Trans and intersex women in sport

Cultural assumptions about testosterone, not all borne out by studies, affect how we regard trans and intersex women in sport. What questions of fairness should affect whether and on what basis intersex and trans people compete as women? Most people are one sex or the other- genes, gonads and genitals all point one way, and gender identity does too- if the person denies having a gender identity, ask whether s/he intends to transition. If they don’t, they are cis. It is not the person’s fault that they are trans or intersex.

If an intersex person has been assigned female at birth, she should compete as a woman. Doctors making the assignment do so with the best interests of the patient at heart, checking whether people transition after, in cases where there is apparent ambiguity. Other intersex conditions are noticed later. Women with Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, CAIS, are overrepresented in sport, if the evidence for one in 99,000 people is robust, but they are women even if they have underdeveloped testicles and XY-46 genotype.

What of trans women? There are complaints of non-disabled people competing in the paralympics, which categorises disability according to severity. Similarly, would someone pretend to be trans to win women’s competitions rather than do badly as a man? Now, they will face complaints that they should not be in women’s competitions, and transphobic attacks, but winning might be the only thing that matters to them. So they should have to prove they are really trans, and should do that by a change of name and expression. Possibly, that should be some time before they are competing. It should also persist after competition: a person who reverted after winning would have their titles taken away. It is uncomfortable for a man to present as a woman. If they want to present female life-long, they are trans.

All athletes have physical advantages from birth, natural talent, though they also need that talent recognised and developed, and the facilities to train. Women who end up at the highest levels are exceptional, physically. Both sexes have oestrogen and testosterone, though at different levels. Dosing with T can increase muscle mass and power, but does not necessarily make a better athlete (says that Guardian article). Katrina Karkazis points out that many skills are necessary for athletes beyond strength- hand-eye coordination in tennis, though strength means men have an advantage; what of luge, where the ability to isolate body parts and make subtle adjustments, and to remain flexible and relaxed while going unprotected down a track at 90 miles an hour, are just as important as power? I could not find whether there are significant sex differences in Luge speed, at elite or average levels, but the speed-skiing men’s record is 3.2% faster than the women’s.

We are not just talking of elite sport, but of local marathons and 10K races, tennis and golf clubs. People who lose at all levels may claim the winners have an unfair advantage. Others may agree, and get that delicious feeling of righteous anger as they stick it to the trans. The issue, with sport, refuges, prisons, toilets, changing rooms, anything, is that women are generally smaller and more sexually vulnerable than men. Should women be segregated for fairness or for their protection? Should trans women be classed as women? If not in sport, then why at all?

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