Andrew Sullivan’s weekly trifecta. Part 2: Transgenderism in athletics and sexual attraction

February 24, 2019 • 2:15 pm

The second issue that Andrew Sullivan takes up in his New York Magazine column this week is that of transgender athletes and transphobia. The inspiration for his piece was the actions of Martina Navatilova, an openly gay ex-athlete who was a friend of the LGBTQ community. That is, until she recently declared that it was unfair in some instances for transwomen to compete in sports against biological women. That, as you know, is enough to brand someone as transphobic. The Guardian reports what happened to Navatilova:

The tennis player and gay rights campaigner first drew criticism from equalities activists and trans athletes when she tweeted in December: “You can’t just proclaim yourself a female and be able to compete against women. There must be some standards, and having a penis and competing as a woman would not fit that standard.”

Writing in the Sunday Times, Navratilova said she had subsequently promised to keep quiet on the subject until she had done some research on it. “Well, I’ve now done that and, if anything, my views have strengthened,” she wrote.

“To put the argument at its most basic: a man can decide to be female, take hormones if required by whatever sporting organisation is concerned, win everything in sight and perhaps earn a small fortune, and then reverse his decision and go back to making babies if he so desires.

“It’s insane and it’s cheating. I am happy to address a transgender woman in whatever form she prefers, but I would not be happy to compete against her. It would not be fair.”

Her comments attracted criticism across social media. “We’re pretty devastated to discover that Martina Navratilova is transphobic,” tweeted the rights group Trans Actual. “If trans women had an advantage in sport, why aren’t trans women winning gold medals left, right and centre?”

But I think Navratoliva has a point, for the issue is not at all clearcut. Some organizations, like the Olympics, require specific hormone titers for trans women to compete in women’s events, while other just require self-identification. Given the physical differences in upperbody strength and muscularity between biological men and women, self-identification clearly creates an unfair situation. And I’m not even sure that a specified hormone level is enough to level the playing field, for muscularity of your youth doesn’t just go away.

I’ve written about this before (see here and here), and, as always, I remain conflicted. Clearly transgender people should be able to participate in athletics, but what are good criteria for competing in “men’s” and “women’s” events?  Should there be a third category: “transgender women’s sports”? I don’t know.  But I do believe that simple self-identification that conflicts with biological sex is not sufficient to allow you to compete in a gendered event. In 2018 in a Connecticut state high school track meet, both first and second places in the women’s 100-meter dash went to transgender women (see the video here). As I wrote at the time:

 In Connecticut, where first and second place went to transgender women in the race above, “self identification” is the rule, so you can be a fully biological male, not having transitioned in any way, and enter a race if you say you identify as a women. Other states are more stringent: Texas, for instance, insists that you compete as the gender given on your birth certificate.

Both seem problematic.  Surely there is something unfair about the above: in which transgender women who are physically men, by virtue of greater strength, clean up in a women’s athletic event by “self-identifying” as women. That may well be true and not just a ploy, but the problem is not psychology but physicality. A liberal response would be “the civil rights of gender self-identification outweighs the disappointment of non-transgender losers.” But that answer doesn’t satisfy me. The unfairness is deep and pervasive, and “self-identification” seems a dubious solution.

And I raised some difficult questions:

  • Should there be any testing of athletes, or should they simply be allowed to compete based on self-identification of gender? (This would, of course, mostly affect women’s sports; some say it would destroy women’s sports.)
  • If not, how many categories of competition do we want? The traditional men’s and women’s sports, or an intermediate category? (The latter would, of course, cause huge problems.)
  • If we don’t accept self-identification and want to retain traditional “men’s” and “women’s” sports, how do we determine the category in which an athlete belongs?
  • If the identification is based on hormones, can we set limits, as the IOC has done, to demarcate the classes? If we don’t use hormones, how do we classify?

As transgenderism becomes more common in Western society—and it will—the issue of how it should be treated in sports will become more important. Of course, that’s a different issue from how transgender people should be treated in society, for all decent-thinking people agree that they should be treated the same as everyone else.  But there’s that annoying thing about biological difference—most prominently manifested as upper-body strength—that cannot be waved away as simply a “social construct.”

These questions remain, and Sullivan agrees that they’re not simple:

But this is the current orthodoxy according to the widely read digital-media publisher PinkNews: “Trans women are women. So trans women’s bodies are women’s bodies. So trans women’s penises are women’s penises.” Um. “Regardless [of] the biological makeup of the trans woman — she remains a woman with her biology, therefore defining her as a biological woman,” said Pose star Indya Moore. In pursuit of this vision, the LGBTQIA++ movement is rallying around the new Minnesota powerlifting state champion, a recently transitioned trans woman, who — somehow —managed to crush her nearest biological female rivals on her first attempt.

If you take this argument seriously — that biology is entirely a function of gender identity — then the whole notion of separate male and female sports events is in doubt. A trans woman should, in my view, be treated exactly as a woman — unless, as in this case, it clashes with biological reality. There aren’t many contexts in which this really counts, but sports is one of them. Yes, it sucks. But denying reality is stupid, can easily backfire, and will alienate countless otherwise sympathetic people. And note that if the Equality Act were to pass — a priority for Nancy Pelosi — it would be illegal to bar a trans woman from competing against biological females, as it is already in many states.

This is not going to go away, for sports is the one area—and the only one I can think of—where it’s problematic to accept someone’s self-designated gender identity. If you have a solution, by all means offer it in the comments.

But Sullivan, who will clearly be labeled a transphobe (so far I’ve avoided the label), does draw a firm line at one issue: he will not let transgender people tell him that he should be sleeping with transgender men, and he’s a transphobe if he won’t. There’s something deeply offensive about people telling you whom you should be attracted to and copulating with when that attraction is largely based on biology. Perhaps some people can overcome it, or even enjoy it, but if you can’t you shouldn’t be demonized. As Sullivan says, and I agree with him:

It is even transphobic, I am now informed, for a gay man not to want to sleep with a trans man who has a vagina. In response to my recent column on the subject, I was told by Sue Hyde, a woman who is at the very heart of the LGBTQIA++ movement, to, yes, give it a try: “Maybe Sullivan … would give [a handsome trans man with a vagina who uses a dildo as a penis] a toss in the hay and next day, be singing a different tune about category woman/girl >>> category man/boy persons’ capacities to uphold and expand the experiences and meanings of homosex.” Maybe. Or maybe I’ll sleep with whomever I want — you know, something we used to call sexual freedom.

But this is how deep the ideology runs. It wants to control not only the public discourse, and language, and rig sports contests, but also insinuate itself into the most intimate areas of an individual’s sex life. Once upon a time, the religious right would tell me that I should sleep with women because I might find the right one and finally be happy. Now the intersectional left is telling me something almost exactly the same. What has happened to this movement? Where on earth has it gone?

The last paragraph is powerful. Yes, perhaps in some cases sexual desire—or the lack of it—is based on bigotry. But I don’t think that’s generally true. Sue Hyde and her like-minded ideologues should leave Sullivan’s sex life alone.


131 thoughts on “Andrew Sullivan’s weekly trifecta. Part 2: Transgenderism in athletics and sexual attraction

  1. A truly tough problem. One (not entirely serious) solution would be for athletes to compete against each other in hormone-differentiated bands, like boxing competitors compete in different weight-differentiated ones.

      1. Hmmm, stopping to give a urine sample halfway through a race would soon sort the genders into groups! (And the IOC would be happy with all of the additional commercial breaks that would be necessitated.)

          1. If only we were a hermaphroditic species who could snap off our penises or regrow them as needed then all our problems would be solved!

    1. But hormones are not the only thing and not even the most important thing. All they can do is depress some of the advantages men have over women, but it can’t come close to eliminating them. Men have more fast-twitch muscle and faster reflexes, far higher bone density, far greater upper-body strength, and far higher grip strength (even highly-trained female athletes from professional sports and elite national sports where grip strength is key don’t produce a grip strength higher than the 25th percentile of the average, untrained, non-athlete man). These are just some among the many differences that can’t be changed significantly by hormone treatment. A well-trained trans woman will beat not only a similarly trained biological woman, but even a far better biological woman nearly every time, unless the trans woman is dramatically unskilled. We’ve seen this now with MMA, wrestling, track, weightlifting, and other sports.

      In the end, I don’t think it’s a tough problem. We can’t take away the opportunities of nearly 50% of the population to “confirm” the identities of a very small population in every category of life. The solution that so many people have proposed — that we have a (biological) women’s division and an “open” division in every sport — is clearly the solution. Allowing trans women to compete against biological women not only unfairly takes away opportunities from the latter, but can also lead to very significant injury for the biological women in combat sports.

      1. I think that’s the answer. Have a category for trans. Problem solved. They can still go home with a medal. Win-win.

        1. You cannot do that. There is not on e category of ‘trans’ person, some are male to female, some female to male, some genuinely intersex. however, though I cannot believe there is a large contingent, for some reason, whether hormone imitating chemicals in food & water (my theory) or just societal changes (seems unlikely to me), the numbers identifying as such inbetweenies are increasing.

          Do not take sport so seriously.

          1. I was really thinking of two categories, a biologically male and a biologically female. This should cover most of the < 1.0%. Anyone not fitting a class can have there own class I suppose. It may be that at some point a few people may have to be disappointed that they cannot compete because there just aren't enough participants in their class. I wouldn't feel too worried about it. Disappointment is sometimes inevitable. It builds character. Look at me. I'm not able to compete because I'm not a very good athlete. And now I'm too old anyway. I was just born like this. Am I disappointed. Sure. Do I lose any sleep over it? No.

          2. I am in the martial arts community. We take “sports,” very seriously, and it is definitely a problem for women who compete professionally, and the stakes are high.

            BJ has it right: “Allowing trans women to compete against biological women not only unfairly takes away opportunities from the latter, but can also lead to very significant injury for the biological women in combat sports.”

            I personally know several Judo women who were injured in such competitions.

      2. I’m absolutely with you (and Andrew Sullivan and Martina Navratilova) there.

        If there are classes based on ability, nobody should be allowed to arbitrarily place themselves in a class where they have a big advantage over the other competitors. There’s a word for that. It’s known as ‘cheating’.


      1. It’s OK, as long as we agree in advance that they will lose when strength and endurance are factors in the sport.
        Can we get anywhere by couching this debate in terms of sportsmanship instead of sexual politics? A sport is only such if it is a fair competition – the concept of a level playing field is more than just a hackneyed cliché here; it is the whole underpinning of the concept. Pit transwomen against women and you have an unfair advantage for the newcomers. Put transmen up against men and you have an unfair advantage for the existing field. Shall we force para-Olympians to compete in the able-bodied Olympics? Where’s the sport in that?
        Lots of half-baked ideas seem fine but come a cropper (love these sporting metaphors!) when tested in the real world, and I suspect this kind of practical difficulty reveals the error of current thinking about how we should accord a proper and dignified place in our world to transpeople. Currently it is more about making a point than it is about sport.

        1. It’s hard for me to even imagine how any such advantaged trans person would even think of seeking out weak competition so that they can win medals. What have they proved? That when they cheat they can win? What pleasure can that give anyone?

  2. … how many categories of competition do we want?

    The way to be fairest to the greatest number of people is to have two categories, “women-women” and “open”.

    … for sports is the one area—and the only one I can think of—where it’s problematic to accept someone’s self-designated gender identity.

    There are several others, prisons for example. It may not be appropriate to place a male-bodied sex offender in a women’s prison just because they identify as a woman.

      1. Yes. Simple rule: if it’s got a dick, it’s male; if not, female. Never mind what it feels like on the inside, that’s irrelevant to the purpose of separate changing rooms.


  3. I wonder how people would react if a large, muscular man with a big beard, identified as a female, and won a female event by a large margin, or better yet a team of them, eg. a rowing team.

    Perhaps it would be simpler to just remove sex/gender from the equation. So there won’t be women’s track and men’s track, just track. After all, since Billy Jean King demonstrated that women can beat men in tennis, why do we need to have men’s and women’s tennis? You could be the undisputed world champion, and not just the men’s or women’s champion.

    I realize that perhaps women can’t perform at the same level as men in some sports, but what of it? In a sense having segregated sexes is a kind of patronizing idea that says, you aren’t good enough to compete with them, so we’ll give you your own competition that you can win in so that you feel better about yourself.

    1. You have to know that in 1973, BJK was 29, near the top of her form, and won the triple crown at Wimbledon. Riggs, on the other hand, was 55, and had retired (I believe) in 1949. He had last won Wimbledon in 1939.

      What you are suggesting would destroy women’s sports, except for certain gymnastic and skating events. Maybe some motor sports.

      1. There are also allegations (initially reported by ESPN) to this day that Riggs intentionally lost the match to repay a $100,000 gambling debt.

        1. I dunno. If ol’ Bobby coulda won it, but threw it, I think he would’ve done better than 4, 3 and 3. Maybe won a set or two, or at least take a couple sets to tiebreaker.

          I watched that match live broadcast from the Astrodome in ’73, and Riggs looked pretty whupped to me.

          1. It’s possible, but he beat Margaret Court just a little while before, and his son said his match with BJK — after all the fanfare and trash talk from Riggs — was the only match for which he never saw his father train.

            The other theory (besides that he was way too old and out of shape) is that he threw the match in the hope of a rematch with a bigger payday.

          2. Even in his prime, Riggs was never a power player or big server, so he didn’t have the main advantage a male player ordinarily has over a woman. And by the time he played BJK, Bobby was getting by mainly on dinks and lobs — and hustle and psyche (which is essentially how he beat Margaret Court). At that stage, I doubt he was hitting the ball with much more pace than the opponents Billie Jean regularly faced on the women’s tour, like Virginia Wade or Evonne Goolagong.

          3. Absolutely. Being a finesse player at his age and shape (or lack thereof), his skills would have diminished even more than a power player.

    2. “In a sense having segregated sexes is a kind of patronizing idea that says, you aren’t good enough to compete with them, so we’ll give you your own competition that you can win in so that you feel better about yourself.”

      This is, in a nutshell, the idea of women’s sport. And I don’t think “patronizing” is a bad thing – I want to be patronized.

      1. Well said.

        This is the reason for ‘classes’ in any sport. They widen the available categories so more people can compete in groups on fairly even terms. It’s not just limited de facto to the top few competitors.


    3. We want girls and women in sports to have something to strive for, which generally takes the form of winning competitions, breaking records, etc. If women must compete against men in sports, men will hold all the records and win every competition where there’s more than a few men in attendance. What could women realistically strive for? It would be discouraging for them.

      Jerry posted a video earlier showing one such race, where a boy entered the competition against the girls. He easily won first place. He wasn’t even a great runner; compared to the other boys’ times, he’d have been in dead last place. The disappointment on the girls’ faces was palpable.

      In one of those cases, the boy had competed with the other boys in the fall and switched over to compete against the girls in the spring. We shouldn’t ruin the experience in sports of 99+% of women to pander to the delusions or deceptions of a tiny fraction of men.

    4. “I realize that perhaps women can’t perform at the same level as men in some sports, but what of it? In a sense having segregated sexes is a kind of patronizing idea that says, you aren’t good enough to compete with them, so we’ll give you your own competition that you can win in so that you feel better about yourself.”

      It’s not about that, but about giving women a space where they can compete and gain glory in sports just like men. Women will never be able to compete with men. The women’s US national soccer team — the best in the world — lost to an under-15 boys squad. The US women’s national hockey team — one of the best in the world — lost to multiple high school boys teams.

      If we stop segregating the sexes in women’s sports, there won’t be sports for women. My niece loves playing lacrosse and basketball, but I can’t imagine she would love playing in games where all the boys are running circles around her and she can’t make any plays. It would be demoralizing and unfair.

      Sports are very important, not just professionally, but for average kids and adults. It provides exercise, self-esteem, teamwork-building, and many other critical benefits. Women need to be able to compete, but they can’t compete with men.

      And, regarding BJK vs. Riggs, in addition to what Max Blancke said about why this is a poor example, I’ll provide a much better one.: the Williams sisters versus Kaarsten Braasch. The Sisters claimed they could beat any man ranked outside the top 200. Baarsch offered to play them and beat each of them 6-1 6-1 after playing a round of golf and drinking two beers. He said he let them each win a game just to make things fun.

      1. Removing “sex/gender from the equation” would certainly take the frisson outta pairs skating and mixed doubles. 🙂

    5. I realize that perhaps women can’t perform at the same level as men in some sports….

      In all competitive sports, the best women are far inferior the bottom of the men.

      <blockquote… a kind of patronizing idea that says, you aren’t good enough to compete with them so we’ll give you your own competition that you can win in so that you feel better about yourself.

      It’s not patronizing; it’s a fact. I doubt a woman Olympic medalist would ‘feel better about herself’ were she to not even make the team in an open sport.

    6. Actually, the World number one woman tennis player would probably not be capable of beating any man in the top 200.

      Bobby Riggs aged 55 played Margaret Court (number one at the time and aged 30) and beat her 6-2 6-1. Of course, he later lost to King, but he was 55.

      Jimmy Conners once played Martina Navratilova (he was 40, she was 35) and won in straight sets.

      Karsten Braasch (ranked 203 in the World) played a set against Serena Williams in 1998 and won it 6-1. He then played a set against Venus Williams and won it 6-2.

      In any sport that relies on athletic power, the top women will have no chance against the top men. In fact, in some sports it might be dangerous. In women’s rugby union, for example, the scrum would be a dangerous place if one side fielded two large transgender women as their prop forwards.

      To me, there’s no argument about this. There’s only one reason why we have separate women’s competitions in physical sports: it’s because we recognise that they would have no chance against the best biological men. Trans women cannot be allowed to compete in women’s sports.

    7. If sex and gender are removed from the equation, women will never place in another sports competition again, as a 13 year old boy can outperform the top female champions in the world.

      Removing sex/gender is great if you want to completely destroy women’s sport.

  4. Titania Mcgrath said that after those remarks “Martina Navratilova can no longer call herself a lesbian.” No one can gainsay Titania McGrath, who always speaks ex cathedra.

    The injunction re dic(k)tating one’s sexual partner goes for females, too. I’ve read that some trans-activists say that lesbians must not discriminate against trans women as sexual partners. I assume the same goes for straight women.

    I think that Daniel Mallory Ortberg (formerly just Mallory Ortberg), who also answers to “Dear Prudence” in Slate had a personal solution. She became trans man and her partner (an English prof. at UC Berkeley) became a trans woman.

  5. I see nothing wrong with having two other categories in sport, for trans men and trans women. Yes, it makes things tricky, just like the multiple categories used in the Para Olympics, but it could be workable. (Perhaps we need another category for the cheating performance enhancers as well). I mean, if Usain Bolt’s Men’s 100 meter record is 9.58 and the Women’s record is 10.49, set back in 1988 by Florence Griffith-Joyner, there’s clearly some differences between the sexes. Should we take away FGJ’s record and only have one world record holder, who very probably will be Bolt for quite some time and probably only be dethroned by another male? It’s like reinforcing the “glass ceiling” with steel. That’s clearly not fair.

    1. The Para Olympics already have different competitions for different categories of dis-ability. Why not have classes for transpeople as well?

      But before you exclaim how transpeople are not ‘disabled’ – think about how *that* will sound to other paralympics.

  6. I wonder how people would react if a large muscular man, with a big beard, identified as a woman and won a women’s event by a large margin? Or even a team of them, eg. women’s rowing.

    Perhaps we should do away with segregated sports altogether. As Billy Jean King demonstrated, women can compete with men at the top level, so why is there still men’s and women’s tennis? So why not eliminate men’s and women’s track, and just have track and field?

    In a sense it is kind of patronizing having segregated sports. It’s a bit like saying, no you aren’t good enough to compete at this level, but we’ll give you your own competition so you feel better about yourself. If we removed segregated sports, you would be the undisputed world champion, and not the men’s or women’s world champion.

    1. “As Billy [sic] Jean King demonstrated, women can compete with men at the top level …”

      What Billie Jean demonstrated was that a top women’s tennis player in her prime could beat a particular middle-aged former men’s champion, two decades past his prime.

      1. Sorry for the duplicate comment. I posted, couldn’t find my comment for several minutes afterward, and thought I had forgotten my name, etc. and rewrote it. It was only after posting this one that the first comment appeared.

        1. WordPress is doing that these days.

          If it was in a website-software competition it would come 250th in the open class or easily win the geriatric paraplegic brain-damaged class. 😉


  7. At one time, I was in possession of a Mazda RX7 sportscar. Since it self-identified as a bicycle, we attempted to register together for the Tour de France, but were denied entry by those pesky transphobics.

  8. I was once in possession of a Mazda RX7 sports car, which self-identified as a bicycle. We attempted to register together for the Tour de France, but were turned down by those right-wing transphobics. We would denounce them in Facebook, if either the RX7 or I had an account.

    1. Trans(port)phobics, I dare say. Next it will be “two wheels good, four wheels bad”, and then where will we end up? (Clue, probably not wearing a yellow t-shirt and celebrating victory on the Champs Elysees)

  9. I would have to agree with Navratilova. Back around her days in competition there was a Renee Richards playing women’s tennis. I am sure it was considered highly unusual back then and in her case a lot of it was dressing room problems. She did not overwhelm the competition and did not win that much. However, if she had, it would have been a bigger deal.

    Anyway, it is a difficult problem and I would not want to make the call. To put them in a separate program at the professional level would be the same as simply saying you can’t play because the money would not be there.

  10. I agree with Navatolola. When she used to play tennis in Atlanta, she would date a woman I worked with while she was in town. Nice lady, friend and co-worker.
    Men impersonating women just does not make any sense to me. I have read all the arguments and understand the issues. But do not buy into the conclusions. Sometimes you are just stuck with sho you are and have to live woth it.

  11. The only solution that is fair and inclusive is to have two categories:

    Special category: only biological women (the only reason we have a women’s category now is to be fair to biological women).

    Universal category: biological women + everyone else (biological women can choose not to participate in this category).

  12. I hope this is a fad, which will quickly die out.
    There are very few people with any objective basis to claim to be transgender. With that in mind, those rare cases should be adjudicated by the governing bodies of the particular sports.

    What we seem to be doing now, is listening to the loudest and most emotional voices in the room, with a view to avoid causing offense. The problem with that is that those voices belong to fringe activists, and any appeasement will only result in more absurd demands.

    I feel for trans folks. one of my kids is going through this, and it is heartbreaking. My personal view of the phenomena, at least among trans folk without intersex medical conditions, is that it is just normal body awkwardness. Most of us sometimes feel uncomfortable in our bodies. When I was a teenager, I just learned to live with it. These days, there are “advocates” telling kids that the answer is gender dysphoria. At least for boys, part of why that is appealing is that they already have a strong appreciation for female bodies. But they do not want actually be a woman. They want to be what they, as a male, imagine that being a woman is like. From my own observations, many of these kids are trans+gay. My child is a healthy biological boy, but feels he is a lesbian girl. He exclusively dates girls who think they are boys. These are kids in their late teens, so nobody has had surgery or anything like that. They just seem like nice, normal kids except for the one big delusion.
    And we do not know what to do.

    It is like having family members that have joined a cult.

    1. The most recent study with the largest sample size shows that for children who meet the criteria of gender identity disorder, the dysphoria desists within five years for about 80% of them. I find it very scary that, rather than helping these kids understand their biological reality and giving them therapy to help them accept it/get through an awkward or difficult time in their lives, we’re doing everything possible to “confirm” their delusion and promoting the use of hormones, puberty blockers, and, eventually, severe surgery.

      I think we will look back on all of this in ten or twenty years and seriously regret the route we chose.

      1. +1. It is worrying that conformity with social or ideological fashion is thought more important than an individual’s situation.

      2. The attitude I take is that I am neither pretending to believe nor doing any more to stop it beyond offering my council.
        Kids can be stubborn, and tend to push back hard when given ultimatums or threats. I would hate for the kid to have an epiphany, but not act on it for reasons of BFYTW.

        Obviously, I have a lot of internalized rage, but it is not directed at the cult members. One outlet, in the future, might be to explore malpractice law.

        It sort of feels like I have a kid who thinks he is Napoleon, but the doctors I send him to either want to discuss his general’s uniform, or supply him with a brigade of cavalry and a map of Russia.

        1. I don’t have kids, so my advice isn’t worth much, but it sounds like you’re doing exactly what you should: support your kid, allow them to express themself, and try to to your best to find the right doctor/therapist. I wish you and your kid all the best.

    2. I think the cult- like manifestations of transgenderism are exacerbated and perhaps even created by the increasingly cult- like preoccupation with feminine-girly-girl princesses and masculine-rugged-boy he-man dichotomies children now seem bombarded with from birth. It’s ironic that earlier eras with more rigid sex roles in practice seemed more comfortable with unisex toy aisles and clothing.

      Likewise, if our culture was more accepting of boys in dresses and girls in overalls, instead of identifying as “ being in the wrong body,” people are more likely to identify as being like themselves.

      1. We’ve become far more accepting of those things, and we’re in fact constantly bombarded with messages — in educational materials, children’s shows, and even the toy aisles in toy stores — that it’s OK to act and dress however you want. I don’t think it’s that. I think transgenderism has become memetic, where kids hear about it through other kids and adults are bombarded with the idea of it on the internet and in media. Usually, when a young kid says he or she doesn’t feel right in their own body or in acting “masculine” or “feminine,” they’re not labeling themselves transgender, but the parents can reasonably be expected to because that’s the messaging they’ve been getting. And for middle schoolers and teens, they can get sucked into online communities and then real-world cliques where being trans is actually the coo thing to be, and it can become a sort of socially passed on disease that can represent many things, from being a highly progressive person, to being non-conformist, to being rebellious, etc. We’ve seen through studies that, if you end up in a high school clique where one person comes out as transgender, the rest of the people in the clique suddenly have an enormously higher chance of coming out as transgender despite no indication of it previously (rapid onset gender dysphoria).

        Anyway, throughout my childhood through middle school years, I knew plenty of boys who acted feminine and plenty of girls who acted masculine. Nobody ever thought they might be transgender, but we did think some of them would grow up to be gay, and all the ones we thought would be gay ended up being so. I think a lot of the kids we’re labeling as transgender now were the kinds of kids who were just as confused twenty or thirty years ago, but nobody was convinced they were trans. They just dealt with it. And a lot of kids we think are trans do end up turning out to just be gay, which is where the akwardness and uncomfortability comes from: they’re confused by their sexuality and that they don’t walk, talk, dress, and act like most of their peers.

        And that’s what it really comes down to: if you’re a kid and you notice that you aren’t quite like the people who are around you all day, you will be confused, regardless of the messages society sends.

    3. Sorry for the challenges you’re facing.
      “And we do not know what to do.”

      Which surely must be worse in a climate where *everyone* wants to give you an opinion, asked for or not.

      1. It is *very* easy to confuse the ‘comment’ box with the ‘reply’ box. Especially if the comment you were replying to was the last comment at the time.

        I do it all the time. 🙁


    1. We have it better than most families in such situations. My kid gets great grades, and I am married to a smart woman who is an MD with a strong background in pediatrics. (Grades are not the ultimate test of happiness, but they are symptomatic of a person’s ability to hold things together.)

      For us, the main issue is slowly increasing levels of stress. Nothing is terribly wrong right now, and nothing has been done that cannot be undone.

      Of course all of these kids are depressed. A big issue is trying to find appropriate therapy. Everyone we have found so far is either a fringy religious “deprogrammer”, or an advocate and enabler.

      And I want to be clear that I am not discussing people with real intersex disorders. I meet a lot of trans kids and their parents, and pretty much all of them were normal, healthy children with supportive parents, who apparently just decided to switch teams in the last couple of years, at around the age of 16 or 17. When I talk to them, the symptoms they describe are the same sort of things I went through at the same age, and I suspect are universal human experiences in growing up.

      The biggest fear that parents like us have is where this is taking the kids mentally. Assuming that trans feelings are triggered by body awkwardness, their attempts to find comfort in the body of the opposite sex are doomed to fail. Even if transitions worked perfectly, it would not match their hopes. A teenaged boy’s vision of what it is like to be a girl is not the reality that actual girls experience. A lot of those girls are pinning their hopes of happiness on being a boy, which is also not happening. The best they can hope for realistically is looking like someone who has had too much plastic surgery, while also suffering from the side effects of hormones and other treatments.

      Sorry for the rambling.

  13. Yes, perhaps in some cases sexual desire—or the lack of it—is based on bigotry.

    It’s almost always based on bigotry — most commonly, bigotry against the ugly. But there’s never been any law or regulation or standard in this nation prohibiting bigotry in one’s intimate personal affairs. The law prohibits bigotry only with regard to matters of employment and education and housing and businesses held open to the public.

  14. I’m very much ‘transphobic’ on this. Transgender is fine, but you compete in your biological sex category.
    For hermaphrodites -different from transgender- the question is more difficult, The easiest solution is to consider the presence or not of a Y-×2chromosome should be decisive.
    As for having sex with trans men or women, one should not impose sexual attraction or lust on anybody else. Stronger, a trans woman (biologically male) or a trans man (biologically female) should be liable for deceit if the revelation of their biological sex has to wait until the bedroom.

    1. I agree. For a transsexual to hide their true sex from a potential romantic partner is apallingly deceitful. They should be upfront at the start of the relationship (unless it’s very clear they’re never going to be more than ‘just good friends’).

      It is each person’s absolute right and privilege to decide which individual(s) they find attractive enough to have a sexual relationship with. So many factors come into it that ascribing any individual preference to some sort of bias is nonsense anyway.


      1. For a transsexual to hide their true sex from a potential romantic partner is apallingly deceitful.

        Contrary to the meme presented in certain songs and movies, the ability to hide that is largely non-existant. What violence occurs from supposedly deceived sex partners in fact turns out to be a more common phenomenon: the perp is conflicted about their sexual attraction and then blames their gay/trans partner for ‘making’ them sin.

  15. There is also a safety aspect in certain sports eg Rugby. Imagine a person of 70 kilos being tackled by someone of 110 kilos. Much risk of injury. Then there’s boxing and martial arts.

      1. Hadn’t seen that one. Looks as if an adult is competing against 7 yr olds. Video commentary aside, the video shows the ridiculousness in terms of size alone.

  16. For individual athletics timed events:

    ** Dispense with the fake amateur/pro distinction & compete for purses [with betting allowed]
    ** No sex categories
    ** Have both open & handicapped events just like horse racing
    ** Handicapped racing divided into classes & horses competitors move up & down a class based on performance
    ** Free oats & hay

          1. Yes indeed. There would have to be new statutes on the books to prevent frivolous lawsuits for human trafficking, procuring or whoring.

            Make Athletics Great Again.

  17. Somewhat of an aside: why does “phobic”, which means fear (extreme and/or irrational), take on the meaning of “bigot”, when preceded by trans-, homo-, or islamo-?

    1. Because an irrational fear [or aversion] to darkness, lightning, spiders, frogs, flying, the number 13, shoes etc does not offend the identity of people or a class of people.

      When the subject of the phobia is people then there’s two settings where the term -phobic is used

      [1] There’s the medical one where someone might have [just for example] an irrational fear/aversion to men/males [androphobia] & no kerfuffle results. And then there’s the….

      [2] Social/informal where the term “-phobic” or “-phobia” is probably best avoided entirely because it’s lazy – it contains an assumption “irrational” which isn’t always applicable in common usage. We’ve all seen/heard those discussions where the two sides are stuck on definitions – usually in the case of Islam – the irrationality [or otherwise] of fearing Islam.

      Just find a better word. We should be greatful that nobody has popularised the term “Judeophobia”!

    2. Beats me, but if I had to guess I’d say that “-phobic” belittles people by implying that they’re weak, wrong, and perhaps not fully sane. It’s easier to be dismissive of someone in that case.

  18. Clearly transgender people should be able to participate in athletics…

    And they can, in the competition class of their actual sex.

    Gender identity /= sex — that nonsense needs to be shut down once and for all.

  19. We already have a solution to this problem, it’s called the special olympics. They have many different bands of ability, and procedures for judging which one to put you in, and then you compete.

    As others have mentioned, the other analogy is boxing, which has many weight classes, each encompassing a roughly equal portion of the male population. In essence our current main-olympic categories are “open” and “women”, each 49% of the population.

    For the other 2% we have the special olympics. IIRC intersex conditions all lumped together are roughly as common as young people who need a wheelchair. So this seems the obvious model. It’s all already set up, and quite well supported — much more than 2% of the money / TV time devoted to the majority events.

    1. I think the best analogy is the Paralympic Games, not the Special Olympics. Both are wonderful but one is more about the physical disabilities and the other is mental/intellectual disabilities but your point is understood (I made the same point above).

      I do think there are sports where it matters less. Mixed doubles tennis, having a male & a female on each side for example, and even baseball in some aspects, I mean, not every player need be a Mike Trout sized monster home run hitter, but for most sports it would be dangerously unequal, on average, and not much fun to watch, either.

      1. Indeed, sorry, the paralympic games was what I had in mind. (Somehow I thought they included all disabilities, but wikipedia says no.)

        It seems that equestrian events are the only sex-blind ones at the olympics now, sailing used to be but got split. I don’t follow closely but I have an idea that in some very long-distance running events (well over 100km) women are competitive, although numbers are small. Would be interesting if they ever decide to make those single-class.

      2. Even within the Paralympic Judo competitions,
        it hard to level the playing field, as there are many levels of blindness, but aloso competitors with levels of deafness. They really do try to equalize it, as much as possible.

  20. It reminds me of a podcast I listened to last year. I was directed to it from another liberal atheist podcast and it sounded like it might be interesting. On it a gay man and a trans woman mansplained (really no other word for it) how men have uncontrollable sexual needs, which they termed ‘penis monsters’, and women with low standards need to sleep with the incels so they won’t go on rampages killing people. The implication was that the rest of us women should get over ourselves so this wouldn’t be an issue. Because, I guess, the power of the vagina is magically transformative and cures all ills? It was weirdly uncomfortable to realize that if I ever complained that two people born men who likely slept with other men were telling women in a particularly patronizing manner that their choice to not sleep with terrible men was a threat to society, that I would be considered in the wrong. (So of course, I’m complaining about the whole weird thing now without even remembering the name of the podcast)

      1. I think it means INvoluntarily CELibate, which I take take as a guy who can’t find a girlfriend for various reason and blames it on women. I think they’re the type to wear MENINIST shirts to piss people off and rile up feminists, an attitude that may or may not explain why they’re single.

    1. I’ve been poking around and may have found the podcast, but I can’t find the episode. So take my memory of it with a grain (or more) of salt- I can’t relisten to see if I remember right or link it for you guys to listen and decide if I’m right in my assessment.

    2. “The implication was that the rest of us women should get over ourselves so this wouldn’t be an issue.”

      That seems to be the default media response to almost everything.

  21. I once saw a feminist propose that sports be divided into weight classes similar to boxing and men and women would compete together. She was working on the assumption that men and women are completely alike except for genitals. If we enacted her proposal we would see women disappear from most sports. I presume at that point strictures would have to be instituted against male athletes to make things “fair” and bring the participation numbers of each sex to 50%.

  22. Andrew Sullivan’s concluding paragraph, made me think a blog post by transgendered author Caitlin R. Kiernan.

    “I miss the Good Ol’ Days, when it was only the evangelicals on the Far Right telling me what I could read and what I could say and write. I never thought I’d be getting the same censorious fascist from “progressives” on the Left. But here we are, with “progressives” arguing that free speech is an impediment to a perfect and just society. I never had an evangelical call me problematic. They were honest enough to come out and tell me I was going to Hell.”

    And if you read through their blog starting with the 2016 election (Where Kiernan declared for Hillary Clinton and was subjected to abuse by the supporters of Bernie Sanders for committing a thoughtcrime.) it becomes quite clear that Kiernan also has trouble understanding just where the ‘movement; has gone, but what they see disturbs them profoundly.

  23. Are there any transgender men pleading to compete against cisgender men? Until there are, conclude that the transgender women are the bigots, showing contempt for cis women with easy victories over them. It seems to take more than hormones to remove misogyny.

  24. In sports, we have separate categories for statistical fairness.
    So, this is how I think it should be:

    The women’s category is a restricted category. You have to meet the criteria to compete in this category.

    The men’s category is really an “open” category and that is where you compete if you don’t meet the women’s category restriction.

    It isn’t about “man/woman”, “male, female”, etc.

  25. In my 58 years on this Earth, I have never knowingly met, or even knowingly seen, a transsexual person. I’ve always been aware that they exist, but assumed that they were such a microscopically-small fraction of the population that I was unlikely ever to encounter one. I don’t know how many people identify as “trans”, but it must be far less than 1% of the population. The number who want to take part in serious competitive sports must be a small fraction of that.

    That being the case, I just find it astonishing that transgenderism seems to have become the litmus test for ideological purity for much of the feminist or “progressive” Left. I’m happy for transgender people to live their lives however they want, but the current attention paid to them seems to be completely disproportionate to the number of people involved. It all seems to have come from nowhere in the space of the last few years. I only hope that this madness turns out to be a short-lived cultural fad like the Satanic ritual abuse or Alien abduction manias that were big at one time.

    1. Dave – where did you live Biloxi or something 🙂

      BIG mistake guestimating numbers from personal observation over a lifetime that includes periods where being other than vanilla Ken & Barbie had serious negative social consequences:

      “In my 58 years on this Earth, I have never knowingly met, or even knowingly seen, a transsexual person. I’ve always been aware that they exist, but assumed that they were such a microscopically-small fraction of the population that I was unlikely ever to encounter one. I don’t know how many people identify as “trans”, but it must be far less than 1% of the population”

      I can cancel your vote. I’m vintage 1955, Birmingham, UK & I’ve known a couple of dozen males in the 70s/80s who met at one of my local pubs [Rose Villa Tavern] – a sort of support group & around one third of those had ambitions to transition to female – probably most didn’t medically because it was difficult & stressful to jump through the bureaucratic hoops of the day. I’ve encountered men in the trans boat in the forces, in three jobs I’ve had, two barmaids, one club owner, two drag artistes out of a group of six artistes I knew. I’ve known only one who went through the whole [complete] surgical palaver of going male to female – an Irish comedian & singer.

      I’m amazed you’re aware of none, ever.

      1. I don’t know where he lives, but, considering transgender people make up about 0.3% ti 0.8% of the population (and that’s today, the numbers were probably far lower even two decades ago), and considering that they’re mostly clustered in large, liberal cities, it is unfair to think that it’s impossible for someone not to have met a transgender person. Let’s say we’re talking about the US. If you live in a rural area or a small town — especially in the south or midwest — there’s no reason to think Dave can’t have gone through life not meeting a transgender person.

        1. Or at least, not *knowingly* meeting a transgender person.

          A bit like homosexuals used to be – one had probably met a lot, but didn’t know it.


          1. Yeah, but it’s still entirely possible that they simply never met one. Especially at Dave’s age, any peers of his who might have been trans likely wouldn’t have passed very well, as they would have had to transition much later in life and wouldn’t have had the benefit of tools like puberty blockers and better surgery.

        2. That’s why I say are you from Biloxi? Do you get it? If he is from a rural place & never travelled then he should say so at the top of his comment. He’s using his own apparently insular life experience to draw conclusions about something he knows nothing of.

          1. Seems like you did the exact same thing: drawing conclusions from your own life experience. Turns out his numbers were pretty close to correct.

          2. No. I was putting my anecdote up next to his to show there’s a range – that meeting/knowing zero transgender in 58 years is not necessarily typical. I drew no stats from my life experience & I didn’t say his stat was wrong. But his methodology stinks – I wouldn’t be drawn into giving a figure based on just who I’ve met & I’m a bit older than Dave.

        3. Some people I meet, I wonder about, but that’s as far as I go. If people want to tell me, fine. If not, fine also. I’m not good at guessing. And from hearing co-workers and acquaintances opine on who-is-what, I know they aren’t good at it either.

    2. I have never knowingly met, or even knowingly seen, a transsexual person.

      You would’ve known had you met one.

      … they were such a microscopically-small fraction of the population … it must be far less than 1% of the population.

      Try 0.3%

      1. I currently reside in the West Highlands of Scotland, where it’s not uncommon to see men in skirts – though their gender identity is never in doubt!

        However, I’m originally a city boy, I’ve lived in a variety of places in and out of the UK, and have attended two different universities, so I haven’t all spent my life in Hicksville. I may quite possibly have met or seen transsexuals and not been aware of them, but to agree with Matt above, most of those I see in the press/on TV etc. look very obviously “trans” and would only pass as their self-identified gender on a very dark night. That’s especially true for the “trans” athletes we’re discussing here.

        1. I’ve met a few transsexuals over the years as I live in a city with a large LGBTQ community. Many you could pass on the street without noticing anything out of the ordinary. I think most want to be accepted without comment and just get on with their lives.

          1. Most seem to want just that. And ‘passing’ (via transition) is more about making the individual feeling more at ease with their dysphoria, than in ‘tricking’ (my clumsy word) potential sex partners.

            The trans radical activists, however, do not seem to represent the majority of trans, and all seem to be raging narcissists. You also have a good number of prominent autogynephilics, for whom seeing themselves — and being seen — as women is a paraphilia. And then there’s an increasing number of troubled individuals & attention-seekers who have discovered that claiming to be trans reaps a huge amount of attention and special treatment nowadays.

          2. I think the trans activist community (and their “allies”) and what they promote has been actively hurting the vast majority of trans individuals. What these activists portray in the media is not the agenda of the average trans person). The activists (and their many “allies”) have made it into an ideology and part of a larger ideological framework. Most trans people, including every one I’ve ever known except one, just want to be accepted for who they are and not have their lives revolve around their “identity” of being trans in any way. They just want to be regular people, but the activists won’t let them. I even know a couple of trans people who went to trans support groups, only to be shit all over for not ideologically conforming. It turned out the support groups weren’t for support, but for political organization.

            Because of the activists and the media portrayal, people meet a trans person and immediately assume they’re like what’s been seen on TV and in the media, when the truth is that the vast majority of trans people are just like anyone else in the world.

  26. Isn’t it rich how the trans movement now wants to dictate to gay men (and lesbians) whom they should bed, much like religious fundamentalists of old? And in fact, lots of fundamentalists are more tolerant than that now.

    I have for years n suspected that identity and intersectionality ideology are at heart religious and authoritarian.

    Yet, it’s interesting to see how little they are denounced by the vanilla gay rights movement, much less the dreaded mainstream media.

    1. Trans radicals like Zinnia Jones and Dennis Riley make the same demands of straight men. Jones in particular has been very foul-mouthed and aggressive about it.

  27. Lots of comments already. My, this filled up fast!
    There is no easy answer. Every possible solution is going to cross wires with the values of one group or another. But the best I can suggest is to let the transwomen compete as women, but their place can’t be counted among the finishers. They can compete & even beat the field, and try to improve on their performance in the purest sense of athletic sport. But the standings go to the biological women.

    1. I think that might take the shine off the ‘real’ winners.
      And, continue to allow howls of protest from activists.

    2. Maybe they could have two sets of medals, and two sets of records. One would be “Overall”, including trans-women, and one would be “Born Female”, or some such designation.

      Maybe that’s not really different from just having a third category for trans-women, though.

  28. The real problem issue here is that activists of almost any stripe are able to amplify their shrieks of protest to suppress rational discussion of issues and continue to promote a world view well short on evidence and dripping in ideology and dogma.

    It is self evident absurd for a man to compete against women in physical things.

    The whole denial of biological (and other) realities is absurd.

    The weight these voices ,carrying these absurdities have, is absurd.

    The push back will happen, because reality is real.
    But when?

    1. Good post. But how does the majority of the population that doesn’t buy into this crap push back when the entire media and all the “influencers” and promoted people on social media are pushing the agenda? And the voices of the majority are being constricted further and further, as we see with the continual updating of policies in the places that have become our de facto public forums, like Youtube, Twitter, and Facebook.

      The only place this silent majority has a voice is in right-wing media, which is largely seen as illegitimate even to people like me (with exceptions for places that simply lean conservative, like WSJ and National Review). The difference between me and most others is that I now see media from both sides as illegitimate.

  29. “Once upon a time, the religious right would tell me that I should sleep with women because I might find the right one and finally be happy. Now the intersectional left is telling me something almost exactly the same. What has happened to this movement? Where on earth has it gone?” — Andrew Sullivan

    The “intersectional left” is a religious right, just of a new generation. It’s different compared to the traditional religious right because of rapid change in the internet age. But they seem to tick all the important boxes: concerned with law and order (policing of speech and media), deeply concerned with “safety” (safe spaces), traditions (cultural appropriation), want to fit in, obsessed with reputation and identity, are deeply religious control freaks, prone to believe in conspiracy theories (The Patriarchy), casual race-sex based bigotry etcetera. And as you see, are on the verge to their own form of “conversation therapy” so evil heterosexuals may be attracted to trans and same sex individuals.

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