Trevor Noah discusses transexual women in sports with trans athlete Veronica Ivy

July 3, 2022 • 1:00 pm

Here’s a 13½-minute discussion between Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show, and Veronica Ivy, a transwoman who won championships in cycling in women’s senior leagues. Wikipedia says this:

In 2018, she became the first transgender world track cycling champion by placing first at the UCI Women’s Masters Track World Championship for the women’s 35–44 age bracket. . . . In an October 2019 time trial, Ivy broke the record for the 200-meter sprint for females aged 34–39.

She’s received death threats for this, which is absolutely unconscionable. Nobody should be threatened for competing when they’re allowed to. This is a philosophical and practical issue, bearing on questions of fairness, but not an issue that should be used to attack trans people. But as Ivy argues below, even raising these issues is “transphobic”.

Ivy was a tenured professor at the specializing in feminism and feminist philosophy at the College of Charleston, but resigned last year. As you see below, she is quite articulate and makes her points well, even though I think every one of her arguments is either misguided or wrong.

I haven’t listened to Trevor Noah much, as I don’t get cable, but from what I’ve heard from him I find him not nearly as funny as his predecessor Jon. Stewart. Noah has also seemed to me overly woke.  One would think, then, that he would bow to Ivy’s claims that she is a woman in every sense and has no advantage in athletics over biological or “cis” women. But though he’s very calm and a bit timid or even apologetic, Noah does wind up asking Ivy the hard questions that we’ve discussed here. So kudos to him: he does bring out Ivy’s philosophy well by asking questions amiably.

Most people seem to agree with me that existing data show that once you go through male puberty, you acquire aspects of bone structure, physiology, muscle mass, strength, and size that would give you an athletic advantage over biological women. And those advantages don’t go away, even with subsequent therapy to reduce testosterone level. Thus, there’s a permanent and what I’d consider an unfair athletic advantage to transwomen competing against cis women.  (Ivy herself transitioned well after puberty, when she was getting her Ph.D.)

The solution? I’m not sure, but various people and organizations have suggested allowing all trans people to participate only in men’s sports, creating a third grouping for those who don’t fit into the classical two, or trying to find a way to create a “level playing field” for trans women via medical intervention (the latter, though seems nearly insuperable).

But Ivy doesn’t care much about bodily advantages. First, she claims there is no advantage of trans women because the variation in testosterone level within a sex is not correlated with athletic performance within that sex. That may be true, but doesn’t address the issue of the huge difference in testosterone level between cis men and cis women: there is almost no overlap. Moreover, it’s not testosterone levels themselves that are the best index of athletic potential (that’s how they used to be used in the Olympics), but the effects of testosterone on the body as one goes through puberty. She briefly alludes to this, but her view seems to be that regardless of any hormonal supplementation or medical intervention, anybody who considers herself a woman should be allowed to compete in women’s athletics. Period.

This is how she puts it:

“It all boils down to, do you actually think that trans women and intersex women are real women and are really female, or not? And if you do, it’s very simple: Just stop policing who counts as a real woman.”

. . . . “It all boils down to: ‘Do you actually think that transwomen and intersex women are real women and are really female, or not?’ And if you do, it’s very simple: just stop policing who counts as a real women.”

Noah should have asked her whether a medically untreated biological male who identifies as a woman should be allowed to compete against women. I suspect she’d say yes, for she’s absolutely adamant that a transwoman can be considered and treated as a woman in every sense. (My view is “almost every sense”, but there are exceptions dealing with sports, incarceration, and rape counseling).

If you ask these questions, worried about fairness to biological women athletes, you get this answer from Ivy: you’re transphobic. A quote:

“This idea that transwomen are suddenly are going to take over women’s sports is an irrational fear of trans women, which is the  dictionary definition of ‘transphobia.'”

But it’s not fear; it’s concern for “fairness.” Even trans women have argued that participation in women’s sports by people like Ivy is unfair to biological women.

Another talking point of Ivy’s is that “the practice of sport is a human right” and therefore denying her that practice is a violation of her rights. But she could compete against biological men or in a third category, and she would still be “practicing sport”. Of course there are problems of stigmatization if you form “other” leagues, but I believe fairness dictates a solution that doesn’t involve trans women who have gone through male puberty competing with biological females.

I normally would have more to say, but I’m still weirded out from duck rescue and you can listen for yourself. In my view, nearly everything that Ivy says below is debatable, misleading, or flat wrong. But give her a listen.

h/t: José

FINA, the governing body of international swimming and water sports, largely bans transgender women from competing in “elite” events

June 20, 2022 • 10:45 am

Those of us who have questioned the fairness to biological women of allowing transgender women to compete against cisgender women in sports have been tarred with the adjective “transphobe”.  That’s palpably unfair, but such slurs are often used to shut down debate, as they have been in this case.

I wonder, then, what trans activists will call this new decision of FINA, the body governing international competition in water sports like swimming, water polo, and diving. (“FINA” stands for Fédération Internationale de Natation, or “the international swimming foundation”.)

The organization, advised by a board that included a “science group”, an “athlete group,” and a “legal and human rights group”, including transgender swimmers, has decided largely against allowing transgender women to compete internationally against biological women. (The policy passed with 71% of a vote from 152 members of FINA.) You can see FINA’s eligibility standards here, and read a summary of the conclusions by clicking on the NYT or BBC screenshots below.


From the BBC

The scientific basis of the regulations, which I’ll summarize in a second, came from this bit of the FINA report, which rests on a conclusion that’s pretty firm, and one we’ve discussed before (bolding is mine):

According to the Science Group, if gender-affirming male-to-female transition consistent with the medical standard of care is initiated after the onset of puberty, it will blunt some, but not all, of the effects of testosterone on body structure, muscle function, and other determinants of performance, but there will be persistent legacy effects that will give male-to-female transgender athletes (transgender women) a relative performance advantage over biological females. A biological female athlete cannot overcome that advantage through training or nutrition. Nor can they take additional testosterone to obtain the same advantage, because testosterone is a prohibited substance under the World Anti-Doping Code.

The policy, with the main points below, applies to all international (“elite”) competitions, but is likely to be adopted by other swimming (or athletic) organizations, which until now have had a confusing mixture of eligibility criteria based on levels of circulating testosterone over various periods. (USA Swimming, which regulates American college meets, recently changed its policy, which is still based on testosterone suppression and circulating hormone levels.)

  • Trangender females can compete in “elite” events only if they have either not gone through male puberty or only part of it. As the BBC notes,

“The 34-page policy document says that male-to-female transgender athletes can compete in the women’s category – but only “provided they have not experienced any part of male puberty beyond Tanner Stage 2 [which marks the start of physical development], or before age 12, whichever is later”.

The “Tanner Stages” of puberty, of which there are five, define Stage 2 for women as follows:

Stage 2 marks the beginning of physical development. Hormones begin to send signals throughout the body.


Puberty usually starts between ages 9 and 11. Visible changes include:

In males, puberty usually starts around age 11. The testicles and skin around the testicles (scrotum) begin to get bigger.

Puberty usually starts around age 11. Changes include:

    • Testicles and skin around the testicles (scrotum) begin to get bigger.
    • Early stages of pubic hair form on the base of the penis.

If you’ve gone past Tanner stage 2 by the age of 12, you appear to be ineligible. This would rule out transsexual swimmer Lia Thomas—who went through full male puberty before deciding that her gender was female—from competing in the “women’s” category. In fact, it rules out anybody who’s gone through full male puberty from competing. But the statement about age 12 is a bit ambiguous, and any readers who want to explain it are welcome.

A 46, XY disorders of sexual development (DSD) is a condition in which an individual with one X chromosome and one Y chromosome in each cell, the pattern normally found in males, have genitalia that is not clearly male or female. Infants with this condition tend to have penoscrotal hypospadias, abnormal development of the testes, and reduced to no sperm production. Some individuals with 46, XY DSD have fully to underdeveloped female reproductive organs (e.g., uterus and fallopian tubes), while others do not. People with with 46, XY DSD may be raised as males or females.

The FINA rules for these individuals are that they must compete against biological males. From the FINA report:

All male athletes, including athletes with 46 XY DSD, are eligible to compete in FINA competitions and to set FINA World Records in the men’s category, regardless of their legal gender, gender identity, or gender expression.

  • The rules for female to male transgender athletes are these, which allows them to compete against biological males (from the FINA report):

Female-to-male transgender athletes (transgender men) are eligible to compete in FINA competitions and to set FINA World Records in the men’s category, except that: i. For the disciplines of Water Polo and High Diving, the athlete must provide to FINA an assumption of risk form (in the form set out in Appendix One to this Policy) signed and dated by the athlete or, if the athlete is a minor, by their legal proxy.

The risk form is in the FINA rules; this frees FINA from any responsibility for injury to transsexual males. Presumably Water Polo and High Diving are riskier for those born as biological females. This is the reason why the World Rugby barred all transgender women from playing women’s rugby: they worried that the strength and size advantages of transgender women would be dangerous to biological women in this heavy contact sport.

  • Finally, FINA is working on establishing an “open” category for those who can’t or don’t wish to compete in the “men’s” or “women’s” category. From the FINA guidelines:

Athletes who do not meet the applicable criteria for the men’s category or the women’s category may compete in any open events that FINA may develop in the future. FINA will begin work following the final promulgation of this Policy to determine the feasibility of establishing an open category in Aquatics sport disciplines, in which an athlete who meets the eligibility criteria for that event would be able to compete without regard to their sex, their legal gender, or their gender identity.

My take is that, given the science we know so far about the strength, size, and physiological advantages conferred on men during their puberty, and the evidence that these advantages last several years (and perhaps forever), these rules are fair.  What’s good about them is that they were informed by science, and can thus be modified in light of further scientific findings.

The fact is that although we have pretty good evidence that going through male puberty confers very long lasting athletic advantages, the studies investigating this are few.  All I can say is that the data on puberty itself is better than the data relating testosterone titer to athletic performance, for which we have little evidence, and evidence that’s conflicting and more controversial.

Reading the NYT and BBC article together, I got the distinct impression that the NYT tried to include a lot more criticism of these rules than did the BBC. I may be wrong, but it seems that the NYT went out of their way in a news article to level criticism of the FINA decision. But read both for yourself, for given my animus against the NYT I may be mistaken.

But if you want to see the rules in extenso, without any outside takes from non-FINA people, read the report for yourself. The first 18 pages of the 24-page report will give you the gist.

h/t: Jez, Enrico

Cathy Young on trans athletes

June 15, 2022 • 10:15 am

Reading time:  However long it takes. (I hate these “reading time” indications, since they steer people away from long pieces and individuals vary tremendously in their speed of reading.)


The eminently sensible Cathy Young has a pretty balanced article in Bulwark on trans athletes, dealing with what criteria we should use to allow transexual people to participate in sports that correspond to their own gender; the “fairness” of various solutions; and more of the arguments we’ve hashed out before.

At the end, though, she offers her own solution, but it doesn’t really seem a solution. Beyond that—and I don’t think there is a solution beyond creating “a league of their own”—her piece is quite good. Click below to read (it’s free).

The title refers to a new bill, Ohio’s “Save Women’s Sports Act”, that hasn’t yet been signed into law. Moreover, it’s completely ambiguous since it specifies several criteria for determining an athlete’s sex for sports participation. Young quotes the bill:

If a participant’s sex is disputed, the participant shall establish the participant’s sex by presenting a signed physician’s statement indicating the participant’s sex based upon only the following:

(1) The participant’s internal and external reproductive anatomy;

(2) The participant’s normal endogenously produced levels of testosterone;

(3) An analysis of the participant’s genetic makeup.

Young specifies the obvious flaws with this bill, the most obvious being which criteria should be used? One of them, or all? It’s also not clear whether the doctor has to actually do an exam, or just sign a statement. At any rate, this is a typical fumbling Republican effort to deal with the “biological sex versus gender” issue.

Yet that issue still needs dealing with somehow, though the present paucity of transsexual women athletes may rule out the “league of their own” argument. (The alternative is to allow all transsexual athletes to compete against men.)

You should read the whole article, as I’m not going to reprise facts or arguments that I’ve covered before. There is, however, one fact that I didn’t know (Young’s words are indented):

First, a sports policy group has proposed what Young herself settles on (see later): a “middle way” (my bolding below):

But it is also true that the nominally “conservative” camp on this issue includes many people who can hardly be suspected of fake concern for women’s sports, or of anti-LGBT bias. They include tennis great Martina Navratilova, the first professional athlete to publicly and voluntarily come out as gay—back in 1981, when it cost her a lot of money in endorsements from skittish corporations.

In December 2018, Navratilova rankled many of her fans by tweeting, “You can’t just proclaim yourself a female and be able to compete against women. There must be some standards, and having a penis and competing as a woman would not fit that standard.” After a backlash, she deleted the tweet and issued an apology of sorts: “I am sorry if I said anything anywhere near transphobic—certainly I meant no harm—I will educate myself better on this issue but meantime I will be quiet about it.” But those who expected Navratilova’s self-education to end in falling into lockstep with the progressive party line were disappointed. Less than two months later, she wrote an op-ed for the London Times reaffirming her view that requiring female athletes to “compete against people who, biologically, are still men” was “insane” and “cheating.” Since then, she has spoken out in support of Idaho’s law banning transgender athletes from competing in women’s and girls’ interscholastic sports. And, after President Biden issued an executive order on the day of his inauguration directing his administration to prevent and combat discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in a wide range of areas including school sports, Navratilova said that a “carve-out” was needed on “the higher level of high school, college and [professional]” athletics.

Navratilova is a cofounder of the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group, which opposes both blanket bans and full inclusion when it comes to transgender participation in girls’ and women’s sports, advocating instead a “middle way”: participation but not direct competition in some cases, and competition in others as long as the advantage conferred by male puberty is sufficiently mitigated. The group’s other members and supporters include Title IX pioneer and veteran gender equity advocate Donna Lopiano, civil rights lawyer and three-time Olympian swimming gold medalist Nancy Hogshead-Makar, and groundbreaking transgender tennis player Renée Richards.

The first part, “participation but not direct competition”, simply means a new league. That has its own problems, but the second bit, “direct competition so long as the advantage conferred by male puberty is sufficiently mitigated” is even more problematic.  That’s because we do not know, and may never know, what it would take to “level the playing field” for transwomen athletes. (We’re always talking about transwomen competing against biological women since there seems to be no controversy about transmen being allowed to compete against biological men). How do we monitor an individual so that the athletic advantages of having gone through male puberty—advantages that last at least several years, and probably forever—are eliminated completely? I have no idea, nor does anybody else.

But I’ve said that before. The Biden order about transgender athletes, however, implies that biological men who simply identify as women, without any medical intervention towards transitioning, must be allowed to compete against biological women. That is in fact a widespread law (again, my emphasis)”

While transgender inclusion in women’s sports has been a contentious issue on the professional and Olympic levels, that debate has been shaped by the stringent requirements an athlete must meet to qualify. Scholastic sports are different, especially in K-12. As of 2019, 17 states allowed high school students to participate in sports in accordance with their gender identity without undergoing any medical procedures—surgical or hormonal—related to what is often called “sex reassignment” or “gender reassignment.” One of those states is Connecticut, where Andraya Yearwood won the state championships in the girls’ 100- and 200-meter sprints in 2017 without either puberty blockers or hormone therapy.

I don’t know many people who say that this law is at all fair to biological women athletes, nor does it “level the playing field.” If you’re transitioning and want to use a new gender identity to change sports leagues, surely, the transition must be more than just psychological. If not, then there is no rationale from separating men and women’s sports.

What interests me most is the argument that there’s no need to determine what would “level the playing field” for transwomen because, after all, even among biological women (or among biological men) there are differences in physical and physiological endowment, training, and so on, that give some women (or men) advantages over others of their biological sex. Michael Phelps has big hands and feet, so he can swim faster, and so on. . . .  That was an argument made by Sabine Hossenfelder in her video on the question (link below), and I found it unconvincing.

Here’s how Young answers this argument:

Since the debate has often been framed as one between fairness and inclusiveness, the question of what’s “fair” inevitably comes up. In a recent video examining the issue of trans athletes, German physicist and science commentator Sabine Hossenfelder concludes that “it seems clear from the data that trans women keep an advantage over cis women, even after several years of hormonal therapy” and that “no amount of training that cis women can do is going to make up for male puberty.” In that sense, Hossenfelder admits, trans inclusion “isn’t fair”—but then she pivots to the position that “athletic competition has never been fair in that sense”: Superior athletes, male or female, have genetic advantages over other people, whether it’s the runner’s long legs, the swimmer’s lung capacity, or the basketball player’s height. Others say that the “fairness” question is further diluted by the indisputable fact that young people from affluent families have vastly greater opportunities to benefit from training and coaching.

Such arguments, I suspect, are unlikely to persuade. Most people find it self-evident that the advantage Lia Thomas’s natal sex gives her over biological females is a fundamentally different kind of “unfair” than the advantage Michael Jordan’s genes give him over other males—just as, for instance, they instinctively feel that the advantage conferred by doping is a fundamentally different kind of “unfair” than the advantage conferred by having more time and resources to train. Social justice activists would likely argue that such assumptions arise from precisely the sort of deeply ingrained, culturally constructed biases that we should be encouraged to question: If we feel that the trans advantage is different, they suggest, it’s because, deep down, we don’t believe that transgender women are women. And yet, without getting into the thorny “What is a woman?” question, it is entirely possible to believe that trans identities are real and should be respected and that, in some areas including sports, biological sex matters—especially post-puberty. It’s possible to question cultural biases and still come away with that conclusion.

The philosophical question that needs to be dealt with in depth—and I haven’t seen it dealt with properly—is why a natal advantage in biological sex is fundamentally different from a natal (presumably largely genetic) advantage in future size, strength, and so on. The second set of advantages can be somewhat affected by the environment (training), but so can the gender difference. Yet we feel somehow that normal variation within a biological sex is fine for competition, but not variation due to differences between sexes. All I know is that I’d love to see an article on this, but haven’t, and woe to the person who writes it! (They’d better have the guts of Rebecca Tuvel.)

At the end, Young again proposes that there’s a middle ground, at least for college sports (K-12 sports is more difficult). Bolding again is mine:

Obviously, there is a huge swath of middle ground between “abolish women’s sports” and “assign athletes to teams based on birth sex only.” The USA Swimming guidelines, for instance, seem like a fairly reasonable compromise, at least if the experts on the review panels take seriously the responsibility to screen out transgender athletes who have a clear biological sex-related advantage over biologically female competitors. The NCAA’s decision to phase in those guidelines gradually rather than spring the new rules on Thomas after a season of grueling training is understandable. But the NCAA also created a situation in which the asterisk next to Thomas’s name was undeniable, and that could have been handled far better: for instance, by giving a co-championship to Weyant, the second-place finisher.

And here are the USA Swimming Guidelines:

In January 2022, the NCAA changed its policy so that eligibility rules in each sport were determined by the policies of that sport’s governing body—in Thomas’s case, USA Swimming. But then, in early February, USA Swimming changed its own rules, announcing two new requirements: Athletes applying to compete in women’s events must have at least 36 months of tests showing blood testosterone levels less than 5 nanomoles per liter (average female levels are 0.5-2.4, compared to 10-35 for males) and must provide evidence, to be assessed by a panel of three independent experts, that the effects of male puberty do not give them “a competitive advantage over . . . cisgender female competitors.” This would have likely disqualified Thomas, who had only started hormone therapy in March 2019.

But there is not an iota of evidence that those hormone levels eliminate any competitive advantage of transsexual women resulting from having gone through puberty as a biological man.  Again, we have no data bearing on the issue of “how to eliminate advantages” at all.

And it doesn’t make it any better to stipulate that “three independent experts” have testified that male puberty has not given a transsexual woman a competitive advantage. How could the experts possibly know that without the relevant data? And what would that data actually be?

h/t: Paul

New study shows that testosterone treatment boosts athletic performance in young women

October 20, 2019 • 9:00 am

People have argued for years about whether high testosterone can influence performance via either a supplement or as a natural condition in women athletes. Apparently until now there have been no properly-controlled studies of this issue. Now, however, a group of seven researchers from Sweden’s Karolinksa University Hospital, the Monaco Institute of Sports Medicine, the University Cote d’Azur and the Swedish School of Sports and Health Sciences have conducted a double-blind, randomized, and placebo-using controlled study on 48 young women showing that higher testosterone improves some (but not all) measurements of performance, but does increase the authors’ main index of performance: running time to exhaustion. Higher testosterone achieved by body creams also significantly increase body mass.

You can access the study, published in British Journal of Sports Medicine, by clicking on the link below, or going to the pdf here.  The reference is at the bottom.

As the authors note, “This study is the first randomised, placebo controlled trial investigating the effect of testosterone on physical performance in young, physically active women.” They used 48 women in their study, divided into control and treatment groups. This isn’t a large sample size, but it’s hard to do this kind of work because it causes body changes in some of the subjects.

Individuals were randomized and then half of them smeared a testosterone cream on their thigh daily for ten weeks, and the other half a placebo cream (side effects of the testosterone cream included acne and increased hair growth). Then the authors administered both groups several athletic tests as well as measuring circulating testosterone levels and body mass.

The summary at the paper’s outset pretty much tells the tale:

Apparently the authors’ main test of athletic performance was “time to exhaustion” when running on a treadmill, and that increased on average by about 16 seconds, a highly significant difference (over 8%) above the placebo group (p > 0.001). The Wingate test, a 30-second test of anaerobic power on a cycle, also showed slightly higher performance in the testosterone-treated group (p. < 0.05), but there was no difference between the groups in force generated during jump tests (a surrogate for jump height) or in knee extensor torque.

The difference in serum hormone levels was significantly higher in the treatment group (p. < 0.001), and lean mass and lower lean mass were significantly higher as well (p = 0.04), while there was no significant difference in body fat percentage or in total and spinal bone mineral density.

Note that the level of serum testosterone levels in the treatment group (4.3 nmol/liter) was still below the Olympic committee’s upper limit (5 nmol/liter), but much higher than the 0.9 nm/liter in the control group. This means that significant athletic ability was gained without exceeding the threshhold that would bar one from competing in female Olympic events. According to the authors, the levels of testosterone are radically different—in fact, nonoverlapping—in ‘normal’ males vs. ‘normal’ females:

“As determined by tandem mass spectrometry, the normal female range of circulating testosterone is 0.1–1.8 nmol/L and does not overlap with the normal male range (7.7–29.4 nmol/L). The dose we used resulted in an increase in mean serum testosterone of 4.3 nmol/L, which is clearly below the male range, and yet increased some indices of aerobic and anaerobic performances.”

But they add that some rare developmental conditions in women that affect sex development also cause increased testosterone levels as well as inducing increased lean body mass and higher physical performance. I found these data interesting:

The prevalence of 46XY, DSD [difference in sex development, with women having a Y chromosome] among elite female athletes is estimated to be about 140 times greater than in the general population. There is controversy internationally on whether it is fair to allow these hyperandrogenic individuals with high testosterone levels to compete against women with normal female androgen levels.Indeed, some scientists and human rights advocates consider that an individual who has been assigned female gender at birth, raised as a girl and who is socially accepted as a woman, should be allowed to compete in the women’s category, irrespective of her levels of testosterone and androgen receptor sensitivity.

Overall, the authors conclude this:

Our study supports a causal effect of testosterone on physical performance, as measured by running time to exhaustion, in young healthy women. Thus the ergogenic effect of short term moderately increased testosterone concentration seemed to apply for aerobic performance only. Testosterone also promoted a leaner body composition with an increase in muscle mass although body weight was unchanged.

There are, then, implications from this study about how to regulate participation in elite sports, though it’s above my pay grade to suggest rules, because (as I’ve said before), this is a difficult biological and ethical issue.

Even the Guardian, woke as it is, reports the results of this study pretty much straight (click on screenshot below), quoting several people who say that testosterone supplements clearly increase athletic performance (by 8%, a “huge effect in sports”), and that testosterone level is “the best indicator of sex difference.”

The Guardian also reports that the International Association of Athletic Federations has announced it will “impose an upper limit for testosterone levels on trans female athletes competing in middle-distance events.”  This may force Caster Semenya, a gold-medalist Olympic runner, to take testosterone reducing medication to compete in events between 400 m and a mile, and must keep her testosterone levels continually below 5 nmol/liter. (Semenya has challenged the past rules about that limit.)

This new study is also relevant to an editorial published in the British Medical Journal last March, before the new data came out (click on screenshot below), saying that new rules were premature because there weren’t any good scientific studies of the effects of serum testosterone levels on athletic performance, and that the IAAF’s already-existing regulations (an upper limit of of 5nmol/liter) risked “setting an unscientific precedent for other cases of genetic advantage”. The editorial ends like this:

History compels us to ensure that decisions about genetic superiority are supported by objective, rigorous, and reproducible data. Although this is purely conjecture, we venture that the Olympian gods smile down on winners like Mokgadi Caster Semenya when they perform extraordinary feats of human endeavour.

That last pronouncement, in the absence of data last March, seems premature—almost a bit virtue flaunting—as it uses “the Olympian gods” as a surrogate for “we editors.”

At any rate, this new study, while based on a small sample (24 women in each group), clearly mandates further work, but also puts the lie to the claim that testosterone has no relationship to athletic ability. The data now show that it seems to.  Whatever rules will follow findings like this (and, as I said, I’m not in a position to make them), I still maintain that “self identification” as a women, as is the rule in Connecticut, the UK, and soon in California, is not sufficient to allow a biological male to compete in women’s athletic events. There must be some kind of standard based on biology rather than psychology or mere assertion.


Hirschberg, A. L., J. Elings Knutsson, T. Helge, M. Godhe, M. Ekblom, S. Bermon, and B. Ekblom. 2019. Effects of moderately increased testosterone concentration on physical performance in young women: a double blind, randomised, placebo controlled study. British Journal of Sports Medicine: bjsports-2018-100525.

The ACLU defends the right of biological men to compete in women’s sports

August 1, 2019 • 12:00 pm

I don’t think anyone reading or commenting on this site would deny a transgender person the right to be considered whatever sex they want; the rub comes when that consideration conflicts with other considerations of justice—as in sports. As I reported in June of last year, two transgender women in Connecticut—women who were born biological males and apparently had neither surgery nor hormone therapy for their transition—decided to compete with other women in track meets. Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood cleaned up in the women’s 100- and 200-meter dashes in Connecticut, as expected given that they have the musculature of men. They were allowed to compete in this race because Connecticut law says that you are whatever gender you say you are. And that law, which does (and should) apply to most areas of civil rights, is also taken to apply to sports. If you’re a biological male and feel you’re a woman (and I’m not arguing that these athletes feel they have a woman’s identity), then you can compete against other women, without qualifications.

In contrast, the Olympics and other organizations mandate that you have a certain titer of testosterone below which you must remain to compete in women’s events. In other words, biological men who want to compete with women have to undergo hormone replacement therapy (HRT). I’ve written about this, too, as it’s not a perfect solution to the problem. If you start HRT after you’ve already developed the musculature and bone structure of a biological male, and then transition to female, you don’t lose all that bone and muscle. It seems clear that this gives many transgender women a leg up in women’s sports.

This seems to be the case for the weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, who, competing for New Zealand, transitioned from male to female in her thirties, and then won two golds and a silver in three women’s heavyweight categories at the Pacific Games in Samoa in early July. (I believe she’s undergone HRT.) There were objections from other weightlifters and Samoans (they had their own local favorite), just as Connecticut non-transgender women who compete in track and field have begun to object to what seems a palpably unfair way to interpret “women” when it comes to high school athletics. (Three of those women have filed a federal anti-discrimination lawsuit against Connecticut, claiming that the state’s policy denies them the opportunity to get college scholarships that come from winning races.)

While the Connecticut law is risible, the problem of how to deal with transgender women who want to compete along with biological women isn’t much easier when it comes to athletes practicing HRT.  As Reuters reports (link above):

IOC guidelines issued in 2015 said any transgender athlete could compete as a woman provided their testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per liter for at least 12 months prior to their first competition.

That has been criticized by some scientists, who say it does little to mitigate natural biological advantages enjoyed by male-born athletes, including bone and muscle density.

Researchers at the Dunedin-based University of Otago said in a peer-reviewed study published earlier this month that the IOC guidelines were “poorly drawn” and the mandated testosterone level was still “significantly higher” than that of women.

The study advocated that the IOC ditch its “binary” approach to competition and consider introducing a transgender category or find another solution that balances the desire for inclusion with the need for a level playing field.

I was disappointed, then, to see the kneejerk reaction of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to the situation in Connecticut, as they issued the following statement below (click on screenshot), which I’ve reproduced below the picture:

Here is the text; the bolding is the ACLU’s.

Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood are two transgender girls who are following their dreams as star runners in Connecticut. But as champions on the track, they face harmful attacks rather than the accolades they deserve. While Andraya and Terry’s teammates and coaches support them, some cisgender athletes want to keep them out of girls’ sports.

Transgender people have the right to participate in sports consistent with who they are, just like anyone. Denying this right is pure discrimination.

The marginalization of trans student-athletes is rooted in the same kind of gender discrimination and stereotyping that has held back cisgender women athletes. Transgender girls are often told that they are not girls (and conversely transgender boys are told they are not really boys) based on inaccurate stereotypes about biology, athleticism, and gender. As a result, transgender athletes – particularly Black transgender women – face systemic barriers to participation in athletics and all aspects of public life. This exclusion contributes to the high rates of homelessness, suicidality and violence that Black trans women and girls face.

There’s a word for that: Discrimination.

When misinformation about biology and gender is used to bar transgender girls from sports it amounts to the same form of sex discrimination that has long been prohibited under Title IX, a law that protects all students – including trans people – on the basis of sex.

Girls who are transgender are girls. Period.

This is remarkably obtuse for the ACLU.  The whole issue is couched in terms of discrimination and stereotyping, and uses the world “girls” just as Connecticut does: you’re a girl if you say or think you’re a girl. Period. They completely evade the issue of an unfair physical advantage of transgender athletes—particularly ones who are wholly male in terms of their bodies—over biological women, and the consequences to those women. Nobody is arguing that we should discriminate against transgender people in terms of their civil rights. But is it really a civil right to be allowed to compete in a women’s sport simply by declaring you’re a woman? The women athletes who lost to Miller and Yearwood don’t seem to think so.

As has happened several times in the past few years, the ACLU, like the Southern Poverty Law Center, seems to be expanding its brief from civil liberties to social justice. That’s not necessarily bad, but it is when you do what the ACLU is doing here (it’s also backed off on its hard free-speech stand, something that also disturbs me).

I have no solution to the problem of what to do about male-to-female transgender athletes who want to compete in women’s events. As I’ve said before, there are many questions to resolve, which include these that I’ve raised before:

  • Should there be any testing of athletes, or should they simply be allowed to compete based on self-identification of gender? (This would, of course, mostly affect women’s sports; some say it would destroy women’s sports.)
  • If not, how many categories of competition do we want? The traditional men’s and women’s sports, or an intermediate category? (The latter would, of course, cause huge problems.)
  • If we don’t accept self-identification and want to retain traditional “men’s” and “women’s” sports, how do we determine the category in which an athlete belongs?
  • If the identification is based on hormones, can we set limits, as the IOC has done, to demarcate the classes? If we don’t use hormones, how do we classify?

And of course the biggest question of all:

  • What are the definitions of “man” and “woman”? 

If the answer to that last question, is—as the ACLU and Connecticut argue—”you’re a man if you say you’re a man and a woman if you say you’re a woman, period,” then the words have lost all meaning.