Sunday, 12 March 2017

Trans Kids Deserve to Play Sports as Their Real Gender

I’m a little bit late on this, but a few weeks back, a trans boy won the Texas state wrestling championship.  In the girls’ division, because that’s where the state required him to compete. They’ll only accept a birth certificate, and that requires a court order. Cue the predictable outcry about unfairness to the poor girls, with one parent going so far as to sue to prevent him from competing.

First off, it may come as a shock to some of these parents, but do you know what girls do when there isn’t a girls’ wrestling team?  They wrestle against boys. Every single meet. A friend of mine has a teenage daughter who wrestles on the boys’ team and does co-ed judo. She’s a petite girl, and she does just fine.

The girls who wrestled Mack at the state meet are high-level athletes in a contact sport.  When I did track in high school, it was a big deal for someone to make it to States, and Texas has more than twice the population of PA.  And he’s in their weight class.  So let’s not act like these are fragile, delicate flowers who he’s going to horribly injure. Yes, it’s a contact sport, and there’s always the risk of injury, and that risk is increased if you’re fighting an opponent who’s faster, stronger, or bigger. But age ranges and weight classes do a pretty good job of evening that out.

Secondly, if you don’t like that he’s wrestling against your daughter, how about petitioning the state to let him wrestle with the boys, where he belongs, because he’s a *boy.* Maybe don’t blame the kid for rules he didn’t create?

But the biggest piece of this that I think people willfully ignore is that participating in athletics is a part of kids’ education. As such, if a public school spends a single penny of taxpayer money on athletics (and I’m pretty sure they aren’t paying the coach with ticket sales or building a gym off bake sale proceeds), it needs to be available to all students, as per Title IX and the 14th Amendment. Odds are that a lot of those girls wouldn’t *have* a wrestling team if not for Title IX, so it seems pretty uncharitable to want to exclude another kid from the sport. If you want to exclude trans kids, your church or social club is welcome to form their own team with their own rules and exclude whoever you want, but you don’t get to do it as part of a public education that Mack is entitled to as much as your daughters are.

Last but not least, the whining about “cheating” by virtue of being on hormone replacement therapy is very thinly veiled transphobia. “My kid can’t take steroids, why can yours?” Um, because the trans kid has a medical reason for them and yours doesn’t. If we’re going to ban any legit medical treatments that also have performance enhancing effects, then I guess we need to ban ibuprofen too. And let’s not let kids with asthma compete, because oral albuterol has been used as a performance enhancer too. For that matter, while I don’t know of Ritalin being used to gain an advantage in sports, some teens in high-pressure academic environments abuse it to study longer and concentrate better on less sleep. Certainly that enhanced focus could be useful in an athletic environment, particularly in positions where focus and concentration are as important or more important than sheer physical prowess.  But just because you would bench a quarterback who faked ADD to get stimulants doesn’t mean you’d throw the kid who actually has ADD off the team.

Nobody would suggest barring a kid with asthma from competition because they had albuterol in their system. Nor would they make them choose between necessary medical treatment and playing a sport, provided that a doctor stated that they were healthy enough to compete. But trans kids taking legitimately prescribed hormones to line their bodies up with their real gender are viewed as “cheating.” Probably because people don’t recognize being trans as a real thing, and have this crazy mental picture of a girl jumping through all the hoops of social and medical transition so she can bulk up and win wrestling meets. Which is pretty ridiculous. I mean, some athletes put themselves through all sorts of ridiculousness to win, so I won’t say it *couldn’t* happen, but I will say it’s pretty damn unlikely.

I do want to point out that, since all my other examples are illnesses, I don’t want to conflate being trans with being sick. But it is a state that has necessary medical treatments associated with it. ADD might be a better parallel than asthma, because a lot of people who have it don’t think of it as an illness, but as neurodiversity. It’s not conducive to sitting in school or in an office all day, but it has its upsides too. There’s definitely a social component, because the cultural expectations for how long you can sit quietly and do boring things define whether someone is diagnosed with ADD. Likewise, gender variance is a normal part of human diversity, but one that often requires medical treatment.

But from a fairness perspective, this is actually really simple. If his testosterone levels are way off the charts, more in line with a boy who’s on steroids, sure, don’t let him compete. (Assuming his doctor hasn’t already said, “No, don’t wrestle until we get your T levels straightened out.”) But if he’s in the male range, he’s not at any advantage over the other boys.  Likewise, a trans girl might have to sit out her sport for a bit while her hormones take effect, but once her testosterone levels are down in the female range (which varies a lot and should be broadly defined), there should be no reason she can’t compete with the other girls.




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