David French of the NYT on Title IX and women’s sports

June 26, 2023 • 11:00 am

One touchstone to determine if someone is an extreme gender activist (and by “extreme” I mean “unreasonable”) is to ask them if trans women, born as biological males, should be allowed to compete against biological females in women’s sports. To me, a “yes” answer means that somebody is not only ignoring the palpable data on the physical advantages of transwomen due to having gone through male puberty, but is also okay with the obvious unfairness this physical difference can impose on women athletes.  As the number of transgender people is increasing exponentially, this issue is not going to go away.

Of course there should be some accommodation to allow transgender women to compete in sports (we’re talking about trans women here as the problem doesn’t arise in the other direction). People who want to compete should not be stifled in their desire. The problem is how to allow trans women to compete without being unfair to biological women athletes. Various solutions have been suggested, including allowing a “women’s” league and a “men’s” league, with the latter allowing all trans people to compete.  None of the solutions are completely satisfactory, but they are fairer to biological women and do allow trans individuals to engage in sports competition.

This article by NYT op-ed writer David French goes over the problem, recognizing that the participation of trans women in women’s athletics is both unjust and, under present regulations, illegal.

Click to read:

French first goes over Title IX, what it stipulates (i.e., no denial of educational opportunities to either sex), and explains why sex is different from race when it comes to athletics, where separate competitions are of course not allowed (within a sex):

Let’s go back to the language of the statute itself, which speaks in terms of both “participation” and “benefits.” If you treat people of different races the same, people of all races can both participate and receive the benefits of participation in athletics. If you treat people of different sexes the same, the reality is very different.

The evidence is overwhelming that there is a significant average difference between male and female athletic performance, including at the most elite levels and even when female athletes receive funding, training and nutrition comparable to that of the best male athletes. In a 2020 article in The Duke Journal of Gender Law and Policy, the authors, Doriane Lambelet Coleman, Michael J. Joyner and Donna Lopiano, observed that “depending on the sport and event, the gap between the best male and female performances remains somewhere between 7 to 25 percent; and even the best female is consistently surpassed by many elite and nonelite males, including both boys and men.”

The authors walk through a number of examples of disparate performance, but here’s one: Vashti Cunningham is one of the best female high jumpers in the world. Her best jump places her in the world’s top 10 among females. But in 2019 alone, 760 American high school boys jumped higher than she did when she was in high school.

It’s easy to find similar statistics in professional sports. Former NCAA swimmer Riley Gaines, who’s been heroic in speaking out for women’s rights to compete against only other biological women, notes that both Venus and Serena Williams, beacons of excellence in women’s tennis, were beaten by the #203 ranked male tennis player. That of course is not to denigrate their remarkable abilities. It’s just that biological men and women differ in so many aspects of musculature, physiology, and bone density that this kind of result is inevitable.

Connecticut is one of the states that have a misguided law allowing trans women to compete against biological women in athletics. In that state there’s now a case in which four women, former track athletes in high school, have brought a suit against the law in federal court. After an initial rejection of their claim on specious grounds of plaintiff’s “lack of standing”, the full Connecticut appellate court took up the case and is deciding it now.  This is something that’s probably destined in the end for the U.S. Supreme Court. And, sadly, the ACLU is on the side of the state.


To be clear, the question was not whether the transgender girls did anything wrong — casting any aspersions on their participation in the races would be profoundly unjust. They ran the race in accordance with the rules of the race. The question was whether the rules were wrong.

The transgender athletes intervened in the case, with the aid of the A.C.L.U., and argued that “Title IX does not require sex-separated teams or an equal number of trophies for male and female athletes.” They emphasized that the plaintiffs “repeatedly outperformed” the transgender athletes “in direct competition.”

But the argument is not that transgender athletes will always win, but rather that if schools replace sex with gender identity as the relevant criterion for participation, then the statutory sex-based promises of participation and benefits in educational programs will be undermined. (Gender identity, as the A.C.L.U. defined it, is a “medical term for a person’s ‘deeply felt, inherent sense’ of belonging to a particular sex.”)

The Biden administration, unfortunately, is on the side of Connecticut, and is indeed trying to replace sex with gender identity as “the relevant criterion for participation.” An NPR article from April notes that the administration wants to alter Title IX so that “sex” becomes “gender”:

On Thursday, the U.S. Education Department announced a proposed change to Title IX, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in federally funded education programs. The proposal would make it illegal for schools to broadly ban transgender students from sports teams that align with their gender identity, rather than their assigned sex at birth.

The department says the move comes after two years of outreach to stakeholders across the country, and the changes still give schools some flexibility to ban transgender athletes depending on age and sport.

“Every student should be able to have the full experience of attending school in America, including participating in athletics, free from discrimination,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “Being on a sports team is an important part of the school experience for students of all ages.”

It also notes this:

The proposed Title IX changes will be published to the Federal Register in the next few weeks, after which it will open for 30 days of public comment. Those are just the first steps in a long process to alter the law. Assuming the proposal survives that process, schools and students will not see the rule changed or enacted for months if not years.

The commenting time is over, but changing the law may be superfluous if the Supreme Court rules on the matter in the meantime.

French ends his piece this way, though I think he fails to realize that “a small number of trans women” may become much larger. And, at any rate, it’s not the number of trans women athletes that matters, but the principle of fairness to biological women athletes.

I’m not a catastrophist. I hate rhetoric that declares that women’s sports will be “destroyed” by the inclusion of a small number of trans women in athletic competition. I hate even more any demonization or disparagement of the trans athletes themselves. When they compete according to the rules of the sport, they are doing nothing wrong. But legal definitions do matter, especially when they are rooted in hard facts, such as the systematic, documented performance gap between the sexes.

All people are created equal, and possess equal moral worth, but we are not all created the same. To protect equal opportunity, there are times when the law should recognize differences. And in the realm of athletics, if we want to both secure and continue the remarkable advances women have made in the 51 years since Congress passed Title IX, it’s important to remember that sex still matters, and sex distinctions in the law should remain.

French may be called a “transphobe” for taking this stand, as I have been, but I reject this characterization. Trans women should have equal rights and treatment in nearly all areas, except for those few places where the difference between biological and trans women really matter.  Those include, beyond athletics, rape counseling, shelters for abused women, and women’s prisons.  After all, every claimed right has to be balanced against potential harm if it’s abused, and that also goes for First-Amendment free speech, which has a number of exceptions.

If you want to keep up with developments in this area, and are on the side of French, you can follow the organization “Sex Matters” or, on Twitter, its vocal exponent Emma Hilton, a developmental biologist and a colleague of Matthew Cobb at the University of Manchester. In the U.S., you can follow Riley Gaines (see video below) or  #SaveWomensSports on Twitter.

Here’s Riley Gaines testifying a few days ago before the Senate Judiciary Committee. She also deals, at the end, with the question of whether her views are transphobic.

Finally, most Americans agree with Gaines, according to a poll conducted in May and reported in the Washington Post:

The poll, conducted May 4 through 17 among 1,503 people across the United States, finds 55 percent of Americans opposed to allowing transgender women and girls to compete with other women and girls in high school sports and 58 percent opposed to it for college and professional sports. About 3 in 10 Americans said transgender women and girls should be allowed to compete at each of those levels, whilean additional 15 percent have no opinion.

64 thoughts on “David French of the NYT on Title IX and women’s sports

  1. Just like the differently-abled can find appropriate leagues for whatever athletics they pursue, then the separate league for trans is entirely consistent with how this problem is solved already, and has been satisfactory to all, AFAIK.

    1. But TP, the difference is that disabled athletes are perfectly willing to compete in a disabled category, (so the fully able competitors don’t trip over their wheelchairs as they jump for rebounds). Men who identify as women don’t want to be relegated to a freak-show category of trans athletes. They want to compete against the women because all of them can can beat all the women. There’s no risk of losing, the way there is in racing against other men. And if it’s true, as the apologists say, that there only a tiny number of trans athletes anyway, who will bother covering or sponsoring an event that has such a small field of what are in reality a group of decidedly mediocre men? Who is going to watch the 250th fastest man race the 251st fastest for the trans title? Much more exciting, and misogynistically history-making, to watch each of them crush six women in each of two separate races.

      If a trans-ID man wants to compete, he should identity as a man on race day and run against other men. Trouble is, he won’t even make the qualifying time for anything but a mass-participation citizen’s event like some marathons and 10k’s.

      1. Yep yep and yep. Somehow it is not elective surgery, it is not doping, …

        How about if it was a religious lifestyle choice – which isn’t entirely clear to me that it isn’t – does that get a waiver?

        So if I wanted to compete so badly, I’d just pick the right league. But clearly, something doesn’t add up.

        1. Maybe you just don’t understand cheating. Some people don’t, you know. They get armed robbery but embezzlement just goes over their heads. I don’t mean they condone cheating, far from it. They just don’t get why people do it.

          What male trans athletes are doing is exploiting a defect in the rules about what a woman is. Normally the guardians of the sport would introduce a rule change to prevent this unethical conduct (and some guardians are starting to, where the law doesn’t impede them.). It would no longer be just unethical for a man to compete as a woman: it would be against the rules and cheaters would be disqualified, possibly banned as with doping.

          Before 1895, the infielders in baseball could “fail” to catch a pop fly and get an easy double play if there were runners on first and second (or more). Since this made a travesty of the game, the sport created the infield fly rule where the batter will be called out even if the fielder honestly fails to catch it. The rule change makes the game fairer just because it removes an incentive for trickery. It doesn’t matter if the public doesn’t understand why the rule is necessary or “fair.” The only important thing is that the batter is out.

          The rules on women’s sport need simply say that no man can compete as a woman, and that trans identity does not count in what a woman is. There will need to be some adjudication of claims by a competitor that the woman in Lane 5 looks awfully like a man, because if you say “only women can compete” there will be transwomen who will try to pass.

          1. I follow you – my approach was building the best defense, of course – that’d be some pathological cheating to go through such measures…

            … and good example – that rule is singular – now I’m thinking about baseball!

      2. Do you have any evidence to support your contention that men who identify as women wish to compete in women’s event ‘because all of them can beat all the women’? It seems to me unlikely that this is the case and that the actual reason is more likely because they wish their self identification as women to be accepted and recognised, without exceptions, in every facet of their lives whether it be the changing rooms they use or the events they participate in. I’d guess that a very substantial majority of males who identify as female don’t participate in competitive sport at all but they still insist on being treated entirely as the gender they identify as so gaining a sporting advantage doesn’t seem likely to be a major motive.
        There are undoubtedly issues of fairness to be considered in deciding whether or not trans women should compete in women’s sports events but gratuitously slurring such people as cheats whose only motive is to improve their chances of winning sports medals doesn’t seem a necessary or helpful contribution to that debate.

        1. Suit yourself. But they still shouldn’t compete in women’s events, regardless of their sincerity. It’s not the job of women’s sport to do their psychological gender work for them, any more than women in prisons should have to take on the risks of affirming male prisoners ‘ fantasies. The women think the guys are cheating. Don’t shoot the messenger.

          Sport isn’t about rights. It’s about rules. Amazingly, millions of people play and watch sports for just that reason, to see better competitors beat lesser ones, no whining about equity. If the rules are written in such as way as to allow cheating, people will cheat. Allowing men who self-declare as women to compete in women’s events will mean some do. That undermines the sport and cheapens it to just another equity festival. If white sprinters got a 10-m head start over black sprinters, some black sprinters would “identify” as white to get the 10 metres for themselves. Why wouldn’t they?

          If trans-ID male athletes are sincere and not just trying to score easy victories over women, they will surely accept Thyroid Planet’s proposal to compete in their own trans-gender category and leave the women alone.

          I think the reason we are seeing more and more men competing as women is that, sincere or not, most such men regarded it as taboo to walk into a women’s locker room, suit up in a woman’s bathing suit and take a position at the blocks in a high-stakes race against appalled women. “Any second someone’s surely going to stop me.” But once the first guy gets away with it, “makes history”, it’s not taboo anymore. This is especially since testosterone levels were abandoned as a criterion because they have little impact on adult men who’ve been through puberty. Butbit now means that men can declare as women without any transitioning at all. Because that invites cheating, I assume that they are cheating.

          As I referred to in baseball’s infield fly rule, if the existing rules allow trickery, the rules have to be changed. The intent of the infielder doesn’t matter as to whether he deliberately or accidentally missed the catch on the pop fly. Baseball solved the “intent to cheat” problem by ruling the batter out if an infielder could have caught it.

          1. “If trans-ID male athletes are sincere and not just trying to score easy victories over women, they will surely accept Thyroid Planet’s proposal to compete in their own trans-gender category and leave the women alone.”

            Well no, not necessarily. If their insistence is that they should be treated in every respect as the gender they identify as, then to compete in a separate trans category would be inconsistent with that so they might well, in all sincerity, resist such a proposal.

            I understand that the sincerity of their motives does not have a bearing on whether it is fair or not (or safe in some instances) for athletes who have been through male puberty to compete in female sports events. Nevertheless, to suggest that trans athletes are simply cheats looking to score easy victories they couldn’t hope for in their “correct” category seems to me to be both unhelpful and gratuitously nasty.

          2. Nasty? Well, I say that if a man knows that his history of male puberty gives him an advantage over women (which he surely ought to know) and he persists in his efforts to be allowed to compete against them, then he is trying to be allowed to cheat. If the rules haven’t caught up with the fact of this advantage—they haven’t in Connecticut—and don’t bar him from competing against women, it is still unethical and unsportsmanlike for him to exploit that rule and enter the race. No matter how passionately he feels he ought to be able to live fully in his identified gender, he shouldn’t be racing against women. After all, if he really believes he’s a woman, where did that powerful male body come from? Years of doping?

            I think French is being disingenuous and too indulgent of trans-gender male athletes when he says the “girls” in the Connecticut case didn’t do anything wrong. They weren’t girls. They were post-pubertal males, i.e., men, who may not have been all that fast but were fast enough to beat the high school women plaintiffs at least some of the time. They ought not to have been racing at all. They ought to have said to one another, “No, this isn’t right. Let the girls race without us and spare the country this foolish court case.” That they raced anyway is cheating.

            Yes, I am doing my little bit to poison public opinion against men, no matter what they believe they are, from stealing competitions from women. No matter how sincere they are as “transwomen”, they are fakes and frauds as athletes. They should be ashamed of themselves.

          3. I agree with Leslie here, and I have some relevant experience in this area, as although I’m not female, I was an elite athlete as a younger man. I wrote about this in another comment here a couple of years ago, and I would urge anyone who is on the fence on this topic to read it: Wetherjeff comment trans men in women’s sport Nov 20th 2020.

            The commitment and single-mindedness required to do well in elite sport is ridiculous. One must dedicate years of life to gruelling training and maintain extreme levels of sacrifice and a constant mental focus on one’s goals. Very few people are able to maintain this level of dedication for long enough to succeed, but you can be sure that any female at the top of her sport has put that work in. She has to be exceptional to compete at the top level; she deserves a fair shot and denying her that opportunity is cruel, immoral and deeply unfair.

            The unavoidable reality here is that men have huge advantages in almost all sports. Now, this doesn’t mean that all men will beat all women in a particular event. However, it does mean that any man who is remotely well trained at that level of competition will beat the most exceptional female competitor every time.

            I wouldn’t go so far as to say that all men who enter women’s events do so just to get an unfair advantage, although many undoubtedly do. However, I’m certain that all men who enter competitive events are very familiar with the advantages they have over women competitors, and fully aware of the unfairness of the situation. They also know how negatively this may affect female competitors who have dedicated their life to sport, only to be beaten by a guy who turned up at the last minute.

            Any guy who is aware of these issues, yet still competes against women, is cold-hearted, cynical and deliberately cruel. He’s stealing something from those women that they have spent years of their lives working towards. It’s truly awful, and for the wokesters to claim that this is about equality is not only wrong, it’s utterly perverse.

            I think I explained the injustice and unfairness better in my previous comment, so readers might want to check that out too.

          4. A short note, for the record :

            “Allowing men who self-declare as women to compete in women’s events will mean some do.”

            I am pretty sure this would be an act of queering on the part of the men. Yes, that is A Thing – queering.

            Pretty much a protest, as I see it, but not like the good old-fashioned protests.

      3. OK, I noticed this came up :

        “They want to compete against the women because all of them can can beat all the women. ”

        Recall the CNN article on Lia Thomas, in which it is pointed out that Lia’s “time was the fastest of the NCAA season, but well off the NCAA record of 4:24.06, held by 10-time Olympic medalist Katie Ledecky.”

        So wow, CNN is right – Lia ain’t no Ledecky. What a surprise. And counter to Leslie’s assertion. But what that is all supposed to mean is unclear.


  2. we’re talking about trans women here as the problem doesn’t arise in the other direction
    This is true provided that the female-to-male competitor doesn’t violate the rules against the use of testosterone, which is a banned substance.

  3. To be clear, the question was not whether the transgender girls did anything wrong — Certainly they did nothing wrong in the strict sense of having violated the rules of the game, but it seems to me there is a moral wrongness in choosing to compete when they certainly knew they had an unfair advantage. I say they did something wrong.

    1. Me too. When I first contemplated a trans woman competing against biological women in sports l thought, no one would do that. They’d know better, that it’s unfair.

      That there’s actually a demand for it must be because they’ve drunk the kool-aid – they believe they’re equivalent. I wonder if the Māori could shed any light on the issue.

  4. Commenters in The NY Times were very strongly supportive of French’s basic argument and very strongly against allowing trans women athletes to compete in women’s sports. And commenters worried that support in the Democratic Party for expanding the rights of trans women where there is conflict with the rights of natal women could seriously damage the Democrats in upcoming elections.

    1. So it should seriously damage Democratic expectations in upcoming elections. Any politician who is in favour of giving advantage to trans women athletes to compete in women’s sports doesn’t deserve to represent anyone.

    2. The Democrats are doing their best to lose the next election with loony policies on trans issues while the Republicans are doing their best to lose the next election with loony policies on abortion.

  5. Is there really an exponential rise of transgender people or an exponential rise of male to female transition?
    Women and girls are being treated unfairly because of a relatively small minority of the overall population with too much to say and what precisely is their agenda?
    Example after example reveals occasions where male to female transgender athletes are winning but compared to competition with male athletes in the same sport are or I should say would be miserable failures. A recent cycling event, unfortunately I cannot recall where showed that the transgender winner who was quite some minutes ahead of his female “second” was shown to have been 65 minutes behind the leader in the same race when competing with male cyclists.
    Anyone who labels this fact transphobic needs a short sharp dose of reality and be compelled to participate in the “male” category sport.
    Why is it always failed men? That’s me now I suppose, “ transphobic” but the fact is woman to men incidents are very few and far between.
    If the US law is changed to “advantage” transgender male to females in sport then “The Law is an Ass” and is definitely not a gentleman.
    I rowed fours and eights in the RAF and we had male and female events over the same course, same regatta and the male crews were always way ahead, its biology!

  6. And I know exactly how the activists will react to all the carefully tendered and objectively discussed data and graphs shown in the Duke Law School report: Its a product from a white, cis-male, and very conservative source. So automatic disqualification.

  7. The trans activists in the Biden administration, and in our contemporary trans-ACLU, are
    trying to endow Title IX with the holy authority that the 2nd amendment is accorded by the gun lobby, or the Treaty of Waitangi by Matauranga Maori hustlers down under. The ancestor of this trend was the 1633 trial of one Professor Galilei. That defendant was found guilty of defending views that had been declared contrary to Holy Scripture, and sentenced to an early form of cancellation.

    The matter of transgender “identity”, in which the woke faithful have gone far beyond simple Biology and common observation, is certainly providing grist for the Republican mill. I wonder whether this particular wokely over-reach might be the reason that the woke tide is at last turning more generally, if it is.

  8. One touchstone to determine an extreme gender activist is to ask them if Trans Women are women, full stop, get over it.

    If this is the case, then they should not only be allowed to compete against “cis” women in sports, but it would not matter if they all retained their natural “woman’s” high testosterone levels and swept every trophy across the board. Top athletes are often born with physical advantages. Being lucky in this area will help compensate their disadvantages in other areas. Women are women are women.

    And if that includes the “trans” type of women then I predict the obviously silly and false arguments for “transwomen have no real advantage in women’s sports” will be dropped. They will gradually be replaced by the far simpler “sure they do — so what?” when sex is replaced by “gender identity” in law. It won’t matter what the “bigoted” general public thinks if they can be politically forced to acquiesce and adapt.

    Trans women should have equal rights and treatment in nearly all areas, except for those few places where the difference between biological and trans women really matter.Those include, beyond athletics, rape counseling, shelters for abused women, and women’s prisons.

    So when do women’s protests about their privacy, dignity, safety, and rights not really matter? Restrooms? Changing rooms? What do we have to give up for the comfort and convenience of males who have a “ deeply felt, inherent sense” of belonging to a sex category which isn’t their own?

    I think equal rights and treatment here involve basic human rights of non discrimination in jobs, housing, and service, and shouldn’t extend to single-sex spaces.

    1. I have seen the sort of thing you describe argued for several years now. The argument is that some men like Michael Phelps (it’s always Michael Phelps) have bodies that are particularly exceptional for the sport they compete in. But no one complains that such a natural advantage is unfair to the other men competing against him. Therefore, if you have no problem with exceptional men dominating a sport, you can’t complain when exceptional “women” do the same.

      1. That is related to about the best argument I’ve heard from the trans activist side. This was from an NPR interview with a celebrity (I can’t remember if they were trans or really seriously into drag), but she is well known and was quite eloquent on the subject. Her argument was that there has always been a lot of un-fairness when it comes to sports. There is being genetically gifted for a particular sport (i.e., M. Phelps), and also there is unfairness in economic circumstance, where those who are brought up in wealthier environments have advantages in training and coaching over those who did not have that situation. Meanwhile, trans people experience a lot of ostracism just in general, and you have to consider their rates of depression, suicide, and misery. But there is this one area where a fraction of them might excel.
        So that argument is out there, but I haven’t heard it used much by the trans activists. But is should be brought up, weighed, and addressed.

        1. Just what we need — more discrimination! That’ll solve it!

          Meanwhile, trans people experience a lot of ostracism just in general, and you have to consider their rates of depression, suicide, and misery.

          But did these emotional problems arise as a consequence of being trans, or did they have these emotional problems in the first place, and believed that trying the opposite gender would alleviate them?

          1. Well stated!
            I was just about to say something similar or perhaps that Mark was not being really serious, you beat me to it.

          2. There may be cases where people claim to be trans as a way of escaping other problems. But I’ve never heard that from trans people. All I’ve ever heard was that they knew they were different – that they were in the wrong body – from very early childhood before they could be depressed or even know what it all meant. So I reject the idea that they were depressed first and trans later in most cases.

    2. Your first premise is incorrect trans women are men. It is their feeling that they are women …not the reality.

      So we now have nothing to get over 😇

      1. To be a bit pedantic, men and women are gender identities, and trans people identify their gender to be the opposite of what their anatomy is. Trans women are women bc they say so (and I accept that claim bc their gender identity is very real to them, and it’s none of my beeswax to say otherwise). But male and female are biological sexes — at least those terms are supposed to be reserved that way. So trans women are biological males, technically, despite what they may claim.

        1. Exactly. Still men. The hyperbolic language linguistic gymnastic tango between gender and sex is elementary obsfucation. Muddy waters never show the sandy bottom.

        2. If men and women are gender identities, and male and female are sexes, then it ought to be as easy to list elements which separate the gender identities as it is to list elements which separate the sexes.

          For example, in sex, one way males differ from females is that the former cannot produce eggs, and the latter cannot produce sperm.

          Now, in gender identity, what is a way men differ from women?

          1. That’s why sex matters and gender is ambiguous When a man identifies as a woman, generally he adopts stereotypical behavior patterns.

      2. Sastra doesn’t typically respond, Kelcey. Taking a liberty, I think she was quoting a slogan often used by radical trans activists that transwomen are women. I don’t think she was endorsing it, rather she was putting it up as an example of what the extremists believe, that makes them so hard to reason with.

        1. I responded regularly when WordPress had the little indicator light at the top of the page when someone had answered something I wrote. Alas, it is gone.

          I didn’t respond this time because I assumed Kelsey knew that “my” first premise was a typical talking point of the Other Side.

          1. OK, sorry, Sastra. I apologize for speaking over you. I thought Kelcey had misinterpreted you.

    3. Yes, I noticed the single-sex spaces that ordinary women use, like change rooms and public bathrooms got dropped off the list of the “few places that really matter.” Don’t concede this.

      1. Indeed!
        Plus these are not the “few places that really matter” they are fundamentally the most places that really matter, plus others.

    4. “One touchstone to determine an extreme gender activist is to ask them if Trans Women are women, full stop, get over it. “

      Yes! I’ve brought that question to people sympathetic to the Trans activists for the same reason.

      The traditional definition of Woman (cited in dictionary after dictionary) is an “Adult Female.” Well..is a woman female or not? But then, does “female” relate to biological sex or not? And down the rabbit hole we go.

      My heart goes out to trans athletes, given they are in such a tough position. They love their sport. They want to compete against the best like any athlete. It would be terribly hard to give that up in becoming trans. Plus I personally have some of my closest family in the LGBTQ category, and I care about the well being of such traditionally marginalized people.

      But for the transactivists position to be acceptable at the very least it has to be coherent. And not make false claims along the way.

      I get how we are led to this stand off: a trans woman deeply feels she is a “woman.” And if I felt that way I doubt I’d be satisfied merely with people agreeing to use my preferred pronoun, with a sort of wink and nod “sure, I’ll go along with your delusion if it will stop you from being upset.” No, if I REALLY think I’m a woman, I’d want to be ACCEPTED as a woman. The ideal then is to get society to ACCEPT the claims I Am A Woman, full stop, no fingers-crossed-behind-their-backs. Get on board with my belief about myself. But then, since “woman” has been so tied to biological sex, and especially a notion of biological sex that the transwoman will never be able to transcend (a body designed by evolution to produce large gametes) well then sex itself becomes the battle ground as well. The traditional line between male/female has to be contested. Ideology/feelings driving the project, hence dubious truth claims, dubious science. And …here we are.

      I pay some attention to the issue, always hoping to avoid adopting an extreme opinion.
      But I gave Matt Walsh’s movie What Is A Woman a watch (since it popped up for free on Twitter) and of course it was designed to make the case the Trans agenda was all hot air. Watch all these trans allies and activists waffle when simply asked “what is a woman.” It was very effective.

      But seeking balance I looked to articles by trans activists, as well as discussions on some of the Trans reddit forums, trying to answer the challenge What Is A Woman.

      And it was EXACTLY of the character one finds in Walsh’s movie. Non-answers that amounted to “It’s Just How Someone Identifies!” “Just An Internal Feeling!” I was left no wiser than after watching Walsh’s movie! It wasn’t a strawman!

      But this is the corner they seem to have backed themselves in to. Any attempt to detail what it means to “feel like a woman” inevitably sounds like a bunch of sexist tropes. So to ensure they aren’t falling in those lines, they open it up to say “but of course someone identifying as a woman doesn’t have to have any of those traditional gender orientations…” and so “What Is A Woman” is left completely undefined, without content.

      And they complain that the public isn’t just falling in line to accept an agenda that can’t be coherently defined???

      (Sorry for the length Prof CC)

      1. “My heart goes out to trans athletes, given they are in such a tough position. They love their sport. They want to compete against the best like any athlete.”
        No, and that is precisely the problem. Many of the trans-women athletes that are now in the news did compete against “the best” (other males) and came up short. So then they switched to competing against females, and boom! World records shattered!
        If they just wanted to compete for the sake of competition, let them all join the men’s division, and call it “open”. (There are some ethical issues with letting females compete against males in combat sports and other injury-prone disciplines, but we should let the regulatory bodies sort that out.)

    5. ‘So when do women’s protests about their privacy, dignity, safety, and rights not really matter? Restrooms? Changing rooms? What do we have to give up for the comfort and convenience of males who have a “ deeply felt, inherent sense” of belonging to a sex category which isn’t their own?’

      Would your opinion on this change at all if you became convinced there was strong evidence that in at least some significant fraction of trans people, their sense of gender identity was caused by a developmental abnormality that caused their brain to develop in ways much more typical of the sex they identify as than as the sex indicated by chromosomes, genitals and other non-brain secondary sex characteristics? In this case trans identity could be seen as a special type of biological intersex condition. And the trans person’s “deeply felt, inherent sense” of belonging to a different gender would seem akin to the case of David Reimer, who in the 1960s had a horribly botched circumcision as a baby so his doctor recommended reconstructing his genitals as a vagina and raising him as a girl (including regular hormone injections whose purpose wasn’t explained to him), but despite never being told this he developed a strong sense he was really a boy and “transitioned” to one as a teenager, seemingly showing the importance of innate brain structure in gender identity.

      Even if this were true there’d be a reasonable case for saying an adult trans woman whose secondary sex characteristics are male-typical (bone structure, muscle density etc.) should not compete in womens’ sports, but would it change your view of other issues like restrooms and changing rooms?

  9. I think there are some challenging issues here. When there are mean differences in athletic ability between sexes, we separate the sexes, in order to be fair to both sexes. What if this reasoning were applied to other classifications of people, when there are mean differences in ability between groups? We do this in some sports, like boxing and wrestling, where we restrict competition by defining weight classes. But this could go on ad infinitum. Should we have separate competitions for people with long versus short legs, because there is a mean difference in racing ability between these groups? Fat versus skinny? This could go on forever. I don’t know the answer, I’m just suggesting that our arguments are incomplete.

    1. I suppose this is one aspect of our host’s recent Skeptical Inquirer article about biological reality vs. ideological falsehoods.

      The buck stops when it’s a doe, and vice versa.

    2. I am sorry but I do not agree with you.
      The situation is quite clear, biological males after puberty have an obvious advantage over
      females in female sports.
      weight classification in boxing etc is between the individual sex, female boxers and male boxers.
      The arguments are complete, introducing other differences based on skeletal differences is not relevant to this subject.Obese male track athletes do not compete against “fit” male athletes any more than a woman in advanced pregnancy would consider competing at all.

      1. I agree with you about the unfair advantage, but you haven’t explained why you privilege fairness between males and females but not between long legged persons and short-legged persons.

        1. In other words, why promote fairness between sexes but not fairness between other genetically- or environmentally-distinguishable groups?

          It seems like the right thing to do, but why exactly?

          1. Simply utilitarian, Lou: You won’t have women’s sports if you don’t. All the top competitors in women’s divisions will be mediocre men. Girls will know this and won’t take up sport because they’ll know they’ll never win or even seriously contend. Once they advance far enough up the pyramid, a man will show up and beat them all.

            For some observers this doesn’t matter. Society won’t collapse without female athletes; compared to male athletes they’re all
            weaker and slower anyway. So what if there are no women competing in women’s sport as long as trans people win trophies competing against one another? Payback for society being so mean to them. But what the trans people don’t realize is that the sporting establishment won’t support two divisions both populated by men: an elite division and a mediocre division (formerly called “women’s“). And that will be the end of sport for trans people, too, not just for women..

            This is exactly what the “woke virus” does. It infects institutions, captures them to make nothing but wokeness, then destroys them as it finds something else to infect.

          2. Very true women’s sports are not the safe space or refuge for mediocre male athletes.

        2. Lou Jost
          If I am to take this seriously which I suspect it isn’t .
          Consider the following.
          Children at school embarking on their first real exposure to competitive sporting activities, track event example 100 mtrs sprint.
          Billy has really long legs and can run really fast.
          Johnny has short legs and cannot run very fast.
          Johnny realises very quickly in his sporting career that he is totally unsuited to be a short distance olympic sprinter, but may however excel in long distance cross country events where stamina beats intense energy bursts.
          Result, natural selection and elimination, called growing up and recognising your limitations and other excellence.
          No preferential treatment given or required. That’s life!
          Nothing to do whatsoever with “transexual gender activism”and agenda arising thereof.

          1. Or Johnny could join a league of short-legged children and compete fairly with his peers, to try to be the best he can at sprinting (perhaps his favorite sport) given his body type.

            By the way, I am serious. I don’t know the right answer. I am just raising a philosophical question, which may clarify our hidden assumptions on the subject.

          2. If Johnny’s parents and the parents of other short-legged kids want to form their own track club restricted to kids with femurs less than x cm, nothing is stopping them. Just because the government or the school district doesn’t currently fund and organize such a club doesn’t mean volunteers can’t. If there is interest and the kids have a good time, the club will thrive and grow into a real league. If it seems pointless and the kids lose interest it’ll wither and die. Pretty much all sport below the elite college level is organized by unpaid volunteers who wonder every game if what they’re doing has value. The club sets its own rules (including femur length) that the competitors acknowledge to be fair. As with the infield fly rule, it doesn’t matter if the politicians understand it.

            So yes, Johnny could run in a league organized just for kids like him. All his parents have to do is fill out some forms and organize one. Then wait for kids to sign up to run.

          3. Of course they can. So could biological women. Why should the government privilege one class of biological differences and not the other classes? That is my question, which still has not been answered.

          4. The government doesn’t privilege one class (female) of biological differences, Lou. It’s the sporting bodies themselves acting in their legitimate scope of rule-setting who determine eligibility. Just as a collegiate basketball league requires players to be registered students (and not ringers from town), the women’s league also excludes men because otherwise teams would start five men for maximum advantage. The reason for not allowing an all-male starting five is just because then it wouldn’t be women’s basketball. It would be men-who-couldn’t-make-the-varsity-men’s-team basketball, with a couple of women decorating the bench.

            The government doesn’t privilege any of this. If it was trying to wipe out sex discrimination as such, it would rule it illegal for women’s leagues to exclude men. It’s not doing that. It’s saying that the league is perfectly within its historical rights to allow only women and doesn’t violate any rule. But it’s threatening to demand that those women’s leagues accept as women athletes who clearly aren’t. It would be like the short-legged sprinters club being made to allow a long-legged kid to race just because he identified as short (and was too fat to have a chance against the tall boys.). “Put that tape measure away! How dare you?”

          5. The issue of self-identification is a different issue from the one I am discussing, and not relevant to my point. Even assuming that people are classified objectively, there is still a difference between the way we treat unfairness due to sex and unfairness due to other biological factors. Why?

            Da Roolz say I should stop here, especially since no one seems to really my question..

          6. I answered your question, Lou. You just don’t like the answer: it’s because we choose on utilitarian grounds to do so. There is a “market” (not necessarily a professional, money-organized market) for sport restricted to women. It just feels right and makes sense to the participants. It doesn’t have to make sense to non-participants. You can say that doesn’t answer your question but markets don’t care: they only have to convince the participants in the market, who indicate acceptance by playing, not outsiders who aren’t players.

            You asked up top, Why do we make short-legged sprinters run against (and usually lose to) long-legged sprinters, but we don’t make women run or swim against (and lose to) men? The answer is that we don’t care if short-legged sprinters never win their races—they can go do something else— but we do care if women never win. So we exclude the men. Why do we care? We just do, as indicated by the popularity of women’s sport with athletes and fans (and sponsors.)

            As a non-participant observer, you could take the view that sex-segregated sport should be banned for discrimination on sex. I don’t hear you saying that, though. You just don’t see why we protect women by excluding men. The only answer is that we do it because we (especially women) want to and are permitted to. Excluded men can go race somewhere else. If they can’t win anything, well, neither could I.

            And I’ll submit to Da Roolz here.

          7. This is more a response to Lou, but I wanted to reply with reference to Leslie’s point about male/female being chosen on utilitarian grounds. I think Leslie has a good point here, because we have to differentiate between classes of competitors using something. If we didn’t we would have very few sports events to watch and the vast, vast majority of even the most talented and hard working athletes would never get near wining anything.

            If we accept that classifications / categories are required in sport (and I think most reasonable people do), then we need a way of doing it. We could look at leg length for one event, then quadriceps power for another, and VO2 max for another. But doing so would be messy, arbitrary and neither sensible nor fair. Placing a runner in a higher VO2 max category makes little sense because that is neither a determining factor in performance, nor is it a readily understood or easily identifiable characteristic. Therefore, if we split competitors on this basis, it would be unfair and unpopular with the public.

            The categories that we do use to separate competitors are used because 1) they work, 2) they are based on sound reasoning in relation to the advantage offered by each category, and 3) fans / audiences and competitors understand the categories and why they are used. The three most widely used and accepted classification systems are sex, weight (in combat and other sports where it is relevant), and age.

            As mentioned earlier, VO2 max is not a good indicator of performance in athletes trained to a similar competitive level. However, in similarly trained athletes the three categorising systems are closely indicative of performance:

            1) all men trained to a certain level will beat all women trained to that level
            2) Virtually all equally trained boxers will lose to their peers in weight categories above and win against those weighing below
            3) Virtually all equally trained 16 & 17 year olds will be beaten by virtually all equally trained adults aged 18+

            I recall that as a 16 year old athlete I would be terrified of competing with 18+ yr olds as they would beat me emphatically every time!

            There is ongoing, extensive and exhausting attention being given to the ‘inequalities’ associated with sex based competition categories. Yet there is no clamour for ripping up the rule books on using age and weight as differentiators for the various event categories. Why the discrepancy between sex based ID (which is terribly unjust) and weight or age based ID (which must therefore be completely fair?)

            My head hurts, I need to go lie down!

      2. But to continue with Lou’s point, there is a wide range of within-sex difference in terms of genetic gifts. A male does not automatically win against a female every time. I happen to agree with the argument that we should generally separate the sexes in sports, since it’s probably the simplest way to separate according to ability. And it fits in with what we’ve always done so there is the most harmony. But it isn’t an entirely perfect and fair system even so.

    3. I’d guess it would probably be possible in principle to find enough non-sex-specific variables (not just overall weight but also things like muscle density, lung capacity, relative sizes of different bones, etc.) so that one could use them to create a composite score for a person’s potential at a given sport, and men and women with similar scores would indeed be competitive with the men having no significant advantage. In an ideal world we might do this to create something equivalent to weight classes in boxing, and all sports could be gender-neutral within a given class. But for now this probably isn’t practical because it’d require expensive medical tests (MRIs etc.) on every athlete.

  10. Renee Richards transitioned to female at around 40 years old. She played on the women’s tennis circuit with modest success; her highest ranking was 20, when she was around 45. She played until she was 47. My recollection is that Billie Jean King and others supported her; I wonder how they might have felt if she had challenged for number 1. I read recently (and found in Wikipedia) that she has come “to believe her past as a man provided her with advantages over her competitors, saying ‘Having lived for the past 30 years, 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. And so I’ve reconsidered my opinion.'”

  11. We’ll see what happens in the courts. Unfortunately, it may take a tragedy to get people to understand the risk and adopt some restrictions. When a trans woman competes on a women’s basketball team and causes a horrible injury, or death, to a smaller, lighter teammate or opponent, people will start paying attention. It’s not just unfair, it can also be dangerous.

  12. Interestingly, this controversy hinges on individuals’ intentions, which are in the final analysis unknowable. Take the related case of Frank Abagnale Jr. (see Spielberg’s film about him “Catch Me If You Can”). Mr. Abagnale passed as, inter alia a policeman, an airline pilot, a hospital physician, and an assistant attorney general. If he had claimed a ‘deeply felt, inherent sense’ of belonging to each of these categories at each stage, would that require society to honor each claim? As it was, Mr. Abagnale admitted being a con-man—but this was way back in the 1970s, before “identity” went Big Time. Come to think of it, can we trust his later admission that he was just pretending?

  13. How about we only have curling from now on — though I’m open to other sexless/genderless sports. Maybe there is a worldwide downside to hypercompetitiveness, male or female or whatever. Curling and darts and pool/billiards and (ick) cornhole … must be plenty of nice sports like that to keep people busy. Forget the insanity of modern tennis and volleyball et al.

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