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Recently there has been a lot of discussion on whether trans athletes should compete according to the sex they were assigned at birth or the gender they are. For example Donald Trump has publicly expressed his opinion on the matter. Many US states have also passed laws that force transgender children and youth to compete according to their birth sex in schools. Admittedly, the issue is complicated, especially with trans women. Trans women often have a physique that might resemble that of a cis man which gives them an atletic advantage over cis women. However, there are many arguments on why trans women should be able to compete with cis women and in I will present to you a few of them in this article.

Firstly, I’m not trying to argue that the biological characteristics of men and women aren’t usually different. However, many trans people decide to undergo sex reassignment procedures. There are several studies that suggest that trans women’s athletic capabilities decrease after medical transition. According to for example Harper (all links are below), trans women’s running speed decreases by approximately 10% to the point where their performance is at the same level with cis women. This happens because for example their testosterone level drops and muscle mass decreases but also because their often larger frame is powered by a “small engine”. According to Roberts at al, before medical transition transwomen completed 31% more pushups and 15% more situps than cis women and ran 21% faster. Two years after medical transition, the difference in pushups and situps had disappeared but trans women still performed 12% better in running. Roberts et al concluded that in non-professional and youth sports, trans women should be able to compete with cis women one year after medical transition whereas for professional sports two years might be better. However, this greatly depends on the sport since different skills and characteristics are needed in different sports. There is also a need for more research on the matter. Nevertheless, in the light of current research, trans women should be able to compete with their cis counterparts two years after madical transition at the latest.

There are also several arguments supporting trans athletes that are not biological. We need to also consider the human rights aspect of trans people in sports. Firstly, trans people are already widely discriminated against in modern society. There are tons of people who refuse to accept their gender identity. If we force trans people to play sports according to their assigned sex, this gives an impression that they are a part of that sex, which they are not. If we see trans people being discriminated against in something as public as sports, it also gives us a message that discriminating against them is somehow acceptable which will most likely further increase the discrimination they face. This on the other hand increases trans people’s mental health problems that are already very common. For example in schools in the US, where trans youth are being forced to compete according to their birth sex, other students are shown that it’s okay to be openly discriminatory and misgender trans students.

In the end it seems like people who advocate for trans people to play sports according to their birth sex care more about the rights of cis people than trans people. If trans women are forced to compete with cis men, it is trans women who are underdogs because according to different studies, their athletic abilities after medical transition are closer to cis women’s than cis men’s. And even if trans people competed according to their birth sex, there is still a problem. According to Roberts et al, two years after medical transition, trans men perform athletically comparable to cis men. So, they should be able to overpower cis women. This is all quite complicated but in the end it is clear to me that banning trans people from competing according to their gender is not the answer. Maybe we could instead consider stopping gender segregation in sports altogether and segregate based on something else.

There would be a lot more to discuss concerning this matter but unfortunately I don’t have the space to do it here. However, there are some YouTube videos on the matter made by amazing trans creators who inspired me to write this text. I really recommend you watch them if you want to learn more:

Samantha Lux:

The Truth About Trans Athletes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3GletkHtBiE&t=412s 

Trump Jr’s Transphobic Rant on Trans Athletes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5-gGLd0PPY 

Jessie Gender:

Are Transgender Athletes The End of Sports? - Explained: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y410v7OmAm4 

Why a “Transgender Sports League” Would be Transphobic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCxJLhU6Ags 


Harper’s study: https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Race-Times-for-Transgender-Athletes-Harper/1e6abd2c1e03ba88e9ac8da94ea1d69ff3f4878a?p2df

Roberts et al: https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/early/2020/11/06/bjsports-2020-102329

On transgender people’s mental health and sports: https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/What-Is-the-T-in-LGBT-Supporting-Transgender-Spo

Lotta Nieminen

Helsinki '24

I study social science and when I don't I really like to look at butterflies, take naps and think about how I'm going to make the world a better place some day.
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