Men who consider themselves women should have the same rights and opportunities to compete in sports as men who consider themselves men and women who consider themselves women. But because athletic competitions are physical tests, men who consider themselves women should nonetheless compete as what they physically are, and not as what they think they are.
Soon-to-be Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson has been much ridiculed, especially by folks at my end of the political spectrum, for claiming she cannot define what it means to be a woman. But the ridicule is not altogether justified. The controversy over whether men who consider themselves women can compete in women’s sports shows the difficulties of defining gender, at least according to advocates of the rights of those who consider themselves transgendered and choose to become transsexuals.
Transgendered people are those who consider themselves other than their sexes at birth—biological males, for example, who consider themselves females. Advocates for the rights of the transgendered say you are what you say you are, regardless of your physical attributes. Transsexuals are those who undergo medical and surgical treatments to help alter their physical bodies to be consistent with their self-identifications.
People should have the right to call themselves what they want, as long as their choices hurt nobody else. And people may undergo whatever medical procedures they choose, as long as nobody else is hurt. To regulate choices which hurt nobody would require an undesirable strengthening of the government. But when one’s choices hurt others, those choices must be limited and regulated by whichever authorities are appropriate under the circumstances.
For example, various boards governing athletic contests—the NCAA, for example, and the International Olympics Committee—have said that transgender (or trans) women–men who say they’re women–may compete as women against cisgender (cis) women–born women who also claim to be women–provided they become transsexual as well by taking testosterone suppressors to reduce the physical strength they would otherwise have. To do so, say the athletic governing boards, will eliminate the otherwise unfair advantage they would have over cis women.
But not really. The confusion over this matter is best illustrated in an editorial by Diana Nyad in the Washington Post in which she defends Lia Thomas’s competition in women’s sports. Diana Nyad is the first and, to date, only person to swim unaided from Cuba to the United States. Lia Thomas competed as a man against other men in swim meets for the University of Pennsylvania before competing as a woman against other women—and racking up far more wins as a woman than as a man.
“To be clear,” writes Diana Nyad, “trans women are women. Full stop.” But she goes on to say that, “We must also be clear that trans women who have gone through male puberty acquire physical advantages female puberty does not provide: More red blood cells store and use oxygen more efficiently. Wider shoulders mean a leverage advantage, and narrower hips make for more efficient movement dynamics. Longer legs and arms, bigger hands and feet, can more easily handle a ball or cover a field.”
In other words, men who say they’re women, even if they seek to physically alter their bodies, nonetheless retain many of the physical advantages that cis men have over cis women on the playing field or in the swimming pool. And that’s what makes athletic competition between trans women with men’s bodies and cis women with women’s bodies inherently unfair. The inherent physical advantages of the trans women over the cis women deprive the latter of the opportunities for recognition, trophies, scholarships, and other benefits that come with athletic victories. In fact, the reason why we have athletic competitions for women separate and apart from those for men is precisely because if women must compete with men, women will almost invariably lose. Separate events, in this case, create more equal opportunities for victories and attendant benefits for women. Allowing trans women to compete against cis women defeats the entire purpose of women’s sports in the first place.
So how can both trans women and cis women be allowed to compete? Given that athletic competitions are physical contests, and given that transsexual procedures fail to eliminate the physical advantages that come with the male sex, the assignment of people to teams and contests should be based on their physical sexes, and not on their psychological self-identifications. People should be allowed to identify themselves as whatever they want to be—but not to the point where their self-identification takes away the rights of others. If one’s physically a man, one competes as a man against other men. Full stop.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.