One of the “joys” of Twitter is that things happen that perhaps are neither expected nor sometimes welcome. This Christmas proved this very point.
Not that chatting to Martina Navratilova via Twitter is disappointing – it is not. But for sure, it was unexpected. Trans women in sport is a controversial subject matter – trans hostile UK press like to import trans sports stories with as much vigour as a fox in a chicken run.
We do not have a single trans woman participating in elite sport in the UK, so transphobe journalists and newspapers owners look elsewhere.
Just months back, we were saturated with stories about New Zealander Laurel Hubbard at the Olympics, with so much “press” that her odds at bookmakers shortened to the second favourite. In truth, Laurel was always struggling to be “in the mix”, and come the big day could not even make three legal lifts.
Disappointed, the transphobes immediately searched for a replacement for Laurel. Enter one, Lia Thomas, a 22-year-old swimmer from Pennsylvania.
Lia started transition in May 2019 and recently broke some records. Now I cant see UK press usually reporting American swim events at an elite level, let alone at a state or uni-level. But there is a trans swimmer involved, so she is targeted by newspapers like the Daily Mail, The Times and Telegraph.
More to the point, though, is Lia’s inclusion genuinely fair?
Can our community withstand more lousy press?
We can refute lies (plenty of those, of course), but can we defend Lia?
The answer is I dont know, but I personally feel there are three questions we should ask about trans women participating in sport.
Firstly, is it safe for other participants? This question did/do not apply to Laurel or Lia; neither weight lifting nor swimming are contact sports.
Secondly, are they as trans athletes advantaged, and if so, does it matter? A knock around in a ‘five a side’ football game between friends is different to competitive sport.
In Lia’s case, it is not unreasonable to question her inclusion.
Lia’s transition was not that long ago, and according to the reports she is breaking records by considerable margins (although please note these reports are not 100% honest as the record she broke was smashed the following week by two cisgender female swimmers who were just 15 and 16 years old, and the race she won by a considerable distance was nowhere near-record time, it was just in a low-quality race).
In the circumstances, I can understand why such reporting will raise questions and of course, they should be asked as we do want fair sport – but we do need to establish the full truth before reaching final conclusions.
Women’s sports have made considerable advances in recent decades, and what was traditionally seen as men’s sports now has female representations. Look no further than at horse racing, football and cricket.
We should also welcome trans athletes into sports, but equally, the bar must be set at the right height.
I dont think it is for Twitter peeps or the media to do that. It is for the relevant sports federations to draw up their guidelines and ensure sport is as fair as possible and for non-participants to accept decisions.
Not that sport will ever be genuinely fair because there are always advantages depending on physical size, where you were born, how wealthy your parents are, how rich your country is and your skin colour. Our world is NOT fair. A birth sex is just one part of a highly complex equation.
Chating to Martina was not all of my Christmas, though. For the third time in recent months, I experienced dogpiles because of two tweets. In total, I had over 200 GC on my back. Is that not abuse?
In one tweet, I expressed my displeasure with trans hostile women’s groups being called “stakeholders” regarding my birth certificate. Folk in the UK will know we are considerably behind other western European nations concerning changes in legal gender recognition. This has been brought about by both those womens groups and our hostile press conflating gender recognition reform with our Equality Act.
The Equalities Act does protect single-sex spaces – the transphobes love to “conveniently forget” this.
Just days ago, the Women & Equalities Select Committee in the UK parliament described the hostile women’s groups (WPUK, Fair Play for Women and FiLiA, to name just three) as “stakeholders” in the reform of our Gender Recognition Act.
Would they suggest that racist groups are “stakeholders” in our racism laws?
My other tweet was, I accept with hindsight, controversial – albeit that was not the intent.
The tweet was personal, about me living my life as a 69-year-old transsexual (it means I have had lower surgery and run on Estrogen not T) who has previously lived as a woman in stealth, never experiencing any complaints in toilets or shop changing rooms which, of course, are private cubicles. We occasionally exit the cubicles in shops to look into a giant mirror or seek an opinion. I have never had a problem, indeed on occasion, other users have asked me if a dress to too short or if a colour is right. We just chat as “women”.
Now, as an openly trans woman, how things have changed!
Not in real life, of course, though covid has closed the changing facilities in many shops.
But on transphobe Twitter, me using those facilities is a crime, according to some!
This is my tweet:
See me in the changing room, see me in the loo, see me in the supermarket buying flowers.
See me in the swimming pool, see me in the pub, see me on the sports field taking part in games.
See you in hell if you are a #terf – nothing will stop me from strutting my stuff!
Do I regret the tweet?
Well, kind of – but I have thought long and hard about it and decided not to delete it.
Sometimes we say things that on reflection could or should have been done better – I am human.
But I stand by the core of the tweet, though I will apologise to my GC followers who are (or were) offended by me using the word “terf”. I would also emphasise the tweet was in the singular, not plural. The tweet was purely about how I live life.
Nor will I be taking Lia Thomas or, indeed, any natal female swimmer on in a race in the swimming pool.
At 69 I have two dodgy knees and can barely swim a width – though I enjoy having a bit of a splash.
End of school report for 2021? – “Steph needs to concentrate harder”.