Op-Ed: Transgender athletes should compete with their gender, not sex


Photo credit: Sydney Tilles

Depicted is the flag representing transgender pride with an athlete in the middle. There was no way to tell whether the athlete was male or female to show that no matter the gender, anyone can play sports. (Graphic illustration by Sydney Tilles)

By Sydney Tilles, Senior Reporter

Sporting leagues are split into male and female divisions to create a fair game, but the leagues have been determined on biological sex, not gender identity. However, people are pondering the debate of who, from a purely athletic standpoint, should be considered male and female.

The debate of whether transgender people should compete with their assigned sex or the gender they identify with is a longstanding argument. It is crucial to keep the major leagues fair and just. However, it’s important to consider someone’s identity rather than just their assigned sex.

So should people prioritize gender or anatomy? 

The foundation that makes the sports leagues credible is fairness. Nonetheless, what’s considered fair is subjective. If sporting leagues prioritized gender over sex, would their credibility be jeopardized?

Some argue that without feminizing hormones having transgender women compete with cisgender women would be unfair since trans women have a biological advantage over cisgender women. Biological men have hormone levels that are 10 to 15 times the amount of biological women, which results in larger muscles, denser bones and higher fractions of lean body mass. This information indicates that trans women have athletic advantages since, on average, biological men run faster, lift more weight and throw harder and farther than biological women. 

In spite of this, I believe that all people should be able to compete with the gender they identify no matter their anatomy. Everybody deserves to feel accepted and comfortable. As frustrating as it may seem that trans women would have a biological advantage, life isn’t fair — it most certainly never has been, and will most likely never be. Not everyone is created equal, whether it’s because of gender or any other aspect of someone’s identity; life will not be on an equal playing field. Women are born with different heights, weights, metabolisms and health issues. For example, taller people on average run faster than their shorter counterparts, but no one can change someone’s height. Therefore, since there will always have an advantage that certain people have over others, trans women should be allowed to compete with other women.

If the fight against allowing trans women to compete with cisgender women is based on fairness, then there are ways to find balance. Some treatments called feminizing hormones to block the male sex hormones and cause the body to develop feminine features. 

Taking these hormones would counteract the advantage that trans women would have over biological females. A study was done by the British Journal of Sports Medicine to test the effect of gender-affirming hormones on transgender athletes. After one year on hormones, the average trans woman still had an advantage over cisgender women. After two years on hormones, they were fairly equal when it came to strength, but still 12% faster. This research indicates that if trans women were on hormones, the gap between trans women and biological women would somewhat close. Therefore, if trans women are on these hormones, then there is no reason why they shouldn’t be able to compete with other women. 

For trans men, there are masculinizing hormones. Taking these hormones would cause their period to stop, their voice to deepen and facial and body hair to grow. Their bodies would also build more muscle and strength by taking testosterone and would suppress the female characteristics. So if trans men wanted to compete with biological men, then taking these hormones would be a great option. 

Although on average, men have an advantage over women, trans people should not be penalized for being born into a body that they do not identify with. Even if athletes competed with their own sex, that would not eliminate the inequality. There are still so many uncontrollable variables that play into sports, but that is what makes it interesting. If everyone were equal, then no one would win, and then what would be the point of professional sports?

According to Tinbete Ermyas and Kira Wakem on NPR, “the body of a marathon runner is extremely different from the body of a shot put champion, and a trans woman athlete may have some advantage on the basketball field because of her height but would be at a disadvantage in gymnastics. So it’s complicated.”

Making transgender athletes compete with people they don’t identify with could make them feel misrepresented and unfairly treated, and the sports system would still be flawed. Therefore, the impact of having trans people compete with who they identify with would outweigh the damage that was done. No matter who you are, you should have the right to be with the people you identify with. Just because you were labeled when you were born doesn’t mean you should have to live by that label forever.