Nation article attacks bans on trans women competing in sports against biological women

March 9, 2023 • 9:30 am

This is one of the most despicable, deplorable, duplicitous, devious and deceptive articles I’ve seen in a long time from any magazine of The Nation‘s reputation.  It’s by Dave Zirin, the sports editor at the magazine, who just proved that he’s not qualified to be the ethics editor at The Nation. 

Ciick below to read it, or find it archived for free here.

The jumping-off point for Zirin’s screed is a new law proposed in Congress:

The GOP is pushing forward a federal ban on trans people playing sports. On Wednesday, we will have the first hearings on the nauseatingly misnamed Protection of Women and Girls in Sports ActGreg Steube, an election denier from Florida, introduced the bill, HR 734, in February. It seeks to amend Title IX—the 1972 federal civil rights law prohibiting sex-based discrimination—to define sex as that which is “based solely on a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth.”

Before we start, I am not in favor of this bill as it’s written. But I’m in favor of much of it pending further research.

I’ve discussed in detail the reason many of us want to take a hard look at the issue of trans women competing in sports against biological women. It’s because trans women, particularly those who transition from biological men to transgender women during or after puberty, retain considerable athletic advantages over biological women—advantages in bone density, body size, muscle mass, upper body strength, grip strength, and other traits. This differential may be lessened by treatment of trans women with testosterone-reducing drugs, but data shows it’s never completely eliminated (go here for my many posts on this issue).

Thus trans women have, on average, an inherent athletic advantage over biological women, an advantage shown by the many trans women athletes who were mediocre competitors on men’s teams but, after transitioning, became champions. Biological women athletes see this differential as unfair, and they’re right.

The reason I don’t favor a complete ban (as the bill proposes) is because there may be some sports in which biological men have no average physiological or bodily advantage over biological women, and in that case there’s no reason on grounds of fairness to ban women from competing with men. I can’t think of any such sports, but ultra-long-distance running may be one. If such sports exist, the bill does create some unfairness.

Alternatively, there may be hormonal or other treatments that create a truly level playing ground for trans women vs. biological women on one hand, and trans men versus biological men on the other. Right now we have no such treatments. The Olympics, for example, used to set upper limits for testosterone levels for competing in women’s events. But the situation is now so muddled, with research showing a persistent athletic advantage in trans women, that the Olympics have basically bailed on its standards, leaving each sport to set its own criteria.

This poses a problem: what to do about trans women’s desire to compete in sports? Nobody wants to tell them that they can’t compete, for that’s quashing what may be a very strong ambition. (In fact, the bill bans them from competing.)

Readers have suggested several solutions. One is a “three-class” system of competition: biological men, biological women, and “other.” This, however, would create a stigma in the third class. Another is to allow anybody to compete in men’s athletics. But that may lead to more injuries in trans men, whose bodies are more liable to injury in rough sports. None of these solutions is perfect.

I don’t know the solution, but I do know that it shouldn’t involve trans women competing against biological women—not until we find a way to level the playing field.

Because of the caveats above, I can’t go along with HR 734’s total ban, but there are good ethical and data-driven arguments about banning trans women, for the time being, from competing in women’s sports. That doesn’t make me a transphobe, a Republican, a misogynist, or a rape-enabler, but Zirin thinks that my views make me all four (see below).

Now, on to his piece:

There are several points to Zirin’s pile of journalistic rubbish, which you can discern from its title and subtitle:

1.) Banning trans athletes (and the main issue is banning trans women from competing against biological women) is transphobic.

2.) Those “transphobes” who favor such bans have the ultimate goal of getting rid of all of Title IX, the American law that bans discrimination on the grounds of sex. In other words, favoring bans on trans athletes is just the first step in allowing discrimination based on sex—either biological sex or assumed sex, as in trangender women.

3.) Those who favor such bans are bedmates of Republicans and misogynists. Zirin’s article traffics heavily in ridiculous forms of guilt by association, like this:

The sports bill is also, tragically, supported by a few prominent women athletes who believe that they are somehow protecting women’s sports by allying with people who not only want to destroy Title IX but also to reelect a misogynist and alleged rapist as president. Strange bedfellows indeed.

and this:

Not surprisingly, the same GOP rallying in lockstep behind this bill is also pushing Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-Ga.) “Protect Children’s Innocence Act,” which would make it a felony for doctors to provide gender-affirming health care to transgender minors. That is also going to be taken up this week. The GOP establishment is all in. The bills are strongly supported by the Conservative Political Action Conference and its leader, Matt Schlapp, who is accused of sexually assaulting a male staffer.

You don’t have to be in favor of the entire bill HR 734 to favor a provisional ban on transsexual women from competing in women’s sports, and you don’t have to favor the bill’s complete ban on trans men competing in men’s sports. The latter decision is up to the individual sports associations and to the trans women themselves, based not on athletic advantages but on the likelihood of injury. To claim that this position makes you a Republican, a transphobe, or a supporter of “misogynist and alleged rapist” Trump is worse than stupid. I am not a misogynist, I’m a registered Democrat, and I despise Trump.

Once again Chase Strangio, a trans man who’s the Deputy Director for Transgender Justice and staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) weighs in with his bile. The man is a blot on the ACLU, for he’s a lawyer who stomps on the rights of biological women, women who would get athletically trounced were Strangio’s efforts to bear fruit. Further, he once favored the banning of Abigail Shrier’s book Irreversible Damage. Can an ACLU lawyer have any credibility if he favors book banning?  (I have to add here that the Freedom from Religion Foundation, of which I’m an honorary director, also favors allowing trans women to compete against biological women since they see this as a church-state issue. I have complained about this stand, and it will be interesting to see how they come down on future bills.)

Here are some of Strangio’s misguided ideas, claiming that favoring a moratorium on trans women competing against biological women in sports is nothing other than transphobia:

Chase Strangio, an ACLU attorney who has been fighting these laws, told me, “The introduction of HR 734 is both a troubling reflection of where we are in the national landscape of attacks on trans people, particularly trans youth, and an ominous sign of what is to come. With so many threats to women’s sports, what a sad commentary on our society that the action being taken in Congress is one that targets a subset of women and girls—those who are trans—and singles them out for discrimination.”

He went on to say, “If we are to fight back against the many threats to bodily autonomy that we are seeing in state legislatures and in Congress, we need a meaningful and coordinated resistance to legislation like HR 734, and we need to challenge the notion that targeting and demonizing trans people protects anyone.”

Yes, perhaps some supporters of the bill are transphobes, but many who call for such bans on a provisional basis are simply doing so on the grounds of fairness to women, not hatred of trans people. Strangio is either too dumb to see that, or, more likely, is so bound up in transgender activism that he fails to see (as J. K. Rowling does see) that those rights sometimes conflict with the rights of cisgender women.

I repeat Zirin’s paragraph from above:

The sports bill is also, tragically, supported by a few prominent women athletes who believe that they are somehow protecting women’s sports by allying with people who not only want to destroy Title IX but also to reelect a misogynist and alleged rapist as president. Strange bedfellows indeed.

That’s guilt by association, pure and simple. Does Zirin not see that many prominent women athletes who oppose trans women’s participation against biological women are NOT “rapist protectors” and Trumpites?  In fact, in the next sentence Zirin says so:

One Olympic gold medalist who supports a trans bans and has written upon it extensively is the swimmer Nancy Hogshead-Makar, who founded the organization Champion Women. As Dr. Johanna Mellis, cohost of the End of Sports Podtweeted to me (and I reprint with permission): “Enraging how several cishet [cisgender, heterosexual] white women like NHM [Nancy Hogshead–Makar] who ostensibly vote Dem and believe in abortion rights are trans panic-ers and boosting their platform off such bigotry.”

Another women supporting trans women’s sports bans is Martina Navratilova, a Democrat, supporter of LGBTQ rights, Trump hater, and donor to the Democratic Party. She’s not “cishet”, either, as she’s gay. Funny they left her out. . .

Below are some of Zirin’s histrionics.

I guarantee that these very forces will at some point call for Title IX to be thrown out. No one should give these people one droplet of credibility. Anyone who cares about women’s athletics should be aghast to see Title IX, some of the most important legislation for gender equality ever produced by this country, used as a cudgel to keep trans kids off the playing field. They should call that what it is: an obscenity. Either Title IX is a shining example of inclusion or it is not. For it to be used months after its 50th anniversary as a tool for bigots is the true perversion in this story.

No, I will not call for Title IX to be thrown out, and neither will our.many readers who favor some sports bans but also oppose discrimination on the basis of sex. (I’m speaking about biological sex here, for I cannot bring myself to agree that “trans women are women” in every single sense.)

The paragraph above is so miguided that it’s not even wrong. If you care about women’s athletics, the best way to preserve them as a going concern is to support Title IX for nearly all purposes, but not to allow trans women on teams comprising biological women. To do otherwise is to doom women’s sports, particularly because some states and officials (including Joe Biden’s administration) don’t think any hormonal or surgical modification of a biological male need be done to allow that male to compete as a woman. All that’s needed is that the male claim self-identify as having a female gender and (sometimes) to live as a woman for a limited period. In other words, some states and laws allow unmodified biological men to compete against biological women. Given the data, in what world is that fair?

Zirin’s ending is particularly ironic:

We need to be willing to discuss any issue that may invariably arise with transgender athletes and the sexual binary that defines sports in this country. It could be an exciting moment to reimagine how we organize young people to play sports, especially at the youth level. Instead, the issue has become yet another cleaver by the right—with minimal resistance from muted Democrats—used to distract, divide, and demonize. Republicans are not stopping with sports in their project of trans eradication. Either we stand with our trans friends, or we lose them. Either we stand with our trans friends, or Title IX will at some point be a memory. Either we stand with our trans friends, or we’re next.

What a baseless assertion! We can stand with our trans friends in allowing them every basic human right except for a handful, excluding the “right” of trans women to be put in women’s prisons, to be rape counselors, or to compete against biological women. But unless you buy Zirin (and Strangio’s) whole hog, you can’t buy any pork at all. It’s a Manichean view of the issue.

And what’s most ironic is that although Zirin claims to favor open discussion of this issue, he really doesn’t, for his guilt-by-association ploy puts many who favor discussion automatically in the same class as misogynists, transphobes, rapist-protectors, and Trump supporters. How can you discuss something when you’re demonized by the opposition at the outset? But there’s really no reason why favoring Title IX should automatically make you support the right of self-identified women to assume every single right of biological women.


I’ve now used up my free access to The Nation, and can’t see new comments (they aren’t of course archived), but last night I was glad to see that that most readers weren’t buying Zirin’s claims. Here are two that I copied, and if you have free access to his article check out any new comments:


Lastly, what I reject most about this woke article is rather than encourage debate, it rejects debate as if only neo-nazis would dare challenge any part of the trans narrative.


. . . I would have been grateful to see an engagement with the arguments of Nancy Hogshead-Makar rather than just a summary dismissal of her. Many, perhaps most, of the people who normally support progressive causes have been confused by current transgender perspectives and, in the course of seeking to become better informed have not had explanation, but vilification. A spirit of intimidation has stifled the dialogue so that a fear of being recklessly labeled transphobic has intimidated questioners into silence — a silence that is far from persuasion. The fascists have been only too happy to fill that vacuum. They are gaining ground. The Dave Zirins need to own responsibility for that.


95 thoughts on “Nation article attacks bans on trans women competing in sports against biological women

  1. Susan Sontag wrote “Imagine if you will someone who read only the Reader’s Digest between 1950 and 1970, and someone in the same period who read only The Nation or The New Statesman. Which reader would have been better informed about the realities of Communism? The answer, I think, should give us pause.”

    1. Last fall Gallup published the results of a poll (not that all polls can always be trusted) suggesting that “Americans’ Trust in Media Remains Near Record Low”, while, just a month ago, Fortune posted a piece entitled “Trust In Media Is So Low That Half of Americans Now Believe That News Organizations Deliberately Mislead Them”.

      1. And who can blame them, seeing how one major news organization just admitted to doing exactly that?

  2. One more comment (I’ll keep my eye out for any more)

    Exactly. Women deserve fair and safe sport. Even with testosterone suppression, there is solid science noting the retention of significant male physiology with a concomitant performance advantage. Inclusion means exclusion. On a podium, 3 spots. In a pool or on a track, 8 lanes. For everyone there, one is not. Sex matters. Check out some of the “Real Science of Sport” podcasts –

  3. It’s always sports that people argue about. I care about education and learning. When my son was applying for university a number of years ago there were scholarships in STEM fields aimed at women to encourage them to pursue a career in STEM because in may of the fields they are quite unrepresented. To me that was good. Does anyone argue for or against allowing trans women to be eligible for those academic scholarships or is it only the athletic college scholarships? Why is it only the athletics scholarships they obsess about?

    1. It’s not the scholarships people argue about, it’s the participation. And I haven’t seen any arguments one way or the other about trans women and athletic scholarships.

      Presumably the pejortaive word “obsession” means that you support the arguments in The Nation’s article.

      1. No I don’t support the arguments in “The Nation” but I just wonder why it’s only sports that people who argue for absolute trans rights fixate on.
        It’s raising a question and using one word gets me an accusation. That’s just like on the all trans rights side.

        1. It’s not. Essentially similar arguments abound about almost all “women only” spaces, including bathrooms, rape counseling centers, prisons….

          1. And I would go on, by way of seconding, that those other women-only spaces (other than bathrooms) are generally below the radar of most people who get interviewed by the chattering classes. Few people give much care to what happens to women in prisons, and rape/domestic violence is something that happens to other people.

            I get the warmest of thanks from the violence shelter I donate to in Vancouver that lost its city funding because it won’t admit men. (That’s the Left Coast for you…)

            If enough people get riled up about men competing in women’s sports to put a stop to it, just maybe it will dawn on legislators that if it’s not OK to let a guy at an Ivy League college swim against women, it’s also not OK to let a much more dangerous male felon share a cell with a woman in for food stamp fraud.

    2. Men ought not to be eligible to receive scholarships of any kind ear-marked for women. Certainly not. I hope your son, had he been applying today, wouldn’t “identify” as a woman just so he could cheat a woman out of a scholarship. If he did, the university would have to come up with a test to thwart the practice.

      1. Why should there be any scholarships ear-marked for women, given that they now make up almost 60% of the college population in the US?

        1. Not in STEM fields. Whether there should be scholarships or not, there should be more women in STEM.

          1. There are lots and lots of women in STEM. In my STEM department >70% of the undergraduates and ~60% of the graduate students are female, but <30% of the faculty members are female. Those women are all smart and hard-working and high achievers. There is ~0 mean difference between the men and women in their abilities. The main reason more of the female grad students don't become professors is that they tend to delay having families until ~grad school, then many of them choose to stay at home with their babies. Doing that at the postdoc stage gets in the way of progressing in an academic career path: some get back on that path, but many don't. My wife (smarter than me, well-educated, well-trained, accomplished) and some of my grad students made this choice. It's not a tragedy, it's a fantastic part of life (at least according to my wife), but it's a choice with big consequences. Many academics don't want to talk about it, and instead make vague gestures toward gender equity and sexism (there is some sexism, but it's not what prevents women from competing for and winning positions in academics).

        1. Sports is more accepted way to debate the problem, eliminating the awkward debate/indifference of women who are raped or in prisons: “Why didn’t they fight back?” ‘Why are they in there in the first place?”

          JAC has done numerous posts on those too, but mosts posts are not over sports, but sex v gender —which is at the heart of the problem.

          And Prof Coyne was one of the first voices to push back against this deliberate misuse of that terms since the beginning.

    3. It’s not always sports; that’s just what gets attention because it’s not only obviously a problem, but the topic appeals to men who aren’t as aware of or interested in issues like shelters. Fair competition, they understand.

      In various feminist forums I’ve seen many complaints about trans-identified males qualifying for women’s awards and scholarships. What particularly rankles is when STEM businesses which have made efforts to recruit more women proudly announce success: it’s because of transwomen. I read one account by a woman who claimed that there were so many males transitioning in her tech company that it achieved what the bosses considered male:female equity without hiring anyone new. She’s still the lone woman in the department, though.

      1. I have never seen any news report on such issue and I don’t know why it’s not covered more.

    4. Because trans women have an inbuilt advantage over women when it comes to athletics, being generally bigger and stronger. Trans women applying for woman only places on STEM courses are competing against other people who are equally as brainy as they are. There’s no advantage to them apart from the competition being fewer in number.

      1. You might be missing the point. Assuming that all concerned are equally brainy on average and that there is a valid reason for having women-only STEM positions, then why should a transwoman be able to apply for them? Especially with self-ID, when all it takes to be a woman is identify with one. They are competing among fewer people to the disadvantage of those for whom the special situation was created.

  4. “there may be some sports in which biological men have no average physiological or bodily advantage over biological women,[…] I can’t think of any such sports”


    [ aside: Yes, I will argue chess is a sport. My main argument : what sport does any head coach e.g. Bill Belichik play? – he’s not in-bounds on the field but he is still playing the game/sport. ]

    Anyway, chess divides women from men, but I’m not sure there’s any sound, modern reason for it. The Pólgar family is a famous chess family – all women.

    1. Chess divides men from women for the same reason ice hockey does. There would be no female championship winners if they didn’t. If a man were to compete in women’s chess his victory, if he won—and there’s no guarantee he would, every time—the chess community would know that he had beaten only the best women. “Meh. Big whoop”, they would say….given the current dominance of the game by male players.

      Now, if a woman wanted to compete for the men’s title (i.e., the real title), at first glance you might think, why not? But maybe the men don’t want to play against women for some reason. They might say, “Look, we created a women’s division so you could be sure of winning a trophy every year. Stay in your division and don’t bother us in ours. Chess clubs are private clubs if nor receiving government money. We can organize our club anyway we like.”

      By having a separate women’s division, you at least ensure that every year there will be female champion. If you let everyone compete together, the women will all get beaten out before they make the championship round.

      1. “Chess divides men from women for the same reason ice hockey does. There would be no female championship winners if they didn’t. ”

        PCC(E) specified a “physiological or bodily advantage”. I do not see either of those in your argument but I get it, there is not just “physical” but some other layer. So “reasons” perhaps… the one you point out is … what, superathletic? “Traditional”? “For the fans”?

        … errmm.. so … so I do not see how anyone would know if a male or female were playing chess by e.g. reading game transcripts on However, it would be obvious in, e.g., _watching_ rugby – perhaps less so by reading match results.

        .. I think chess would not separate out the way we see other sports (as posted in the past here on WEIT) by male/female.

        [… this is more complicated to write out than I thought .. ]

        1. Brains are physiologic structures that provide advantage in chess. Puck Mendelssohn suggests what some of those male-segregating advantages might be and I thank him for it.

          The question of sex advantage can be settled empirically when it’s not obvious on its face. Let men compete against women in any sport and see how many women win the top prizes. If the women are happy with the outcome, abolish the sex segregation. If women are shut out of the medals for the entire run of the experiment then, empirically, they need their own division if any are to have prizes.

          I personally couldn’t care less about any spectator sport. Participation is what we should be encouraging for mass health. If adolescent girls give up sport because they don’t want to be naked with men in their locker rooms, that is personally no skin off my nose. I just don’t like to see activists get away with destroying institutions just for the hell of it.

          1. sure.

            You have previously made some excellent points regarding the physiology of male v. female (e.g. brow ridge). Perhaps you have some less obvious ones? The best one I know of is in Leonard Sax’s book Why Gender Matters – I don’t have it handy, so now I’ll have to get it – but it is a citation of a study on rat brain development.

            I also recall a reader here also giving some citations, but are buried in my own notes.

          2. One sport I participated in upon a time, ultra-distance running, is one of those endurance events in which, amazingly, women—particularly older women—can and do sometimes win in a mixed-sex field.

            Now, since the professionalization of that sport in the past 15-20 years, it doesn’t happen nearly as often, and basically never at the top elite level. Still, women in their upper 30s and 40s are still winning ultra races often enough that it’s not a “man bites dog” story.

            I love that. My theory: women are, in the end, tougher than men, having had to endure childbirth, monthly menses, lots of things, and in the end, mental and physical toughness wins the day in ultras.

            1. My mom ran something like 10 miles a day, every day, from her 30s to her early 6os, then she switched to walking.
              When I was 15, and serious about road racing (on bikes), I decided to go with her one morning. I assumed that riding a couple of hundred miles each week on a bike was good preparation for running 10 miles at a moderate pace. I was wrong, she obliterated me. It took me about six weeks of training to get to the point where I could keep up with her.
              That sort of reflects my observations from the military. Most of the women I saw (in the USMC) showed up in fairly good shape. Some were obviously very well trained athletes. Early on in the training, those women dis very well, especially in contrast to the pudgy men. However, a few weeks later, the pudgy guys were in shape, and the fit women were struggling to keep up without injuring themselves.
              Towards the end of the training, a mixed-sex squad challenged to complete endurance events with packs, will tend to have the men taking turns carrying the women’s packs, as the whole squad must finish and be graded as a team.
              Of course neither of these are ultra marathons. But a look at the records and some of the results of recent races suggests that the top men in the sport tend to have faster times or longer distances than the top women, and usually by a significant margin. On the other hand, women in their 40s are very competitive in the sport, even if they are not winning the most prestigious events and breaking all the records.

        1. Casual bowling, perhaps. In several of the sports mentioned, there is a level of play where the little differences begin to manifest themselves.
          In a pro bowling tournament, one should expect to toss a 15 pound ball 400 times, a very unlikely minimum. With perfect consistency.
          Archery is similar. Just the fact that men tend to shoot bows with heavier draw weights is an indication that strength, and fatigue, are factors.

          Shooting is an interesting sport in this regard, particularly air rifle competition. Men have a strength and endurance advantage, but women seem to have an advantage of balance. As the sport has progressed, the rifles used have gotten progressively lighter, which has reduced the men’s strength advantage. Plus, the uniforms worn for rifle shooting are stiffened to help with stability. The result is no particular sex advantage. The same is not true for pistol or other categories of shooting, where men retain an advantage.

      1. Lawn bowls. Maybe field hockey, where physical contact is penalised. Some other winter sports: why not solo ice dancing, for instance. Or mixed four-person bobsleigh. There must be others.

        1. On the subject of hockey, I have a friend who played in goal for a fairly strong amateur club side. They did have a mixed competition as well as sex segregated competitions but she hated the mixed competitions because, even though it’s a non contact sport, contact does happen and the men were generally faster and heavier and stronger and they could hit the ball much harder.

    2. I thought of that, but didn’t know if there was any average differential in performance in chess. If not, then they shouldn’t separate teams by sex.

      I have a book on “Jewish Sports Heroes” (the thinnest book I own), and in order to make it more substantial than a leaflet, they had to include “chess” as a sport.

      But then why not checkers?

      1. “… I […] didn’t know if there was any average differential in performance in chess.”

        I never looked but my hunch is there will not be any in the modern era (I’d like to examine this notion when I have time). Might have been a discrepancy in the past, when nobody let females learn chess, or some sort of medieval nonsense like that. But those Polgar sisters are grandmasters and that was back in the 80’s or so.

        “why not checkers?”

        Sure – I mean, hey – why not Battleship, or Super Mario Bros. too! In this day and age, I bet there are huge live Candy Land tournaments! This just got way more complicated!

      2. That’s pretty hilarious. There are actually quite a few Jews in hockey history.

        Of course, by “quite a few,” I mean, “relative to what you might expect for an athletically demanding sport.”

        As an avid fan of tennis, I’m always rooting for Argentinian Diego Schwartzman, who’s very short (5’7) nice Ashkenazi Jewish boy like me 🙂 Despite his height, he’s been ranked as high as eighth in the world!

      3. [ re-reads own comment ]

        hope my checkers reply wasn’t taken as an insult, or facetiously – I was in a sort of elated mood, thinking about how all the different sports helps understand this problem of men v. women and got carried away – I’m agreeing with the checkers thing, not making fun of it – but it’d have been better if I had replied in spoken form, not in writing.

      4. Hou Yifan currently ranks as the best female chess player in the world. If she were a male, her ranking would place her at #129. Humpy Koneru is the second-highest rated woman in the world; she ranks #287 when compared with the men. If Judit Polgar, the greatest female chess player in history, were to return to competitive play in her top form, then she would rank in the top 20 overall, worldwide. (In her prime, she made it into the top 10 and had many impressive victories against top-ranked men.)

        We can invent all sorts of “toxic masculinity” arguments for why this disparity exists. My own guess—just a guess—is that we are looking at some form of difference in spatial reasoning that places more men at the extreme tail of elite ability. Of course, this type of reasoning is what got former Harvard president Larry Summers in hot water. So, I will add that the world is full of elementary and middle school girls who could beat me quite handily on the chess board.

      5. I have a book on “Jewish Sports Heroes” (the thinnest book I own) …

        Hell, boss, I could write a volume on the great Jewish prizefighters of the Twenties, Thirties, and Forties — Benny Leonard, Barney Ross, “Slapsie Maxie” Rosenbloom, and Max Baer just for starters — myself.

      6. Perhaps there are more male chess champions due to statistics? If more men play chess, then the probability that the top players will be male is higher.

        1. It’s a never-ending debate. I suspect that participation rates matter more for the average players than they do for those at the pinnacle of the profession. (I do wonder, however, whether there is a critical window during which the skills necessary for world-class chess are best developed; anyone coming to the sport late would be at a disadvantage.) There are very few female boxers and martial artists relative to men. Does anyone really believe that if you increased female participation rates to equal that of men that the women would then be equally represented at the top ranks of the sports? No; the physical differences are too great. But when it comes to specialized cognitive aptitudes or interests some seem unwilling to accept any differences between men and women, either at the population average or at the tails of the distributions. I’m open to both “nature” and “nurture” arguments; I’m simply opposed to any a priori rejection of either. And as I said at first: I was venturing a “guess”!

          To bring it back to trans women: trans women are a miniscule number of those participating in women’s sports, yet they appear to take a disproportionate share of titles and other awards. (Perhaps this is a mere appearance created by media coverage?) Apparently, the overall low numbers of trans women doesn’t impede their path to the medal stand when competing against a far higher number of women. Shouldn’t trans women, like women in chess competing against men, be rare among the medal contenders given their overall low numbers?

          Time to return to so that some six-year-old in India can checkmate me.

          1. I do believe there are cognitive differences between men and women, likely due to both nature and nurture. The brain is highly malleable, so changes in nurturing will of course produce cognitive changes. These changes are already being seen with more and more women entering the world of chess; thus, we will likely see more women chess champions in the future.

            This is an interesting read:

            1. I can see a reason for a sex difference in chess performance. We know the normal distributions of IQ for men and women share the same median value, but that the spread is wider for men. More male geniuses and more drooling idiots. But are not champion chess players the people at the extreme right tail?— where not only is there a preponderance of men, they stretch out a little further into higher IQ territory.

              1. But then how does that explain the statistical increase in the number of female chess champions in recent years? This increase can only be explained through changes in the environment.

    3. I’ve wondered about chess. I think the fact that a lot of the champions seem to be neurologically rather atypical might hold a clue to why women haven’t been at the top. We know that some things like autism spectrum disorders manifest differently in the sexes; it wouldn’t, I think, be terribly surprising if it takes a peculiar constellation of neural features to make a truly great chess player, and that this constellation is much likelier to occur in males than in females.

    4. Women and men have competed together in equestrian sports for many years. In addition, there have also been mixed competitions in winter sports (e.g. ski jumping, biathlon, luge) for some years.

  5. Zirin’s rant is misleading and dishonest. Most critics are *not* calling for bans on transgender athletes in sports. Rather, they are questioning the fairness of having certain transgender women (biological males who converted during or after puberty) compete in the same arena as cis women—women who do not have the added muscle mass that biological maleness confers. Cis women who compete against trans women who converted during or after puberty do not stand a chance against the trans women and, where physical contact is possible (say in basketball), may be subject to career-ending and life-altering injuries.

    Zirin purposely blurs what is really at issue into a dishonest smear of those who genuinely care about fairness in women’s sports. No, I don’t have a solution either, but I am quite clear that Zirin is part of the problem.

  6. Bravo, Jerry.

    I think the way we are dealing with trans issues is tragic, in so many ways. There’s ongoing harm to kids, there’s erosion of the rights of women, and there’s a complete failure of our ability to have a decent conversation about this stuff because if you have liberal sentiments, want to treat everyone humanely and with respect, don’t want to discriminate against anyone in employment, et cetera, BUT you insist on a position which is more nuanced than “trans women are women, full stop,” you are treated like some sort of fundamentalist bigot, belonging alongside people like Marjorie Taylor Greene.

    Sex is real. Gender is bullshit. Now, like a lot of bullshit, gender means something to some people which they feel they want to express, to which I can say nothing other than “it’s a free country, but that isn’t how I’d choose to spend my time.” We have, for the most part, an inalienable right to our own bullshit. But when people demand that I place as much significance on their conception of gender as they do, it’s too much. When they demand that decisions that affect others be based upon gender pseudoscience and anti-science, it’s too much. To say that doesn’t make me a right-wing loon, any more than arguing against creationism makes me a left-wing loon.

    And there is another tragedy here, in the making. The right-wing loons already see that this is a pure winner for them, as a culture-war issue, precisely because Democrats right now are so completely “captured” on this issue that half of them can’t answer the question “what is a woman” in a coherent way. If there isn’t a sensible conversation about practical accommodation of trans people, rather than this biology-blind nonsense, political races will be lost over this one. And among those who lose, in that event, are of course trans people.

    1. I wouldn’t say gender is bullshit but it is how people choose to identify. Where as biology is certainly real, but ones biological sex does not have to be how one identifies.
      All this intolerance of any discussion on the left is doing is driving more people to vote conservative which will be much, much more harmful to trans people in the long run.

      1. Identify as and with what though? One’s biological sex?

        Gender identity seems to me (when anyone bothers to define it in a non-circular way) to mostly be a loose collection of sex stereotypes and societal expectations of sex roles. I have mostly regarded the modern obsession with gender as something that is moving us backwards rather than forwards. The performative aspects of a sex, holding doors for women, paying for meals, women expected to be the caregiver etc… are anachronisms that don’t really matter anymore and should’t be carried forward into the future.

        Sex matters, “gender identity” doesn’t/shouldn’t. Sex matters in relationships, people are either attracted to one or both of the sexes, and knowing the sex the person you are dating is going to be important to ensure sexual compatibility. Sex matters for medical matters (different drugs affect different sexes differently). Sex matters for sports (as has been covered before). Sex matters for handling criminality and access to safe spaces such as women’s shelters and changing rooms (mens behaviour profiles are not identical to women’s).

        Something I find interesting is that perhaps men’s ego might be more fragile than women’s is that women have adopted mens clothing to suite women’s bodies but men haven’t done the reverse. Why haven’t men taken dresses and adjusted them to accentuate broader shoulders and straighter waists?

        I don’t think wearing a dress and makeup makes someone a woman anymore than wearing pants and forgoing makeup makes someone a man. These are merely cultural stereotypes of our time and place and don’t have any concrete connection to womanhood/manhood. I don’t think simply calling yourself a women/man makes you one either. If simply calling oneself the thing makes one the thing then the category has no meaning or definition and may as well be tossed out. If gender identity doesn’t map to anything real and concrete then it is useless and we can do without it as a hypothesis.

        I’m just rambling now but how strongly one identifies with ones body doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with suggesting they would better identify with their body if it was the other sex, it could be that they’d better identify with their body if they were happier generally, or more fit, or had tattoos, etc…

        1. “When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

          ’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

          ’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”

          Lewis Carroll, *Through the Looking Glass*

      2. I doubt I’ll “vote conservative,” but I readily, if unhappily, acknowledge that much of the “wokeness” has moved me “to the right.”

  7. “Why do you care? Trans women are a tiny minority of women in sport. No one is excluded. It costs nothing to be kind.”

    “This is a hill I will die on. Trans women are women. Title IX protections must include all women. Screw you, Nazi bigot.”

    [edit] Please excuse the snark. None of the trans people I know talk like this or have such extremist attitudes. These expressions seem to come mostly from “allies” like Zirin plus a small number of activists like Strangio.

  8. “As Dr. Johanna Mellis, cohost of the End of Sports Pod, tweeted to me (and I reprint with permission): ‘Enraging how several cishet [cisgender, heterosexual] white women like NHM [Nancy Hogshead–Makar] who ostensibly vote Dem and believe in abortion rights are trans panic-ers and boosting their platform off such bigotry.’”

    I love how such people throw in the fact that someone is (horrors!) white, as if this somehow deligitimizes them. Not only are they “cishet,” they’re white! White! My goodness, the nerve of such people lacking in melanin!

    It shows just how much the Oppression Olympics have been embedded into the fabric of “progressive” ideology. If you want to stigmatize and deligitimize a position or person, just mention as many possible “privileges” as possible. They’re white, cis, hetero, male, Christian, American, have citizenship, and whatever. Mention anything but socioeconomic privilege; we don’t talk about that, as too many of these professional activists are making serious money and have built enormous social cache among the upper class, the True Privilege that dwarfs all others and would immediately mark them as far more privileged than 99% of the people they are constantly attacking.

    Class consciousness has been replaced by consciousness of everything else and the explicit removal of class from the debate/formula. It allows the 1% to live a life of pretending to be the oppressed underclass. It almost seems intentional…

  9. We have been bullied into not rejecting an outright lie out of polite progressiveness and, in America, a desire not to appear Republican (like continuing to wear masks in 2023.). The response should be, “Transwomen aren’t women. Get over it!”

    Men who like to dress up as women ought not to be disenfranchised or beaten up on the street for it. A man who picks one up in a bar and breaks her jaw when he finds out she’s a guy ought to be charged with assault. (If a woman sprayed him with Mace I’d consider it legitimate self-defence against rape by misrepresentation.) Not a hate crime. Just the facts of the assault. A person ought not to be hired just because s/he is the best-qualified trans candidate, either, and certainly not to count toward a business’s women’s-equity targets.

    No one is calling for trans-identifying people to be denied their civil rights as people. They just shouldn’t be allowed to parade as women where it harms the interests of women.

    The trans activists are lying. You see how it works. They say bans on men competing with women hurt the rights of women and girls. They get away with it because they have got us to nod along in agreement that “women and girls” (and lesbians) includes them. Which is absurd but as any salesman knows, once you get the customer to start saying yes, he’ll say yes to your price against his better judgment.
    It started with pronoun compliance to avoid setting off mentally unstable people you have to interact with. Next thing you know you get fired for using the wrong one, for not playing along on the charade. And soon you have articles like this Nation article, and ill-considered laws mandating the chemical castration of anyone who wants it.

    1. Under the most basic rules of logic, the statement “a equals a” is true.

      Transwomen are transwomen, i.e. transwomen=transwomen. Why in the world is this controversial to people?

      Beyond silly semantics, it’s extremely irritating to me that the most ardent trans “activists” insist that “transwomen are women,” which pretends that there are zero differences … based on someone’s caprice and/or internal feelings.


  10. Zirin may be correct that the effort to ban trans women from women’s sports may be the opening wedge to repeal Title IX. In a Newsweek op-ed right-winger, Paul Du Quenoy writes this:

    “If Biden’s new rules stand, the next Republican president is sure to repeal them. Any Democratic successor will almost certainly then restore them. Rather than play that dismal game, Republicans might reasonably decide to repeal Title IX altogether and get creepy university administrators out of people’s private lives for good. There are many other ways to ensure equal gender access to college facilities without empowering woke zealots to ruin lives, educations, and careers. And while they’re at it, the useless Department of Education, its 4,400 swamp-dwelling employees, and wasteful $68 billion budget can go, too.”

    So, we here have an example of where left-wing foolishness (although in the op-ed Du Quenoy doesn’t address directly the trans issue) – certain aspects of Biden’s Title IX proposals, provides the right wing with an opportunity to destroy all the good things of Title IX as well the Department of Education. Extremism begets extremism. It is somewhat of a mystery to me as why the left is willing to squander much of their political capital on this issue. That is, how can the left be so politically stupid to take a position that science contradicts?

  11. What amazes and partially appalls me about this article: Does the author not realize at all how misogynistic his attitude is? Does he really think that his assessments are modern and progressive, although the opposite is far more likely to be the case?

  12. No surprise in The Nation’s line on transgenderism. The magazine’s favorite Russian scholar (and Katrina Van den Heuvel’s late husband) Stephen F. Cohen used to engage in a line of trans-Putinism, as summarized here by Wiki.
    “In an article for The Nation, published in the March 3, 2014 issue, Cohen wrote that “media malpractice” had resulted in the “relentless demonization of Putin” who was not an “autocrat”. He wrote that the American media’s coverage of Russia was “less objective, less balanced, more conformist and scarcely less ideological” than it had been during the Cold War.[15] In a follow up interview with Newsweek magazine, Cohen said Putin was the “best potential partner we had anywhere in the world to pursue our national security”.[16] In a CNN interview around March 2014, he said Putin was not “anti-American”. “

    1. Cohen was actually a fine scholar and better informed about Russia than many of today’s so-called pundits. Anyone skeptical of Cohen’s arguments before his death three years ago on the vexed question of Russia and Ukraine should read Kuzmarov’s The Russians Are Coming (published in 2018) or consult the articles posted at Aaron Mate’s TheGrayzone.

  13. Pool and Poker are two sports (using the term loosely) with separate tournaments for women that have little or nothing to do with physical attributes. I think the reason is, like chess and others mentioned above, because there would be very few female champions otherwise. Whether or not transwomen should be allowed to compete in women’s tournaments is an interesting question I’m have no fixed opinion on as yet.

  14. The way we are going, we could simply cut to the chase and ban women’s sports, women’s toilet facilities, women’s Oscars and so on and so forth. Let us rely on transwomen keeping the species going with their transplanted uteri. We are truly done for.

  15. Several commenters above lament that “intolerance of any discussion on the left… is driving more people to vote conservative”, as if this was a new phenomenon. But it is an old, old story. I am not quite old enough to remember Robespierre’s contribution to the Bourbon restoration, but I do recall the Weather Underground’s invaluable help to the re-election of Richard Nixon—and after that, the Reagan decade. I suppose there is no way to keep simple exhibitionism out of politics, especially politics which has an adversarial flavor. If the GOP manages to shake loose from its current MAGA grifters, it could reap political benefits for decades from the Left’s incessant shooting its own feet with the transgender cult, the decriminalize crime (á la Chesa Boudin) cult, the DEI cult, and so on.

  16. A shocking piece, The Nation should be ashamed of itself.

    The usual nonsense: The GOP is pushing forward a federal ban on trans people playing sport Nope, trans people are perfectly free to compete – in their own sex class.

  17. NO. The problem is much more basic than all the arguments seem to assume. There is no reason for the NATIONAL legislature to propose and discuss such an action. Yes, there are valid reasons for considering the interactions of trans people with others. But those considerations cannot be used to produce general laws for the whole country. Variations among individuals make such an idea inherently unfair (and unconstitutional, regardless of what the current anti-constitutional Supreme Court justices think). Yes it is unfair for genetic females to compete against genetic males in some, or even many activities called sports. How about we let the people directly involved in those activities decide for themselves what to do about that? Raising the question of what should be done about these issues at the national level is a political ploy that continues the despicable behavior of the most strident Republicans lumped together as waging The Culture Wars. So, NO, this bill should not be passed, should not have been proposed, and certainly should not take up any more time of anyone.

    1. If general laws for the whole country should not try to restrict trans-identified people from being in women’s sports, restrooms, shelters, etc then they shouldn’t give them access either. Title IX can include trans ppl under “sex” when it comes to discrimination in jobs or housing. It should not protect Gender Identity, however, because that not only conflicts with protecting sex, it also violates your rule for keeping these decisions out of politics.

  18. What a complete non-issue. We have developed cultural norms around sex segregation for a variety of reasons. They don’t have to be perfect, just good enough to achieve what people want. Let males compete in male events, and females in female events. If some males want to complete in makeup and women’s clothes, so be it. No one is being excluded by segregating sports teams by sex.

    1. You are right, of course, but the whole point of the TRAs is not that they want to compete in makeup and women’s clothes (which I find a bizarre definition of woman), but rather that they want to be seen as women in every meaningful (to them) sense. That is why a) no compromise is possible (say, third spaces for trans people or whatever) and b) why even using their preferred pronouns is the start of the slippery slope which we’ve been sliding down way too long now. There is no point in “simple courtesy” if it never satisfies them and annoys others.

  19. It’s absurd that activists have succeeded in making this such a huge and controversial issue. Competing in sports tournaments is not a fundamental human right, and there are, for many disciplines, physical conditions that disqualify an athlete from competing – e.g., in some combat sports organizations, athletes must submit EEGs and EKGs to reduce the risk that they drop dead from some heart or brain abnormality. Why is it an absurd request that people who have the medical condition of not actually being biological women be disqualified from competitions for women?

  20. It quite obviously isn’t transphobia for one simple reason; absolutely nobody has a problem with trans-men competing against men.

  21. Zirin seems to be primarily a socialist revolutionary, who has found his niche in revolutionary sports writing.
    This is a guy who claims the IDF deliberately seeks out Palestinian Soccer players and shoots their feet.
    To him, anyone who criticizes the CCP is guilty of anti-Asian hate crimes.

    When I first read this post, It seemed proper to read some of Zirin’s other writings, and some interviews of him. What I found was a person who finds it very easy to accuse other of racism, but does not hesitate to employ it as a tactic himself, when his target appears to hold political views he disagrees with.
    I suspect strongly that his stance on transgender sports is based not on any concern for any of the participants, but as a means to disrupt all of the systems of oppression that such people seem to find everywhere.

  22. “The reason I don’t favor a complete ban (as the bill proposes) is because there may be some sports in which biological men have no average physiological or bodily advantage over biological women, and in that case there’s no reason on grounds of fairness to ban women from competing with men. I can’t think of any such sports, but ultra-long-distance running may be one. If such sports exist, the bill does create some unfairness.“

    But surely in such cases there would be no distinction, as is already the case in some sports. Not many, but that‘s because men have an advantage in most. Note that women might have an advantage in ultra-long-distance running; by the same token, a reason to keep separate categories there.

  23. If all athletes were divided into height and weight classes, would that work? Could a 130 lb female compete effectively against a 130 lb male, or would she still be at a disadvantage?

  24. Am I missing something?
    The link to the bill gives a text that is only three sentences long. A précis is:

    For sports organizations getting federal money,
    1) Athletes of male sex cannot compete in women’s divisions and cannot displace a woman from the roster of their own team or from scholarships or other benefits offered to female athletes.
    2) Sex is defined solely as reproductive biology and genetics at birth.

    Contrary to what has been asserted here, the bill does not ban trans athletes from competing. They are only required to compete as their biological sex. This will disappoint male trans athletes who seek to compete with the women because they would be nobodies competing against other men. But nothing stops them from trying out. There was a sanctioned off-road mountain bike race recently where the same guy won both the men’s and the women’s event. The Twitter photo (here I think) showed him kissing his boyfriend while he towered over the little woman who came in (a distant) second.

    The bill also does not prohibit women (referred to as “transmen”) from making a men’s team and competing in men’s events or, much more likely, competing unsuccessfully for a spot on a men’s team.

    Finally, politics is the art of the possible. Writing the bill to provide an exemption for those sports that might someday be found to offer no male advantage, or to cover the possibility that some medical doping treatment might be invented that erased the male advantage in one or all sports would invite challenges arguing that such circumstances exist today. The bill as written says they don’t. Laws should cover what is, not what might someday be. The reason is that when someday comes true, other things will have changed too and there might still be a good reason, all things considered then, for prohibiting men in women’s events.

    Opposing HR 734 because it does not cover those theoretical, hypothetical circumstances is a classic case of the perfect being the enemy of the good. As written, this bill will mean no more Lia Thomas travesties. Isn’t that a good start?

    1. Yeah, the “they’re trying to ban trans people from competition” line is pretty much stock-in-trade for these people now. I hear it on MSNBC frequently. But all this bill really tries to do is to protect Title IX’s purpose of promoting women’s athletics from being subverted, and it doesn’t bar anyone from competition at all.

    2. Re ” This will disappoint male trans athletes who seek to compete with the women because they would be nobodies competing against other men.”

      Yes, and too bad. All have a right to compete. But there is no right to win.

      To me, natal males who “transitioned” after puberty who seek to compete against natal females are an embarrassment, attempting to be “winners” through, essentially, cheating.

  25. I still don’t think transwomen who had puberty blockers and cross sex hormones at a young age should compete, just for the fact, biologically, they are male. They are weakened males, for absolute sure; some women could absolutely beat them, but I don’t like the idea of bio males competing against bio women as inclusion of post modern identity politics in sport seems ludicrous to me – they should be treated with dignity and respect, but they should have their own trans league.

    1. You have a point. It is assumed that boys who are castrated before puberty have no athletic advantage over girls and women but I don’t know of any evidence for this claim, other than that some sports governing bodies allow them to compete as girls/women. Not since the era of creating eunuchs in the Africa->Arabia slave trade has it been considered permissible to do this. And after all, if eunuchs were not considered strong fighters able to use muscle and violence, how could the safety of a harem be entrusted to them? Why not just hire local women at the tough end of the female spectrum? (As some cultures did, viz., the fearsome lady wrestlers in Salman Rushdie’s, Midnight’s Children.)

      The adrenal glands make androgens in both sexes, unrelated to testes, and obese women are often masculinized because adipose tissue converts estradiol into testosterone. Do androgen blockers suppress these reactions? I don’t know.

      Anecdotally, girls who play recreational sports with boys in the three years before the boys enter visible puberty say the boys get stronger and more aggressive even though the girls enter their growth spurts earlier.

      If boys who have been chemically castrated before puberty come to win competitions against girls and women, they will have some ‘splainin’ to do. (I note that the bill HR 734 does not exempt male athletes who were castrated before puberty.)

  26. “what to do about trans women’s desire to compete in sports? Nobody wants to tell them that they can’t compete, for that’s quashing what may be a very strong ambition.”

    If you have an overwhelmingly strong desire to be seen and recognised as a person of the ‘opposite’ sex and also have an extremely strong ambition to compete in sports, perhaps you have to choose? We none of us can have everything we want in life, and at some point you have to accept that the world does not revolve around you.

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