Outcry against trans Olympians denies athletes recognition

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Arguing that transgender athletes have an unfair physical advantage sidelines the systemic struggles trans individuals face in day-to-day life—let alone professional sports.

British cisgender female Olympians have recently mobilized to criticize transgender women’s inclusion in women’s professional sports, claiming female athletes assigned male at birth play with an unfair physical advantage due to their biological muscle mass and strength.

With such little scientific research into transgender athletes’ physicality, this irresponsible claim discriminates against already-stigmatized peoples.

“Young boys that have gone through puberty have certain advantages that women will not ever get,” marathon runner Paula Radcliffe told the BBC earlier this week. But transgender athletes aren’t exactly born with a wealth of advantages.

Not only is the sample size of male-to-female athletes small due to pervasive societal obstacles, but the average life expectancy of North American trans women remains around 35 years due to violence.

Until wider research is done, more trans athletes need to be given the opportunity to participate in high-level sports.

After all, most children are raised with an interest in at least one sport. That’s no different for transgender individuals. To deny their ability to participate in sports as members of society denies them respect. We can’t enjoy the full scope of sport without giving trans people, like anybody else, the chance to prove their athletic abilities on a global stage.

And this isn’t cheating. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone changing their gender and facing physical, emotional, systemic, and social discomfort merely to do better in a soccer game or a race.

This also isn’t anything new. In October, U Sports approved a more inclusive mandate for transgender Canadian university athletes.

The athletic body doesn’t require its student athletes to undergo hormone therapy to compete in a gender category. Policies like these set the precedent for other leagues to adapt and be more progressive.

Trans athletes face a number of barriers to enter elite athletics. The recent Olympic outcry also groups all transitioned and transitioning individuals into one category, assuming they all have similar body type “benefits” when some transition before puberty and others choose not to transition hormonally.

It’s irresponsible to make sweeping statements about trans bodies when the transgender experience is so nuanced and diverse. It perpetuates judgment and elitism.

Athletes are role models. They motivate and inspire younger people. It’s important for youth questioning their gender identities or considering transitioning to look at a screen and see people and bodies they can relate to.

Those who play sports are uniquely talented and successful—and that includes transgender athletes. They should be celebrated as such, not treated as if they’re taking opportunities from others when they’re only creating new ones.

—Journal Editorial Board

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