Sports Illustrated highlights Lia Thomas and the swimming controversy

March 6, 2022 • 12:00 pm

We all know now about Lia Thomas, the transgender swimmer born a biological male but who transitioned after puberty. After swimming for the University of Pennsylvania’s men’s team for a time, she decided to take hormone blockers, and now swims on the women’s team.

While her performance on the men’s team was so-so, Thomas has become famous by cleaning up after joining the women’s team, breaking record after record and beating her opponents by substantial times. She may well break the records of famous women swimmers like Katie Ledecky and Missy Franklin.

It is clear why Thomas was so-so on the men’s team but a champion on the women’s. Biological males differ from biological females in many ways that make them faster swimmers and better athletes in nearly every sport. As I quoted here from another source:

The secondary sex characteristics acquired during puberty in preparation for reproduction lead to measurably different body morphs between males and females (“sexual dimorphism”) across many physical parameters. Broadly, when compared with females, males are taller and have longer bones with narrower hips and wider shoulders; have lower body fat and higher muscle mass differentially distributed across sites, with more resistant connective tissue; have larger hearts and lungs, and higher levels of haemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen within the blood.

These translate into performance advantages in nearly every sport, including swimming.

It’s also clear from recent research (see here, for instance), that many of these advantages are acquired at puberty, and even hormone-blocking after puberty (testosterone suppression) won’t eliminate either physical or performance advantages of males, even after three years of treatment. (The International Olympic Committee used to require only one year of hormone suppression.) While Thomas has had several years of hormone suppression, she still shows the physical advantages acquired as a male who experienced puberty, and there’s little doubt that these advantages are making her a champion.

To deny the above is to deny reality. Thomas’s new record of victory largely reflects the physical and phsiological advantages over women she gained at puberty. While she identifies as a woman (and should be treated as such in nearly every area save sport), she is winning with the advantages gained as a male. This should be uncontroversial to anybody who knows the facts.

Yet it is controversial, but for one reason only: transsexuals are regarded as oppressed people and oppression means valorization. “If Thomas identifies as a woman,” the argument goes, “then she should be treated as a woman in every way, including sport.” Those who argue against transwomen competing in women’s sports use ideological rather than scientific arguments, and the result is that people get upset over the palpable unfairness to cis-women athletes. Recognizing transwomen as equivalent to biological women in every respect will, in the end, destroy women’s sports.

This of course is a sore spot for Thomas herself, who identifies as a woman and wants to swim, and on the woman’s team. Her repeated victories have upset a lot of people, some for good reason. Yet Thomas is also a sympathetic figure in many ways, as outlined in her new profile in Sports Illustrated. (Click on screenshot to read.)

Overall this is generally a good article, and properly sympathetic to the opprobrium that Thomas has received as a person. It’s odious to direct hatred at someone who feels she is a woman in every way and wants to swim as one. The proper thing to do is hash out the biological facts (now fairly well known) and then cooly and rationally discuss what to do about them vis-à-vis men’s versus women’s sport. That is not what is happening because of mantra “trans women are women” pretty much shuts down all discussion.

But reading this article, one cannot help but feel for Thomas after seeing things like this:

Thomas has been threatened and called so many names online that she turned off some direct messaging on her Instagram. She avoids mentions of her name online, especially comment sections. She told her parents not to engage in the fight. She asked her friends to stand down. She won’t criticize teammates she knows are rooting against her. “I don’t look into the negativity and the hate,” she says. “I am here to swim.”

Every day this season felt like a challenge to her humanity. Part of her wanted people to know her journey to this moment, to know what it felt like to be in a body but not be of that body. She wanted people to know what it was like to finally live an authentic life and what it meant for her to finish a race, to look up at a timing board and see the name lia thomas next to the names of other women. What it meant to her to stand on a podium with other women and be counted as an equal.

There’s no doubting her sincerity and frustration at the arguments swirling around her. She says she’s a woman and wants to swim as one, which sounds simple. But of course it’s not. It is those physical advantages of being born a male and gone through puberty that have largely made her a champion—advantages that will accrue not just to her, but to nearly all transwomen who want to play on women’s teams. And it’s hard to discuss this issue in the abstract without mentioning her name. But she is an exemplar of a new phenomenon, not a freak.

Many people feel like this person:

“We support Lia as a trans woman and hope she leads a happy and productive life, because that’s what she deserves,” one parent of a Penn swimmer says. “What we can’t do is stand by while she rewrites records and eliminates biological women from this sport. If we don’t speak up here, it’s going to happen in college after college. And then women’s sports, as we know it, will no longer exist in this country.”

I share these sentiments, not not quite as apocalyptically. But Thomasrejected these sentiments, in her one statement to which I object (emphasis is mine):

“It’s mean,” one Penn parent who identifies as a progressive but opposes Thomas’s eligibility says of the online and media bigotry directed at her. “Lia is a human being who deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. But it’s not transphobic to say I disagree with where she’s swimming.”

That argument is disingenuous to Thomas. There is no such thing as half-support: Either you back her fully as a woman or you don’t. “The very simple answer is that I’m not a man,” she says. “I’m a woman, so I belong on the women’s team. Trans people deserve that same respect every other athlete gets.”

No, the argument is not disingenuous, and yes, there is such a thing as “partial support”. You can fully support Thomas’s desire to transition, to be regarded as a woman, to be treated with respect and accorded moral and legal equality, and yet not support the “right” for her to swim on women’s team.” The question is not one of “respect,” but of fairness to others. Thomas, of course, won’t address her physical advantages, as that would be playing into the hands of her opponents.

Those who oppose her swimming for Penn include a substantial number of her teammates, who of course will not go public on the issue:

The Quakers’ women’s roster has 37 swimmers. Those close to the team estimate that Thomas has six to eight adamant supporters, maybe half the team opposes her competing against other women and the rest have steered clear of the debate. An unsigned letter, which the university said represented “several” Penn swimmers and was released through the school in early February, said Thomas was “value[d] as a person, teammate and friend” and took aim at the stories circulating about her. “The sentiments put forward by an anonymous member of our team are not representative of the feelings, values and opinions of the entire Penn team.”

Two days later, 16 Penn teammates sent an unsigned letter to Ivy League officials, requesting that Thomas be held out of the conference championship meet. The letter was organized by Nancy Hogshead-Makar, an Olympic gold medalist who heads Champion Women, a women’s sports advocacy group that focuses on Title IX issues. “If [Thomas] were to be eligible to compete,” the letter read, “she could now break Penn, Ivy and NCAA women’s swimming records; feats she could never have done as a male athlete.” The Ivy League later issued an unequivocal statement that Thomas would be allowed to swim.

What is to be done in this case? The NCAA, which regulates college sports, has proposed a solution that, in view of the difficulties of implementing it, seems unworkable:

Four days before the video call, the NCAA essentially punted on the issue of transgender athlete eligibility. Previously, the organization had a uniform access policy based on a minimum one-year hormone therapy requirement. But in January the NCAA pushed eligibility guidelines to each sport’s national governing body. That meant USA Swimming would decide on Thomas’s ability to swim in the NCAA championships.

USA Swimming released new guidelines Feb. 1, laying out a series of requirements and establishing a three-person medical panel to determine whether transgender women have “a competitive advantage over the athlete’s cisgender female competitors.” The new guidelines set a ceiling testosterone level of five nanomoles per liter—half the threshold used by previous Olympic rules—that transgender athletes would need to register, continuously, for 36 months before applying to swim as a woman.

It seems as if there are two parts here: the hormone requirement and “whether the athlete has a competitive advantage over cisgender female competitors”. The hormone requirement will not answer the question of competitive advantage, and it’s hard to see how, at this point, any research will. Even the Olympics has, for the moment, rescinded its rule on transgender athletes and has no rule in place at all. How on earth can you assess a transsexual athlete like Thomas and decide whether she has a “competitive advantage over cisgender females”?

Well, the question can be answered partly by one’s performance swimming as a man against men and swimming as a transgender woman against women. And the answer is, “Yes, she has a competitive advantage.” So whatever her hormone levels, the two-part rule applied in toto suggests she should not be swimming on a women’s team.  But many trans athletes lack such a cisgender performance record to serve as a “control”, and there the “performance advantage” criterion is useless.

In view of our inability to judge whether a transgender woman without this control has a competitive athletic advantage over cisgender women, I and others have proposed solutions: having two leagues, “cis-women” and “other”; or three leagues “biological men,” “biological women”, and “other”. Alternatively just use the same two categories of “men” and “women,” but stipulate that all transgender people must compete on men’s teams. There are problems of stigmatization here, of course, and no solution is perfect, but the least perfect solution is to ignore what we know about science and impose dubious tests on “hormone titer” (known, in fact, not to work) or “competitive advantage” (impossible to judge in a transgender athlete.) Short of having the kind of “control” that Thomas’s performance as a man competing against men versus as a transwoman competing against women, I see no way forward.

The Sports Illustrated article, as I said, is good. I was expecting a “woke”piece denigrating those who object to Thomas’s swimming on the women’s team, but that is not the piece that Sanchez wrote. His is much better than I expected. Yet there remain two statements by the author that make me think that his piece is indeed taking the view that athletes like Thomas should compete on women’s teams.

The first is this (my bolding).

This had been a season unlike any in her 22 years, and unlike any in the history of her sport. The shy senior economics major from Austin became one of the most dominant college athletes in the country and, as a result, the center of a national debate—a living, breathing, real-time Rorschach test for how society views those who challenge conventions.

No, that is not what the debate, at least for people like me, is about, for it implies that denying Thomas’s right to swim goes along with being “transphobic.” It is a “Rorschach test” on only one issue: what criteria should we use to determine who plays on men’s versus women’s teams? Science or gender identity? It is not a Rorschach test about whether or not one accepts the identity and value of transsexual people—who do challenge conventions and should be accepted just as gay people have been accepted.

This statement, though, angers me more:

On Dec. 5, two days after the Ohio meet, some Penn swim parents sent a letter to the NCAA asking that Thomas be ruled ineligible for women’s competitions. The arguments would soon become familiar to Thomas. Her puberty gave her an advantage over other female competitors. Science allegedly showed trans women had larger hands and feet, bigger hearts and greater bone density and lung capacity.

Allegedly“?  There is no “allegedly” here. The science is of course far from complete, but it does show without a doubt that trans women who transition after puberty retain  some of the physical and physiological features that give men an athletic edge. Does author Robert Sanchez know those data? If so, why does he cast doubt on them? That is disingenuous. If he doesn’t know them, shame on him for ignorance.  “Allegedly” is a word Sanchez uses to denigrate the science used to support the case that Thomas has an unfair athletic advantage.

It is a sign of the times that debating the participation of trans athletes in sports has become a largely taboo topic, for if you bring up the fairness issue or the science itself you are deemed a “transphobe”: a term designed to shut down honest debate about the serious issue of men’s versus women’s sports (serious enough, at least, to help engender the Title IX Act).

Thomas is simply wrong in asserting that “there is no such thing as half-support: Either you back [me] fully as a woman or you don’t.” She accepts no half measures. And if that’s her view, then I reject it, because “fully” means “as a woman athlete as well”. There are many people who offer nearly full support to Thomas (not half but 95% support, I’d say), and those folks include both me and the Penn parents quoted above. Can’t people see that being empathic towards transwomen and supporting their gender identity need not include also regarding them as biological women on every single issue?

165 thoughts on “Sports Illustrated highlights Lia Thomas and the swimming controversy

  1. My solution: Create a separate (but equal) swimming category for trans. Let them swim against each other, or, if there is only one at the meet, as I guess would likely happen a lot, against the clock.

    1. That won’t happen because, as Jerry pointed out if “a trans woman IS a woman”, then upon what basis would you deny a trans-woman’s right to compete against “other” women?

      This is fundamentally an ideological issue.

      1. I’m glad the implications of this are starting to sink in. The trans lobby simply won’t abide any solution that is not ideologically acceptable to them. They just do not care about the implications for anyone else. If they destroy women’s sports, that is a pawn lost to the greater game: most trans people and their allies are not competitive athletes even at the women’s level anyway.

        Their insistence on “affirmation therapy”—the ultimate conversion therapy—for adolescents is similarly ideologically motivated and cares not for the welfare of vulnerable mixed-up children.

        1. Thomas attitude, if used by trans women in any contact sport would stretch the absurdity to dangerous levels.
          But that degree of absurdity doesn’t seem to matter to many idealogus.
          I hope women don’t have to end physically damaged to wake people up.
          Even though it has happened.

        2. To my mind this whole trans rights issue is another way ‘men’ have of -er – muscling in on women. It is anti-women, sexist, & if I were a woman I would be an ardently traditional feminist on this matter.

          Oops – mistyped my email ergo a new gravitar… sorry.

      2. You deny it on the basis that Lia IS a woman but also IS of the male sex, because our category “woman” now includes some of the male sex, and that Title IX is in place to ensure opportunity for the female sex, not women as they are now defined.

        Even trans women recognize this, every time they go into a physician’s office. (Prior to/assuming no surgery…) the doc’s going to check her for testicular cancer but not ovarian cancer or things like vaginal cysts. Those are sex-related health risks, and she has the male ones not the female ones…because she remains of the male sex. So, not eligible for a Title IX-related event. Even on trivial things trans women must recognize this – I imagine she gets up in the morning and shaves her face. Why is that necessary? Because she remains of the male sex.

    2. The entire point of treating trans women as women is that to do otherwise undermines their psychological security in their gender identity, and their broader conception of who they are; many trans people feel as though their personhood is under attack if they are misgendered, deadnamed, etc. This puts them at extremely high risks of self-harm, suicide, and undermines their confidence, diminishing their ability to function and compete as equals in society, the workplace, and elsewhere. For a trans woman, there’s no difference between “you can’t use the bathroom for women, other women are bothered by someone with a penis in there” and “you can’t compete on the women’s swim/track/rugby/wrestling/ team, it’s unfair to the women who didn’t grow up with Y hormones”; the latter may be even more humiliating, because it’s very public, unlike the privacy of the bathroom.

      Think about how disingenuous it seems to tell trans people that you will respect their pronouns, honor their gender identity, but then deny them a space on the sports team of the gender they identify with: there’s a glaring dissonance with saying, “‘She’ is a woman, but she is not allowed to compete on the women’s team.” To the trans person, it suggests that despite everything you say, you don’t view them deep down to “really” be a woman. We don’t have anything close to a social consensus on when sex matters (and the legal and scientific consensuses are fast falling apart in large part because of activism by the trans lobby), so this issue is going to get worse.

      1. Why are we not seeing (so far as I know) transmen swimmers competing against “cis” men swimmers? Is it that no transmen swimmers are interested in competing against “cis” men swimmers (for whatever reason)?

        1. That would be a hard slog for them, but the point of making an ‘open’ category is to allow cis women and trans men who wish to compete against cis men the freedom to do so, without that competition implying some social judgment on their womanhood (or manhood).

        2. Best point yet.

          Why aren’t there loads of biologically female TransMen demanding to compete against Bio Men? Aren’t the TransMen at high risk of existential harm if they aren’t allowed to compete against other Men?

          Where are all the TransMen beating out Bio Men in Mens sports and breaking their records

          Why aren’t trans men fighting to get moved from the Women’s prisons to the Men’s prisons?

          I guess I just don’t understand

      2. OK, then, I am perfectly happy to deny that any born male can be in any respect a woman if that’s what it takes, according to your logic, to keep them off the women’s sports teams and out of female prisons and rape shelters. If you want to play the absolutist game then so do I. I absolutely do not accept that “deep down” or even on the surface that they are women. At all.

        If transgendered people feel their personhood is under attack because the rest of us don’t buy their religious revelations about themselves, that is on them, not us.
        There’s a Twitter meme that I’ll adapt here:
        “My religion says I have to believe this.”
        “OK, that’s cool.”
        “My religion says you have to believe this because I’ll have suicidal thoughts if you don’t.”
        “See a psychiatrist.”

        1. I think I agree completely, regarding those who require medical interventions. But not with those born some intersex category.

          Maybe we should conclude that sport is rather silly!

          1. Almost always, intersex people are irrelevant to trans discussions. Often, they want to be accepted for being neither while trans people want the opposite: they want to be accepted as being definitely part of a given group defined by sex/gender, just not the correct one.

            Competitive sports involving intersex people is a real problem with no obvious solution when their innate abilities fall between those of men and women. But it is not a big problem. Some problems have no solutions.

          2. Oh absolutely. I am not referring to people who have any form of medical intersex condition or difference in sexual development. They aren’t transgendered according to any current definition. But anyone who threatens to kill himself if he doesn’t get his way is being manipulative. He needs treatment for his mental illness, not to be allowed into women’s spaces just to allay his dysphoria.

            1. Especially when, somehow, the TransMen seem to survive despite not being put on Mens teams or moved to Mens prisons

        2. Surely it is perfectly obvious to all that you cannot change your sex, and we are just going along with a pretense to be nice? I am polite enough to treat someone as their desired gender socially, legally and linguistically, but if you demand I believe they have changed their sex I’d like to see what they did to the chromosomes in every single cell of their body and how they changed the gametes they make.

        3. This isn’t even my logic, it’s the logic of the trans lobby and increasingly the logic in the legal and medical worlds for how to address issues involving people with gender dysphoria. It’s totally absolutist, because personal identity, including gender identity, isn’t something that you can negotiate and make mutually acceptable accommodations on: it’s one way or the other.

      3. I think the long-term goal should be to develop a society and psychology that allows a trans woman to accept their male sex for what it is, and does not make them feel less of a gendered woman.

        If thinking about your own body undermines your psychological security, that’s a problem. If that’s where trans women like Lia are, they need our help and support to find a better psychology. But the solution is not to get society to pretend your body is different from what it is. Rather than the rest of the world pretending they are of the female sex, we should strive for a society where they are able to talk about their male sex and it’s ramifications without feeling ‘less of a woman’ for doing so. “You need to swim in the open category” should be as psychologically mundane as “you need to get checked for colon cancer when you turn 50…and you don’t need a mammogram.”

      4. I have to say that I find your view lopsided, ignorant and cruel. For many people sport is just a bit of fun, and that’s great. However, those who take sport seriously in terms of themselves and their own competitive performance, do take it seriously. To attain an outstanding level of performance takes guts, consistency, hard work, dedication and an almost delusional conviction regarding one’s own abilities.

        I’m enormously compassionate and supportive towards other people, especially minorities. I strongly believe that trans people, gay and bisexual people (and many others too) have nonnegotiable and inalianable human rights. Ath the same time I despair that they are not afforded the opportunities that others might benefit from.

        A while ago I wrote a comment here at WEIT about this topic. It was an attempt to convey how competitive athletes think and feel about sport and competition. I tried to articulate the reality of elite level sport alongside the striving and dedication required to get there. It’s not hyperbole to say that for dedicated athletes, competition can be an almost religious experience. Desire to achieve your best and fulfill your dreams can become overwhelming.

        For a driven young athelete, sporting achievement is all encompassing, it’s everything. Yet ‘progressive’ people appear to be comfortable with denying them that fairness in allowing male born atheletes to compete in female categories. It is an uncontestable fact that post-pubescent biological males have enormous advantages in sport due to their height, muscle mass, strength, bone density, reactions speed, coordination and more. They just do. How can it be fair to force females to compete with people they can NEVER hope to match? It’s cruel, inequitous and inhumane.

        I had to retire from competition in my mid twenties due to knee problems and it left me distraught. However, as it was a failure of my own body, I could at least accept it. These days, girls and young women face effective retirment for a different reason – irrationality, woke politics and virtue signalling. Science is on their side, but no one will accept it! It’s incredibly unfair.

        Here is that comment:

        I’d like to offer my perspective. In my late teenage years and my early twenties, I was an elite athlete, representing my country internationally many times. To reach that competitive standard takes a level of commitment that is hard to explain to people who haven’t been there. The drive required is enormous; for 5-6 years every decision I made prioritised my mental and physical fitness for sport and competition. Nothing would get in the way – I never partied or drank alcohol and I controlled what I ate in forensic detail. I would gladly rise at whatever time I was supposed to, even in the middle of winter, and do whatever horrible exercise or drill I was instructed to. If there wasn’t an official training session, I would do my own, knowing that my competitors would be at home and cosy in bed. It’s difficult to convey the feeling, but I HAD to win – the need was overwhelming. My commitment was absolute, because experience taught me that commitment worked – it differentiated me from others. Many were more gifted than I was, but I was able to overturn their advantage through effort and determination.
        In this situation, you know you only have a few years to be at your best, and you’re acutely aware of it. You also realise that the natural talent which makes some people excel in high school, isn’t enough when they move to the next level. In nearly all circumstances the differentiators are commitment and self-belief, but there are exceptions. No matter what your mental approach is, you’ll never compensate for the superlative talent of a Messi, Ronaldo, a Mike Tyson, Muhammad Ali, or a Usain Bolt. But they are the extreme outliers.
        This is all a prelude to my main point. Allowing male born athletes to compete with females is analogous to making every average male club sprinter compete against many thousands who are as good or better than Usain Bolt. As a club athlete, you will never come close – you’re wasting your time.
        As a teenage female athlete, how would you feel if you had committed your life to your sport (and to be at the top you HAVE to), just to see those years of sacrifice, single-minded effort and hope amount to nothing because you have to compete against men? I find it hard to find the words to express how I would have felt, but crestfallen, devastated and utterly disillusioned would be a good start.
        For females who compete at the top of their sport, introducing biological males is not just unfair, it’s cruel and unethical in the extreme. It erases their years of dedication, their total commitment in working towards a goal that is within their reach. As soon as male born athletes are introduced to their event, they know they can NEVER compete. The years of effort and dedication, their sporting goals, disappear in a flash.
        This subject really grinds my gears, I know how severely the introduction of male-born competitors will affect many female athletes and I find it unconscionable.

  2. There are those who allege that I am Jon Gallant, an identity assigned to me at birth. However, as I have reported before, I feel in my inwardness that I am a descendent of Ivan IV’s son Dmitri, and thus Tsar of the Russian Empire. I just want to rule. Anyone who denies me this is a phobe of some kind.

    1. This ‘joke’ is so cliched by now–the ‘I identify as [an attack helicopter]’ trope appears in every single comment thread on the subject on the entire internet–that continued variations are simply not funny. And because the attempted humor lies in the acceptance of a false equivalence, it’s also unhelpful as an argument. Sorry. I just find it wearisome.
      And, as a separate issue, if I were a sincere transgendered person I would find it demeaningly offensive. I am sure that is not your intent.

      1. Then how about someone who claims to be ‘trans-racial’? This is beyond the pale currently, but the biological difference between a man and a woman is surely far greater than between two humans with different ethnic origins.

        1. You can’t be ‘trans-racial’, it’s virtually impossible that you have structures in your brain that are typical of individuals of another race of which none of your ancestors was part of. But it’s possible to argue that you might have brain structures that are typical of individuals of the opposite sex than yours (possible, we don’t have proof yet, and maybe we never will). The great Richard Dawkins is wrong on this subject.

          1. Hmm, I’m not quite sure whether this is satire, but if it’s intended seriously then it’s wrong.

            That’s because for any brain traits associated with race (if indeed there are any, that’s not clear), the dispersion within any group is much bigger than any difference between the group averages.

            Indeed, systematic differences between the brains of men and women are bigger than any systematic differences (if indeed there are any) between the brains of different races.

          2. Edit: just to be clear to Coel, my reply is to FB.

            Possible to argue anything. But without evidence—and you say we don’t have any—valid to dismiss out of hand.

            You just as arbitrarily, although you hedge with “virtually”, a meaningless term in this context, dismiss the possibility of brain “structures” supporting trans-raciality.

            Really all you’ve said is that you believe without evidence that the one doesn’t exist but the other does. That’s either religion or ideology.

            1. Let’s imagine that the cause you strongly feel, say, Scandinavian, is some typical brain structure that evolved a few thousand years ago in Europe. Can a person whose ancestors lived exclusively for the last 200,000 years in Africa have those recent Scandinavian brain structures (virtually impossible). Sex is a very different matter because half of our ancestors had either male or female brains for hundreds of millions of years (counting ancestor species), so you can argue that a person might have the “wrong” sex brain structures (I don’t believe this myself, but it’s a rational argument).

              1. But I don’t “feel” that Scandinavian is some typical brain structure to begin with. You can’t assume what you need to prove. Since you have no evidence that I ought to feel that way, I can reject the argument out of hand. And so I do.

                I am a member of a tribe if and only if I can convince them that I am one of them sufficiently strongly that they will allow me to live among them, sharing their food and their women, and will let me help them protect me from predators and other tribes. How that works I am agnostic about.

                But I know the tribe of women, whether lesbian or straight, will never accept me as one of them, no matter what I imagine my brain to be. Since the tribe, not the outsider, gets to define its membership, why not just let women decide who’s a woman? What right do men have to tell women whom they must accept? Black and Indigenous organizations are always furious when they discover that someone white has been dissembling about being one of them, even if the claim had some merit. Women should insist the same. As my wife says, “If he’s got the parts, he’s a guy.”

          3. Even if one had brain structures typical of the other sex, how is that different than a woman being taller than the average man, or taller than most men, or even taller than all men? Would that make her a transman? And what would be examples? Can one define “typical of the other sex” without resorting to 1950s (and earlier) gender roles?

            I recently joined Twitter in order to publicize (and follow the reactions to it) a completely unrelated issue involving academic misconduct. Yesterday I noticed someone tweeting something saying that tomboys were completely stupid and they should either behave like girls should or completely transition. I remember when being a tomboy was something some girls decided to do and didn’t have anything to do with being trans. It didn’t even imply being lesbian. It was just more sensible to wear flat shoes than high heels and not spend an hour in front of the mirror every morning. In fact, there are many heterosexual men more attracted to tomboys than to “typical” women (defined by the things transwomen do in order to make a case for being women), and many tomboys attracted to normal non-trans heterosexual men.

          4. I wasn’t aware that there is any data that shows that different races have different brain structures. Please could you cite some.

            If such structures do exist, can you show it’s any more unlikely that you get the “wrong” structure for your race than getting the “wrong” structure for your sex?

        2. Transgenderism is a real thing because gender dysphoria is a real thing. Until “race dysphoria” becomes a real thing (perhaps never), transracialism is not a real thing.

          (I am using “real thing” as shorthand for “widely accepted due to evidential support”.)

          1. And what is the evidential support that transracialism is not a real thing. You don’t believe that Rachel Dolezal felt that she really was black. You seem to think that once a syndrome has happened a certain number of times, it becomes “evidence that it’s real.” That’s not the way scientists think of “evidence.” Besides, more than one person has felt that they are members of a race different from their birth race.

            And, as you are surely aware, many case of what you consider “real gender dysphoria” are thought to be something else: the result of angst or neurosis, or homosexuality that isn’t considered as ‘cool” vis-a-vis victim status as “gender dysphoria.” That is NOT evidential support.

            You are making brash statements based on no evidence at all.

            1. A “real thing” in the sense that there actually are people who believe it are people who identify as physically handicapped. Some just sit in a wheelchair in order to appear lame, but others sue their health insurance to try to force them to pay for an amputation.

              The difference is that after an amputation they really would be physically handicapped, while even after the best surgery, hormones, etc., every cell still has the same chromosomes and it is usually obvious who is trans and who is not.

            2. Hello, thank you for the work you put into your website (not blog!) here. I didn’t actually think what I said would be controversial.

              I call gender dysphoria a real thing because it appears in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). That is, there is broad agreement among mental health experts that it is a real thing, and I defer to experts.

              On the other hand, “race dysphoria” is not a condition recognized by mental health experts. To answer your question directly, the evidence that transracialism is not a real thing is that it does not appear in DSM-5.

              1. Yes, but of course you know that the DSM has changed many things. Homosexuality used to be classified as a “mental disorder” but now it’s not. Was it once real but now “gay disorder” is not. Many people in the field recognize the DSM as a joke as one thing after another changes status from “reality” to nonreality”. There are PLENTY of odd mental “disorders” that aren’t in the DSM because they’re rare. I wouldn’t really on the consensus of DSM “experts,” given their track record, as a sign of “reality”. If someone is diagnosed with “gender dysphoria” because their friends convinced them they had it when they were simply going through tough times, or because they were really lesbians but that wasn’t au courant enough, would you say that regardless of that, they had “real” gender dysphoria?

              2. The DSMs are just descriptive accounts of current psychiatric thinking. They are not prescriptive and carry no imprimatur that any diagnosis is a “real” thing. It is real enough that a psychiatrist can ethically submit a bill for treating a patient with a diagnosis from the current DSM with the expectation that it will be paid. Because we don’t know the pathological substrate of any but a few mental disorders, what goes into and comes out of the DSM is highly subject to fashion and the madness of crowds. Shrinks are just as likely to be social justice warriors and are as frightened of Twitter mobs as everyone else and their medical licences are on the line. Homosexuality is out? Gender dysphoria is in? Fine. Go along to get along.

                Rapid onset gender dysphoria doesn’t appear in DSM-5. The exquisitely woke Canadian Psychological Association crows about this as proof that it doesn’t exist and so a wait-and-see approach in a 10-year-old girl is condemned as transphobia, torturing him by denying him his true gender.

              3. Transgender activists were heavily involved in lobbying the APA over a period of years to exclude from the process of creating the DSM-5 any psychiatrist or therapist, like Kenneth Zucker and Ray Blanchard, who believed that the diagnosis of gender identity disorder, coinciding with a recommendation of treatment that they try to express their gender in line with their sexual anatomy, should be retained from the DSM-IV, rather than be replaced with what ultimately happened when the DSM-5 was released in 2013: the change of diagnosis to gender dysphoria, and a strong recommendation that treatment be based on positive affirmation of the patient’s gender identity.

                We went from “these people identify with their body in the wrong way” to “the problem these people experience is the angst they feel that who they are doesn’t match how other people see them and what they see when they look in the mirror”; the former is agnostic on matters of self-identification while placing physical and biological reality in front, while the latter takes self-identity for granted as a brute fact.

            3. Jerry,

              “And what is the evidential support that transracialism is not a real thing?”

              How would you define “transracial”? And “transgender”, “gender”, and “sex” for that matter?

              Seems to me that a big part of the whole transgender “contretemps” is an inability or unwillingness to define exactly what we mean by those terms – as Voltaire is reputed to have said, “If you wish to converse with me, define your terms.”

              And relative to “transracial”, I see an illuminating usage in the Wikipedia page on “Transracial (identity)”, to wit:

              “Rachel Dolezal has been described as a white person who identifies as black.”

              Which in turn raises the question of just exactly what do we mean, what logically follows, when we say, “Person A identifies as [a member of the category] X”?

              Interesting observation on that score from a Quillette article – “She Who Must Not Be Named” – by Helen Joyce, even if it pertains more directly to the definition for “female”; specifically:

              “The problem is that ‘female’ is not something you can identify as. It’s a word with an objective definition that holds right across all of biology, and hardly any of the things it refers to are capable of identifying as anything. It means: ‘of or denoting the sex class that produces large gametes,’ ….”

              As she suggests, befitting someone with a PhD in mathematics, there’s an objective correlate to the category “female”, an objective trait that qualifies as a “necessary and sufficient condition” that any member – of any sexually reproducing species – MUST have to qualify as a member of that category. In that case, having functional ovaries.

              One doesn’t get to “identify as” a female, regardless of how desperately any transwoman wants to join that particular “girls’ club”: no ovaries, not a female; suck it up buttercups.

              However, “transracial” is a bit more problematic as the “necessary and sufficient conditions” aren’t as clear-cut; at best there may be dozens if not hundreds of genes and phenotypes that correlate to a greater or lesser extent with what are the conventional conceptions of different races. Apropos of which, you in particular might be interested in an oldish post – “Why Race as a Biological Construct Matters” – by Razib Khan:


              Of particular note is the “principle components” graph [PC1 versus PC2] of, presumably or apparently, the two main genes that differentiate between, correlate with, different races: Europeans, African-Americans, Bantu, etc.

              “Race” might reasonably be seen as a spectrum – in notable contradistinction to sex. By which token, Dolezal may well have a few genes – alleles more likely – that are more typical of “blacks”. But that hardly justifies the rather risible, if not virtually meaningless, assertion that she “identifies as black”.

          2. Of course transracialism is different from transexuality, in that the former is something that develops as ones’ identity over time, thru exposure and experience. It is much like how one comes to identify as a certain nationality by growing up in that nation.

            1. Sorry – my ‘seconded’ comment was for another post, far removed from this one!
              Our digital overlords working overtime.

        3. As a comparison? I think it’s less offensive and patronizing than Jon’s ‘and I’m the descendant of the Tsar because I feel like it’ comparison. But it’s not a useful comparison for the current discussion around folks like Lia Thomas because our high schools, colleges, and international sporting competitions don’t separate and group people by race (at least, not that I’m aware of).

          Cases like Rachel Dolezal’s do highlight some social issues, but not the same issues as Lia Thomas’ case. Dolezal’s race might matter to her NAACP chapter, but it doesn’t in the local Olympic team tryouts.

  3. I’m sorry for the transwomen , but I think the interests of the many trans athletes should take precedence over the interests of a few transwomen in this case.
    One should not deny biological reality, and Thomas’ refusal to accept that reality, gives me some misgivings about her motives.

  4. Oops the many nontrans biological women athlets should take precedence ,( where is that edot function?

  5. I decry any hate directed at her.
    Having said that I do not like the attitude of people who demand to be treated with a level of empathy and understanding that they are not ready or willing to extend to others. Me, me, me is not a winning argument in my book. She considers “disingenous” the opposition to her swimming against biological women. Well, maybe she lacks empathy and respect for the perfectly reasonable position of biological women and their suffering. Therefore, she doesn’t have my sympathy in this regard.

    1. She has an unfair advantage over her born-female competitors. If she were any kind of a sporting person, this would be distasteful and unacceptable to her. It’s like setting Mohamed Ali to box against a ten year old. This is not sport; it’s slaughtering an unequal opposition. A good sportsman/sportswoman/sportsperson would see that immediately. She values winning over the entire ethos of (unsexed) sportsmanship. Consequently I have no sympathy for her and she will damage the case for transgender athletes in other fields by her selfishness. I can’t say that loudly enough and I’d be glad if others could make the point anywhere they can.

    2. Exactly, Rasmo – Thomas shows absolutely no empathy for, or understanding of, those she unfairly competes against.

  6. … one cannot help but feel for Thomas after seeing things like this:

    I may be utterly lacking in empathy, but I (for one) don’t feel for Thomas. He only has to compare his success now, competing against women, with when he swam against men, to realise the unfair advantage he has. He should do the honourable thing and continue to swim in the men’s category. If he doesn’t he deserves opprobrium.

    [Note, I’m using pronouns in line with biological sex, since it is more pertinent here than “gender identity”.]

    You can fully support Thomas’s desire to transition, to be regarded as a woman, to be treated with respect and accorded moral and legal equality, …

    Is there any “moral and legal equality” that trans people actually lack (regardless of how they identify)?

    Women (in general) do not have fewer rights than men, so regarding a transwomen as biologically male (which they are) does not actually deny them equal rights.

    While she identifies as a woman (and should be treated as such in nearly every area save sport), …

    What does “treated as a women” actually mean here? In most normal, social and work situations we treat men and women equally. Sex and gender are irrelevant, and we’re not (or shouldn’t be) treating people as members of those categories, we should treat them as individuals.

    But where sex does actually matter (relatively few situations nowadays) then, well, sex does actually matter!

    Lastly, this article by the mum of one of the swimmers is a worthwhile read and a counterpoint to the Sports Illustrated article.

    1. A quotation from the article by a mum of one of the female swimmers says it all:

      “Day after day, we watched as a young lady was replaced in a final swim, replaced on the podium, erased from a record, a relay spot and finally replaced for (unclear) by a man, a six-foot four man with a back twice as wide as any one of the girls out there.”

      six-foot four with a back twice as wide as any one of the girls

      While I sympathize with Lia Thomas and understand that what she has gone through (and is going through) is not easy, I agree with Rasmo above, she does not seem to have empathy for her fellow swimmers.

    2. How about in talent-spotting to mentor and advance qualified women to leadership roles they might not otherwise have considered themselves cut out for? Should a biological male who put on a skirt and pantyhose and started wearing makeup to cover his 5 o’clock shadow the day after management announced the program be considered for a shot at it? Phrase your rejection e-Mail very carefully.

      This is the Lia Thomas question out in the real world.

      The issue of prisons and domestic violence shelters and female scrotum waxing are edge cases. But XYs identifying as women at work are right there front and centre along with all the other missteps to make in the identity-politics minefield.

  7. There are individuals who say that queer theory/trans ideology is the new gay conversion therapy.
    This column by Andrew Sullivan, which I believe is not paywalled, should be read.

    The article below should also be read…it’s about what the notion of trans people access to “gender affirming healthcare” comes down to….(and remember, this can include teenagers, and even pre-teens in terms of puberty blockers, which are described as “reversible” in newspaper after newspaper.)

  8. A facetious question to ask would be: Is is permissible for any young person to take performance enhancing anabolic steroids while growing up and training for speed and strength based athletic events?

  9. Why does supporting transwomen mean allowing them to muscle in on biological women’s spaces? Why can’t it mean supporting the creation of the own transwomen spaces? Where they can hang out together & identify as transwomen together? Why is this never an option?

    1. I don’t understand that either! I don’t think I’ve ever heard that being promoted as an option. I wonder if it’s down to women being frightened?

    2. As Griff says. The main argument is that one must express full acceptance. There is no such thing as partial support.
      A separate trans category is possible, but that would be occupied by few athletes. The better option seems to be to have an ‘open’ category for men and trans women. No option is all perfect, but that is the least flawed one.

    3. I think it’s important here to take the Gender Studies people at their word. They are Blank Slate/Social Construction fundamentalists, meaning that they literally do not acknowledge the existence of sex differences and genuinely believe that we only think men and women are different because the Western capitalist patriarchy has inscribed its insidious power-knowledge onto our brains and bodies.
      Also, the goal of their political movement is to demonize and dismantle all of what they consider oppressive binaries, with the man-woman distinction first on the chopping block.
      So there can be no compromise or middle ground, there is only the eternal battle to replace the objective reality of sex with the subjective concept of gender.
      Whether you agree or not, you have to give them credit, they have marched from one success to another, have just about every cultural institution in the Western World singing from their hymnal, have bullied and silenced just about all opposition, and they show no signs of slowing down.

      1. > literally do not acknowledge the existence of sex differences

        The simplest way to take them at their word would be to deny them entry to the female category, which is defined by such differences. Much as an avowed atheist should not object to being barred from prayer meetings, organized by and for those of other beliefs.

        People like Thomas should have no objection to competing with the men (we can change the title to “open” like boxing, without anyone noticing or caring). Provided they can pass a drug test for banned hormones, like everyone else.

  10. I have only one channel of sympathy for Griner: Griner is likely a victim of parenting that has crippled her moral compass. Anyone who places personal selfish wish — that when sought punishes innocent others — over facts of objective reality is a sociopath. Griner shows zero zero zero remorse for the damage Griner renders on both objective morality and other human beings.

    I won’t attempt to hash out what percentage of that hideous failure of personage is due to parents, schooling, upbringing, mentors, Mormonism, Woke activists … and to Griner. It is zero on Griner if sociopathy was inflicted on Griner and it is untreatable — some may claim that. I say Griner has been made highly aware of damaging character, and not only does not change behavior, but continues to display increasing grievance and hurt.

    1. [no edit button] I inadvertently used a pronoun in the first sentence. I am posting to note that that was an accident.

    2. Are you referring to Brittney Griner, the WNBA player recently detained in Russia on cannabis charges?

      I’m missing the relevance to the topic at hand. Perhaps you could clarify?

      1. Oh! I was moving fast when I posted, and conflated two situations. My apologies. However … the irony is: it turned into a fortuitous integration! While I intended the content to pertain to the subject of this page, Thomas, it might as well apply to Griner. Same thing. Same sociopathic arrogance against doing what is right and fair with regard to damaging others. Thomas is worse, because of competing with up and coming college swimmers.

        Griner is in an awful spot, because it is extremely unlikely Putin’s Russia will honor gender claims, resulting in incarceration in a men’s prison there, and flexibility to release Griner will be narrow, given the war.

        Wait … I’ll let that last claim stand, but I could easily be completely wrong. After all, they allow Griner to compete in Men’s Pro Basketball in Russia. Who knows any more …. ?

        1. Not sure where you’re getting your info, John. Brittney Griner is an out lesbian, but she is not transsexual. She plays for the Women’s National Basketball Association, and was in Russia during the WNBA off-season for a women’s international competition. She was arrested at an airport outside Moscow for possession of a cannabis oil vape cartridges — something legal to possess in many US states.

          How was she demonstrating “sociopathic arrogance against doing what is right and fair with regard to damaging others”?

  11. If XX athletes decided to boycott these types of mixed sporting events then suspect this type of nonsense will come to an abrupt halt. There will have to be a pretty broad solidarity though. And no doubt some short term pain.

    1. And then these girls and their families are accused of transphobia, followed up by prominent supporters of trans athletes lobbying social media companies and financial institutions to cut off and counter-boycott these people in order to prevent the effective organization of such a boycott by preventing communication and punishing them financially.

      1. Well, perhaps at least a few of these girls will get their fill and will say to heck with swimming. They don’t owe anyone the duty to swim. As with any other activity, there’s more to life than swimming.

        1. I presume that, at elite universities, quite a few were admitted specifically for the swim team. Anyone know if this typically comes with strings attached?

        2. We are supposed to feel agony over the idea of a trans woman not being allowed to compete against women, but all the women who have been swimming their whole lives ought to be okay with quitting bc “there’s more to life than swimming”? This is not the solution. You are forgetting that these women will need references for grad/ professional school or jobs. These can be withheld, or worse, their character could be challenged due to transphobic positions: ie, let team down, refused to compete against trans woman. The colleges effectively shut down all the women competitors from expressing any opinions on the Thomas issue. You may say- that’s illegal to threaten them. Well- it works. A young person starting out their career doesn’t want to spend their time and energy with a lawsuit, they want to get on with their lives.

          1. This speaks to the core legal issue that is fast developing, if not already fully developed, concerning Title IX: the original purpose of the statute was that colleges should treat women’s sports as equal to men’s, and not give them lesser funding, cut teams, fewer scholarships, and so on. However, the entire rationale behind the existence of “women’s sports” is the idea that the category is necessarily separate because biology would put women at a disadvantage to men.

            This clashes, though, with the understanding of Title IX which has developed over the past 12-15 years, which is to treat it as a broader anti-discrimination statute, including the hostile environment/sexual harassment standards from the secondary education and workplace context, particularly in regards to tackling cases of alleged campus sexual assault. This more modern understanding is that if a person feels like they have been harassed, assaulted, diminished, or whatever else, because of their sex (which is supposed to be irrelevant legally), then their ability to function equally in college is reduced, producing a claim of discrimination on the basis of sex. So trans women then MUST be accepted on the women’s team, otherwise it is discrimination on the basis of sex; that is, anatomy and chromosomes legally do not count for purposes of determining who is a woman. And cisgendered women objecting to this may themselves be creating a hostile environment, which the school is legally obligated to prevent or be faced with potential loss of federal funding for student loans.

  12. Regarding sex vs. race.
    Sex is hundreds of millions of years old, and it’s universal (all our ancestors of were either male or female). Present-day human “races” are recent and local. Those huge differences between race and sex are very important if, for transsexualism or transracialism to be real things, we mean brain structures (genes, or genes and environment). But one can argue that genes have nothing to do with this, and that transsexualism and transracialism are real, but real in a completely different sense – it’s just people with unusual imagination, desires, whatever, whom we should respect if they don’t cause any harm to others. Anyway, I think Richard Dawkins was wrong on this because he was talking about sex and race as physical – as opposed to mental – things. Transsexualism can be a physical (not just psychological), thing. Transracialism can’t.

    1. Have you forgotten that psychological traits, including memories, ideas, and stuff like “transracialism” HAVE TO BE PHYSICAL THINGS. They are encoded in the neurons. Why do you draw a false distinction between physical and psychological? Even the. psychological differences between men and women are coded, somehow, in the brain. Physical differences in the brain can be produced by genetic differences, environmental differences, or a combination of both.

      1. Yes, everything is physical, but given that genes are information that can be inherited and memories, for example, are not, I don’t think I’m drawing a false distinction.

        1. Cultural memories are absolutely transmissible to the next generation. Their power lies in their ability to be transmitted from multiple elders and through books, not just from the genetic parents. All this information (called learning) changes the fine structure of the brain and causes each of us to want to transmit it in turn to our young, or to suppress it, depending.

          1. Yes, but I’m trying to say something different. Biology is why heterosexual men are attracted to women, and homosexuality is probably biology/environment. “Transracialism”? Biology has nothing to do (unless in a very trivial way, like you have genes that make you prone to self-delusion). Transsexuality? Maybe it’s like homosexuality (genes/things that happened in the womb/childhood experiences). In other words, “transracialism” is not a thing, it’s only real inside the skull of a person who, for example, having only Native American ancestors, believes that he or she is Maori, while transsexuality could be similar to homosexuality.

  13. As #11 points out, a boycott is in order for sporting events which permit identity claims independent of physical reality. Perhaps the same treatment is appropriate for any organization or even any state
    (Connecticut?) that likewise ignores physical realities. If they permitted individuals to drive cars or practice medicine on nothing more than an individual’s claim of ability, it would be only prudent
    to keep away.

  14. From my POV, the extremist trans lobby of trans-women-are-women-get-over-it crowd are just more of the same: another group (of men and their allies) ready and willing to bully women. And they are succeeding. Women are expected to allow larger, stronger trans women in women’s prisons, in women’s shelters for victims of domestic violence and rape, in their locker rooms (the vast majority of trans women are “intact”), and competing against them in sports. Anyone who questions this is a transphobe and targeted to become a social pariah. In the US, we can’t get the ERA passed. Women’s rights to abortion and some types of birth control are on the edge of being denied to us. Women have been struggling since the country was founded for our civil rights. Yet in a relative blink of an eye, biological males who feel themselves to be women have forced themselves into women’s protected spaces- spaces often necessitated, ironically, by the violence of some (larger, more powerful) men. Promoting civil rights for trans gender people at the expense of women’s rights is terrible, but par for the course. Our legislation is getting ahead of the science. The biological differences between the sexes is real, but we are headed towards legislation which denies biology, and replaces it with interior feelings of gender identity. I thought I was a live-and-let-live person, but this steam rolling over women’s rights is infuriating me.

    1. Well stated, Emily.
      I felt my anger growing as I read the post and through the comments. Reading the thoughtful comments here brought more clarity to me on what has been a muddy issue. It has been so, I think, because it is so hard for women to believe we deserve and to express righteous anger.

      This is all, yet again, women having to sacrifice our rights, after years of sports inequality.
      All those women (and men) who have fought for years for empowerment of women: this undercuts women’s progress. I feel for the young women athletes who are basically being told to shut up and take it. As bullying political leaders are relentlessly attacking hard-won reproductive freedom.

      I know the difference between gender identity and biological sex, and of course it is wrong and cruel to deny anyone their choice of identity.
      The current denial of sex differences by vocal parties (some are in certain academic departments, as commenters have mentioned) is not only damaging to women and feminism but to really, everyone, and most importantly, young people.

    2. I’ve felt for a long time that extremist TRA tactics are very similar to MRA tactics. You have Twitter pile-ons, you have males insisting they have a right to have sex with women (lesbians of course). You have death threats and rape threats.

      Note that it’s always trans women using these tactics against women. Trans men don’t seem to go around insisting gay men should have sex with them. Trans women also don’t seem to insist that they have a right to have sex with heterosexual men. It’s males subjugating females. Why am I not surprised?

    3. Well said, Emily. I agree entirely, though I would not say that legislation is ahead of the science. The science is very clear, but is simply being ignored for the sake of convenience.

  15. I think the logic being used, “Either you agree with my position completely, or you are evil, denying my humanity, and erasing me as a person” is itself indicative of mental illness.

    On the farm, we have a metric for measuring strength and endurance, which I have admittedly written about before. But it is apt.
    The metric is 75 pound hay bales. lifted, loaded, thrown onto trailers, lifted again, stacked. From dawn until well past dusk, day after day. Thousands of them. I am not a super athletic person, but even in my mid 50s, I can load more bales for a longer time than my sisters were ever able to do. By a big margin. What I am relating is completely normal, and shared by most of humanity through history.
    It is sort of amazing that so many people have become disconnected from basic and universal human truths that we can even be debating whether an advantage is conveyed.

    1. I think the logic being used, “Either you agree with my position completely, or you are evil, denying my humanity, and erasing me as a person” is itself indicative of mental illness.

      No it isn’t. It’s just a popular tactic used to silence the opposition without having to engage with their arguments. Bush 2 used it in his “you’re with us or against us” speech.

      1. I have no professional expertise in mental illness. But I think I there is a difference between the use of that argument as a cynical tactic to silence debate, and it’s use by people living with a view of the world that is fragile, like a house of cards.
        I personally sense that Thomas is mostly sincere, and believes their public statements. To do so requires a lot of mental gymnastics. Even without people pointing out the inconsistencies, it is a fragile construct. Inviting debate on any aspect of the whole could collapse it.

        Just my opinion.

  16. The willful rejection of elementary biology, empirical evidence, and common experience comes straight out of the “Gender Studies” party line, as someone above observes. It is also fashionable, as its
    acceptance by assorted sports authorities/committees shows. But of course. The book by Sokal and Bricmont demolishing one ancestor of this posture, published 23-25 years ago, was titled “Fashionable Nonsense”. But the groves of academe enabled a set of attitudes that belong in the same category as homeopathy, dianetics, and astrology to keep getting more and more fashionable.

    1. It is like the story of the emperor’s new clothes. The point is not that only the child could see that the emperor had no clothes. Rather, everyone could see it, but the party line was that only those who are really virtuous can see them while the ignorant masses can’t. So, as a means of virtue signaling, those who wanted to appear virtuous agreed that they could see the beautiful new clothes which the tailor, a medieval version of Alan Sokal, had been making.

  17. Is any middle ground possible? I don’t think so. The whole point of transitioning is to be accepted as a member of the other sex. If that doesn’t go all the way, then the trans-women-are-women crowd will never be satisfied. (Note that the trans-men-are-men crowd is much quieter.) If you are a lesbian, which is essentially defined as a biological woman who likes sex with a biological woman, you are accused of transphobia if you don’t want to have sex with heterosexual men who “identify” as women with at most bad eyeliner as evidence of their transition.

    A solution where, say, sports are divided according to biological facts and other things aren’t (imagine a law—-which is actually being proposed in some places—-making it illegal to use the wrong pronouns or whatever) will never cut it for these people.

    I’m wondering if there has been a boondoggle: well meaning people who respect the chosen pronouns, go along with it out of politeness even if they think to themselves that the whole idea is absurd, and so on have created a slippery slope on which there is now no way but down, down to complete acceptance of self-id in every respect, including satisfying affirmative-action quotas for women.

  18. The bigger problem here, even in countries with proportional representation and thus several parties in parliament, is that more and more one can support, on the one hand, a party which favours unconditional self-ID (and usually, in a massive contradiction, demanding “medical” care while claiming that no medical diagnosis is necessary) but also sensible things such as reducing the effects of global warming or, on the other hand, a party which is against self-ID (though usually for reasons other than those given by classical liberals) but also thinks that rolling coal is a good idea.

    1. But how did that come about? I doubt that the majority of the population supports unconditional self-ID. Part of the reason is that the trans-women-are-women crowd are a) very loud and b) threaten violence (remember those who tweeted that they would send J. K. Rowling some pipe bombs?). While the second is not a strategy we should adopt, perhaps the first is. However, due to the second, many people are afraid to speak up for fear of getting cancelled. It helps not only to speak out, but also, if possible, to do so non-anonymously. Like it or not, if people respect you in one area, they might be willing to listen to your arguments in another. Yes, there is a risk that you will get cancelled and there is nothing you can do about it (it has probably happened to me), but if you can afford to live with that (and I realize that no everyone can), consider doing so in return for helping to achieve the greater goal.

  19. Well, as I’ve read there is also another transgender swimmer by the name of Iszac Henig. However, this is a transman that is (surprise, surprise) also competing in the women’s league.

    If the argument that “transwomen are women full stop and should therefor do elite sports in the leagues reserved for females” is to have ANY merit, then surely transmen ought to compete in the leagues for males?

    1. It is my understanding that Henig has not started any transitional interventions and thus, is eligible to swim with the women. I know it makes no sense, but since transmen don’t really impact men’s teams quite the same way that transwomen impact women’s teams no one cares.

  20. Sadly, the Green party in Germany (now the second-largest party in the three-party government) supports self-ID. Recently, a heterosexual, non-trans male decided to test that by campaigning for a post in his party which was (in the sense of affirmative action) open only to women. He said that he lived with his wife (in a lesbian relationship) and children. People asked him if he had thought it through. He said yes (he obviously had). They asked him how long he had identified as a woman, how it felt, if he planned to transition further (surgery, hormones, bad eyeliner, stereotypical feminine clothes, whatever) and he said that according to the party line (and that is true), none of that is relevant, so he didn’t want to discuss it. Sadly, he wasn’t elected to the post. Why not? Probably people noticed that he was applying the church-of-the-flying-spaghetti-monster tactic. In other words, they thought that he wasn’t really a transwoman. And they were right. But that illustrates another problem: if self-ID is the only criterion, then in practice who is really accepted as trans and who isn’t depends on how well one can virtue-signal those who decide such things.

    1. “…then in practice who is really accepted as trans and who isn’t depends on how well one can virtue-signal those who decide such things”.

      Are trans people really virtue signalling? Your German Green Party member was seeking to make a point but are there really large numbers of people claiming to be trans simply in order to game the system? I doubt it. The majority are not participating in high level sport and it seems to me that on the whole they face more negative impacts from the choice to transition than positive ones – lack of social acceptance, abuse and so on. They choose to proceed, presumably, because for them these negatives are outweighed by what they perceive as the negative aspects of continuing to live in what they perceive to be the wrong gender and I genuinely doubt that in the majority of cases virtue-signalling plays any part in it.

      Personally, I am happy to accommodate the wishes of trans people to be recognised as who they consider themselves to be as far as practically possible but I recognise there are certain limitations on this. Sport is one such. The whole point of having categories in sport – male/female, able-bodied/disabled, weight divisions in fight sports etc is to enable people to compete on broadly fair terms and, as the case of Lia Thomas illustrates, allowing trans women to compete alongside cis-women completely undermines this.

      1. I think that we agree; maybe I should have phrased it better. What I meant was that once self-ID is the only legal criterion, people will resort to illegal, unofficial ones. Otherwise the bloke would have been elected to the post. The whole point is that even the people who support self-ID as the only criterion somehow think that they know who is “really” trans and who is not. Leaving aside those who want to abuse the system, the issue still exists: who is real and who is not? So it’s down to “virtue signaling”. Maybe that’s not the right word. It’s like the pronoun stuff. I think that we agree that it is virtue signaling, but the people really believe that it is important. I’ve seen this elsewhere as well: something which just doesn’t make any sense somehow becomes part of the canon and it is so politically incorrect not to acknowledge that that people just pick it up and go along, eventually believing in it themselves.

        1. I think perhaps we agree on some aspects of the issue but not others. To me the term ‘virtue signalling’ means publicly flaunting your ‘right-on’ support of the cause of the moment in a way that is more calculated to enhance your own reputation (within the groups you care about) than to actually bring about meaningful societal change. I don’t believe that is what most trans people are doing when they come out. There is a moral panic in some quarters over how the demands of trans people are supposedly, somehow trampling over the rights of others but I think that in reality cases such as Lia Thomas and the German Green Party member are rare exceptions not the norm. I accept that these cases expose issues that cannot simply be ignored – it would be not just unfair but positively dangerous for someone like Lia to seek to fight in the heavyweight division of women’s boxing, for example – but most trans people’s request for recognition of their self-identified gender imposes little or no burden on the rest of society.

          1. Maybe “virtue signaling” is not the right term. But in practice it is clear who is “really” trans and who is pretending to be for rhetorical effect, again like the members of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti monster. With self-ID the only criterion, what is this distinction based on.

            I agree that it is a minority of trans people who are causing problems for others. However, in many cases it is a minority causing problems which leads to trouble. I believe that most are sincere. However, with not just much of the trans community, but also much of the LGB community and even the rest of their society supporting their demands, we can say goodbye to women’s sports and there will be people abusing the system.

          2. Someone like Lia Thomas would never “seek to fight in the heavyweight division of women’s boxing,” or MMA where they would directly have to compete against someone could really hurt them back.

            You don’t get to try out for the titled events until you have be tested severely in the beginning. I don’t see them putting in the work wouldn’t put in the work.

            1. That’s a rather peculiar, sweeping generalisation Su. You “…don’t see them putting in the work” sounds as though it’s based on a significant sample of trans athletes you have knowledge of who have all been idle trainers but that can’t be the case because athletes such as Lia, for all their fame/notoriety, are somewhat rare so who knows what work ethic ‘they’ typically have?

              I suppose that only Lia truly knows what her motivation is for wanting to swim in women’s competitions but it seems to me that the assumption that some people seem to make that it is simply to have a better chance of winning championships is not likely to be true. To my mind it is more likely that having self-identified as a woman she is seeking to assert her right (as she sees it) to live as a woman in every respect, including swimming on women’s teams. As I have previously said, I think she is wrong to do that as her insistence on her right to compete as a woman can only be achieved at the expense of the right of cis-women to race in a fair competition.

              As to whether ‘someone like Lia’ could or would seek to fight in the heavyweight division of boxing or MMA, I think you are wrong. Someone who has competed in the sport seriously but with relatively mediocre success as a man (I believe that is more or less the case for Lia) would be likely to have a substantial advantage if they subsequently identified as a woman and competed as such. If there is no upper size limit to the heavyweight division this advantage could be very significant.

              1. Johnathon, I don’t know any women who were professional swimmers, but have known more than a few women who were competitive international Judo players. (And a couple who briefly gave MMA a shot.)

                My comment was based on “someone like Lia Thomas” being a swimmer. Where you’re competing against yourself or the clock. Had nothing to do with her “work ethic,” only that swimming is a sport where the only risk to herself from other players most likely would be nothing more than mean comments.

                And there is no need for anyone to guess how “substantial an advantage” a transwoman might have. Fallon Fox, who had sex reassignment surgery at 31yo, fought Tamikka Brents in an MMA match. The fight was stopped by the referee in the first round, after a little more than two minutes.

                (From Wikipedia) “During Fox’s fight against Tamikka Brents on September 13, 2014, Brents suffered a concussion, an orbital bone fracture, and seven staples to the head in the 1st round.”

                After her loss, Brents took to social media to convey her thoughts on the experience of fighting Fox: “I’ve fought a lot of women and have never felt the strength that I felt in a fight as I did that night. I can’t answer whether it’s because she was born a man or not because I’m not a doctor. I can only say, I’ve never felt so overpowered ever in my life and I am an abnormally strong female in my own right,” she stated. “Her grip was different, I could usually move around in the clinch against other females but couldn’t move at all in Fox’s clinch …”

              2. Well we seem to agree, then. By ‘someone like Lia’ I simply meant a person who competed as a male in some sport or other who then chose to compete in the same sport as a woman after deciding that they self identify as a woman. I was not suggesting that a swimmer might want to try out as fighter. As the Brents – Fox story you relate illustrates, if the transitioning person competes against women in the same sport they will typically gain a significant advantage. In fight sports this creates not just an issue of fairness but also one of safety.

          3. In the US, the Democrats and Biden are determined to get the “Equality” Act through. The Equality Act will destroy the sex-based rights of women and gay men, allow any man to access all women’s public sex-segregated spaces, and allow any man to participate in women’s sports.

            I personally would call that trans people “trampling over the rights of others” a lot of others, but YMMV.

      2. A majority of men who claim to be women have a sexual paraphilia called “autogynephilia.”

        These men get sexually aroused at the thought of themselves as women and by wearing women clothes. Some get aroused by invading women’s spaces and by making women uncomfortable. Most of them are attracted to women. Most men (89 to 95%) who claim to be women keep their male genitalia.

        Helen Joyce, Economist editor and author of the well-researched book Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality, has written on autogynephilia.

        1. Correct, and considering that Lia Thomas is heterosexual, he is almost certainly autogynephilic. The most disturbing part of this story (that seems to get buried by the unfair competitive advantage part) is that Lia Thomas is exposing his very much intact and male genitalia in the women’s locker room in front of the other swimmers. When a handful of the women expressed how uncomfortable this made them feel (understandably), they were essentially told to “get over it” by the authorities that should’ve been protecting them. This would be considered a clear example of sexual harassment in any other scenario, yet it is being sanctioned by the coaches, university, and NCAA. It truly is unbelievable.

          Helen Joyce’s book (and Helen Joyce herself for that matter) is fantastic btw. I recommend it to anyone that is baffled by what is going on.

    2. The Democratic party of the US has also, apparently, taken the same stance. The proposed equality act defines sex as to include gender identity, without the burden of any type of social or physical transition. It would be a disaster.

    1. It won’t work because the problem is that trans women want to be seen as women in every aspect. A trans category would be an acknowledgement that trans women are not the same as women in every aspect and so it is not acceptable to them.

      There’s no way to solve this without either pissing off the trans rights activists or destroying women’s sports.

  21. The irony (or is it hypocrisy?) is that the people who say sex/gender/self-identity is not binary are trying to force people to accept what is clearly a binary choice regarding Thomas competing as a woman.

    1. I think that there are two issues. One is the whole LGBTQWERTY stuff. Some think that everyone must be included, so they do, and don‘t worry about contradictions. Others see the discrepancy you mention, but are LGB activists, clearly recognizing that much trans-ideologue is anti-homosexual (such as criticizing real lesbians who are not sexually interested in transmen).

  22. Any transwoman who refuses to acknowledge the difference between trans and biological women is disrespecting both groups. Lia Thomas’ entitlement in disingenuously denying physical advantage in sports reveals what she really is: a man. We are who we are, we don’t get to choose to deny our immutable characteristics because they don’t fit in with our personal narrative. If transwomen want to dress as the opposite sex, go by a name of the opposite sex, fine. But the minute one expects me to deny reality, that is when I recognize a dangerous narcissist demanding other people indulge one’s fantasy.

    1. What? You mean I am not Tsar of the Russian Empire, even though I self-identify as such?
      For shame, you Russophobe.

      Actually, Sonja, you have put your finger on the source of this nonsense, in all of its varied forms: narcissism. It seems to be a global plague, evident from Right (notably The Donald) to the mania of virtue-signaling on the Left. It is worth inquiring what socio-psychological factors led to this.
      I hesitate to think that the ivory tower can have such a large effect on the general culture, but could it all be due to the elevation of Narcissism Studies in academia? Or, if deeper factors be considered, is it a
      wild overshoot of the liberatory culture of the 1960s? Was it 60s rebels becoming “helicopter” parents of the next generation? Was it the legalization of pot? Is it cellphones? Or hotter summers? ???

  23. I might have more sympathy for Lia if she would express some understanding of the reasons that people do not want her swimming on the women’s team. Surely she understands the concerns, but as far as I have seen, she refuses to acknowledge that their is any validity to the concerns. But I try, still, to avoid direct criticism of her, as it is the institutions (NCAA, Olympic Committee, etc.) that have create the problem. They are the real problem.

    1. There should be no issue as she is a woman, full stop. There would only be a problem if you do not accept the notion that trans-women are really women. Otherwise, she has no more of an obligation to be worried about other people’s concerns than would any other highly talented female swimmer.

      1. Yes, I know that is what she believes…or at least professes to believe. But I am sure she looks at her own body in comparison to those of her teammates and realizes the disparity and can, at least, understand why others may view it as unfair. Yet she acts if if she has no idea why she is being criticized.

        And, no, I do not accept the notion that trans-women are really women.

        1. So “she” is really a man? In that case (and I’m not sure that I’d disagree), “she” seems to be suffering under some kind of delusion, which should be addressed as such.

          1. Joe,

            If “she” still has “her” nuts in working order then – by the “power” invested in me by the standard biological definitions – “she” is still a male and a man (“adult human male”).

            But if “she” has had them removed then “she” is now a sexless eunuch.

            In any case, definitely agree about “some kind of delusion” which seems to characterize many if not most of the transgendered. Quite a good essay at the Journal of Cultural Anthropology by Sahar Sadjadi titled “Deep in the Brain: Identity and Authenticity in Pediatric Gender Transition”. Something of particular note that underlines that “delusion” perspective:

            “Moreover, the magico-spiritual undertone of the conversations I witnessed was striking …. As a physician and anthropologist of medicine, I had begun this project as a critical study of a cutting-edge clinical field; I was perplexed by this merging of science, magic, and religion in explaining children’s gender transition.”


              1. De nada; share the wealth; praise the lord and pass the ammunition 🙂

                Incredibly bizarre and quite problematic phenomenon which is, maybe arguably, causing or contributing substantially to the corruption of science, biology in particular. Going to take the proverbial “full-court press” to turn the tide.

                Of particular note in that regard is another article over at Aeon by Paul Griffiths – university of Sydney professor, co-author of Genetics and Philosophy – on the biological definitions for the sexes, and a passage or two therefrom that you might be interested in:

                “Many people assume that if there are only two sexes, that means everyone must fall into one of them. But the biological definition of sex doesn’t imply that at all. As well as simultaneous hermaphrodites, which are both male and female, sequential hermaphrodites are first one sex and then the other. There are also individual organisms that are neither male nor female. ….

                Nothing in the biological definition of sex requires that every organism be a member of one sex or the other. That might seem surprising, but it follows naturally from defining each sex by the ability to do one thing: to make eggs or to make sperm. Some organisms can do both, while some can’t do either. ….”


          2. If transwomen are really women then what does “woman” mean? That is, how do you define the class of people who are called women? Unfortunately, the transgender community has no answer to that question.

            1. Ben,

              “If transwomen are really women then what does ‘woman’ mean?”

              Exactly. And the standard definition for “woman”, based on the biological definition for “female”, is “adult human female (produces ova)”. Which of course excludes all transwomen, whether they still have their nuts attached or not.

              ICYMI, you might Google a YouTuber by the name of Kellie-Jay Keen who was responsible, several years ago, for emblazoning that definition across various buildings and billboards all across the UK. Which of course produced a great hue and cry from the usual suspects, although she’s commendably stuck to her guns, and is busy promoting that perspective.

              But part of the problem is that some dictionaries – Merriam-Webster in particular – are peddling the largely untenable view – which should be deprecated, if not anathematized – that “man” and “woman” are basically genders, i.e., personalities and stereotypes typical of “adult human males” and “adult human females”:


              We may well be obliged to qualify each and every use of those words accordingly – “man (sex)”, “man (gender)”, “woman (sex)”, “woman (gender)” – as sex and gender are entirely different kettles of fish. Causes no end of confusion to be using the same words for profoundly different categories.

  24. The left cannot have it both ways. They cannot pat themselves on the back for being so inclusive and understanding of trans people by doing all of the easy things, such as using their preferred pronouns, not dead-naming, etc., and then turn around and talk about a third category for trans athletes.

    Either you acknowledge that a trans-woman is a woman and a trans-man is a man, full stop, or you adopt a position that trans-women/men are not true representatives of the genders they identify with. If the former, you should have no problem whatsoever with Lia competing with women, because she IS a woman.

    For me, someone like Caitlyn Jenner is not a woman, but a man who has undergone substantial surgery. Same with Lia. Under this view, Lia competes as a man or we create a third category.

    But you cannot at the same time proclaim your support for the notion that “trans-men are real men” or “trans-women are real women” AND also talk of third categories or express concern that trans-women are beating “real” women. On this the trans advocates are correct.

  25. Jerry said right out of the chute:

    “We all know now about Lia Thomas, the transgender swimmer born a biological male but who transitioned after puberty.”

    But one might reasonably ask, just what did Lia “transition” to?

    A very large part of the problem is the conflation of sex and gender. The late Justice Scalia created a cogent and illuminating analogy that underlines the difference; he said:

    “Sex is to gender as male is to masculine, as female is feminine”

    And the British Medical Journal recently had an editorial that underlined and elaborated on the essential and crucially important differences:

    “Distinction is critical for good healthcare

    Sex and gender are not synonymous. Sex, unless otherwise specified, relates to biology: the gametes, chromosomes, hormones, and reproductive organs. Gender relates to societal roles, behaviours, and expectations that vary with time and place, historically and geographically. These categories describe different attributes that must be considered depending on the purpose they are intended for. The World Health Organization states, ‘Gender is used to describe the characteristics of women and men that are socially constructed, while sex refers to those that are biologically determined.’ ….”

    The most that might be said about Lia and transwomen is that they’ve changed their gender, but not their sex. The standard biological definitions for the sexes are based on the presence of particular functions, to be able to actually produce sperm or ova for reproduction, those without that ability being thereby sexless.

    By which token, Lia – if “she” still has “her” nuts in working order – is still a male; and if “she” has had them removed then “she” is now a sexless eunuch who had been a male. Neither state justifying her competing against actual or erstwhile women.

    1. “By which token, Lia – if “she” still has “her” nuts in working order – is still a male; and if “she” has had them removed then “she” is now a sexless eunuch who had been a male.”

      I think you have it here. To put it rather bluntly, Lia is not a woman…she is a deformed male. Hacking away at her bits and flooding her with female hormones has not really changed her sex…she still retains the XY profile from birth and, crucially, underwent puberty as a male.

      1. Lia Thomas need not even be deformed in any way. I know nothing about his medical history but I would be very surprised if he is. To compete against women, he need only be taking androgen-blocking drugs for the prescribed time. It would be highly unlikely that he would have had himself surgically castrated or had any other mutilation just to Hoover up NCAA medals. What’s more, the requirement to meet any cut-off level of testosterone has been dropped, for the good reason that there is no level below which men lose male advantage. But the measurement would at least tell the NCAA if he is indeed taking his pills. All we have now is his prescription records and his sayso that he is not just flushing the pills down the toilet each day in case the doping monitors drop by to do a pill count. People aren’t stupid, and testosterone is what makes a man a man.

        No matter how sincere he really is, for all the NCAA has to go on he is just a guy with long hair who wears a women’s maillot. There is no reason why he would want to take female hormones to grow breasts. Even a five o’clock shadow wouldn’t be a total giveaway. With no set testosterone cut-off levels, it’s going to be common knowledge that all trans athletes are going to be taking the minimum dose to comply, which for reasons above, could well be none at all in truth.

        Surely everyone connected with this travesty knows it’s a fraud. But no one (except us, who have no skin in the game) wants to breathe a word for fear of the legal and Twitter consequences of transphobia. In real life the boy who called out the emperor’s nakedness was beaten half to death by the emperor’s secret police and then disappeared somewhere into the Ministry of the Interior. Everyone is just holding their breaths waiting for him to graduate into obscurity where he can yank the chain of affirmative action somewhere else. With the opposition intimidated into silence, the peak risk for bad publicity at Penn and NCAA has probably long passed.

        Until the next guy comes along. And the ones after him. Who knows? Thomas’s records might not stand as long as they think…
        Will high school girls want to swim for university teams on scholarships knowing that there is always going to be a guy somewhere in the conference who will take all the medals? … Of course they will!

        1. Leslie,

          “It would be highly unlikely that he would have had himself surgically castrated ….”

          No indication that he has had such surgery which would have turned him into a sexless eunuch – his Wikipedia article seems only to indicate the use of “hormone replacement therapy”. Similar to the New Zealand Olympian weight-lifter Laurel Hubbard, pictures of whom suggest that he’s still “packing”.

          But the Wikipedia articles on both of whom underline the “travesty” you spoke later of, a manifest case of the Ministry of Truth imposing a new dictum, a new article of faith, that “2+2=5”. In Thomas’ case, his Wikipedia article talks about how he “ranked number 462 as a male swimmer, but now ranks number 1 as a female swimmer”. Not quite as bad as Hubbard’s Wikipedia article which more or less crosses the Rubicon by baldly asserting that, “In 2012, Hubbard transitioned to female.” Grevious if not fatal damage to language, logic, and biology – nobody changes sex.

          “Surely everyone connected with this travesty knows it’s a fraud. ….”

          Indeed, “amen” to that. The Emperor and His New Clothes – or New Gender – as you had suggested.

          1. Thomas still sports a penis, scrotum and testicles, by all credible accounts. Yet he uses the women’s locker room. Why this isn’t seen for the folly it is by the wokerati remains a puzzle.

            1. CBE,

              “… still sports a penis, scrotum and testicles ….”

              In looking through the photos of him on the starting blocks I got the impression that that was the case. Quite agree with your “seen for the the folly it is”. Although I might have been more “pointed” and have said “rank insanity” – amazing what corruption of language and logic follows from dogma, ignorance, and motivated reasoning.

              But rather typical of the “wokerati” – you might be interested in a tweet on that score from Andrew Doyle:

              “The JK Rowling controversy has exposed one of the most chilling aspects of the woke ideology: the sheer certainty of its adherents.”


  26. The still relatively rare number of trans women dominating any women’s sport is suppressing a stronger reaction from female born athletes. The rarity means that the number of female born athletes being disadvantaged is small. Further, the dominance of a trans woman has been limited to instances where there’s little chance to earn substantial reward. The slippery slope argument fails to energize the people running these institutions because they don’t see it being radically disruptive. We would see a stronger reaction if a trans women started to take an ever growing share of the rewards from women’s competition. For example, imagine the reaction from the women’s US soccer team if suddenly the hard earned equal pay they just received was going to more and more male-bodied athletes. Or, imagine the reaction from women’s tennis players if all of a sudden you had a male-bodied person winning Wimbledon.

    Therefore, the issue is really one for amateur athletics, where the stakes are not so high, at least as the governing bodies are concerned. I suppose its a case of problem with limited scope. The impact on the current women swimmers at Penn and other colleges is significant. Isn’t it likely that the issue will not outlive Thomas’s career? If a long term policy is to be made I suggest an expansive solution instead of one restrictive. Isn’t there enough interest in athletics overall to expand opportunities for mixed competitions. Many sports already have a tradition of mixed competition. If every sport had a mixed option than there’s nothing to argue about. Thomas argues she wants to complete with women as an affirmation of her gender. Are athletics about affirming gender or about athletic competition?

    1. A Sharon,

      “Thomas argues she wants to complete with women as an affirmation of her gender. Are athletics about affirming gender or about athletic competition?”

      I’m somewhat at a loss as to just exactly why we would want to “affirm” anyone’s gender. Particularly as gender is hardly more than a synonym for personality – of which there are billions and billions.

      Profoundly idiotic to be using personality types as any sort of criteria for being able to compete in various sports leagues. Shall we have separate leagues for introverts and extroverts? Separate ones for each of the 16 Myers-Briggs types? One for each of the “colours” on the spectrum created by the set of “Big Five Personality Traits”?

      The only rational criteria are by sex, although that is somewhat problematic as the biological definitions for the sexes are based on the “necessary and sufficient conditions” of having functional gonads – which of course some third of us, at any one time, are without. Seems a reasonable and workable alternative is by karyotype – for women’s sports, “No XY need apply” …

    2. How is there not “substantial reward” in the case of amateur athletics at the college level, where there are only so many scholarship spots on university teams, especially for highly desirable schools like Penn? You can get tens of thousands of dollars a year in scholarships, gain access to a world-class education and the concomitant network, and also gain the networking function of the particular sports team. You’d be surprised, for instance, how many people in the highly lucrative private equity world were, for example, on Harvard football, Yale track, or Stanford crew.

    3. “Many sports already have a tradition of mixed competition. If every sport had a mixed option than there’s nothing to argue about” – except one team in the mixed sprint might include three biological males instead of two in the others?

      1. In case of any doubt about what that would mean, for the inaugural Mixed 4x400m final at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha the Polish team were alone in choosing a female runner for the final leg, allowing us to see what happens at the elite level when male and female sprinters compete against each other. Despite starting her lap with an enormous lead, the Polish sprinter finished in fifth place. The race itself starts at just after 5:30 minutes in:

        1. And just in case anyone who doesn’t watch the video thinks there was something wrong with the Polish team generally, the reason she started her lap with an enormous lead at the baton was because her male teammate was, in their switched order, running against the other teams’ women in his lap. He just ran away from them all. Can you imagine if he’d been trans, and Poland had a third man to run the final lap?

          A vivid video.

  27. “Can’t people see that being empathic towards transwomen and supporting their gender identity need not include also regarding them as biological women on every single issue?”

    No, people can’t see that because the desire, at least in many such cases, is not just to be treated as a woman for certain purposes, but to *be* a woman. The more honest (Sophie Grace Chapell, for example) will admit that there is an impossible desire there, in some cases extending to *the desire to have always been a woman*. So insofar as people treat the animating desire of “who this person wants to be” as the holy untouchable shrine of identity, the answer is no – they can’t see what you propose they should see.

    1. This is accurate. You can find trans and trans allied influencers on YouTube and TikTok (this is a very social media driven group) arguing that sensitivity to trans people’s dignity includes a desire that no one know about their trans status if the trans person in question doesn’t want them to, which requires, for example, that topics or subjects which would require the trans person to expose their past pre-transition be avoided, like sharing high school yearbook photos as a group. Or talking about typical adolescent that are experienced by one sex, like when a girl first got her period or a boy learned to shave. A trans person would easily be outed, and would also probably experience at least some level of psychological distress, in such a situation.

  28. I don’t think the arguments of the other swimmers and parents hold up here.
    Others have discussed race above, and race is a well-known factor in sports. Black people often make up a majority of the world’s elite sprinters, for example.
    It would be utterly illegitimate to say, black people are winning all the races, therefore we hope they will be excluded from competition. And it’s not clear that the argument put forward by those against Lia Thomas competing are anything else. Because of her genetic makeup, she seems likely to win lots of races. That isn’t a valid criterion for exclusion.
    In any case, the outcomes of college swimming races are not good grounds for making any kind of social policy. This is a very odd debate.

    1. You are first assuming that the advantages of being “black” from anywhere in the world are genetic. That has not been demonstrated. More important, you are making the argument that there should be no “men’s sports” as distinct from “women’s sports”. Therefore everybody should compete against anyone else. Do you really believe that? In that case, there would BE no women’s sports and women would not compete.

      That is a very odd claim.

      1. Thanks for the reply… but it’s an odd one!
        You say: “you are making the argument that…” and inevitably go on to say an argument that I didn’t make. I didn’t say it, and I don’t think it. You may believe that something I said implies that “there should be no ‘men’s sports’ as distinct from ‘women’s sports,'” but I don’t think that; you didn’t offer any reasons why the things I said must necessarily imply that position.
        I’m not sure what you think, but perhaps I can guess. Let me offer a tentative response. Do you remember the 1990s and early 00s, when the debates around gay marriage were still happening? do you remember the kinds of bizarre forecasts that (probably closeted) religious types would make? If we allow homosexuality in general and gay marriage in particular, then pretty soon it’ll be compulsory to be gay! People will be marrying their horses!
        I feel like the missing links in the argument you’re making must be akin to those. Do you think that if we allow people to compete in sports based on their chosen identity, then pretty soon it’ll be compulsory to be transgender? That everyone will be doing it? Will people change their entire identities and bodies for the sake of a bit of tin? And do you think that that would be a bad outcome?
        I don’t think any of those things. Being transgender is rare, and will remain so. Being transgender and a good athlete will be much rarer. This is, and will remain, a vanishingly small “problem,” if it is even a problem.
        Acceptance of homosexuality brought changes in society (but ultimately, not very big ones). Acceptance of transgender identities will also bring changes, but they won’t be large, and I don’t really see why they’d be bad. I don’t think who wins a swimming race is a “problem” at all. It literally doesn’t matter to anyone other than the competitors themselves.

        1. You have no idea about what I think, and in fact you’re dead wrong about what you say. And if you don’t see the unfairness to all of women’s athletics to let transgender women compete at will, then you’re blind.

        2. >It literally doesn’t matter to anyone other than the competitors themselves.

          Good grief, have you ever heard of athletic scholarships? Girls/women can get them, too. Even athletic careers, product endorsements, etc.

          Sports doesn’t matter? In the United State? Men seem to be doing quite well by them. Even as a hobby that shouldn’t matter to anyone else.’

          1. While athletic scholarships exist they should certainly be allotted to men and women in a fair manner. But, the bigger issue is whether athletic scholarships should exist at all. In my view, the role of higher education is not to promote sports. It should be dedicated to educating minds particularly young ones, to graduating students that can make a contribution to the world, as well as training students to live and prosper in the world. College sports, with million dollar head football colleges, does not do this, even though football revenue presumably helps defray college expenses. The world would be much better off if athletic scholarships no longer existed and scholarships for poor, but promising students, were increased. College sports teams can be staffed without students on athletic scholarships.

    2. Why is that not a valid criteria? Why do we have separate sports for women and men. Title IX was all about allowing women to compete on a level playing field and this seems to go directly against that? Swimming times for champion women are routinely beaten by teenage boys every year.

      1. Your question gets me thinking of what John McWhorter once wrote, that the radical Left in the 1960s convinced young Black women to have children out of wedlock and go on welfare instead of staying in school, not because they (the Left) thought this was social justice for poor Black women but because they were trying to bankrupt the government. They, said McWhorter, reasoned that the more people went on welfare, the more spending that welfare would consume, which generated more welfare clients and more demand for welfare as those out-of-wedlock children grew up and emulated their mothers and their boyfriends. The beauty of targeting Black people for this operation was that it appeared to fit nicely with the Civil Rights movement and could co-opt its organization structure. Once the government was bankrupted, the Revolution would happen and the Left would take over as its commissars….with a large captive client class willing to use violence to ensure they could hold power.

        For the trans-rights lobby to say that your Title IX requires men to be allowed to swim as women seems intended to destroy the whole concept by taking advantage of a novel interpretation of what its rules require, and could not have foreseen when written. Trans-activism in women’s sports can’t possibly be good for women’s sports. But it must be good for something, else it wouldn’t be pursued with such take-no-prisoners viciousness. A form of asymmetrical warfare — use the enemy’s strengths against him. But to what end? Surely it can’t be a psyop to create more right-wing voters among fed-up female and feminist college graduates, with the left-wing parties playing the role of useful fools in their own destruction? /s

        The anti-abortion lobby does this. One of their tactics was to campaign for laws against third-trimester “partial-birth” abortions, which are rarely done and would affect very few women (or save very many unborn Christians.) The right-to-choose lobby always took the bait, obligated as they are to fight against any erosion of reproductive rights, and so found themselves arguing for a position that makes many pro-choicers deeply uncomfortable. They came across as extremists while the anti-abortionists appeared to be moderates and closer to the mainstream position even if they really weren’t on the larger question of abortion in general. The soil thus prepared, they become emboldened enough to pass heartbeat laws. If I could figure out the trans-lobby’s end game I’d suspect they are trying to do the same thing.

  29. Professor Coyne,

    Hello, I’m a philosophy instructor. Ethics and sports is an issue I don’t research much but I did come across this blog entry via Brian Leiter’s blog, and find the comments quite sensible and interesting. I do have two queries, not intended to refute you, but to clarify the degree to which I accept your position in toto, or in part.

    1) You claim that after puberty the male/female differences that matter in sport are pretty well established and this is ‘reality’, anyone that denies this ‘denies reality’. I’ll just set aside that science never proves definitely what the nature of reality is (wtf) and say okay what you’re saying is highly, highly, highly, probable. However, you didn’t cite any sources. Just to cement my view, can you do so please? My impressions in life support such a conclusion, e.g., men and women post puberty seem to have general (but not necessarily universal) athletic differences.

    2) You claim that Lia Thomas is now a proper control group that proves the point that post puberty biological men have an unfair advantage over post puberty biological women. My science comprehension is very ignorant here. Isn’t one person, in any instance, an ancedote? A fluke? A possible anomaly? Or can we really generalize from this *one person* and *one incident* to the more general conclusions you’ve reached?

    Thank you for your time.


    1. 1. I’ve written articles on this website before showing the research on the athletic advantages retained by transwomen who transition after puberty. You clearly haven’t read them, or done any research yourself: you just want me to do it for you. Very well, go to this link and follow the references.
      Remember, these are averages.

      2. I think that Lia Thomas shows that a man who performs not very well before transitioning can bet nearly all women once the gender transition has occurred. It’s an anecdote, but the data given in #1 will show you that this is the case in general so she instantiates a real trend. If you think that she is a fluke, well, look at the existing data and try to maintain that. Do your own homework.

      I’m curious why you don’t use your real name since you’re an academic. I use mine.

    2. The modern discourse around the question of whether men have advantages over women in athletic competitions never ceases to leave me absolutely bewildered. Are you sincerely asking for evidence to prove that males have a biological advantage over females in sports? I can understand wanting to review literature that could help elucidate the extent of the male advantage, but as to whether men, overall, have an advantage in nearly all sports, the answer is so abundantly clear that it leads me to believe that the person asking has never watched an athletic competition in their life. Of course men have an advantage.

  30. If we were talking about womens boxing, womens MMA, or womens hockey, would this discussion even exist. No way would we let our wives or daughters get in the ring, octagon, or oval with Lea.

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