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

March 9, 2023 • 9:30 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, on to his piece:

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

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

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

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

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

and this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I repeat Zirin’s paragraph from above:

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

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

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

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

Below are some of Zirin’s histrionics.

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

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

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

Zirin’s ending is particularly ironic:

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

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

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


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


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


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