On Monday 6th of March, I was in discussion with Carole Hooven at UNE regarding trans women athletes competing in the female category of sports. No one doubts it is a highly contentious issue.
For trans folk in the UK, though, it’s not a problem compared to the hate we suffer daily from our abhorrent right-wing Conservative government and their media or the lack of available healthcare that sometimes leads to trans people taking their own lives. Indeed while some 32 million people in the UK participate in some form of sports activities, just 63 have registered in the related sports federation trans inclusion policy.
When we put ourselves on pedestals, all activists are open to criticism, and I have no problem with that. The whole idea of UNE’s Presidents Forum is to discuss controversial issues reasonably, and I hope both Carole and I achieved that, but of course, there are always some who want to “have a pop” afterwards.
First out of the blocks was Craig Lord from the State of Swimming, who, while encouraging people to watch the event, was not too happy that I made the point sport is never fair. If you have never heard of “State of Swimming”, well, neither had I, but the pinned tweet said it all “Women’s Voices” and a video of Germaine Greer.
The question is, of course, where do we draw the line regarding “fairness” in particular, given that all sports are different? We ignore some issues and jump on others without taking stock of the facts. For example, trans women cannot now compete in women’s competitive diving events, but there is not a modicum of evidence it was or would be unfair.
Craig also picks up that the IOC changed its policy in dropping the requirement for genital surgery and makes the assumption that this will make a difference to the number of trans women being able to participate in the Olympics. The real point, though, is why the IOC changed its policy, and that was they realised the requirement was unfair. And if we want to go further on this point, the NCAA threshold, introduced in 2010, has, to the best of my knowledge, never required genital surgery. Perhaps Craig would like to confirm?
The one absolute fact about trans women competing in the female category in sports is we don’t know enough. There are “issues” with almost every bit of research, particularly Hilton Lundberg, one which Carole used in evidence at the event.
As it stands, science has yet to find the answers, nor will it be able to for decades to come, which is why I advocate sports bodies trial new events based on past performances and abilities and not on sex.
In this way, depending on sports and events, there is the opportunity to include men, women, transgender people, those with DSD and disabled people.
Quite simply, Craig, we should not exclude people from sports because of who they are – and while you will claim no one is being excluded and “it’s all a matter of classification” the simple truth is testosterone-suppressed trans women should not have to compete against men.
That is, of course, unless your definition of “fairness” differs significantly from mine.