As I’ve said before, trans people should have every civil right that “cis” people have, and I think it’s only decent to honor their request about what pronouns they use. But this does not mean that trans women should have every right that cis woman have, as there are circumstances when equal treatment is trumped by other considerations. That does not make one transphobic, despite the claims of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and others, who defend trans women’s rights to participate in, say, sports—the hardest case to make for trans rights.
The reason is, of course, that even with hormone treatment and surgery, the data so far suggest that in terms of muscle mass, bone density, and upper-body strength, a biological male who transitions to female gender still retains male-like traits, even after hormone treatment and especially if they transition after puberty. And in some cases neither surgery nor hormone therapy is required: all that’s needed to compete in women’s sports is the simple declaration that you’re a women.
In a disheartening move, the ACLU has joined on the side of the defense in a suit brought by three Connecticut girls who claim that the state’s policy of allowing transgender women to compete in women’s sports is illegal. What makes this case easier than usual is that Connecticut has a state law saying that your gender is whatever you say it is, which means that surgically unaltered and hormonally untreated biological males can still declare that they’re women and then compete in women’s sports. Naturally, they’ve cleaned up in that state (and elsewhere), especially in track and field and weightlifting. Nevertheless, the ACLU claims that challenging the Connecticut law amounts to discrimination against transgender women. They don’t mention that it also amounts to discrimination against cis women, who have to compete on a tilted playing field.
As I wrote in 2019 about hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which the Olympics allows as a way for biological males to compete in women’s sports, so long as they’ve had HRT for a year and testosterone levels are below a threshold level.
From the Guardian:
If you start HRT after you’ve already developed the musculature and bone structure of a biological male, and then transition to female, you don’t lose all that bone and muscle. It seems clear that this gives many transgender women a leg up in women’s sports.
This seems to be the case for the weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, who, competing for New Zealand, transitioned from male to female in her thirties, and then won two golds and a silver in three women’s heavyweight categories at the Pacific Games in Samoa in early July. (I believe she’s undergone HRT.) There were objections from other weightlifters and Samoans (they had their own local favorite), just as Connecticut non-transgender women who compete in track and field have begun to object to what seems a palpably unfair way to interpret “women” when it comes to high school athletics. (Three of those women have filed a federal anti-discrimination lawsuit against Connecticut, claiming that the state’s policy denies them the opportunity to get college scholarships that come from winning races.)
Now, according to this article in the Guardian, World Rugby, after commissioning a study, is considering banning trans women from women’s rugby. The reason: precisely because trans women are on average stronger than cis women, and risk injuring the latter in a rough-and-tumble sport like rugby. Read about the issue by clicking on the screenshot below. Uncharacteristically, the woke Guardian doesn’t take the side of trans women here, though it often injects opinion into news reports:
Here’s the gist of the argument:
The Guardian can reveal that in a 38-page draft document produced by its transgender working group, it is acknowledged that there is likely to be “at least a 20-30% greater risk” of injury when a female player is tackled by someone who has gone through male puberty. The document also says the latest science shows that trans women retain “significant” physical advantages over biological women even after they take medication to lower their testosterone.
As a result, World Rugby’s working group suggests that its current rules, which allow trans women to play women’s rugby if they lower their testosterone levels for at least 12 months in line with the International Olympic Committee’s guidelines, are “not fit for the purpose”. The draft proposals are likely to be seen by women’s groups as an important new approach towards the sensitive issue of trans inclusion, one based on biological sex and the latest science rather than how someone identifies.
While the draft proposals may not get such a positive welcome from trans rights groups, the draft document acknowledges that the working group will consider its position if the scientific evidence changes. It also recommends that trans men should be allowed to play against biological men, provided they have undergone a physical assessment and have signed a consent form.
The draft proposals, which have been sent for feedback to individual unions, are a result of a wide-ranging consultative process that began with a ground-breaking meeting in February with leading scientists, medical and legal experts as well as representatives of trans and women’s groups in an attempt to create a consensus around the latest research while also considering player welfare and inclusivity issues.
Crucially the draft proposals, which have been seen by the Guardian, accept that anyone who has gone through male puberty retains a significant physical advantage after their transition. It also recognises that the advantage is so great – and the potential consequences for the safety of participants in tackles, scrums and mauls concerning enough – it should mean that welfare concerns should be prioritised.
“Current policies regulating the inclusion of transgender women in sport are based on the premise that reducing testosterone to levels found in biological females is sufficient to remove many of the biologically-based performance advantages,” the draft report says. “However, peer-reviewed evidence suggests this is not the case.
“Ciswomen players (who do not undergo androgenisation during development) who are participating with and against transwomen (who do undergo androgenisation during development) are at a significantly increased risk of injury because of the contact nature of rugby.”
It adds: “While there is overlap in variables such as mass, strength, speed and the resultant kinetic and kinematic forces we have modelled to explore the risk factors, the situation where a typical player with male characteristics tackles a typical player with female characteristics creates a minimum of 20% to 30% greater risk for those female players. In the event of smaller female players being exposed to that risk, or of larger male players acting as opponents, the risk increases significantly, and may reach levels twice as large, at the extremes.”
. . .As World Rugby’s working group notes, players who are assigned male at birth and whose puberty and development is influenced by androgens/testosterone “are stronger by 25%-50%, are 30% more powerful, 40% heavier, and about 15% faster than players who are assigned female at birth (who do not experience an androgen-influenced development).”
Crucially those advantages are not reduced when a trans women takes testosterone-suppressing medication, as was previous thought – “with only small reductions in strength and no loss in bone mass or muscle volume or size after testosterone suppression”.
In contrast, trans men will be allowed to compete in men’s rugby, though they have to get a physical assessment, a “therapeutic-exemption-use certificate”, whatever that is, and sign a waiver saying they understand that they may be at greater risk of injury:
A draft version of the waiver for transgender men to sign, seen by the Guardian, says: “I acknowledge and accept the injury risks associated with transgender males playing contact rugby with males who are statistically likely to be stronger, faster and heavier than transgender males, as described in the World Rugby Transgender Guidelines which I have read and understand.”
Well, World Rugy’s ruling appears to be based on data, and if those data are correct I cannot see any good reason to allow transwomen—whether they’ve had surgery or hormone therapy or not—to compete in women’s rugby. The same goes for other sports in which bone density and muscle mass gives you an advantage over biological women. But if you feel otherwise, you need to understand the consequences of that decision, especially if you define “trans woman” as “anybody who feels they are a woman.” Even with HRT, you’re beginning a process that will lead to severe attrition of women’s sports as we know them.
And if having an opinion on this leads to your being called “transphobic,” well, that’s just the kneejerk reaction of those who don’t want to deal with an ethical issue whose best solution contravenes their ideology.