Transgender in sport: What constitutes a woman?

Massive’s resident sports jockey, Adam Pearse, tackles the sporting quandaries of our time with the skill of Saville, the daring of Devillin, and the vibrancy of Veitchy (forgetting his history with stairways). From cricket to croquet and everything in between, these are the Yarns from Pitch Five.

Even as I contemplate writing about this issue, I could see the figurative landmines appear around me that I would have to be careful to avoid. Then again, nothing is too contentious for a Yarn from Pitch Five so let’s get bloody stuck in.

For those of you lucky enough not to be lectured on the topic by a Green Party- voting, petition-clipboard-toting social justice warrior, transgender people are those who transition from one gender to another. The movement hit the spotlight when Bruce became Caitlyn and the world seemed to care an awful lot about the genitalia of the least popular person on Keeping Up With The Kardashians.

The controversy lies in recent protests over trans-women athletes competing in female competitions where some competitors feel those who have transitions hold a distinct advantage. A great example of this is New Zealand weightlifter, Laurel Hubbard, who is trans-women and won a prominent weightlifting competition in Australia earlier this year. She lifted a whopping 268kg which was 20kg more than any other competitor had lifted. Despite Hubbard meeting all the requirements to compete in the women’s category, other competitors still had the nerve to say she didn’t belong and that she had an advantage over those that were born a woman, so much so that some lifters have resorted to losing weight to compete outside Hubbard’s weight division. Hubbard is set to represent New Zealand at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and as that draws closer, this debate will get as hot as Satan’s balls in the summertime.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) have made some attempt to address the contention, introducing policy that allows female-to-male athletes to compete “without restriction”. Meanwhile, trans women athletes must undergo hormone therapy to be eligible for an Olympic Games. I don’t know about you but this just makes sense. Whether women will accept it, men have greater physical capabilities on account of their physiology. Some of these capabilities come down to how much testosterone is in their bodies as we’ve seen countless athletes being banned for using testosterone to better performance. This means that as a result of their former biological state, it feels sensible to have trans women athletes undergo some form of hormone alteration to level the playing field.

However, like every good ethics conundrum, there is another side to the story. In 2016, a number of academics carried out an evaluation of the capabilities of transgender athletes. The paper reviewed eight research articles and 31 sport policies regarding transgender athletes and according to the findings, there is no evidence to prove male-to-female athletes have an advantage. So, after all that, what is the answer? Who bloody knows. For me, it boils down to what the IOC classifies as a woman. Is it based on what dangles between the thighs or what you feel inside?

Personally, I don’t think anyone has the right to say to a trans women that she is not a real woman. The world is changing and gender based on anatomy alone is becoming an outdated class system. Sport is just the latest in a long line of industries that has had to grapple with the notion that gender isn’t binary. And at the end of the day, what can you do about it? So for all the moaners and groaners out there, it’s time to man up and grow some balls, because that’s probably the only way you’re going to beat these transgender athletes. Shit, I think I just stepped on one of the landmines. Ah well, what did you expect?

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