Yesterday I headlined the story about transgender powerlifter Mary Gregory, who just shattered multiple lifting records, Unfair, Obviously Unfair, Scandalously Unfair. Why Are Athletic Organizations Allowing This? Why Are Women Tolerating It?
Possessed of a keener memory than I, reader Luke G. “pounced,” as the news media always says when Republicans object to Democratic words and conduct that absolutely should be objected to. He wrote in part,
What made you change your mind on this issue? Several years ago you were bad-dogging me in the comments for the views you hold now- you claimed back then that there was no reason [male-to-female transgender athlete] Fallon Fox shouldn’t get to fight in Women’s UFC, because she lives as a female and had transition surgery. According to 2013 Jack, “I don’t believe that males have an unfair advantage at all. Many advantages in physical ability can be made up with skill, and that true of most professional sports.”….I’m just wondering what it was that finally pushed you to flip on this one.
I wrote THAT? Yes, I did. Boy, is it ever inconvenient having over 10,000 searchable posts around to prove your inconsistencies.
In the 2013 post, Renée Richards, Fallon Fox, and Déjà Vu: Transgender Ethics In Sports, and later debating with Luke G., I was pretty adamant that martial arts competitor Fallon Fox had every right to compete as a woman, writing in part,
Back in 1977, the New York Supreme Court ruled that transgendered professional tennis player Renée Richards could not be banned from competing in the U.S. Open women’s tournament after tennis authorities tried to apply a new “must be born female” requirement specifically to keep her out. Yet here we are, countenancing the argument that a transgendered individual can’t compete as a woman, because she’s really “a man without a dick.” The reason the nearly 40 year-old precedent set by Richards in pro tennis seems to be ignored is that fighting, more so than tennis, is still seen a a man’s sport, and one where male secondary sex characteristics like greater lean muscle mass. size and bone density convey obvious competitive advantages. The same objection was made regarding Richards however, because weight-training competitors like Serena Williams, Sloane Stephens and Samantha Stosur weren’t around to make her look like a pathetic wimp…None of the biological arguments against Fox stand up to scrutiny, but the “ick factor” rules here. Allowing a man to have surgery and then win prizes and titles by beating the daylights out of women seems unfair and creepy. Intellectually we can accept the fact that gender reassignment through hormone treatment and physical alteration creates a “real” woman, but for many, the leap to allowing transgendered individual compete in strength and size-dependent sports is a mental bridge too far.
That’s their problem, and the courts are correct: they have no right, nor is it fair, to make it Fallon Fox’s problem, any more than it made sense for the Miss Universe pageant to try to disqualify a transgendered beauty contest competitor. If the sport is for females, and Fox is legally a female, there is nothing unethical or unfair about her competing. If women’s sports want to fairly and seriously address the disparity in physical size and strength issues, then they should institute size and weight classes, not take their dissonance out on courageous survivors like Fox…
I think we can be pretty sure that we are never going to see male athletes getting themselves castrated and feminized so they can smoke the competition in women’s sports, and that is clearly not what Fox set out to do. Attacks like Rogan’s are willfully ignorant. We settled this issue, and Dr. Richards went through hell to get it settled. The only thing that has changed is that women are stronger than ever, and the myth that being born male confers permanent and automatic superiority has moved from myth to lie.
At that point, Fox was a unique situation. Transexual reassignment surgery was still a pretty rare occurrence, and men had not started demanding to be regarded as women based on their personal preference and life style and feeling alone. Note a key difference between my description of Fox—“Fallon Fox is a transgendered male, now fully female—except for the unremovable Y chromosome—thanks to gender realignment surgery”–and my description of Mary Gregory as “a biological man who identifies as a woman and… has testicles and a penis.”
I could legitimately answer Luke by saying that my 2013 position wasn’t inconsistent with my current one at all, which technically it isn’t. Fallon Fox was a women, and just because current Bizarro World progressive cant demands that we ignore the inconvenient facts about people like Gregory doesn’t mean it makes sense to regard them as the same. I could say all that, but I won’t. As is too often the case (I know, I know) I was foolishly certain of my analysis, which included the statement, “I think we can be pretty sure that we are never going to see male athletes getting themselves castrated and feminized so they can smoke the competition in women’s sports.” Perhaps not, but we are seeing a lot more trans women athletes (like cyclist Rachel McKinnon) who decide to smoke the competition in women’s sports when it might occur to them that doing so has serious ethical problems, and we are definitely seeing an unexpected explosion in uncastrated males competing as women anyway.
Yesterday, the separate but related case of runner Caster Semaya took another turn.
The highest court in international sports ruled yesterday that female track athletes with naturally elevated levels of testosterone must decrease the hormone to participate in certain races at major competitions like the Olympics. Semenya, not a trans athlete but one with ambiguous gender, is a two-time Olympic champion from South Africa who challenged proposed limits placed on female athletes with naturally elevated levels of the muscle-building hormone testosterone. I’ve written more than one about this strange case, which I remain torn about. She’s a woman who lives as a woman and who has unique abilities that she was born with that give her a natural advantage. How is she different from, say, Babe Ruth, or basketball’s Wilt Chamberlain, who was over seven feet tall in the era before super-tall NBA players? Should be have had to play on his knees?
On the other hand, I find sentiments like this one from Doriane Lambelet Coleman, a law professor at Duke, troubling:
“The gender studies folks have spent the last 20 years deconstructing sex and all of a sudden they’re facing an institution with an entirely opposite story. We have to ask, ‘Is respecting gender identity more important or is seeing female bodies on the podium more important?’”
I’d say respecting reality is more important. The problem in this area is determining what the reality is. Conduct and rules are only ethical if they acknowledge the inconvenient facts, and the inconvenient fact about sports and gender is slippery slopes abound, loopholes will be exploited, and integrity is a fragile thing.
Luke G. is right. I have changed my position regarding trans sports competitors, because there has been a lot of new data.
I just wish I knew exactly what I have changed it to.