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Trans women in sports: Inclusive, but unfair?

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Lia Thomas, a transgender female athlete on the University of Pennsylvania women’s swim team, lost to another trans athlete in the 100-meter freestyle. The Yale women’s team’s Iszac Henig, assigned female at birth, won that race. Henig identifies as a trans man who has not yet begun hormone therapy to continue his transition.

Thomas has completed more than two years of testosterone-suppression therapy in her transition from male to female. Thomas’s participation on the women’s team has sparked controversy among some of the other swimmers’ parents, who wrote a letter of disapproval to the NCAA.

The NCAA’s policy regarding transgender students’ participation in sports is that trans women–those transitioning from male to female–must undergo at least a year of hormone therapy to compete in the women’s division.

But researcher Dr. Christina Marie Roberts said it takes two years for trans women’s athletic performance to level out with that of cisgender women. Roberts’ finding was the result of a study she conducted on athletic performance among trans women as they underwent gender-affirming hormone therapy while in the Air Force.

 

SHANNON LONGWORTH: AS A TRANS WOMAN SHATTERING RECORDS ON THE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA WOMEN’S SWIM TEAM…

LIA THOMAS REVIVED THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION ABOUT TRANS ATHLETES.

CYNTHIA MILLEN: “NO MATTER HOW MUCH TESTOSTERONE-SUPPRESSION DRUGS HE TAKES, HE WILL ALWAYS BE A BIOLOGICAL MALE AND HAVE THIS ADVANTAGE.”

LONGWORTH: THIS USA SWIMMING OFFICIAL ACTUALLY QUIT – SAYING THOMAS’S INCLUSION IS UNFAIR.

DO TRANS WOMEN REALLY HAVE AN ATHLETIC ADVANTAGE IN WOMEN’S SPORTS?

THOMAS TRANSITIONED IN 2019, AFTER COMPETING ON THE MEN’S TEAM FOR THREE YEARS.

STUDIES SHOW THAT UNTIL THEY UNDERGO HORMONE THERAPY, TRANS WOMEN HAVE HIGHER TESTOSTERONE AND THEREFORE A CLEAR ATHLETIC ADVANTAGE OVER CIS WOMEN–THAT IS, PEOPLE WHOSE GENDER MATCHES THEIR FEMALE SEX ASSIGNMENT AT BIRTH.

ONCE THEIR HORMONES CHANGE–

LIA THOMAS: “WE EXPECTED I WOULD–MY SPEED AND STRENGTH, ENDURANCE WOULD DROP. AND SIGNIFICANTLY HAVE ADJUSTED FOR THAT.”

LONGWORTH: I SPOKE WITH DR. CHRISTINA MARIE ROBERTS, WHO STUDIED ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE AMONG TRANSWOMEN AS THEY UNDERWENT GENDER AFFIRMING HORMONE THERAPY WHILE IN THE AIR FORCE.

ROBERTS: “AND WE FOUND THAT THE TRANS WOMEN MAINTAINED THEIR PERFORMANCE OVER THEIR FIRST YEAR ON HORMONES, BUT IN THE SECOND YEAR, THEY DECLINED TO THE LEVEL OF THE AVERAGE CIS WOMAN IN THE AIR FORCE.”

LONGWORTH: SO, IN THAT STUDY, IT TOOK 2 YEARS OF HORMONE THERAPY TO LEVEL OUT PERFORMANCE.

BUT UNTIL THIS YEAR, THE NCAA ONLY REQUIRED ONE YEAR OF TESTOSTERONE-SUPPRESSION FOR A TRANS FEMALE TO COMPETE ON A WOMEN’S TEAM.

NOW, THE NCAA’S LEAVING IT UP TO EACH SPORT’S NATIONAL GOVERNING BODY.

ROBERTS: “BASED ON MY RESEARCH, I THINK TWO YEARS ON HORMONAL SUPPRESSION–OF SUPPRESSED TESTOSTERONE–IS PROBABLY A BETTER TARGET OR BETTER DESTINATION.”

YET, ROBERTS SAYS IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO ELIMINATE ALL ADVANTAGES WITH HORMONE THERAPY…PARTICULARLY FOR TRANS WOMEN WHO WENT THROUGH MALE PUBERTY.

ROBERTS: “FOR THOSE PEOPLE, THEY HAVE THE ADVANTAGE OF HAVING GROWN UP EXPOSED TO TESTOSTERONE, SO THEY TEND TO BE TALL WITH NARROW HIPS. SO THAT MIGHT GIVE AN ATHLETIC ADVANTAGE IN SPRINTING AND RUNNING SPORTS.”

LONGWORTH: KEEP IN MIND–SOME OF THE MOST TALENTED CIS FEMALE ATHLETES HAPPEN TO NATURALLY HAVE THOSE FEATURES, AS WELL.

ROBERTS: “SO THERE’S AN ADVANTAGE, BUT IT’S AN ADVANTAGE THAT WE DON’T EXCLUDE PEOPLE FOR.”

LONGWORTH: MANY CRITICS SAY THERE’S A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A CIS WOMAN BEING BORN WITH ANATOMICAL ADVANTAGES  – OPPOSED TO A TRANS-WOMAN WHO WENT THROUGH MALE PUBERTY.

MADISON KENYON: “IT’S EXTREMELY DEFLATING. I’VE EXPERIENCED IT FIVE TIMES, AND EACH TIME I LOST TO A BIOLOGICAL MALE.”

LONGWORTH: DOES SCIENCE SUPPORT THE IDEA THAT TRANS WOMEN HAVE AN UNFAIR ADVANTAGE?

AND, AT THE END OF THE DAY, THE DATA ON TRANS ATHLETES IS LIMITED.

ROBERTS: “THERE’S JUST NOT THAT MANY TRANSGENDER FEMALE DIVISION ONE CLASS–OR WORLD CLASS ATHLETES. THERE ARE JUST NOT THAT MANY OF THEM, SO IT’S REALLY HARD TO DO ANY KIND OF STUDIES.”

LONGWORTH: LIMITED INFORMATION MAKES IT THAT MUCH MORE CHALLENGING TO PROVIDE A BIOLOGICAL ANSWER TO THE SOCIAL PROBLEM OF WHETHER THE PLAYING FIELD CAN EVER TRULY BE LEVEL BETWEEN TRANS AND CIS WOMEN.

WHAT’RE YOUR THOUGHTS?

LET ME KNOW IN THE COMMENTS AND MAKE SURE YOU HIT THE STRAIGHT ARROW BIAS METER.

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Lia Thomas, a transgender female athlete on the University of Pennsylvania women’s swim team, lost to another trans athlete in the 100-meter freestyle. The Yale women’s team’s Iszac Henig, assigned female at birth, won that race. Henig identifies as a trans man who has not yet begun hormone therapy to continue his transition.

Thomas has completed more than two years of testosterone-suppression therapy in her transition from male to female. Thomas’s participation on the women’s team has sparked controversy among some of the other swimmers’ parents, who wrote a letter of disapproval to the NCAA.

The NCAA’s policy regarding transgender students’ participation in sports is that trans women–those transitioning from male to female–must undergo at least a year of hormone therapy to compete in the women’s division.

But researcher Dr. Christina Marie Roberts said it takes two years for trans women’s athletic performance to level out with that of cisgender women. Roberts’ finding was the result of a study she conducted on athletic performance among trans women as they underwent gender-affirming hormone therapy while in the Air Force.

 

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