Trans women and sports-A rocky relationship

By: Leela Praneeth

LGBTQIA+ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, and the plus is meant to include Pansexual, Demi, and many other identities. However, even in queer-friendly circles, the T part of the LGBTQ community is often underrepresented and neglected. Despite the decades of progress we have made in acceptance of identities outside the hegemonic boundaries, trans people are still fighting for their lives everywhere, and this includes “first world countries” as well. A culture war that has started very recently, in the last decade, is the inclusion of trans women in women’s sports. To have a proper look at it, we need to understand the struggles the trans community faces and why it is important for us to take a critical look at the reasons for the current gendered bifurcation in sports. 

Women’s sports, which are notoriously overlooked, belittled, and mocked by reactionaries, suddenly need their sanctity preserved when 1 out of 1000 sportspeople happens to be trans. It is no surprise that reactionaries want to hold on to regressive beliefs, but what is terrifying is that even the most allying progressives are holding back trans people’s assimilation into normalcy. JK Rowling and Dave Chappelle are the recent cases that come to mind, with both of them doubling down on their stance after backlash and more often than not siding with vile extremists. John Mulaney, who, in one of his specials revealed his insecurity about his feminine hips, which is very similar to what trans people go through due to gender dysphoria, recently disappointed a large majority of his fanbase when he brought up Dave Chappelle to open his Columbus show.

Let us take a closer look at the US, where most of the debate is taking place and material consequences are being felt. Conservative states like Florida and Texas are approving bills like “don’t say gay” and banning gender affirmation of kids below 18. The lives of people from the LGBTQ+ community are in danger. What’s disheartening about the plan to ban trans women in sports is the use of large amounts of resources and time to target and cause distress to so few. A bill was presented asking for the banning of trans kids in high school sports. If we look at statistics in Utah; there is 1 trans kid out of every 750 kids who participate in high school sports, so we can only imagine the vitriol the politicians must possess towards the trans community if they propose this law to the legislature to exclude 1 kid who is not taking away scholarships, winning medals, or stealing opportunities from individuals who were assigned female at birth.

This debate was sparked again recently due to the victory of Lia Thompson in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) finals. Lia Thompson, a trans woman, was, unfortunately, the scapegoat the prowlers had been waiting for to vilify trans women for simply existing and having passions. The media also contributed to the spread of misinformation regarding the relationship between the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place winners. An out-of-context picture where Thompson was on the first place podium and the 3rd place winner, Erica Sullivan, was taking another picture with her Olympic friends on the 3rd place podium away from Thompson, was shared on social media. People were quick to assume the distance was due to a “silent protest”. Sullivan was quick to dismiss these rumors and showed a photo of Sullivan shaking Thompson’s hand after her win. When asked about the situation, Micheal Phelps compared trans women on estrogen to doping. It is unfortunate that Phelps wants to “level the playing field in women’s sports” while he always had a genetic advantage such that even though from head to toe he is 194 cm (6 feet 4 inches), his arm span is 208 cm (6 feet 10 inches).

It is also important to use science if we truly want to eradicate this targeted harassment. Trans women are only allowed to participate in women’s sports after a full year of transition that includes testosterone suppression, estrogen increase, and a great reduction in muscle mass. There is also a rule with the testosterone level limit being 5 nanomoles per liter. With a test done on 250 trans women, it shows that 94 percent of the testosterone levels are below 2 nanomoles per liter, and it is known that 95 percent of cis women have a T-level below 2 nanomoles per liter. As we can observe, there is effectively very little difference in the main contributing factors to the muscle mass and hemoglobin levels in cis and trans women. However, there are mild differences that can easily be analogous to left-handed vs. right-handed advantage in baseball and cricket. These facts however are not cited by the misinformed individuals who are stuck in the past and are unable to accept the changes to the rigid gender norms that have been instilled in them.

It is easy to notice after a long discussion that one large group has been completely ignored. They are trans men. There are no long segments on national TV or cries to level the playing field between men and “biological women.” It does not take a lot of reflection to arrive at the logical conclusion and the culprit behind the outrage, the usual suspect of misogyny. The whole argument hinges on the assumed fact that men are inherently better than women. It is true that men have some advantages over women in terms of physical capabilities, but it is incredibly sexist to say that the centuries of control and restrictions on women’s bodies, hobbies, and instilled gender roles don’t play a part in the segregation of sports and the assumed inferiority of women’s sports.

In conclusion, it is evident that trans people are fighting for their survival right now. Right-wing media is calling for the genocide of trans people by denying trans healthcare to young adults and kids. Indirectly this is also contributing to the high suicidality reported in trans youth, with surveys showing 56 percent of trans youth have attempted suicide. But some of them at least have sports as a means to have a community and hobby. If we take this away from them, they have one more avenue closed because of their identity. We as allies or members of the LGBTQ+ community have the responsibility to not let these transphobic laws passed by our local politicians for all the years they have been under and misrepresented. We owe them this much.


This blog page serves as a platform for the Editorial department of The Hindu Education Plus Club at VIT Vellore. We provide opportunities to budding authors across campus to hone their writing skills. We publish blogs four times a week, where writers can communicate their views on any topic of their choice with our readers.

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