. No one would enthusiastically sign up for that kind of abuse.
Third, and this is deeply important: transgender women are not men in dresses. The very nature of this question equates the two and it is offensive. Also, it’s important to note that most sports have guidelines for transgender athletes at the highest levels. Adults normally need to have undergone at least two years of hormone therapy before they even become eligible to compete. That means a transwoman who is using estrogen and antiandrogens will likely have less natural testosterone than the average ciswomen. That is NOT an advantage.
This year, as more and more states across the country are voting on bans against transgender athletes, it’s more important than ever to take a stand. These bans specifically target transgender girls and women, and are quickly becoming an excuse for people to push transphobic rhetoric. Queer athletes deserve to compete without being subject to homophobia and/or transphobia. And schools have a responsibility to ensure that queer youth have the same access to sports as their peers.
Good sportsmanship is at the center of all sports. Kids are encouraged to play sports so they can learn how to work well with others. And calls for “sportsmanship” are used to help us develop a sense of fairness and respect for others. This should begin with allowing all people to have equal access to sports with the gender with which they identify.