As a trans and human rights activist, the issue of trans women competing in the female category of sport is clearly on my radar. The subject, though, is not a priority – heck, many British trans women won’t even come out of their houses for fear of the abuse on the streets. For them, competing in sports is impossible.
My invitation to talk about trans women in sports at the University of New England in Maine, USA, came out of the blue – shock, horror; why me?
Still, after Zooming with the university’s President, James Herbert, I committed to accepting his invitation – this type of event was likely a world first. How could I pass this up?
And after all, my “opponent” was Harvard Professor Carole Hooven, author of the fab book “T: The Story of the Hormone that Dominates and Divides Us.” A book I reviewed in the summer of last year and enjoyed very much. Carole makes the point there are only two sexes.
Is “sex real”?
Yes, it is, but I don’t give a jot.
I am me.
People I consulted with before departure included the Double Olympic Gold Medallist Dame Kelly Holmes OBE, rugby player Verity Smith, Simon at Gendered Intelligence, Sandy Bridges, mum of our only trans elite athlete Emily Bridges and our sports expert at TransLucent, Paul.
I flew out to Boston on Friday 3rd of March just a day before a massive snowstorm hit, and prepared for the event over the weekend, getting ready for Monday night.
Pre-event drinks took place at James’s house, where I met Carole for the first time, albeit we have emailed in the past and got on well. Suggestions on the internet that Carole is trans-hostile are, in my view, untrue – Carole is a scientist who presents science as she sees it. That don’t make her a “transphobe.” Indeed in her book, she treats trans people and those with DSD fairly and compassionately.
One of my biggest worries was security. The British far-right think tanks such as Free Speech Union, Policy Exchange, the Tufton Street mob, and those trans-hating Tory MPs have some pretty disgusting American “friends”. Would they physically attack a trans woman who calls them out?
Yes, they would – in particular in the GOP states where they are currently dismantling trans kids’ healthcare and, according to some, proposing the elimination of trans people altogether.
I did not need to worry, though – Maine is very LGBT+ friendly, with many shops displaying Progress flag stickers in their windows.
Security on the night was excellent… a safe route in and out of the venue and even armed police officers nearby. The overriding sense of friendliness from everyone was ever-present, and there was no tension whatsoever.
Just after 6:00 pm, the event started with James giving his opening speech. My discussion with Carole lasted nearly ninety minutes. You can watch the YouTube recording here:
As a rule, I never listen back to any of my media broadcasts – I know there will be regrets. However, on this occasion, I have – and yes, there are regrets. (sad face).
In my opening statement, why oh why did I say “contagious”, not “contentious”?
Why did I say “British Rugby” when I meant “English Rugby”? And honestly, I do look old. Does anyone know a good (mega cheap) plastic surgeon?
I need a face job!
Oh, and when Carole said she felt the Canadian study was biased, why did I not counter that with the Hilton Lundberg study has numerous issues too?
And why did I fail to counter Carole’s suggestion of an “open” category in sports where testosterone suppressed trans women competing against men would not have a dog’s chance?
Can we have round two?
Probably not. But let’s look at the positives from this constructive discussion and have many more – hopefully in the UK next time.
I did justice to both Laurel Hubbard and Lia Thomas, whose bravery in facing so much media hate is a credit to them and, indeed, the community at large.
I successfully pointed out that the amount of research regarding trans women in elite athletic competitions is scant (just three research papers), which showed that testosterone-suppressed athletes have no significant advantage.
I am glad I called out FINA (the sports federation of swimming) for their transphobic sports policy. Oh yes, that goes for World Rugby too.
They both should be deeply ashamed of themselves…both of these sporting bodies, and in particular World Rugby, were swayed by gender-critical hate groups.
But the biggest plus was the students themselves.
I sensed Carole got a rough ride, particularly after the event when we sat around and chatted with them. I felt the vibe that students wanted trans women’s inclusion in sports.
But what brought tears to my eyes was when two elderly lesbians came up to me and said, “we are with you – we went through the same in the seventies and eighties – this hate will all pass, and it will be quicker for you”.
I hope they are correct.
Thanks’ to everyone at UNE, in particular, Shannon, Holly and James and a big thank you to Carole Hooven. She has suffered for just giving opinions on sex. She, like so many on both sides, is a victim of the toxic “pick a side” gender war.
A war where there is only black and white – grey doesn’t exist.
That’s not right.