The NYT publishes a good article on the transsexual athlete controversy

May 30, 2022 • 11:00 am

When I occasionally write about the issue of how to deal with transsexual people in sports—a problem nearly always involving transsexual women competing against cissexual women—I often get pushback along these lines: “There are so few of these athletes, so why bother about the issue? Let them compete!” I bother for three reasons. First, the possibility of such competition sits at the intersection of biology, morality, and society, which interests me; and there are real data that can inform the debate.

Second, the problem may be small now, but it will grow. The number of transsexuals, particularly transsexual women, is growing exponentially, and we are going to face many more cases than the one inspiring the article below: Lia Thomas, a transsexual women who, after transitioning post puberty, began winning many races against cis-sexual women when swimming for the University of Pennsylvania women’s team.

Finally, the problem involves conflicting issues of liberal morality: fairness towards women versus fairness towards sexual minorities. And it also calls for solutions, most of which involve data that we don’t have, and probably won’t ever get.

I was surprised to see a pretty objective piece in the New York Times about transgender women competing against biological women in sports. By “objective”, it doesn’t mean that all sides make equally weighty arguments. Rather, the paper admits that biology itself gives post-puberty transgender women a distinct athletic advantage over cis-gender women. Rather, the arguments of both sides are given equal airing. And several solutions are discussed.

This hasn’t convinced me that “trans women are women” when it comes to sports, though of course in nearly all other respects I urge others to treat all transgender people just like they treat everyone else. If this makes me transphobic, you can call me that, but I reject the adjective.

And although the issue is characterized by Robin Harris, director of the Ivy League swimming conference, as a “culture war,” it is more than that. It cuts to the very issue of fairness, philosophy, and ethics: how does one balance or mitigate different degrees of harm. It does of course demarcate cultural segments, with the more “progressive” Leftists arguing that even medically or surgically untreated biological men who identify as women should be allowed to compete against biological women.

And above all, it’s an empirical question (at least to me). Do transsexual women really have a substantial athletic advantage over cissexual women?

If you’ve been reading the posts on this site about transsexuality and athletics, you probably won’t learn that much from the piece, at least about the biology. And the biology is clear: those biological men who transition to women after puberty retain a distinct athletic advantage against biological women. A few quotes from the article underscore that/

THE BIOLOGY

Michael J. Joyner, a doctor at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., studies the physiology of male and female athletes. He sees in competitive swimming a petri dish. It is a century old, and the sexes follow similar practice and nutrition regimens.

Since prepubescent girls grow faster than boys, they have a competitive advantage early on. Puberty washes away that advantage. “You see the divergence immediately as the testosterone surges into the boys,” Dr. Joyner said. “There are dramatic differences in performances.”

The records for elite adult male swimmers are on average 10 percent to 12 percent faster than the records of elite female swimmers, an advantage that has held for decades.

Little mystery attends to this. Beginning in the womb, men are bathed in testosterone and puberty accelerates that. Men on average have broader shoulders, bigger hands and longer torsos, and greater lung and heart capacity. Muscles are denser.

“There are social aspects to sport, but physiology and biology underpin it,” Dr. Joyner noted. “Testosterone is the 800-pound gorilla.”

When a male athlete transitions to female, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which governs college sports, requires a year of hormone-suppressing therapy to bring down testosterone levels. The N.C.A.A. put this in place to diminish the inherent biological advantage held by those born male.

Ms. Thomas followed this regimen.

But peer reviewed studies show that even after testosterone suppression, top trans women retain a substantial edge when racing against top biological women. . .

. . .“Athletic performance depends on a lot of factors: access to coaches and nutritionists and technical skill,” Mr. Mosier said. “We are making broad generalizations about men being bigger, stronger, faster.”

Most scientists, however, view performance differences between elite male and female athletes as near immutable. The Israeli physicist Ira S. Hammerman in 2010 examined 82 events across six sports and found women’s world record times were 10 percent slower than those of men’s records.

“Activists conflate sex and gender in a way that is really confusing,” noted Dr. Carole Hooven, lecturer and co-director of undergraduate studies in human evolutionary biology at Harvard University. She wrote the book “T: The Story of Testosterone.” “There is a large performance gap between healthy normal populations of males and females, and that is driven by testosterone.”

The sprinter Allyson Felix won the most world championship medals in history. Her lifetime best in the 400 meters was 49.26 seconds; in 2018, 275 high school boys ran faster.

It’s hard to argue with the data, but one gets the feeling that, for trans advocates, data are largely irrelevant.  And so we hear from voices both in favor of and against allowing transsexual women to compete against biological women. I’ve collected quotes from both sides:

PRO:

The American Civil Liberties Union offers a counterpoint. “It’s not a women’s sport if it doesn’t include ALL women athletes,” the group tweeted. “Lia Thomas belongs on the Penn swimming and diving team.”

. . .Griffin Maxwell Brooks, a trans nonbinary diver at Princeton who competes on the men’s team, released a TikTok video accusing “cisgender women” of leveraging “misogyny to perpetuate transphobia.”

Not long afterward, a Princeton eating club barred a female swimmer from joining, saying her “transphobia” might bring it disrepute, according to a Princeton swimmer.

. . .Joanna Harper, a competitive transgender female runner and Ph.D. student studying elite transgender athletic performance at Loughborough University in Britain, agreed that testosterone gives transgender female athletes some advantage.

But she spoke of inexorable emotional and psychological pressures on transgender athletes.

“Is it so horrible,” she said, “if a handful of us are more successful than they were in men’s sports?”

It sounds as if Ms. Richards favors allowing free competition between transsexual and biological women, which is one solution to the problem, though not a wildly popular one. These two people agree with Harper:

Some trans activists and academics welcome that. Nathan Palmer, a lecturer at Georgia Southern University, wrote in Sociology in Focus: “Nature loves diversity, but humans love simplicity. Separating males from females may be socially useful, but when the dividing lines limit and oppress, we have to acknowledge they are social constructions.”

Anna Posbergh, a doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland, is a former pole-vaulter who studies the mechanics of human movement and gender and athletes. She sees notions of gender disadvantage in sports as rooted in culture and an outdated view of what women can achieve.

“I’m beginning to question the idea of sex segregation in sport,” she said. “We need to learn to sit with discomfort.”

No, the difference between male and female humans is NOT a social construct; it is a biological reality, and given an individual, we can accurate classify them with 99.9% accuracy—or greater. Social constructs are immune to that kind of empirical discrimination.

It’s pretty clear that ending sex segregation in sport will eventually destroy women’s sports if transexual women become numerous.  But the bit I oppose above is the wildly misguided claim that sex, and the athletic advantages of male sex, is not a social construction. It is real and amply documented in biology. This is the deliberate distortion of biology for ideological purposes.

But the issue is what to do with that real male/female difference.

CON:

Sebastian Coe, the Olympic champion runner and head of the International Association of Athletics Federations, which governs world track, speaks of biological difference as inescapable. “Gender,” he said recently, “cannot trump biology.”

. . .Some trans activists try to silence critics, whom they derisively call TERFs, which stands for trans-exclusionary radical feminists. A spokeswoman for a gay rights group urged a reporter not to “platform” — that is not to quote — those she said held objectionable views, including Martina Navratilova, the retired tennis legend, a champion of liberal and lesbian causes. Ms. Navratilova argues that transgender female athletes possess insurmountable biological advantages.

“So I’m a ‘TERF’ — OK, that’s the way you want to go?” Ms. Navratilova said in response. “I played against taller women, I played against stronger women, and I beat them all. But if I faced the male equivalent of Lia in tennis, that’s biology. I would have had no shot. And I would have been livid.”

. . . Reka Gyorgy, a 2016 Olympian and a swimmer at Virginia Tech. . . placed 17th in the preliminaries for the 500-yard freestyle in the N.C.A.A. championships — a slot short of making the finals. She wrote an open letter, affirming her respect for Ms. Thomas’s work ethic.

She was less forgiving of the N.C.A.A.

“This was my last college meet ever and I feel frustrated,” she wrote. “It feels like that final spot was taken away from me because of the N.C.A.A.’s decision to let someone who is not a biological female compete.”

. . .Renée Richards was a pioneer among transgender athletes. An ophthalmologist and accomplished amateur tennis player — she played in the U.S. Open and ranked 13th in the men’s 35-and-over division — she transitioned in 1975 at age 41. She joined the women’s pro tennis tour at age 43, ancient in athletic terms. Ms. Richards then made it to the doubles final at Wimbledon and ranked 19th in the world before retiring at 47.

Ms. Richards has said she no longer believes it is fair for transgender women to compete at the elite level.

“I know if I’d had surgery at the age of 22, and then at 24 went on the tour, no genetic woman in the world would have been able to come close to me,” she said in an interview. “I’ve reconsidered my opinion.”

. . .Kathleen Stock, a British philosopher whose work is often grounded in her feminist and lesbian identity, has carved out positions on transgender rights that have made her a lightning rod. She has written “Material Girls: Why Reality Matters for Feminism,” and argues against the insistence that one’s gender identity is all. That is to miss, she said, the profound importance of the lived experience of being born a biological female.

“We are caught up in this fever dream,” she said in an interview. “How could it be that a social construct and not the material reality of being a woman is guiding our thoughts and our physical performance?

“I find it incredible that we have to point this out.”

SOLUTONS:

So there we have the diversity of opinion, which pits the fairness of preventing biological women from having to compete against transsexual women who have clear athletic advantages, versus the fairness of allowing transsexual women to adhere to the mantra of “trans women are women” and thus competing as women.

Is there an equitable solution? It’s hard to see one, at least one that involves hormone titers, and other measures of “maleness” and “femaleness”. We know that even testosterone suppression in post-puberty transexual women does not efface their athletic advantage after several years, and I doubt we’ll have the experimental data to create the fabled “level playing field.”

One solution is the one offered above: let transsexual women compete against biological women. In light of the data we have, this seems untenable.

Another solution is this:

By way of solution, some point to golf, where in amateur competitions, a superior golfer takes a handicap — docking herself strokes — when competing against lesser players. Applied to swimming, a panel might examine Ms. Thomas’s race times and subtract seconds and let her swim.

The problem here is that the handicaps will vary among women, and will depend on having a lot of data that we simply won’t get. It’s akin to guessing.

The solution I favor, or something close to it, is this:

The Macdonald-Laurier Institute, a policy organization based in Ottawa, argues for an “open category” for men, transgender athletes and biological females, anyone who cares to try her/his/their hand.

An exclusively female category would remain for biological women. This solution would forestall the need for transgender women to take hormone-suppressing drugs.

One could modify this by allowing transgender men to compete against biological men if they wish, since they already have an athletic handicap—lack of testosterone during puberty—to overcome.

But, as the article notes, “some transgender activists argue that such distinctions would be insulting.” I’m sorry about that, but to me fundamental fairness and biology should trump the feeling of being insulted.

As I said, I’m surprised that the NYT published such an objective and readable piece on an inflammatory issue like this, and I wonder if this is a sign of the new editorial leadership. Will they produce an editorial?

64 thoughts on “The NYT publishes a good article on the transsexual athlete controversy

    1. Razib,

      “… only michael powell would write that. good for him”

      Not sure that Powell deserves much in the way of commendations when he uses phrase like “Lia Thomas, a transgender woman”, “transgender female athletes”, and “male athlete transitions to female”.

      Incredibly sloppy language at best, if not endorsing profoundly unscientific dogma and ignorant claptrap – little better than “2+2=5”. Did some “male athlete” actually change his sex to “female” – a medical miracle, I’m sure it has been written up in reputable medical journals all across the country; surprised NYT didn’t provide the citation … 🙄

      Or are they using “male” and “female” in two quite contradictory senses, the first one as a sex and the second one as a gender? Engaging in a bait-and-switch? Sadly, a very common state of affairs – for example, see Wikipedia’s article on “female” which states:

      “Female is the sex of an organism that produces the large non-motile ova (egg cells), the type of gamete (sex cell) that fuses with the male gamete during sexual reproduction. ….

      In humans, the word female can also be used to refer to gender.”

      And Wikipedia’s article on transwoman – compound word like “crayfish” which ain’t – Laurel Hubbard claimed that “she” had “transitioned to female”. Their justification for which being, in part, another NYTimes article which referred to Hubbard as the “first openly transgender female athlete to compete at the Olympics.”

      There is, as Wikipedia’s article on “female” indicates, a solid biological definition for “female” as a sex – “produces ova”. But as a gender? Pretty much entirely meaningless – about the most one could get out of it is “the gender [AKA, personality & behaviours] typical of human females (sex)”.

      If the NYTimes had any intellectual integrity – along with many others guilty of the same deficiency – then they might have said “male (sex) athlete transitions to female gender”. Not quite sure how Hubbard or Thomas putting on dresses or being referred to as “she” qualifies them to compete against actual adult human females (sex). The most that qualifies them for is being referred to as “male transvestites”.

      1. I think I found it on a discussion board at Mumsnet. But you can also find archived versions of articles at the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine: http://web.archive.org/web/*/https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/29/us/lia-thomas-women-sports.html

        If the Wayback Machine doesn’t already have an archived copy of an online article you can just paste the article’s web address into it and archive it yourself. It’s free and super easy to use – even I can do it!

  1. I was actually stunned to read that article in the NYTimes….stunned by its honesty and willingness to say the unmentionable. And by “unmentionable” I mean simple facts.

    The most stunning moment for me was Powell’s writing that a member of a gay rights group told him in no uncertain terms not to give Martina Navratilova the chance to speak and be quoted.

    I remember several months ago that Leslie Stahl did a segment on this question for 60 Minutes and in the discussion after the actual segment, Stahl remarked that never in her career had she faced so much pressure not to run a segment or do any inquiry.

  2. I think the term “transgendered woman” is loaded as well as confusing. I have to stop every time I see it and ask whether, in context, this means “a man who thinks he’s a woman” or “a woman who thinks she’s a man”. A “woman” is, of course, a female adult, as simple as that, so for “a man who thinks he’s a woman” I prefer “trans-identified male” as an unambiguous as well as politically neutral shorthand.

    I realize that if I were on Twitter, someone would find a way to take offense at this suggestion.

    1. I, too, find the terms confusing, but your suggestion is neither unambiguous, nor politically neutral.

      1. XY-trans or XX-trans is my usage. Can be expanded to XY-two-spirit, XY-leprechaun-but-unicorn-on-alternate-Tuesdays, XX-forever-unpublished-poet, whatever is necessary to the individual but irrelevant for competition.

        I will never refer to someone with a Y chromosome as any kind of a woman in any public sphere of discussion where actual sex matters—competition, prison, and domestic violence shelters.

        1. Not to mention one’s bedroom. Why would , let alone should, a lesbian woman have sex with a male ‘identifying’ as female? Or why would/should a cis man for that matter?

          1. If he’s been through male puberty he has a Y chromosome and he is a man. (For the nitpickers, pharmaceutical testosterone does not produce male puberty is XXs.)

            The converse isn’t true but it doesn’t have to be for the purposes of this discussion.

  3. I’m not as surprised as most here. The NYT does run pieces that don’t hew to woke orthodoxies, and even some that question them. They might get buried in the “noise” but they are there.

    1. Hi Dean, Can you provide link to such a story run by the NYT regarding transexual/transgender issues?

  4. I thought I saw last week or the week before that some sport had created a trans category separate from men and women. That seems like the path forward to me.

  5. Good article attempting to list all viewpoints, but everyone seems to be missing a key point.

    There are all kinds of divisions in sports for the purpose of making fair competitions—weight classes in boxing and wrestling, age classes in almost all sports, etc. The intent is to make not only fair but interesting competitions. It’s not much fun to watch a mismatch.

    So watching Lia Thompson compete is not only unfair to cis women but also is not good for the sport, since her winning is inevitable. Imagine letting a college running back play in a junior high school game.

    And that makes me question Lia’s integrity. She knows she has an unfair advantage. She was only middling when competing in men’s swimming. There should be no pride of accomplishment there.

    1. Thomas didn’t win every event she entered, so whether winning is inevitable is debatable. (The cynic in me can’t help but wonder if she intentionally sandbagged some races to make her participation seem less obviously unfair, but I don’t like being so uncharitable.)

      Still, your point is well taken. There will be some athletes and some sports in which the result will not be in doubt.

      1. There are probably distances she would be psyched for and prepared for more than others. It takes an exceptional athlete to excel in every event they race in.
        We have one woman athlete at the moment,
        Dame Lisa Marie Carrington DNZM is a flatwater canoeist and New Zealand’s most successful Olympian, having won a total of five gold medals and one bronze medal. Wikipedia

  6. Nice to see an article in the NYT which does the subject justice. I’m always stunned at the weird attitude that insists that biology doesn’t matter to the fairness of sports. I’m also stunned that any trans-identified male (to borrow from Peter N) would feel glad to accept an award after defeating biological women. I’d be completely embarrassed. Where is their shame? It would be as if a someone entered a race as an adult against children and felt proud to have beaten them (not to dismiss women as childlike 😜).

    1. Appealing to a TIM’s sense of shame isn’t possible if they’re completely immersed in a culture in which they’re considered brave and stunning to compete against women, akin to Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. The more interesting question is how such a culture formed. When did women claiming boundaries and rights fought for and won by feminists become the moral equivalent of white teammates objecting to integration?

  7. A couple of factual errors in the New York Times. Renée Richards never reached the doubles final at Wimbledon but at the US Open. In fact she never competed in any women’s major apart from in the US. Her best there was when she reached the third round in 1979 where she was marmalized 6-2 6-1 by Chris Evert. She was 45 at the time!

  8. “Ms. Richards has said she no longer believes it is fair for transgender women to compete at the elite level.” I disagree with this special case for elite level. It’s unfair to all female athletes because it’s a form of cheating. Whether you’re vying for the 1st place or the 27th doesn’t matter. Getting that result by cheating is unacceptable to the athlete who would’ve obtained it if no cheating had been involved.

  9. > 10 percent slower

    Ugh. One of my pet peeves is using percentages with negative adjectives (10% lighter, 10% colder, etc.). It leads to subtle confusion for non-mathematicians. This one is not terrible, but I would prefer ‘90% as fast’ or ‘with 90% of the speed of…’. And don’t get me started on whether ‘100% more’ is the same as ‘two times more’ or ‘two times as much’.

    > an “open category” for men, transgender athletes and biological females

    I’m glad people are finally starting to talk about desegregated sports, where everyone can be measured by the same metric.

  10. 1) go by sex alone. Regrettably, I have to double down and say “birth, biological sex;

    2) disallow any suit claiming “discrimination” based on gender;

    3) recognize the fairness of any person, corporation, organization to set its own policy free from legal suits based on gender. Marketplace of ideas.

    This cuts through all ambiguity caused by legal action taken to adjudicate ‘fairness.’ Birth sex is not fair, not a choice. It is fact.

  11. Anna Posbergh, a doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland, is a former pole-vaulter who studies the mechanics of human movement and gender and athletes. She sees notions of gender disadvantage in sports as rooted in culture and an outdated view of what women can achieve.

    This person is either lying or delusional.

    1. I was wondering in which field Anna Posbergh is a doctoral student. Her Research Gate page gives this info:
      Anna Posbergh is a recent PhD graduate from the University of Maryland in the Physical Cultural Studies research group. Her dissertation examined how protective policies are created in women’s sporting contexts, with a focus on how such policies regulate women’s bodies and how different versions of ‘woman’ are constructed. Through this work, she sought to understand how science and policy shape dominant ways of knowing, particularly with regards to gender, sex, race, and human rights.

      She has a Ph.D. in kinesiology and publishes in sociology journals. Google scholar brings up, among other things, this article:
      Anna Posbergh: Defining ‘woman’: A governmentality analysis of how protective policies are created in elite women’s sport. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, Jan 2022

      I don’t think it would be possible for her to publish an article in a non-predatory sports science journal arguing that the sex-gap in sports performance is cultural, given that there are no convincing scientific data to support this idea.

      I think she’s delusional with respect to the source of the gender disadvantage in sports. See chapter 4 of David Epstein’s 2013 book The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance. He explicitly addresses the question whether the past narrowing of the sex-gap in sports performance should lead us to expect that this gap will one day disappear.

  12. The Macdonald-Laurier proposal for an open category is unacceptable to trans-XY athletes not because it is insulting but because they can’t win unless they are allowed to compete against women. That’s why they self-identify as women: to beat them. Lia Thomas would have been a Nobody if he had been made to compete in an open category because he would have been competing against much more proficient men. We already know how he fared in that arena.

    Athletics must put its foot down and allow only biological women to compete in a women’s division. How the governing body determines sex is up to them.

    1. Does everyone deserve a category where they have an elevated chance of winning? Or only women?

      1. Sorry, but this comment doesn’t make any sense at all. In terms of transsexuality and its physical concomitants, only women’s sports are endangered.

        Are you suggesting that we have only one category?

        1. The Macdonald-Laurier proposal above has a special segregated category and a desegregated ‘open’ category – and I respect any women choosing to compete in the latter. I am still in favor of fully desegregated sports, but I don’t see it coming any time soon, despite rulings we have seen against separate but equal policies.

          1. Fully desegregated sports? You realize that that would eliminate ALL women’s sports, all women’s basketball teams, soccer teams, Olympic athletes, etc. I’m sorry, but this is one of the looniest suggestions I’ve ever heard of.

            Seriously, chill out and take a break from posting this kind of stuff.

      2. @ Linguist, No they don’t. Only women do.

        Assuming we want to have women’s sports at all. Maybe we don’t. They are generally less interesting to watch, rhythmic gymnastics and synchronized swimming being possible exceptions, because not as fast, not as strong, not as high. Women’s ice hockey enjoys great affection in Canada during tournaments because our women play their hearts out and they usually win. But even fans agree it’s not hockey. It’s women’s hockey.

        Maybe universities wouldn’t even have women’s programs if it weren’t for Title IX. The ball-skill sports like golf and tennis are more interesting than women’s cycling and it is good to see women excelling, just because.

        But at least in women’s sport restricted to women there is actual competition with the outcome in doubt. Stick a man in the pool and we might as well go home and watch pro wrestling.

        1. Speaking as someone who watches soccer maybe twice a year, but who enjoyed playing for a couple decades, having spectators in the stands was never the main thing. Having the opportunity to play was what was important.

    2. “That’s why they self-identify as women: to beat them.”

      Do you have any evidence to support this contention? Many trans-gender people don’t participate in competitive sport at all. What they demand is that they should be accepted 100% as the gender with which they self identify whether this relates to the pronouns they are called by, to the wash-rooms they use, the prison cells they might occupy or the sporting categories they compete in. Personally, I don’t think it is appropriate for transitioned-to-female athletes to compete in women’s sport for the reasons that are well rehearsed in this thread and the OP but I don’t see how it is helpful to impugne their motivation. Lia Thomas may be misguided and unreasonable but is there any evidence at all that she is insincere and merely looking to win medals that she couldn’t win in the male category?

      There may be a vociferous lobby clamouring for trans rights but I think the reality for many trans people is that society as a whole is still not particularly accepting of them and they suffer significant negative impacts from their decision to come out publicly including rejection by family and community. It seems implausible that most would put themselves through this if they didn’t sincerely believe themselves to “be” the gender they identify as.

  13. “Lia Thomas, a transsexual women…” – It’s twisted semantics to call Lia a “transsexual woman”, because “she” is actually a transsexual man, a man who is transsexual, i.e. a man who desires to be or become a woman (and may already have taken steps to artificially feminize his body); and in order to be a transsexual man thus defined, you have to be a (biological) man in the first place.
    One should normally expect the words “transwoman” and “transman” to be abbreviations of “transsexual woman” and “transsexual man”, with “woman” defined as “adult female person” and “man” as “adult male person”. So Lia Thomas had better be called a transman rather than a transwoman; but that’s not how the words “transwoman” and “transman” are used in Wokespeak, in which Lia is called a transwoman and “transwoman” doesn’t mean “transsexual woman = (biologically) female person”, and “transman” doesn’t mean “transsexual man = (biologically) male person”.

    1. Ironically, if “transwoman” is defined as it should be (= “transsexual adult female”), then the statement that transwomen are women becomes a necessary analytic truth: Transsexual adult females are adult females.

      1. Oliver,

        “… defined as it should be (= “transsexual adult female”) …”

        Don’t think so. The starting point has to be, what is the definition for “female”? And the only coherent and credible definition is, as Wikipedia puts it in their article on “female”, the biological one:

        “Female (symbol: ♀) is the sex of an organism that produces the large non-motile ova (egg cells), the type of gamete (sex cell) that fuses with the male gamete during sexual reproduction.[2][3][4]”

        Those citations are to “Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia”, “A Dictionary of Biology. Oxford University Press: (Denoting) an individual organism whose reproductive organs produce only female gametes (ova)”, and “The Biology of Reproduction. Cambridge University Press”.

        You seriously think that any transwoman who’s had his nuts cut off – like Bruce Jenner – has thence acquired – magically, or by osmosis? – functional ovaries and the ability to produce “large non-motile ova”? 🤔🙄

        That ability constitues the “necessary and sufficient condition” to qualify ANY organism – of any sexually reproducing species – as a female. No ova? Not a female.

        But that definition is endorsed by most credible dictionaries – Lexico, Google/OED – and various biological journals. For an example of the latter, see the article titled “Gamete competition, gamete limitation, and the evolution of the two sexes” in the Oxford Academic journal of Molecular Human Reproduction (glossary definitions for male and female, in particular).

        A relevant passage from that Journal article:

        “To see this, we must be clear about how the two sexes are defined in a broad sense: males are those individuals that produce the smaller gametes (e.g. sperm), while females are defined as those that produce the larger gametes (e.g. Parker et al., 1972; Bell, 1982; Lessells et al., 2009; Togashi and Cox, 2011).”

        The Parker citation consists of:

        “Parker GA, Baker RR, Smith VGF. The origin and evolution of gamete dimorphism and the male-female phenomenon, J Theor Biol, 1972”

        1. I’m sorry, there is a misunderstanding, because according to my (“counterwoke”) definitions, Caitlyn Jenner is not a transwoman (= transsexual female) but a transman (= transsexual male)—one with a certain degree of artificial corporeal feminization that makes her imperfectly similar to a natural woman. What she lacks completely is the (postvaginal) female reproductive system, including the uterus and the ovaries. Through partial physical feminization transsexual males/men can become quasi-females/quasi-women at most.

          However, what if it becomes possible one day to transplant a female reproductive system with functioning ovaries into a male body? Then a transsexual man could really become a woman—given the biological definition of womanhood or femaleness in terms of the (present/future/past) capacity to produce ova.

          Would Lia Thomas’ participation in women’s sport be morally acceptable if she had artificially implanted functioning ovaries? Well, obviously, the big problem is her male physique, which wouldn’t be altered and weakened by ovary implants, would it?

          1. Oliver,

            “I’m sorry, there is a misunderstanding, because according to my (“counterwoke”) definitions, Caitlyn Jenner is not a transwoman (= transsexual female) but a transman (= transsexual male)”

            There are major “misunderstandings” all over the place, largely because of fraudlent efforts of transactivists to muddy the waters, often by redefining “male” and “female” to refer to genders. The late Justice Scalia had a useful and illuminating analogy:

            “Gender is to sex as masculine is to male, and as feminine is to female”.

            “male” and “female” as genders are incoherent and should be deprecated, if not anathematized, and replaced with “masculine gender” and “feminine gender”. Like the reddish end and bluish end of the colour spectrum – billions of genders in between.

            But generally, that’s why it’s a fool’s errand to be starting from their premises, from their definitions. Which is why it’s essential to go back to first principles, i.e., to the biological definitions for the sexes, i.e., male=produces sperm; female=produces ova. Period.

            By which token, Jenner is now a sexless eunuch – helluva price to pay to dish with the girls over nail polishes. De gustibus …

            But en passant, a Google search of “transwoman definition” gives this from Google itself though they apparently use OED:

            “a transgender person who has transitioned from male to female”.

            But from “male what?” to “female what?” There’s the fraud, the bait-and-switch in using male and female as both sexes and genders: has a transwoman – by that definition – actually changed their sex such that they can now produce ova? Because that IS what is the “necessary and sufficient condition” to qualify as female.

            They can only mean, “transitioned from male (sex) to female (gender)”. (Whoopy-do; they put on a dress … 🙄)

            But Wikipedia’s definition for “trans woman” is somewhat more honest, apart from using an adjective-noun combination, in acknowledging that that is the case:

            “A trans woman is a woman who was assigned male at birth. Trans women have a female gender identity …”

            A female gender identity is most certainly not the same as a female sex. That “trans woman” is STILL a male – at least if they still have their nuts attached, a sexless eunuch if not.

            But I agree about “transplant a female reproductive system with functioning ovaries”; that is the “sine qua non”, the “necessary and sufficient condition” to qualify as a female, though I wouldn’t recommend transwomen holding their breath waiting for that. Biologist Colin Wright had a series of tweets several years ago acknowledging the same argument.

            As for Lia Thomas, I’ve often argued, others have argued that sex itself – having functional gonads of either of two types – is the wrong go/no-go gauge for gate-keeping women’s sports. It really should be karyotype – no XY need apply … 😉

      2. Oliver,

        “… defined as it should be (= “transsexual adult female”) …”

        Don’t think so. The starting point has to be, what is the definition for “female”? And the only coherent and credible definition is, as Wikipedia puts it in their article on “female”, the biological one:

        “Female (symbol: ♀) is the sex of an organism that produces the large non-motile ova (egg cells), the type of gamete (sex cell) that fuses with the male gamete during sexual reproduction.[2][3][4]”

        Those citations are to “Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia”, “A Dictionary of Biology. Oxford University Press, (Denoting) an individual organism whose reproductive organs produce only female gametes”, and “The Biology of Reproduction. Cambridge University Press”.

        You seriously think that any transwoman who’s had his nuts cut off – like Bruce Jenner – has thence acquired – magically, or by osmosis – functional ovaries and the ability to produce “large non-motile ova”? 🤔🙄

        But that definition is endorsed by most credible dictionaries – Lexico, Google/OED – and various biological journals. For an example of the latter, see the article titled “Gamete competition, gamete limitation, and the evolution of the two sexes” in the Oxford Academic journal of Molecular Human Reproduction (glossary definitions for male and female, in particular.

        A relevant passage from that Journal:

        “To see this, we must be clear about how the two sexes are defined in a broad sense: males are those individuals that produce the smaller gametes (e.g. sperm), while females are defined as those that produce the larger gametes (e.g. Parker et al., 1972; Bell, 1982; Lessells et al., 2009; Togashi and Cox, 2011).”

        The Parker citation consists of:

        “Parker GA, Baker RR, Smith VGF. The origin and evolution of gamete dimorphism and the male-female phenomenon, J Theor Biol, 1972”

  14. “How could it be that a social construct and not the material reality of being a woman is guiding our thoughts and our physical performance?”

    That phrasing is interesting because it suggests a reason that liberals are so divided. There are liberal scientific materialists and liberal New-Agey types. Are we bodies from which minds arise, or are we disembodied entities stuck inside bodies? Does one’s answer to that question correlate with one’s position on transgender participation in sports?

  15. Does anyone here, on this forum, believe that a healthy person of either sex can change to the other? I don’t mean through the magic of changing word definitions, but in the real world.
    The fact that many people believe that such transitions can and do occur, seems to be the basic issue here.

    I heard somewhere that faith is the dogged and persistent belief in what you know isn’t so. Something like that, anyway.

    I don’t have that kind of faith. When I use a trans person’s preferred pronouns, I am doing it to be polite, but in my mind we are engaging in make believe, not much different than children do at play.

    1. Max,

      “Does anyone here, on this forum, believe that a healthy person of either sex can change to the other?”

      Kind of depends on what definitions for the sexes you subscribe to – kind of like which of the 38,000-odd sects of Christianity one gives one’s immortal soul to. So to speak.

      Most people don’t seem to have much of a clue that the definitions for the words “sex”, “male”, and “female” – as with most words – are somewhat arbitrary. There are no intrinsic meanings to any of them; Moses didn’t bring the first dictionary down from Mt. Sinai on tablets A through Z. We basically create their definitions as “social constructions”, although most are based on more or less sound and logical principles.

      The only things that really “exist” in the reproductive department are genitalia, gonads, and various related processes and peripherals. How we partition those brute facts out to the categories “male” and “female” is often based on utilitarian objectives – or as a matter of ideological dogma, vanity, envy, or other motivated “reasoning”.

      However, there seems to be some 3 or 4 main contenders for the prize: 2 based on being a binary, one based on being bimodal – which boils down into being a spectrum, and one as a “naked”, or more or less explicit spectrum.

      For instance, “biologists” Emma Hilton, Heather Heying, and Colin Wright – in a letter to the UK Times (hardly a peer-reviewed biological journal) – stake their claim, and their reputations, on a profoundly anti-scientific structure-absent-function definition:

      “Individuals that have developed anatomies for producing either small or large gametes, regardless of their past, present or future functionality, are referred to as ‘males’ and ‘females’, respectively.”

      https://twitter.com/FondOfBeetles/status/1207663359589527554

      However, the standard biological definitions – also a binary – are based on function-only, on functional gonads being the necessary and sufficient conditions to qualify as male or 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: make eggs or make sperm. Some organisms can do both, while some can’t do either [ergo, sexless].”

      https://aeon.co/essays/the-existence-of-biological-sex-is-no-constraint-on-human-diversity

      https://academic.oup.com/molehr/article/20/12/1161/1062990 (see their Glossary for explicit definitions of “male” and “female”)

      Marco Del Giudice, of the University of New Mexico, has a nice summary of those two definitions, the structure-absent-function one – which he calls the “patchwork definitions of the [so-called] social sciences – and the functional one of mainstream biology:

      “On a deeper level, the ‘patchwork’ definition of sex used in the social sciences [and by Hilton & Company] is purely descriptive and lacks a functional rationale. This contrasts sharply with how the sexes are defined in biology. From a biological standpoint, what distinguishes the males and females of a species is the size of their gametes: males produce small gametes (e.g., sperm), females produce large gametes (e.g., eggs; Kodric-Brown & Brown, 1987)”

      https://www.researchgate.net/publication/346447193_Ideological_Bias_in_the_Psychology_of_Sex_and_Gender

      And, rounding out that spectrum, so to speak – though “dog’s breakfast” may be more accurate – is the view, peddled by supposedly credible magazines like Nature and “Scientific” American, that sex and the sexes, presumably, are spectra:

      https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/voices/stop-using-phony-science-to-justify-transphobia/

      Though I’m not quite sure how they “think” that the terms “male” and “female” thereby have any meaning or value at all – maybe their objective – if there’s is nothing that uniquely differentiates ALL males from ALL females – of all sexually reproducing species.

      1. Sorry, but nearly all bioogists use, for organisms with differential gamete size, the gamete size dichotomy.

        As for humans, does your statement:

        “Individuals that have developed anatomies for producing either small or large gametes, regardless of their past, present or future functionality, are referred to as ‘males’ and ‘females’, respectively.”

        Mean that postmenopausal women or (newborn girl babies already have all the eggs they’ll ever produce) or sterile humans can’t be classified as to sex?

        By the way, NOBODY claims that there is one thing that uniquely differentiates all males from all females of all sexually reproducing species, but gamete size comes pretty close. I’m not sure what your aim is here, but gamete size is the gold standard for all mammals that have distinct gamete sizes.

        ““Individuals that have developed anatomies for producing either small or large gametes, regardless of their past, present or future functionality, are referred to as ‘males’ and ‘females’, respectively.”

    2. Does anyone here, on this forum, believe that a healthy person of either sex can change to the other?

      Nope, biological sex is real and immutable. Transwomen are not women, they are men. In most cases, the fiction that they are women doesn’t matter and I’m happy to pretend along with them – but when the chips are down and sex is an issue (in single-sex spaces for women’s privacy, dignity, and safety such as prisons, hospital wards etc.) then transwomen should be excluded.

      Despite what trans rights activists like Stonewall would have us believe, this is the legal position in the UK. Even transwomen who have obtained a Gender Recognition Certificate allowing them to change their gender on official documents (driving licence, passport etc.) can legally be excluded from women’s single-sex services and facilities provided that the exclusion is “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.

      1. JezGrove,

        “Nope, biological sex is real and immutable.”

        You think that clownfish don’t change sex?

        But kind of depends on how you define sex and the sexes. As I’ve indicated elsewhere here, the standard biological definitions stipulate that to have a sex is to be able to produce ova or sperm for reproduction; those organisms which can’t produce either are therefore, ipso facto, sexless.

        More particularly, see the quote from the Aeon article by Paul Griffiths (university of Sydney, philosophy of biology, co-author or Genetics and Philosophy):

        “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: make eggs or make sperm. Some organisms can do both, while some can’t do either [ergo, sexless].”

        1. Bombadil,

          You’re over here to make one point: that sex in HUMANS is undefinable or ambiguous.(That’s your goal.) Unfortunately, in 99.9% of the time or more, it isn’t. And, no, we don’t call a menopausal woman “sex undefinable”, nor a castrated man ambiguous. The vas majority of vertebrates obey the human binary, and yet once again you bring up the goddam clownfish, which, by your own lights, CHANGES FROM ONE SEX TO THE OTHER. How do you know that? Well, my benighted friend, it becomes a female from a male because it stops producing sperm and starts producing eggs, with all the secondary sex characteristics that that entails.

          You are not arguing in good faith here, or perhaps you’re just ignorant, but you’re pushing an ideological point by distorting biology. I abhor that, and won’t have it. Clownfish, my butt!

      2. What you have to be careful about, Jez, is that XY-trans reject your right to test their claims to be women in the first place. If the person says, “I’m a woman. Give me access to this biofemale-only service,” what do you do? If her driver’s licence says female, how do you know it’s her birth sex? If he’s had it “corrected”, you won’t know from looking at it. Ask her to pull down her pants? Not in this day and age. Demand a cheek swab? Even a test for Barr bodies takes a half-hour if you have a microscope, a tech, and staining reagents right there at point of service. Not practical for the violence shelter. Refuse service if she sort of (or obviously) looks like a guy? But then you are profiling, like doing pat-downs of bearded swarthy men at the airport. Ironically, if he complains to Human Rights, it will be as a transwoman, a fact he refused to disclose to you when he tried to obtain the service!

        It’s easy if someone waves their Gender Recognition Certificate (which Human Rights says we can’t institute in North America.). At least they are admitting they are not biological women and you can read the exclusion to them. It’s when you can’t test the claim that trouble starts, as with obviously male prisoners demanding transfer to women’s prisons. False signalling undermines social trust, even when you play along over pronouns.

  16. “NYT published such an objective and readable piece on an inflammatory issue”

    Not sure that it is all that “objective” – which tends to make it more or less unreadable.

    It’s great that they drew some attention to the “core of distinctions between gender identity and biological sex”. Athough they don’t seem to have much of a clue about the difference between gender itself – which generally has some objective corrlelates – and gender identity – which is almost entirely subjective and therefore pretty much useless for anything. Wikipedia’s article on Gender has something in the way of a decent elaboration on the difference.

    However where the NYT article goes off the rails and into the weeds is with such odious phrases as, “Lia Thomas, a transgender woman”, “transgender female athletes”, and “male athlete transitions to female”. What they’re basically doing is endorsing the view that some women, some human females have penises.

    Which is, of course and as you may know, the “petard” by which much of the entire UK Labour Party is being “hoisted” – couldn’t happen to a “nicer” or more clueless bunch.

    The standard definition for “woman” is “adult human female”, and the lexical definition for “female” is “produces ova”. By which token, Lia and “her” other transwomen – compound word like “crayfish” which ain’t – won’t EVER qualify for either category.

    1. “[T]he lexical definition for “female” is “produces ova”.” – This definition is inadequate, because it turns pre-puberty girls, post-menopause women, and women who cannot produce ova for some pathological reason into non-females. So here’s a definition which doesn’t do so: “x is female” = “x(‘s body) is, will be, was, or would normally have been able to produce ova.”

      1. Oliver,

        ” turns pre-puberty girls, post-menopause women, and women who cannot produce ova for some pathological reason into non-females.”

        So effen what? The sexes, on a biological definition, aren’t identities – that’s the tranloonie position; they’re labels to denote current reproductive abilities.The biological definitions aren’t designed to pander to women’s vanity. Or to transwomen’s envy. They’re designed to get a handle on reproduction as it manifests itself over literally millions of sexually reproducing species. And over several hundred million years.

        “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution”. And nothing in evolution makes sense except in light of reproduction: no reproduction, no evolution.

        And those “lexical definitions” are pretty much the same as those standard biological ones – you really don’t get to make up your own. You might take a closer look at those biological definitions I’ve quoted from the Journal of Molecular Human Reproduction in a previous comment:

        “Gamete competition, gamete limitation, and the evolution of the two sexes” in the Oxford Academic journal of Molecular Human Reproduction

        A relevant passage from that Journal:

        “To see this, we must be clear about how the two sexes are defined in a broad sense: males are those individuals that produce the smaller gametes (e.g. sperm), while females are defined as those that produce the larger gametes (e.g. Parker et al., 1972; Bell, 1982; Lessells et al., 2009; Togashi and Cox, 2011).”

        Their glossary gives pretty much the same definitions for “male” and “female” as in Lexico, Google/OED, and Wikipedia.

        The “structure-absent-function” definition that you’re trying to peddle, the one that so-called biologists Emma Hilton, Heather Heying and Colin Wright are trying to peddle are profoundly unscientific and antithetical to the function-only biological definitions endorsed by Parker (FRS), Lehtonen, Bell, Wikipedia, Google, and others too numerous to list.

        Marco Del Giudice, of the University of New Mexico, writing in his “Ideological Bias in the Psychology of Sex and Gender” – available at ResearchGate – has a nice summary of that profound dichotomy:

        “On a deeper level, the ‘patchwork’ definition of sex used in the social sciences [and by Hilton, Heying, & Wright] is purely descriptive and lacks a functional rationale. This contrasts sharply with how the sexes are defined in biology. From a biological standpoint, what distinguishes the males and females of a species is the size of their gametes: males produce small gametes (e.g., sperm), females produce large gametes (e.g., eggs; Kodric-Brown & Brown, 1987)”

  17. https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/the-real-science-of-sport-podcast/id1461719225?i=1000522515770

    Not sure how well this link will post, but it’s to a podcast by Ross Tucker who is a sport scientist from Cape Town. He’s excellent on the subject and, with his role with World Rugby, published guidelines stating trans women should not be allowed to play with women in rugby. That is the official World Rugby position, although individual countries do not have to enact the guidance and often now to the woke mob.

    His position is that not only is it unfair, it is unsafe. Essentially you can not have equality, fairness and, in certain cases, safety all at once.

    He’s spoken a lot on the subject and gets on the TV quite a bit, but this is the definitive episode.

  18. I’m just surprised that there is not more controversy over mixed martial arts having trans women compete against women. Having Fallon Fox and Alana McGlaughlin compete against women gives a whole to meaning to the word being beaten.

  19. I am sure a case could be made that sport tests power, strength, and some other male-dominant traits (and then we could have a lovely treatise on sport itself being a patriarchal self-fulfilling system).
    I have often wondered if new sports could be devised – and I mean real bona fide sports – that ‘level the playing field’ by virtue of the intrinsic rules and objectives of that sport.
    It’s just a thought experiment.
    I don’t mean ‘football without the tackles’ or some such.

    Could a sex/gender-agnostic sport be devised (or do some exist)?

    Chess – while dominated by men now, is a game/sport (!) that is largely sex-agnostic. (The differences in results can be put down to existing systems where women were discouraged from pursuing it – but the gap is closing. There is no reason men and women cannot both achieve if no obstacles to participation exist (which lends to PCC views on the pipeline in education for minorities being the cause of issues…)

    Some sports are less prone to sex differences. Shooting, archery etc (while still having some benefits from being male).

    Surely it is a truism that men are better at sports that measure things that favour male traits (speed, strength etc).
    I don’t mean change the other sports – I’m really thinking through the possibility of the philosophy of the objective of individual sports, and trying to see what could be.
    Imagine if there were new sports, and the current ones were still as they are and lauded, but the new ones allowed for better participation and real achievement, but just in a different way. And not pandering – but real and measurable and exciting.

    Perhaps I am deluded – not having an example or thought it through beyond the principle. Keen to hear thoughts.

    1. Women compete against men on equal terms in various equestrian sports (the ‘Grand National’ horse race in the UK was won by a woman in 2021, for example). Obviously in these sports the physical power, speed, etc come from the horse rather than the rider. Your example of shooting seems like a good candidate for equal-footing competition between men and women. I can’t think of any reason why men should be considered to have an in-built advantage for that.

  20. > Could a sex/gender-agnostic sport be devised (or do some exist)?

    Korfball, popular in the Netherlands, is played with mixed male/female teams.
    (Also with very mixed age teams too)
    Although there are some sex/gender based rules:
    each team should have four female and four male players, and players may only defend against members of the opposite team of the same gender.

    1. More mixed team events (like the mixed 400m relay) is the way forward, but even then we need to be sure that the women competing are indeed biological women so the issue doesn’t entirely go away.

  21. The problem here is that the handicaps will vary among women, and will depend on having a lot of data that we simply won’t get. It’s akin to guessing.

    I disagree here. For competitive athletes there will likely be plenty of data on which to base a handicap. A simple example is to take a person’s last 5 or 10 official race times and average them; then you compare that to the “par” analog for race time, and handicap as appropriate.

    The problem with handicaps is not that they are difficult to do, the problem is that they aren’t used for scholarships, team selection, qualifying for things like the Olympics, etc. Handicaps are about tracking personal performance – i.e. did you do better than you normally do – they aren’t about absolute performance. But absolute performance is what most elite sports competitions are about.

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