Once again, the question of transgender women competing in women’s sports

February 22, 2021 • 12:30 pm

The article in Quillette shown below (click on screenshot) is odd because the author is listed as “Quillette Magazine”, with no indication who did the research and writing. Claire Lehmann? Other people? If it’s a consortium of editors, they should really say so. Nothing is gained by completely anonymous publication.

Nevertheless, it’s an informative and fair piece that does three things: 1.) summarizes data showing that transgender female athletes who compete with biological women have an advantage not overcome by testosterone suppression, 2.) attacks, successfully, the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU’s) new campaign to make transgender females equal to biological females in every respect, including sports, and 3.) proposes one solution to the dilemma of “how do we allow transgender women to compete in sports?” (There is no issue with transgender men, which is part of the article’s solution to the dilemma.)

It also answers the complaint of transgender rights advocates that we shouldn’t be concentrating on women’s sports. I will respond, as I always do, by asserting that the moral and legal rights of every transgender person should be respected, and full equality mandated for all but a few areas. One of those is sports, and the reason why critics like me concentrate on it is not because we’re using sports as a way to denigrate transsexual people or deny them other rights, but simply because transgender activists often insist that the mere claim that one is a woman (or man) makes them so, regardless of whether they’ve had medical intervention. (This is the ACLU’s claim, for instance.) Ergo, anybody who wants to claim that they’re a woman, whether or not they’ve had surgery or hormonal intervention, is a woman and can compete in women’s sports.

And if the ACLU wants to die on that hill, and call people like me “transphobes,” let them, for their ideological insistence applied to all areas will eventually be the death of women’s sports—sports whose autonomy was fought for for years and now codified in Title IX. And if women’s sports die, or are taken over by transgender women, it will be the silence of biological women athletes that brings this about.


Let’s take the last complaint first. It’s expressed here by a social psychologist:

This sounds good at first, but doesn’t deal with the fundamental unfairness that many perceive of biological men (some with surgery or hormone treatments, some not) competing against women whose physiology and morphology make them less liable to win in any physical competition. Further, the Quillette article proposes a solution that sounds workable for refuting the “making you sit in a gender that doesn’t fit you” argument.

First, nobody denies sex differences in sports; if there weren’t any, we wouldn’t have separate women’s and men’s sports. Here’s the performance advantage of biological males over biological females, separated by sport (caption below from a paper I mention below). These are differences between cisgender men and women:

The male performance advantage over females across various selected sporting disciplines. The female level is set to 100%. In sport events with multiple disciplines, the male value has been averaged across disciplines, and the error bars represent the range of the advantage. The metrics were compiled from publicly available sports federation databases and/or tournament/competition records. MTB mountain bike

One solution to these differential shas been the Olympic solution: a biological male can compete in women’s Olympic sports if their serum testosterone levels have been below 10 nanomoles/liter for a year before the competition. This, however, is more or less arbitrary, as this Guardian article below suggests. It reports on a newish study (right below it) showing that testosterone suppression does not remove all the sports advantages of being a biological male.

Click on the screenshot:

The article is based on the paper below in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (free, and free pdf download):

The summary from the Guardian: two years of testosterone suppression didn’t eliminate all the advantages of biological maleness, though it did for pushups and situps (but see caveats below).

However the new study, based on the fitness test results and medical records of 29 trans men and 46 trans women who started gender affirming hormones while in the United States Air Force, appears to challenge the IOC’s scientific position.

The research, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, found that before starting their hormone treatment trans women performed 31% more push-ups and 15% more sit-ups in one minute on average than a biological women younger than 30 in the air force – and ran 1.5 miles 21% faster.

Yet after suppressing their testosterone for two years – a year longer than IOC guidelines – they were still 12% faster on average than biological females.

The trans women also retained a 10% advantage in push-ups and a 6% advantage in sit-ups for the first two years after taking hormones, before their advantage disappeared. But the researchers say they “may underestimate the advantage in strength that trans women have over cis women … because trans women will have a higher power output than cis women when performing an equivalent number of push-ups”.

On the other hand, trans men, who took testosterone supplements, became equivalent to biological men after two years, except that the trans men did more situps than biological men (this is why biological males aren’t allowed to take testosterone supplements, and highlights one possible difficulty with Quillette’s solution of allowing trans men to compete with biological men in an “open” category).

The paper below, published in Sports Medicine, concludes that even after three years of treatment, transgender women still retain advantages over biological women in nearly every physiological, morphological, and performance test reviewed, and sometimes those advantages were considerable.

We already know that the ACLU, while engaging in its admirable work on civil rights, including transgender rights, has gone off the rails with the latter, insisting that transgender women must be equal to biological women in every respect. This is largely due to the zealotry of the ACLU’s Deputy Director for Transgender Justice, Chase Strangio, who has done good work on trans rights but is a “trans fundamentalist” when it comes to sports.

Here are four claims that the ACLU has made and which Quillette critiques. Every claim is either misleading or wrong. I won’t discuss them (I’ve dealt with some before), as you can read the article:

Relevant to the last one about separate teams, here’s Quillette‘s solution:

One promising option, for instance, would be to preserve the traditionally defined female category while also rebranding the male category as an “open” category that’s available to anyone. This would allow a biologically male trans woman, or someone who is intersex, to test their speed, skill, and strength in a fair competition, while also not forcing them to submit to a designation they may find inaccurate or demeaning. Once overwrought ideological claims about the nature of gender identity are stripped away, in fact, open athletic categories may even provide a forum for real diversity and universal inclusivity, which is the ostensible goal of those demanding that women compete against male bodies.

As they note, this would be opposed by both conservatives and extreme Leftists, but my problem is different: the possibility, which I didn’t realize until I read the papers above, that testosterone supplements, which I think continue over life, may give an advantage to trans men over biological men in some areas.

What we know now is that arbitrary hormone limits, like the IOC’s, aren’t useful in light of data showing that even with testosterone reduction, trans women retain considerable strength, height, and muscle-mass advantages, acquired at puberty, over biological women. Dealing with that is a tough ethical and practical question.

As for transgender rights, all of us agree that with a few narrow exceptions like sports, incarceration, rape counseling, and the like, trans women should be considered the moral and legal equivalents of biological women. The rub is sports, and, as Quillette writes:

The most humane way to help and support transgender people isn’t to pretend that slogans and hashtags will magically transform them into something they’re not. It’s fine to say that “trans women are women,” full stop, as a matter of certain legal entitlements. But biology doesn’t care about what pronouns we use. And trans athletes shouldn’t be encouraged to inhabit a state of denial. There are creative strategies we can implement to invite, and even celebrate, the participation of trans athletes in all sports. But they can be implemented only once we admit the real differences that exist between the two—and only two—sexes.

I won’t go into why sex in humans is binary, as I’ve discussed that many times before. This article reiterates the data.

By the way, Quillette, could you please let us know who the authors of your articles are? Even the New York Times “editorial board” editors are known to the public. “Quillette Magazine” as an author tells us exactly nothing.

145 thoughts on “Once again, the question of transgender women competing in women’s sports

  1. Just declare the men’s division to be the “open division” and set science based criteria for the “female division.” Now the latter can be sticky (as in the case with that South African middle distance runner)

    1. That would be my solution too, but as Jerry notes in his article, the testosterone treatments that trans men routinely undergo may give them an advantage in some areas over cis men.

  2. That tweet from the social psychologist is really pretty disgusting. It tries to tar his opposition unfairly, claiming they are “using women’s sports to argue against transgender rights” and “it is tough to imagine a more morally bankrupt position”. Really?

    This is so much like the Right trying to “own the libs” by just saying something outrageous to simultaneously evoke a strong reaction and avoid the underlying issue. These people are just not engaging in reasonable dialog. Sure, we know this but it is still very frustrating. They think they are taking the high road, or claim it loudly, but they are really taking the low road.

    1. And to dismiss women athletes by saying “so your daughter can win her soccer game”. Really? That’s what that is about – infantilize an athlete’s concern by making her a kid playing an amateur game. And it’s not accurate – more like “because a woman wants the chance to fairly win her soccer game”.

      1. It is even worse, more disingenuous, than that. By subtly (or not so subtly) directing it to younger children he is adding a red herring: before puberty there is indeed not much difference in physical strength between boys and girls. Stronger, because puberty -with it’s growth spurt- starts about 2 years earlier in girls compared to boys, girls of say, 11-13 tend to be larger and stronger than same age boys. A few years later the boys (again on average) have overtaken the girls.
        And it is only then that sports competition begins in earnest.
        One of the most disingenuous, devious and disgusting tweets I’ve seen.

  3. Taken to its ultimate conclusion: Why do we segregate sports by age, gender, weight (e.g., boxing and wrestling), etc. at all? Why do court rulings allow high school girls to join high school boys sports teams but boys cannot, for example, join the girls basketball or track teams?

    On a corollary path: Why do we have separate men’s and women’s chess rankings?

    1. I’ll try to answer a couple of your questions, though I guess they’re somewhat rhetorical.
      Why do we segregate sports by age? – It’s a useful surrogate for size and experience.
      Why by weight? – Because in many sports, weight (also surrogate for size in general, e.g. height, reach) confers an advantage.
      So why do this? I think that society has favored sports competitions that are at least somewhat even; and, at least in the case of children, has favored sports competitions that allow those who are younger/smaller/less experienced to compete in relatively even competitions and develop rather than get squashed literally or metaphorically by older and larger competitors.
      The same argument applies generally to sex.
      Why do courts allow girls to join boys teams? – Generally, I think, because there are no equivalent girls teams available: I don’t think it’s because of any judicial preference for open sports, merely that Title 9 rules (which I think most of these court decisions are based on) are designed to make sports opportunities more even for girls and boys.
      I personally favor all of the above.
      And why separate chess rankings? – That, I think, is an historical anomaly, in the sense that it reflects the historical lack of opportunities for women to develop in the chess world. I’d like to see it disappear, as I don’t believe there is any inherent reason why women cannot play chess at the highest level; and in fact points rankings for chess players are not separate – but it may just take time before there are enough women who have “grown up” in the chess world to make the practice of separate rankings unnecessary.

      1. I think you’re wrong about chess, and that we now have enough evidence to know that the highest echelons of chess will always skew heavily male. The current top-ranked woman is about 85th in the world rankings, and there’s only ever been one women who (for a brief time) broke into the top 10, ranking 8th.

        As for why this is we can discuss — one likely reason is that men and women differ in how likely they are to want to spend their lives studying and memorising chess openings simply in order to beat another player.

          1. Giving women their own rankings and tournaments gives them a chance to win, to be the best, to break records, etc. It’s the same as the issue with women’s sports in general. If the rankings and tournaments were all mixed in chess, women would rarely or never come out on top, and that may be discouraging.

          2. As it is, “men’s” chess events are open, in the sense that women can compete if they wish to (and some of them do). Kids can also compete against men in the “open” events if they wish to (and again, some do).

            So the reason that women-only chess events persist is because some women want to play in women-only chess events. I don’t see any reason to stop them doing so.

          3. I am not part of the competitive chess world but I would guess that the women would not want to be separated.

            Also, I would guess that the average superiority of men over women in chess has not been firmly established. It might well be that not many women get into it and those that do are discouraged by male dominance.

          4. Women are often the keepers of social control. It is often likely that other women shame women who do things that are out of societal standards. Women are conditioned to get along and conform. I suspect this is why you see few admit to being atheists as well. If there is a women’s group it would be non conforming to join the men’s group. You would get noticed. Other women could socially punish you for that.

          5. In some instances, I have seen some women be the self appointed social police. Sex comes to my mind. I’ve seen moral condemnation mixed with what looked like a fair amount ot jealousy.

            Regarding atheism, I find it harder to explain.The stakes are not the same. No competition for a more or less scarce resource : the good catch, the hot guy. So.. Status signalling and maintaining through belittling a peer, taking advantage of the first hint of non conformity ?

          6. Women feel the sting of social reprimands greater. Raised to get along it is top of mind for a lot of women. I see this difference in male peers all the time. If I say “so and so is angry with us” the women will feel bad and try to fix it. The men Wil say “oh well”. I try to be more like the men.

          7. Exactly. My Father started me on chess lessons very young. He also taught me how to throw “like a boy” ie properly. That’s why I always played 3rd base. It’s simply a matter of exposure and encouragement.

          8. Eeeehhhh… No. I am a man. I suck at sports. No amount of encouragement could ever do anything about it. Feynman said that as a teenager, when trying to throw a ball, the ball would fly about one radian from the desired direction, and end up nowhere near the right range.

            Gilft exists. Negative gift exists.

          9. But how about this? Far more women routinely play Scrabble than do men. And, Scrabble tournaments are not gender segregated and actually have more women entrants than men. But men completely dominate the wins at these events.

            “Men really ARE better at Scrabble”

            …Unlike male dominated games such as chess, there are generally more women at Scrabble competitions, but men still end up inevitably winning.” [Daily Mail]

            The explanation is that men are more interested in winning (competitive) and women are more interested in just having fun.

            This does not make ANY sense to me at all. While that may (or may not) be true for casual play, people who enter tournaments like this are almost by definition highly competitive. That is the whole point (motive) of entering. There must be some other explanations as well.

          10. I submit that the men are distracting to the women and probably wear provocative clothing. We all know what harlots male scrabble players are.

          11. That hits home. My wife is a Scrabble fan and tried to engage in it me years ago. She beat me easily. Of course, she played a lot and I have only played a dozen times in my entire life. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

          12. I used to have a friend who played chess seriously. I (female) was charmed by the idea of being able to walk into a chess club in any city in the world and meet people. He looked at me like I was crazy when I said this. Other chess players were not friends to him and never could be.

          13. How unfortunate for that man not to see it as a way to make friends (as, like you, I would see it). I guess we don’t have killer instincts.

          14. Meh, I wouldn’t want to make friends there either. If I did it would be by accident.

          15. “Men really ARE better at Scrabble”…
            …The explanation is that men are more interested in winning (competitive) and women are more interested in just having fun.

            Note that the former doesn’t necessarily follow from the latter. “Wants to play in tournaments” is a self-selected group, and rather than men being better, it may be the case that a much higher % of great male players like to enter tournaments. This would naturally result in men dominating the game at tournaments, even if the distribution of great scrabble players was equal between the sexes.

            I offer that as an alternate possibility, I’m not claiming you’re wrong. Personally I don’t find your idea disturbing or sexist – some of the best (American version) scrabble players don’t even speak English; they simply memorize all our words. If someone were to tell me that men are more inclined to memorize all the words in the dictionary in order to better win a game, then it’s not women who come out looking bad in that comparison lol.

          16. @DianaMcPherson

            A long while ago, I think it is you who served me a reply that was mocking me in a way that was funny even to me. I ‘m still quoting it, In fact I quoted it even today to a friend. After a rant of mine against Bill Gates you gave me the Palpatine “Good. Let the hate flow through you.” That was priceless.

        1. You may well be right: I played through university (with no real interest in memorising openings); but right now I know who the current world champion is and that’s about my knowledge of or interest in chess. For me it was always a relaxation rather than a challenge to be the best, or even to be as good as I could get.
          But that’s me; and that, I suspect, is most people in most sports, although surely not those who earn their living at it. However, there are people who do want to be the best in their field, and there are women among them – think of the Megan Rapinoes and Naomi Osakas in sports – and if there are enough such women in chess, I have little doubt that one will become world champion at some point.

        2. … or could it be that males have that all pervasive one-upmanship addling their brains? but I see what you mean, it is a serious commitment to out smarting someone or something (AI)
          Maybe females don’t see chess as a real pursuit for status or anything else, it’s just a game!

          There is those that can remember a huge sequence of cards by memory tricks, what for? for the national recognition, the glory of competition
          (+ $$$) status in the record books. Nearly all are males.
          One of these competitors has or in the process of selling a book and movie about his story.

        3. > That, I think, is an historical anomaly, in the sense that it reflects the historical lack of opportunities for women to develop in the chess world.

          I mostly agree. Women from the Soviet Union are overrepresented among great female chess players, which suggests to me that cultural expectations and lack of opportunity matter.

          Mr Polgar made his daughters world famous, although he was a Hungarian Ashkenazi Jew with an academic background, which makes it quite likely that he was gifted. He never implemented his plan of adopting a child and teaching her to play chess. Would have been an interesting data point.

          I guess chess players do not need to meet their opponents in person anymore but merely require an internet connection to play against them. Ordinary athletes have a much harder time organizing competitions.

        1. Women are faster swimmers than boys before puberty. But as their bodies mature, they often get worse in absolute terms. Thus top female swimmers are increasingly underage. When training very hard, they can also experience delayed puberty and missing periods.

          Note that the situation in swimming is relatively good because that sport favors body fat. Female gymnasts and figure skaters for example have to sacrifice more of their health to win medals.

      2. But you could organize sports the way Europe organizes soccer leagues. For example, the highest level league in England is the Premier League. If a team cannot successfully compete successfully in the Premier League it is “relegated” to play in the next lower level league, the Champions League. If a team cannot successfully compete in the Champions League it must play in the next lower level league (“League One”) and so on.

        You could do the same in sports on a gender-neutral basis. For example, a high school sports district could have a gender neutral Class A basketball league, a Class B basketball league, etc. Of course, I realize boys may dominate all the tiers so that this is probably not practical if you want girls to equally participate in sports unless you set up final “levelling leagues” to get 50% participation rates overall.

        (It is also not true that girls are not only allowed to join boys teams when there is no equivalent girls team.)

  4. We are by now familiar with heart-rending memoirs of individuals who feel that they were somehow born into the wrong body. The situation must be even more acute for the exceptionally sensitive souls who feel alienated not merely from their sex chromosome genotype, but from their human genome altogether, and consequently the human body they seem to inhabit. These individuals find it a mysterious accident that they were born into a human body, when in their innermost soul they feel that they really are a Golden Bamboo Lemur of Madagascar, or perhaps a Purple Splendor Rhododendron. I’m not sure what the latter individuals should choose for their personal pronouns, since Rhododendrons are both he and she simultaneously. “It” may be the only common pronoun available in such cases, although perhaps even more new pronouns will have to be devised for those whose innermost soul tells them that they belong to the plant rather than the animal kingdom.

  5. Gotta disagree here. This is a dog whistle/wedge issue that doesn’t deserve this amount of attention. Firstly, I don’t see the number of Transwomen in sports as a threat to cisfemales. It’s a relatively minor issue mainly propogated by so-called “Vagina Feminists” in some MMA and body building circles. I know a lot of folks who have taken the grueling path to Transition. And in no way is their quest to be their true selves a threat to anyone.

    Being trans or gender queer is not some decision you just make lightly. I struggled all my life with this idea that I should have been a gay male. I don’t want to be a man biologically. But I certainly have no idea what being female is all about, except as a horrific cosmic joke. Now I understand that this is normal. There are others like me. In fact, I mainly post as a male on social media with a gender swapped, FaceApp pic. I’m also freer as a result, I can wear make up, have a “male” hair cut, wear my Docs with a dress or jeans instead of heels. My boyfriend doesn’t care. No one cares because it’s the 21st Century!

    Now before you go wrestling with Gina Carano:
    Here is your punishment in the worst form imaginable. Morrissey lyrics.

    The life you lead, straightforward and bland
    Everything happens according to plan
    But some people fight just to take root
    In a world ill-equipped for the truth about Ruth
    Ruth is John
    Ruth is John
    We all do what we can
    Just to get along
    Oh, bully for you, oh, bully for you
    Your groin and your face, they slip right into place
    So masoned and carved, your arrow is drawn
    You know who you are, yet you have no idea
    Ruth is John
    Ruth is John
    And sooner or later
    We are all calmed down

    The Truth About Ruth, from I’m Not a Dog on a Chain, 2020, Steven Morrissey

    1. Firstly, I don’t see the number of Transwomen in sports as a threat to cisfemales.

      To take an example sport, in any given year, something like 2000 men run the 100-m sprint faster than the fastest women. It would thus only take 1-in-2000 men to identify as women for women’s sport to be completely changed and dominated by biological males.

      1. That’s funny. Doesn’t seem to have affected women’s soccer, basketball, or tennis. In fact, the US women’s soccer team is phenomenal! I feel perhaps you have some questions that need answering to properly understand what it’s like to be trans or gender queer. I’d be be more than happy to help.

        1. Top women’s soccer teams tend to get beaten by teams of 14-yr-old boys.

          There’s nothing wrong with accepting that men and women are biologically different, and that in most sports men have a substantial advantage.

          1. Well, for example, the US National Women’s soccer team lost 5-2 to Dallas FC U-15 boys. That sort of thing is fairly routine (the top women’s soccer teams often play against boys’ teams in order to get good training against stiff opposition — note that they don’t play men’s teams ‘cos they’d be slaughtered).

          2. As Coel noted, the women’s US soccer team that won the World Cup — considered the greatest female soccer team ever assembled — lost multiple matches to under-18, under-17, and even under-15 boys teams. The US Olympic gold-winning women’s hockey team lost multiple games to high school boys teams, which they used for practice.

            Men and women are biologically different. There’s no shame in admitting this and no reason not to do so. It’s not something bad. It’s not something that makes women less valuable. But ignoring it does make one seem more interested in activism than truth.

        2. The key difference with soccer and basketball is that they’re team sports, so one or two trans players might not give a decisive advantage. But in individual sports like athletics (Coel’s example), if the top sprinter in women’s sprinting for several years is a trans athlete (and with the kind of advantage that male puberty gives to runners, we could easily be talking about a Usain-Bolt-like margin of supremacy), winning all the gold medals at the Olympics and World Championships, that would have a profound impact on women’s athletics even though it’s only one person. Tennis comes into that too: in her 2019 BBC documentary Martina Navratilova noted that a professional male player who transitioned (sorry I don’t recall the name) had been ranked in the low hundreds as a male player but instantly became one of the top players in the world on the women’s circuit — Navratilova said she “only just” managed to beat her despite being the top women’s player at the time.

          1. Yes, that’s the one. I hope at some point it may get onto YouTube. Navratilova was very thoughtful and open to changing her mind.

          1. I took krav maga (I sucked). To most girls, guys would “grant” a fight. With one of them, I didn’t even block and I was a beginner. Ther was nothing behind her kicks. I thought “What you need is a spray can.”

            One of them had me move back outside the room, into the lobby, where I resorted to throwing random objects at her. She was bigger than me : taller, wider everywhere, obviously heavier, had been in the military where she had driven trucks loaded with tanks, so… Arms.

    2. I completely agree with your characterization of this as a wedge and dogwhistle issue. But I also think that members of a group should be the loudest speakers against that group’s excesses. As a person who generally agrees with the ACLU’s stances on how we should build a society, when I see them make such a fundamentally, scientifically flawed argument like they have with respect this specific issue, I need to speak out. Much in the same way that peaceful, secular Muslims should be the loudest critics of their religion’s extremists instead of focusing on islamophobia at the expense of such criticism. And like I, as a white male atheist, need to be loud in opposition to purveyors of actual islamophobia or any other type of bigotry spouted by people like me.

      I mean this sincerely, I brings me joy when you (or friends who’ve had similar experiences as what you’ve described here) describe yourself as “freer”. I am so all for that in every single way that makes sense, which is *almost* every single way.

      1. I do understand what you are saying. And it is a tough call. But I fear a form of “separate but equal” type of segregation that would never allow the individual to be seen as anything other than their gender identity. And while I understand your point, why should Muslims or Trans folks be forced to explain themselves in a manner that keeps others comfortable? They already face an uphill struggle. I noticed one time on this page it was asked why there are not many women on atheist forums. I used to belong to many, but I found the (generally cismale) obsession with women in Western nations who choose to wear a hijab off-putting. Just more men judging women’s dress. That’s simply one example. Why don’t we leave the decision regarding transwomen in sports up to their fellow women athletes? Let women wear whatever they want on their heads. It’s better than a Red Hat. Besides, great way to hide Covid hair. I’m from PA, and we have a long tradition of the notion of Tolerance from our Quaker founder William Penn. That’s why we have communities

    3. I am trying hard to find the truth of the matter here. Of course, sometimes a perceived ‘threat’ is no threat at all, really. What I would personally like to see on this present matter is to broaden the experiment on having trans women compete as women. Let’s see if this will be the ruination of women’ sports. I am not at present convinced either way on the matter. One side says yes it will. Another says no it won’t. Let’s find out.

      My question is: If this experiment were done, and if its seen that women’s sports at the elite levels (college and beyond) is becoming dominated with trans women earning all the gold medals in strength and speed based events, then what should be done?

      1. I suspect it will ruin it for some people. May not be the whole sport, who knows. But is that the real measurement?

    4. It only takes one good trans woman athlete to ruin a sport for all of the female participants. And while you may not think it an important issue, plenty of female athletes and the fans that follow them do think it’s important.

      I honestly don’t understand why trans women don’t let this one go. Did you watch the video of CeCe Telfer winning a hurdles race? Think about what the other competitors are thinking and the spectators are thinking. I guarantee you it’s not “well played”.

      You are right, it is a wedge issue and every time people witness a performance like that, it drives the wedge in further.

      1. Good point, these trans woman cheaters make it difficult not to lose quite a bit of sympathy for the ‘trans case’

      2. Thanks for that link Jeremy. How anyone could watch that video and not feel that an injustice was being perpetrated is beyond me.

    5. I was actually thinking this to a certain extent….being an elite athlete is rare. Being transgender is rare. Put them together and it’s really really rare. I’m not saying we shouldn’t consider these ethical dilemmas but perhaps we should afford the time to it based on its urgency.

      1. See, I’m with you there. Yes, it will probably effect some elite cis women athletes where they are relegated to #2 or #3 on a podium. And I know of course how that leads to other opportunities and product endorsements and so on. But we are here asking if this will ruin womens sports where speed and strength decide outcomes. That is a pretty strong claim and we don’t know if it will do that.

        1. Are we asking that? That’s maybe one of the questions but what are the criteria for “ruin” then. I don’t even know what the incidents are of this happening. I don’t think we shouldn’t think about this and come up with solutions but I find its reporting seems to be disproportional….but then a lot to do with trans is disproportional.

          1. One of my points. This is such a rare occurrence that the only reason I can see for mentioning it is as a moment for teaching or a moment to vent hostility towards women in general, and transwomen in particular.

          2. The ACLU does no favours drumming on about it, however and their intentions seem to be to support trans women.

          3. Should a significant number of biological women quit sports, I wonder if the ACLU will sue them, and for what.

      2. Except that if you can just “identify” as trans (simply make a statement), then it may not be rare at all. 50% of the population potentially.

        Imagine all the hundreds of male athletes that are never going to get on a podium in men’s division.

        Podiums and endorsement deals are valuable. Human nature being what it is, rather than being #200, why not identify as female and take the top step on the podium (and the values that go with it)?

        1. Yeah but do you think people would pull that crap? Maybe some. Everyone would see them as a cheater and their medal would mean nothing.

      3. But isn’t the whole point of the controversy that biological men don’t have to be elite to beat elite biological women? Potentially not rare at all.

      4. Allowing ‘non-mediclly-transited’ ‘trans-womwn’ to compete in female sports events is inviting cheats. Cheats are not rare.

        1. My intuition says there won’t be many who try this with cheating in mind but I agree it’s unfair to have an advantage like this in a category.

    6. You may not see them as a threat, but Selina Soule, Alanna Smith, and Chelsea Mitchell do. Those are the young women suing in Connecticut for losing opportunities to compete at higher levels because biological males were allowed to participate in women’s track and field events. It is definitely not a “minor issue” to them.

      I agree completely with Prof. Coyne that trans folk should be treated respectfully and as the gender with which they identify. That doesn’t mean ignoring biological reality when it affects others. There really are physical differences that matter in sports and it’s simply not fair to female athletes to pretend otherwise.

    7. I’d agree that the number of males competing against women in sports at any given time is probably too low to worry about. The bigger issue in my mind is the records. A substantial part of competitive sports is striving to break a record – to be the best. It wouldn’t be hard for a male to set records that no woman would ever be able to beat, thus permanently depriving all women in that sport of a chance to be the best in that competition. And as more such records are set, here and there, over time, in various states, nations, etc. the space available for women to set their own records shrinks ever smaller.

  6. Good grief, those ACLU “myth busters” are surely in breach of the fake news policy of whatever platform they are hosted by?!

  7. Fully supportive of the ‘open’ category concept. It is long past due. IMO this is not really even a trans issue – cis women, as well as trans women, should be welcomed into the field to compete against men in whatever competitions they want, so long as it’s physically safe to do so. I mentioned this last time the subject came along, but Lindsay Vonn tried on and off from 2012-2017 to be permitted to compete in ski events against men, and various ski official bodies denied/rejected her requests every time. There’s simply no reason for that. Any non-contact sport, get rid of the “men’s” event and replace it with an Open. And take a good hard look at doing the same for as many contact sports as you can, too.

  8. I thought the Quillette piece was good, but with one weak rebuttal. In fairness, it was a rebuttal to the weakest “myth,” so it’s fitting.

    But a quick perusal of the comments reminds me why Quillette always makes me feel a little squidgy. I know it’s a logical fallacy to judge them by the company they keep, but man, oh man, the company they keep!

  9. I don’t know why competing in a separate category is such a negative. Women compete in a different category. There is a whole Olympics for people with disabilities – The Paralympics. Have we all been cruel in excluding them?

    1. And not merely a whole Olympics, but an Olympics that is separated into many categories by disability, so that the competitions are “fair” – the quotes not for sarcasm but to reflect that the organizers are trying to do what they can to create a competition where those of similar disability compete against one another, in an attempt to make the games more a test of how well an athlete has developed his/herself than what disability she/he is starting out with.
      I don’t see why a person with some physical limitations, a person who might qualify for the Paralympics in a sport such as running, might not compete in the regular Olympics in a sport such as pistol shooting.

          1. At the same time, somebody has to have an advantage It is a competition. It is meant to be unequal. Training expertise varies from place to place. So does sports funding. Doping relies on a chemistry competition. Prostheses imply an engineering competition. Why not ?

            And why genes and not prostheses after all ? Are we breeding ?

            I’ll admit to a little bit of bad faith, here, but not to much.

      1. No. I’m pointing out that categories exist and they aren’t there to make people feel excluded and broken. Are you suggesting people with disabilities have something wrong with them ?

        1. Someone mentioned age and weight classes above, which serve a similar purpose. If you want lots of people to enjoy competitive athletics, you need different classes, because otherwise only the top physically fit 0.1% of human adults will be the ones doing it. An under 16 years or under 120 pounds or wheelchair or local amateur baseball league isn’t an attempt to insult or denigrate kids, 110 pound people, wheelchair-bound people, or amateurs. It’s a way of, as you say, providing lots of people with the opportunity to compete in a sport they like where the differences between competitors are more a result of practice, training, and skill rather than whatever edge genetics or development may give you. An “Open” class lets people who want to compete at the highest level do so, but since we’re not all there, other leagues are a way we can all participate and compete.

    2. Certain skeletal types are more conducive to excelling in a sport. For example, both male and female Olympic volleyball players are much taller on average than are the average man or woman.

      One can easily observe that the top female sprinters have hip ratios that are smaller than that of the average woman (i.e., more like a man’s) which is a decided advantage in that event just based on physics. But they are still females and I see nothing wrong with having separate female sprint events.

  10. A little while back someone asked why there weren’t more women on atheist forums. Well, here we are! Cismales discussing what women (trans or cis) should do. Or obsessing over whether a woman in a free country wears a head covering. Stop worrying about what women wear. Let the women in women’s sports decide. I think Megan Rapinoe, Julie Ertz, et al would be cool with a transfemale on their team! But, more than that, stop deciding what you think other folks, especially women, should do. It’s so off-putting. Just do you. Let others do them. So long as another’s actions do not harm you and/or your property, that should be enough. Dare I say anymore is tyranny, any less is chaos.

    1. It looks as if you don’t want any men discussing the issue. I didn’t mention clothing, but I’m perfectly free to say what I think about transwomen in women’s sports.

      If what you’re going to do is police this forum and not allow men to discuss any issues affecting women, then go elsewhere. And read the Roolz about not telling the proprietor what to say.. Got it?

      This is ridiculous: “stop deciding what you think other folks, especially women, should do.” Oh, really? We can’t discuss issues affecting ANY OTHER PEOPLE, including women, or especially women?

      If you violate the Roolz, you’ll be banned. You’re welcome to offer your opinion, but you’re not welcome to tell us what to discuss. And, by the way, it’s not clear that trans women should be considered “women” in women’s sports, as you imply. Oh, I forgot, we’re not supposed to talk about that. LOL.

      For some reason, though, you don’t seem to object to the men of the ACLU “telling us what we must do.”

      1. Firstly, I noted a question asked in a comment thread in another post. And I gave the answer according to my experience. That is what drives women away from atheist forums. I have other female friends who are atheists whom agree. Secondly, I enjoy the majority of your posts. I simply disagree with you on this issue. Thirdly, I wrote to Jodi Shaw today in support because of you. I was unaware of her story, and moved by it. And finally, by deeming my disagreement and advocacy for toleration of differences of any sort, wrong either morally or ideologically, I’d argue that would be cancelling a voice of dissent. I did not troll, name call, engage in ad homs. So, if you wish, you may deprive me of the ability to view your site, which was my first follow on WordPress (it’s the name –nothing bothers me more than a misunderstanding of natural selection), that is your right. However, I will miss your articles and the lively, intelligent, debate. Perhaps if you went to art school, you’d have the patience for a “crit.” I can argue as passionately for Martin Scorsese as I can for any of my interests. In the end, this is why I generally post as a male. I’ll take being called a Beta Male Cuck any day over being reminded of 2nd grade criticisms about being “bossy” or having a big mouth. My Dad didn’t raise me to suffer being considered lesser than due to my biology. My boyfriend, a former Marine engineer (that’s the job in Hurt Locker), who had bits of his buddies rain on him from IEDs, supports my viewpoint fully. But, ya know, your forum, your call. I simply suggest using that wisest of literary advice. Write what you know.

        1. What you did was tell me what I cannot post about; you did not disagree politely or civilly. And no, I cannot nor wish to deprive your ability to view the site. You are welcome to disagree CIVILLY, which does not mean saying “stop telling women (including transwomen) what to do”. Do you understand?

          Just read the Roolz and follow them, and also pay attention to the rule about dominating threads and derailing the discussion to your personal views.

          You needn’t respond to this.

        2. Well, I would like to thank you, J. Lakis for your input. (Not that I see myself in the kind of superior position that allows one to grant awards, just thank you.) Without people like you, I would know less on the female perspective I would not be able to realise how unpleasant to (some ?) women certain contributions, even devoid of malice, are.

          I wonder if that is culture dependent. “Not my kind !”

          I’m not weighting on whether you’re too close to policing the forum.

    2. Yes, let the women in women’s sports decide.

      But many women in women’s sports do not want to have to compete against male-bodied trans women, because the whole point of women’s sports is to match biological females against biological females (rather than males), so making it fairer.

      And many women are saying that loudly and repeatedly, and welcome the support of men who see their point of view.

      And plenty of women consider that the demand of male-bodied trans women to join women’s sport is indeed harming women and women’s sport.

    3. I notice in the same paragraph where you tell us you don’t like men discussing something, you think you know what Megan Rapinoe, Julie Ertz would be cool with. We all think we know others’ opinions, knowing we might be wrong. It’s simply a mode of conversation.

    4. “Just do you” should work fairly well for social leagues. But once you introduce salaries or monetary sponsorship, and/or you limit the number of spots available (so that there’s more people wanting to be in than there are spots), pretty much everyone involved – the competitors themselves, fans, funders, etc – is going to want clear transparent rules on who can participate and what is and isn’t allowed. Otherwise you get Lance Armstrong and Barry Bonds blowing away records because hey, why are you drug testing them? That’s not “just do you,” that’s trying to tell other people that they can’t participate.

  11. “First, nobody denies sex differences in sports; if there weren’t any, we wouldn’t have separate women’s and men’s sports.”

    This seems like the most important point: if there were no sex differences in sport, there would be no separate women’s category for trans women to compete in.

    I like and agree with many of JLakis’ thoughtful comments on this thread. But I disagree in one way: I think this is indeed a wedge issue but the wedge is pointed in the other direction (as Jeremy noted upthread). Some (not all) trans activists seem committed to this specific issue of transwomen in sport and are determined not to allow this one niche issue to be resolved in favor of females only and to the exclusion of biological males. The energy (and sometimes vitriol) committed to that position seems out of all proportion to the number of elite athletes who are transwomen (as Diana noted). I don’t know the reason for that disproportionate commitment to this specific issue, but it seems short-sighted for the reasons Jeremy emphasized.

    So from that point of view I don’t think this issue gets too much attention: it seems to be the hill that some trans activists want to defend at all costs.

    1. I hear you. I’d like this to be an issue female athletes decide upon. And I just kinda get tired of thinking I’m less than because I was born with girl bits and not boy bits.

      1. Yes, but you don’t get your way about who decides this, nor do you have the privilege on this site of telling the rest of us that we can’t discuss it or offer our opinions. The IOC will decide for the Olympics–maybe you should be lobbying them, telling the men on the committee that they shouldn’t make any rules. Nobody on this site here has any power to do anything about it, or wants to. We are interested in discussing the issue and its moral and legal implications.

        And why aren’t you writing the ACLU telling their male attorneys to stop lobbying? You do know, don’t you, that Chase Strangio, who is pushing this issue big time for the ACLU, is a trans MAN, right? In your view, that makes him a full man and therefore not permitted to tell women what to do. Yet he is IN CHARGE of pushing that agenda. Are you writing Strangio and telling him to shut up and let the women decide?

        And I don’t think anybody on this forum thinks less of you whatever “bits” you have. So if you’re feeling persecuted, I’m sorry, but I don’t think anybody on this site is doing it.

        No response needed.

      2. No one is saying girls are less. It is a simple biological fact that testosterone will give a physiological advantage, both through puberty and thereafter.
        That is the whole and only reason for the male female category and is where the first ACLU statement is an outright lie.

        The typical range of testosterone levels in men is about 9.2 to 32 nmol/l
        In women it is about 0.3 to 2.4 nmol/l.

        These ranges don’t come near to overlapping, they are ten times different. This is because testicles produce the bulk of testosterone (hence the name) and biological women do not have them and can not ever have levels near these.

        So, even the 10nmol level suggested by the AOC is far too high, as would be 5 which is being considered.

        This is the actual reality o what is at stake, actual testosterone levels and bodies built with huge amounts of testosterone flowing through them during puberty.

        Other than the function of testes this issue has nothing to do with girls or boys ‘bits’.

        This also why comparisons to long arms or stocky build or any other physiological feature is irrelevant as there there are overlaps but testosterone levels are so massively different in male and female biology.

  12. Although some biological women can outcompete some biological men in some physical sports this is simply not the general rule, and it certainly doesn’t occur at serious levels of competition. Redefining “women” and “men” in the context of competitive physical sports without taking this into account is at best naive and at worst disingenuous.

    I am supportive of transwomen’s rights in all aspects of life with the sole exception of where they are detrimental to those of biological women. In competitive sports, that detriment seems to be the case. If this makes it a “wedge issue” then that is sad, especially if transwomen’s rights are to be undermined by the demands of the vanishingly small number of transwomen competitive sports participants who can’t or won’t, it appears, “check their privilege”.

    1. As the Quillette authors put it in the final paragraph,

      “It’s fine to say that “trans women are women,” full stop, as a matter of certain legal entitlements. But biology doesn’t care about what pronouns we use. And trans athletes shouldn’t be encouraged to inhabit a state of denial.”

  13. This whole debate sort of reminds of the inverse of that Supreme Court case where it decided whether the PGA could force all players to walk the course. It concerned a golfer who had a congenital disease that made it difficult for him to walk long distances and thus he requested to use a golf cart at tournaments. The court said the PGA had to allow it I believe pursuant to the ADA.

    In these discussions, I observe that people sometimes lose sight of the fact that a sport is by its very nature an event played under completely artificially (sometimes seemingly arbitrarily) constructed rules. That is what makes boxing a sport and not an unregulated street brawl. But why are rounds three minutes instead of ten minutes? This aerobically inherently favors some boxers and disfavors others.

    In baseball right-handed batters have to run a farther distance to reach first base. Is MLB “discriminating” against right-handed people? Women’s gymnastics by its inherent nature and rules heavily disfavors woman of average or greater height. Thus, almost all top female gymnasts are quite small (“tiny” is actually a more accurate description). Is that “unfair”?

  14. I believe there is a basic disconnect here. The idea of competitive sport is to find the ‘best team’, the ‘fastest runner’ and so on. Competitive sport is therefore a discriminatory endeavour. Different sports can go to extreme efforts to avoid giving one competitor an unfair advantage over others through the nature of their equipment. Hence the big push against doping.

    Championing transgender people in sport to avoid discrimination is politics (or philosophy) and so undermines the basis of competitive sport. Is it morally worth doing?

    Now if you actually arranged transgender people’s sport events would there be pressure to split the sports into classes (trans by declaration, hormone therapy completed, surgically reassigned)? After all no competitor wants to compete against others with an unfair advantage.

  15. Athletes should be handicapped like in horse racing. Athletes should all be brought down to the same genetic level playing field [/sarcasm]

    I used to play reasonably competitive squash. I tried to win, but I played primarily because I enjoyed it. I always tried to play people who were a little bit stronger than me.

    1. Squash is a great game! I used to be on a coed ladder at my gym and really enjoyed playing. Worked my way up from the D level to the B. I had never picked up a squash racquet until my late 30s and played off and on for maybe 15 years, until kids and work and knees intervened. I somehow managed a killer serve despite not having much upper body strength. Great 40-minute workout!

  16. I spent a lot of time working with mixed-sex groups of Marines. One thing that we often had to do was unload trucks or containers. Although we were not then in a very dangerous area, there was still a need to get the cargo unloaded, and often quickly repacked for airlift to forward-deployed troops. It was always the case that none of the women could ever move the weight and volume of cargo that the average male could move. Nowhere near, really. And if they tried, they would push themselves to the point of injury. That was a big issue, because every one of those kids was motivated, and nobody wanted to be seen as not putting in 100% or more.
    Nobody ever belittled the young women, or even much mentioned the difference in physical ability. But it remained a fixed and universal truth, for every group I encountered.
    It might be a bit of a tangent, but I think it applies. These were all fit and trained individuals. My admittedly anecdotal experience was that when they began boot camp, the women more more likely to be in peak shape than the average male candidate, But those initial advantages never held for long.

    One implication of the transgender sports argument is that the hormones used have a dramatic effect on performance ability. They certainly have some effects, but the gap they are attempting to bridge is a vast one. I have certainly not seen data that indicates that a male taking estradiol is going to experience enough short-term loss in bone density, muscle mass, or strength to put them at an equal footing with a natural female with the same level of training. In contact sports, it seems like there is a real danger of serious injury.
    Even if there are relatively few trans persons in women’s sports, it will certainly have serious implications as they get to higher levels, with fewer overall candidates. You only need one trans person to keep any of the natural girls from winning a national championship, and a handful to keep otherwise qualified women from getting a scholarship or making a professional team. I can see how terribly frustrating it must be for some young woman to devote herself to some sport, but know there is nothing they can do, or ever could have done to compete at the level of the trans athletes.

  17. This problem could disappear in another generation, provided that parents are willing to raise their daughters with the very same diet, exercise, and expectations that they give to their sons. This has been shown by widely scattered cultures in the past (like the Spartans) who did the same. Besides, once males and females grow up to the same athletic ability — therefore with the same muscularity — the appeal of changing sexes will fade. But that doesn’t say much about athletics here and now. That persistent 12% advantage of born-and-raised males over born-and-raised females is a real problem right now, and must be compensated for. Handicapping, as is done with race-horses, seems like a perfectly good remedy right now.

    1. You seem to think there are no biological (evolved) differences between the sexes, so their athletic ability would equalize under equal diets, exercise, and expectations. That, frankly, is not a credible view. Do you have evidence that this regiment will make the sexes equal in performance? You cite the Spartans and other cultures. Please provide data. Handicapping is also not a feasible solution for manu sports.

      I’m sorry, but the difference in bone structure aand musculature is based in large part on genetics, not diet or exercise, as witnessed by the different performance of male and female athletes who eat the same diets and have the same intensive training, as in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc countries. If you have data to the contrary, please cite it. Is this true of gorillas, too, where the large strong males must just have different diets and exercise regimes and “cultural expectations’?

    2. With respect, you are totally wrong. Testosterones gives the advantage, from testes in males to a level females can not ever achieve.

    3. I would love to see data on any examples of this happening. Also, you seem to believe that people do not currently “raise their daughters with the very same diet, exercise, and expectations that they give to their sons”. I suggest the opposite. There are tons of families like mine, where we were fed the same food at the same table, and participated in the exact same ranching activities and farm chores. It is pretty easy to quantify, as one thing we did every year was lift and stack thousands of 75 pound hay bales. There was a short period when my older sister could pick bales faster than I could. By the time I hit puberty, I was much stronger, and could work longer, than any of them. I am now in my mid 50s, and I can still pick hundreds of bales a day, for weeks at a time. My sisters drive some of the trucks and tractors. They know better than to even try keeping up with me, or even my Dad who is in his 80s. This is a completely typical experience, common now, and back through history.
      Farm kids also participate in sports, but the performance gaps remain consistent.
      Also, it is not like the military does not have reams of data available for analysis. They have been searching for and refining their training and diet regimens to efficiently bring every inductee to the minimum standards of strength and endurance. If they had a blueprint to eliminate performance gaps between the sexes, they would certainly use it.
      But the fact is that when they take a man and woman of the same ages, where the woman is fit and has a history of playing vigorous sports, but the man has a history of playing Call of Duty and eating donuts, the woman may well exceed the male during the initial assessment. But by week 10 of boot camp, when things get really challenging, it is very likely that the woman will struggle to keep up.

    4. There must be sports enthusiasts who feed their daughters a substantial and healthy diet, and who train them Polgar-style, or maybe should I say Tiger Woods-style.These girls have to exist. Do they form a cohort of female athletes who perform like men ?

    5. “That persistent 12% advantage of born-and-raised males over born-and-raised females is a real problem right now”

      12% was the remaining advantage trans women had over biological women two years after hormonally transitioning. The advantage of born-and-raised males over born-and-raised females is signiifcantly higher.

  18. Hi Jerry! I am one of the editors for Quillette. Thank you for highlighting the ambiguity over who authored the piece. I’ve seen others make the same criticism, and we may change authorship to “Quillette Editorial Board” for future editorials. FYI, this was written by Claire Lehmann, Jonathan Kay, and myself.

    You’re right to point out that our editorial failed to directly address the issue of transgender men (biological females who identify as men) who take testosterone. We understand the issue with having athletes taking performance enhancing drugs compete with other non-enhanced athletes. We would hope that any open category would not allow any athlete, trans or otherwise, to take performance enhancing drugs. Unfortunately this means that any trans man who is taking testosterone would not be allowed to compete, as this would violate existing policies on the use of such substances. This is not an issue for trans women, since their gender-affirming hormones hurt performance.

    I hope that helps clear up our thoughts on the matter! And thanks for sharing our essay!

    1. Thanks for the clarification. But then your “open” category rules out trans men, most of whom, I believe, take testosterone supplements, so you’re still faced with the problem of exclusion of one class.

      1. That is true, but it only excludes trans men who choose to take testosterone. But according to gender activists, being trans doesn’t require taking cross-sex hormones; it’s simply an identity. SO while it would exclude trans men who take testosterone, it wouldn’t be excluding trans men because they’re trans. Rather, they would be excluded under rules regarding performance enhancing drugs. Of course, I don’t expect many activists to be happy with this, and they’ll continue to insist it’s discriminatory against trans men. But I don’t think there is any perfect scenario. Maybe have another open category that has no rules against PEDs? That doesn’t seem ideal, not something we would want to encourage athletes to do.

        All in all, I think a restricted category for female athletes and an “open” category for everyone else, excluding people taking PEDs is the best, or rather the least bad scenario!

  19. Thanks for posting. Some other news related to censorship and transgender politics – https://www.newsweek.com/best-selling-controversial-book-transgender-people-removed-amazon-3-years-after-publication-1571087

    The concern for me is not whether I agree/disagree, or even whether I believe the book is credible. My concern is that large companies are picking and choosing the voices that they want to be heard. In addition, because Amazon has crowded out smaller publishers, in effect they are impeding that individual’s ability to get their book out somewhere else and make money from it. If we allow this to happen, these loose rules can easily be applied to anyone who is not in the political crosshairs right now.

  20. The most disappointing thing for me is how these athletes are constantly subjected to online cyber bullying. Every athlete has a right to compete and perhaps it is the responsibility of the governing bodies to take responsibility for this cross-gender segregation. It is unfair to put the onus of responsibility squarely on the athlete. #primary

    1. I haven’t heard of any instances of cyberbullying, but it may happen, and its reprehensible. None of us here do that, however. And “the right to compete” is not the same as “the right to compete with biological women. Finally, the responsibility for making that decision is in the hands of the authorities; it’s never been in the hands of the athlete.

      I have no idea what you’re trying to say.

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