I’m not going to dissect this entire article from Nature; I’m too dispirited about how it, its American equivalent Science, and, indeed, nearly all scientific journals I read, are acting, tinting their science for ideology. You can read the article by clicking on the screenshot below, but I want to highlight just one of its assertions.
The author identifies himself, and it’s clear that he’s somewhat of a trans activist:
I am founding co-editor of the journal TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly, and the author of a book on how sex classification is regulated. It’s naive to think that politics and social mores have no place in lawmaking, but seldom has policy been so disconnected from science and data. The rights of trans people, including myself, have been weaponized in a culture war.
There’s nothing wrong with being a “trans activist” if you’re fighting genuine wrongs inflicted on transgender or transsexual people. And to Currah’s credit, he does claim that one must use real data if you’re making assertions. If you claim that having transsexuals use the bathrooms of the sex they identify with” is a harmful act, then you have to show it, defining what “harm” really means.
Now that’s a tough call in many cases, as it involves people’s feelings, philosophy, “fairness”, and morality. But there’s one area where claims can be adjudicated with data, and that’s sports. The issue is, and has always been, whether transsexual females, born as biological males, should compete in athletics against biological women. My own feeling, which is based on data as well as on attendant feelings of fairness, is that such competitions are unfair to biological women who want to do sport. That’s because the data show that trans women, even after hormone treatment, retain athletic advantages that accrue during male puberty, making them more likely to defeat “cis” (non-transgender) women. And of course I reject entirely the view—promulgated by, among others, the Biden Administration, the state of Connecticut, and the ACLU—that men who simply identify as women, and have had no medical intervention, should be allowed to compete on women’s teams.
But here’s the bit of Currah’s article that seems to involve a bit of dissimulation (my emphasis)
The gap between research-informed, reasoned debate and gut-feeling absolutism is just as obvious in sport. In June, Sebastian Coe, president of World Athletics, declared that “biology trumps gender” when hinting at moves to exclude transgender women from track and field sports.
Invoking biology is a rhetorical move, not a data-driven conclusion. It’s also wrong. From a medical perspective, sex is not the uncomplicated either–or proposition that many laypeople imagine it to be.
Those arguing for total bans on trans girls and women competing as girls and women rely on studies comparing the athletic performance of cisgender men with that of cisgender women. But that’s not an apt comparison. A better one would be between transgender and cisgender women. Sports researcher Joanna Harper at Loughborough University, UK, is one of a number of scientists who have found that hormone therapy significantly reduces athletic advantages (J. Harper et al. Br. J. Sports Med.55, 865–872; 2021). More research like this could clarify how hormones and other factors affect athletic performance. That understanding should guide policy.
And indeed, it’s true, as you might expect, that hormone treatment of biological men transitioning to women reduces measures of strength and muscle mass related to athletic performance. It would be surprising if it didn’t! But the question is not whether there’s a significant reduction, but whether hormone treatment roughly equalizes the athletic abilities of cisgender and transgender women? (By the way, it is fair to compare the performance of cisgender men with that of cisgender women if you’re arguing that medically untreated men who identify as women should be allowed to compete in women’s sports.)
And no, hormone treatment never asymptotes at athletic equality. For the article above, you can see this merely from its abstract (my emphasis)L
Twenty-four studies were identified and reviewed. Transwomen experienced significant decreases in all parameters measured, with different time courses noted. After 4 months of hormone therapy, transwomen have Hgb/HCT levels equivalent to those of cisgender women. After 12 months of hormone therapy, significant decreases in measures of strength, LBM [lean body mass] and muscle area are observed. The effects of longer duration therapy (36 months) in eliciting further decrements in these measures are unclear due to paucity of data. Notwithstanding, values for strength, LBM and muscle area in transwomen remain above those of cisgender women, even after 36 months of hormone therapy.
At the end of the paper one of Harper et al’s conclusion is this:
It is possible that transwomen competing in sports may retain strength advantages over cisgender women, even after 3 years of hormone therapy.
So yes, strength, muscle mass, and and muscle area are decreased by hormone therapy. But look at the last sentence in bold: equality is not achieved, even after 3 years of hormone treatment (far longer than the Olympics used to recommend). Why did Currah say that physiological and morphological traits related to athletic ability decline with hormone treatment, but leave out the critical result they never get to the levels seen in cisgender women?
In February I posted about twp related articles not cited by Currah (one study here and the other here), both reaching the same conclusion as the Harper et al. study: changes that occur during male puberty that give biological men athletic advantages over biological women can be reduced by hormone therapy in transitioning biological men, but never decrease (at least not over 2-3 years of observation) to levels seen in biological women.
Of course, more research needs to be done, for sample sizes are small. But the data so far show that changes in male puberty cannot be effaced with hormones, eliminating any athletic advantage of transgender women.
Now what to do about these data is something I won’t discuss at length; my view is that the data already show enough to bar hormonally treated transgender women (and untreated men who identify as women) from competing in women’s sports. And you can’t gloss over that data by saying, “well, yes, hormone treatment does reduce the athletic ability of transgender women.” That, after all, is not the right question.
If you haven’t read my earlier post, I recommend doing so, as well as looking at the three papers linked above.