Anti-transgender athletics bills harm everyone


Approximately 65 bills aiming to limit or ban transgender individuals from participating in athletics have been introduced within the past few months. According to Freedom for All Americans, bills have been introduced in 31 states, with two being introduced in Iowa. Many bills require athletic teams to be separated by assigned sex, requiring transgender athletes to compete as a gender they do not present or identify as.

Most of these bills target transgender women specifically (such as ME LD926 – “An Act To Ban Biological Males from Participating in Women’s Sports”), by implying that transgender women have a natural advantage over cisgender women. However, not only is the reality much more nuanced, but such bills harm more than just the transgender community and can often target cisgender and intersex women as well.

First, it’s important to deconstruct the argument that transgender women have a natural advantage over cisgender women athletically. This comes from the idea that elevated testosterone increases muscle mass. However, hormones are complex, and vary from person to person. Many cisgender women have elevated testosterone levels, whether naturally or due to medical conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). It should also be considered that transgender women undergoing hormone replacement therapy will experience some level of muscle loss and typically will not be as naturally strong as they were before HRT.

General advantages in athletics are also important to consider. When one considers successful athletes, they may be surprised to find that a majority of them have attributes that give them an upper hand. Usain Bolt, for example, possesses a large supply of a gene known as ACTN3 that makes him naturally fast, and free diver Tom Sietas has lungs 20% larger than the average man. Should such individuals be banned from athletics due to their biology, or should natural advantages simply be something to be expected in the world of athletics? Dr. Eric Vilain, a pediatrician and geneticist, believes that the entire concept is more complex:

“I would say that every sport requires different talents and anatomies for success. So I think we should focus on celebrating this diversity, rather than focusing on relative notions of fairness. For example, the body of a marathon runner is extremely different from the body of a shot put champion, and a transwoman 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.”

As previously mentioned, it’s not just trans women who are harmed by such bills. Cisgender women with non-traditionally feminine bodies or high testosterone, gender non-conforming women and intersex women can all potentially face scrutiny and harassment. One particular bill in Idaho permitted anyone to question a student athlete’s gender, thus forcing them to verify their sex via testing. While this bill thankfully did not pass, it stands as evidence that the entire concept of restricting sports based on sex is invasive, especially in relation to student athletes.

While segregating sports based on assigned sex may make sense in theory in regards to fairness, the reality is that all athletes have advantages and disadvantages, and expecting all athletes to perform identically is an unrealistic notion. Beyond performance, these bills serve to demonize and ostracize transgender people.