Let Them Play: Why Transgender Athletes Need To Be On The Field

My Message For The Bigots Who Are Big Mad About Trans Athletes

Close up of boy kicking soccer ball
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My seven-year-old daughter has been playing hockey for about a year, but neither I nor my ex-partner have been able to watch her skate or compete because of COVID-19. She practices in small pods while wearing a mask, and parents are not allowed in the buildings. But we hear from her coaches that she’s a hard worker and a great teammate. Thanks to a classmate of hers, we finally got to see her play hockey when he invited her over to his outdoor ice rink. I watched her take shots on goal, skate backwards, and pass the puck like she has been doing this forever. Her newbie skills were impressive—yes, I’m a bit biased because I’m her parent—but the best part of her playing sports has been what it has done for her confidence.

She’s a natural athlete and feels comfortable on a playing field—off the field she’s clumsy AF and struggles to engage socially at times. It’s also good for her anxiety. The physical exertion of movement calms her down and helps her stay focused at home and at school. Playing sports will give her so many opportunities, yet concerned citizens, i.e. Republicans, conservatives, and religious zealots, are worried she is taking away opportunities from the cisgender athletes she is competing with and against.

My daughter is transgender, and according to transphobic fear mongers she has an “unfair advantage” when it comes to athletics simply because she is transgender. Despite no findings of transgender girls and women dominating a NCAA or Olympic sport, there is legislature in several states that want to ban transgender girls and women from competing in women’s sports.

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Georgia has one such bill in the works. In this bill — House Bill 372 — transgender girls are prohibited from participating in school sports or sports organized by an athletic organizations. Furthermore, a “panel of three physicians” will be allowed to examine sports participants’ genitals to make sure no transgender girls participate. Yes, this is as horrifying as it sounds.

Florida Representative Greg Steube recently introduced bill H.R. 426, better known as the “Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act of 2021.” The premise of their argument is that “biological males” should not be competing with “biological females” because in simple terms, they see males as physically superior to females based on the testosterone levels. They aren’t seeing transgender girls as real girls.

Let’s poke holes in their argument using their own defense: Hormones—specifically testosterone.

Gender is not the same as biological sex, so while a transgender female (a woman assigned male at birth) may have stereotypical male traits or the potential to go through male puberty; this is not always the case. Denying a transgender girl or woman the ability to play on a team that affirms their gender is to not seem them as girls and women, which they are. And to use hormones as the argument to deny them of an activity that builds friendships, lowers depression, and decreases suicide attempts and drug and alcohol abuse is to pull at inaccurate straws.

If hormones are really the reason behind not letting transgender girls compete with cisgender girls, then this shouldn’t be an issue until a child actually goes through puberty. On average, testosterone diverges between females assigned at birth and males assigned at birth around the age of 11. So in theory, mixed genders—transgender or not—can compete on “equal playing fields” until puberty because there aren’t noticeable enough differences in testosterone to make one athlete more dominant than another. Coordination, practice time, interest, and social constructs all play into an athlete’s performance, but lawmakers don’t care about those advantages.

For transgender youth, going through puberty of their biological sex is often terrifying and one of the last things they want to do. My transgender daughter is not at all interested in her testosterone surging. She doesn’t want the physical characteristics that would accompany male puberty because she’s not a male, nor does she want whatever athletic advantages one thinks she would have based on it. Puberty blockers for transgender youth prevent this from happening. The ability to have medically affirming care saves lives and allows transgender youth to thrive. In many cases it also prevents future gender affirming surgeries—such as mastectomies in transgender men—because the body isn’t given the chance to go through puberty that does not align with one’s gender.

Here’s the kicker: the same folks who want to deny transgender women from competing with cisgender women want to make it illegal for transgender youth and teens to access medical care. Not only do they want to deny the use of puberty blockers but also the use of hormone replacement therapy.

Republicans: Hormone levels must be equal.

Transgender folks: We can do that!

Republicans: No, not like that.

It’s also interesting to note that the focus isn’t on transgender males. This is because they aren’t seen as males and are considered inferior to cisgender males because patriarchy. Apparently their safety isn’t an issue against the big, strong, tough males (you know, the ones they claim transgender females are) they compete with. This doesn’t make sense in their we must protect girls theory. The egos of cisgender males are more important in the event a transgender male dominates a competitive event.

Let’s say a transgender woman’s body has gone through puberty of their biological sex. While it’s true that their body may be larger than some cisgender women’s bodies, this is not always the case. Also, there are a lot of cisgender women who are far more athletic, stronger, and bigger than both cisgender women and men. All bodies are different, as are what they are capable of doing. Also, hormone levels between cisgender people drastically vary too. Testosterone alone is not what gives one an advantage. But when it comes to competition it is monitored. In a series of tweets, Brynn Tannehill breaks down how this is done and why using testosterone as a tool to eliminate transgender women from athletics is like using a sieve to hold water.

Just like denying transgender folks the right to use the bathroom of their choice was never really about safety in bathrooms, denying transgender women the right to play sports isn’t really about athletic advantage. It’s about transphobia and making it illegal to exist. When asked about the recent anti-trans bills, President Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki quickly made it very clear that neither she nor the administration will be playing into the dangerous hands or minds who want to discriminate against transgender people.

No amount of false opinions, lengthy restrictions, or penalties will erase the fact that transgender rights are human rights. The denial of our humanity is to deny us the thing they are so set on preserving: equal playing fields.