Laurel Hubbard

Laurel Hubbard, sporting pioneer, is under attack from the transphobic media.

The Times has several articles about her. On 18 July, Rebecca Myers wrote that she is in the eye of the storm, as if she did not realise that the eye is the still, calm centre. Myers quotes unnamed “critics” saying the rules make no sense, then the line “It polarises people”. There is a picture of demonstrators against Laurel with transphobic placards, though only about a dozen of them, and two competitors who oppose her inclusion. Joanna Harper says all these women are big and strong, and all have advantages. Then there is a long quote that men have physical advantages, implying but not confirming or denying that Laurel keeps those advantages. It’s a hit piece.

On 27 June, David Walsh protested his “deep empathy” with Laurel but wrote an article starting with a 1980s style transition story- I always knew I was a girl, etc, etc- with misgendering and prurient detail such as trying on “his” sister’s clothes. Then Walsh starts quoting opponents calling her male and opposing her inclusion, and says she retains a “strength advantage”. Despite all this, on 4 July the Times published a letter attacking Walsh’s article as not transphobic enough.

On 21 June, Matt Lawton reported that she was to be the first trans woman Olympic athlete. The picture on the piece is of her on a winner’s podium, and the first paragraph alleges her inclusion is unfair. The British Olympic Association called for research into trans women’s “physiological advantages”. Then there’s exactly the same quote from Tracey Lambrechs that Rebecca Myers used.

On 26 June, Martyn Ziegler reported uncritically on a paper by Cathy Devine, who had found 19 athletes to agree with her that trans women had a competitive advantage but claimed they were afraid to express their views publicly for fear of being labelled “transphobic”- scare quotes Ziegler’s. Devine is a noted transphobe who told a House of Commons committee that no trans women should compete in women’s sports.

Also on 26 June Graham Spiers questioned the “fair play” of including Laurel. He started by saying there were “sensitivities” in the “transgender debate” then claims, contrary to evidence, that Laurel retains all the advantages of the male body. “Were he a woman” he would stand no chance against her superior strength, he claims; but the world no.1 has a personal best 50kg heavier than Laurel’s.

On 22 June, Ross Tucker claimed that trans women retain men’s biological advantages even when we reduce T levels, and our inclusion is unfair. On 24 June, Janice Turner took a side-swipe at Laurel in her article on transphobe Jess de Wahls. She quoted Caitlyn Jenner claiming Laurel’s inclusion is not fair- trans people can be quoted, if they speak against trans rights- and quoted Jenner’s personal bests as if they would not be affected by T reduction.

On 18 June, Jason Allardyce reported that Highland Games could include trans athletes, even though no athlete has yet presented as trans. He mentioned Laurel Hubbard. As always, the most upvoted comments are relentlessly transphobic, crying Unfair.

Do other athletes get similar coverage? Abigail Irozuru, British long-jumper, who was a finalist at Doha, is only mentioned in the list of the British team. British, World champion heptathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson is in four articles about her injury, and has two other mentions. Dina Asher-Smith, a sprinter The Times calls one of the team’s “biggest medal hopes”, has one article in four weeks plus a few mentions, including one that she went to the same school as Emma Raducanu.

The Times reader-commenters are well trained. Even when (20 July) Melanie Phillips wrote an outrage piece about bribery and politics in Games venues, most of the most popular comments were about “men” in women’s sports.

The Daily Mail has about a hundred articles on Laurel, and just the headlines contain transphobia such as, her inclusion will knock women out of sport, is a “bad joke”, and “kick in the teeth for female athletes”. “Backlash” to “Openly” trans athlete! A man is a man!

The Guardian has several articles, including an opinion article by Tanya Aldred saying her inclusion is unfair. Well, all professional athletes have physical advantages as well as training, and no male athlete would reduce his T and pretend to be trans in order to compete with women.

At the fastest, most destructive part of the storm, Laurel Hubbard will be competing and I will cheer her on. The transphobe press is determined to harp on and on about her, crying Unfair and attacking all trans people vicariously through her. So if she wins a medal we will all triumph.

3 August: well, she didn’t win a medal, but she was there, at the Olympics, and said a blow has been struck for sport for all. I feel vicarious pride, and huge admiration. “Trans women are women,” said an IOC official. It should not need to be said. Richard Budgett, their medical and scientific director, praised her “courage and tenacity”. She said, “[The Games] have just been so wonderful”.

Unfortunately the hate continued. The most disgusting abuse of her was The Times using her picture at the top of a laudatory, trans-hating review of the deeply silly book by Helen Joyce.

On 2 August, Matt Dickinson wrote a ridiculous piece, claiming she had “ignited a debate”- no, that was the transphobes- and, incidentally, giving those snippets of good news and support above before quoting unnamed “sports scientists” against trans inclusion. Well, sports scientists are also in favour of trans inclusion, or we would not be included.

On 31 July, Martyn Ziegler wrote a whole article making the obvious point that the IOC and NZOC were taking steps to protect her from online abuse. Perhaps the point of the article was the online abuse it quoted, apparently approvingly: abusers were said to have “spoken out”. Among the nuttier comments below was “This is the fall of Rome”. Times comments are ludicrous, but depressing.

6 thoughts on “Laurel Hubbard

  1. Sport is one area, which to me currently, I’m conflicted on. I can understand why many would not want a “new” trans woman to compete in women’s events as any male advantage does take years to disappear. And in some sports there’s the argument that wider hips of women have a distinct disadvantage relative to narrower male hips. However, I think compromises can be worked through if good will is maintained. Perhaps some form of handicapping system?

    Laurel Hubbard has competed here for many years as a woman and there has been very little opposition, although it would be incorrect to say that there has been none. But the negative international attention she has received since she was nominated to represent Aotearoa New Zealand in the Olympics is unfathomable to most here.

    On another forum a number of contributors suggested that trans women should have their own category instead of competing with cis women, but really that’s not a realistic option. It would mean that Laurel would have only herself to compete against domestically and probably no more internationally. The same would apply to most other sports – there’s simply too few trans folk to ever make that workable.

    One situation where I don’t see there is any grey area is those who transition young and have had puberty blockers preventing the male secondary sexual characteristics from forming in the first place. They develop female secondary features once puberty blockers are replaced with the appropriate hormone treatment, so I see no reason at all why they should be excluded from participating in female sports.

    Finally, all professional sports people have an “unfair advantage” over the typical male of female – traits that they were born with, that others, no matter their level of training will never be able to emulate. Knowing what is involved in transitioning, I can’t see anyone ever transitioning for the purpose of competing in sport.

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    • The Highland Games uses a handicapping system.

      It’s an issue of acceptance. Trans women could just not compete. Trans men could be given a medical exemption for taking T, which is not permitted otherwise: there is one mention of that on the wikipedia page, but I could not find it in the IOC rules. The IOC had a meeting about trans women in 2015.

      I have seen arguments that the rules on hyperandrogenism in female athletes proceed from the trans rules, simply because they were considered at the same meeting, so trans is somehow unfair to Caster Semenya and at least two other athletes who might have otherwise competed in Tokyo.

      I want trans women accepted in society. That means including us as women when we show a commitment to transition. I feel the IOC testosterone reduction rules are reasonable, because they show that commitment. Men do not pretend to be trans, and certainly male athletes do not pretend to be trans in order to win against women. The hatestorm is hard to bear.

      I see the fastest, most destructive part of the storm is called the eyewall. The eye might be 19-40 miles across, and outside that there is a ring of thunderstorms, where the most severe weather is.

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      • Men do not pretend to be trans, and certainly male athletes do not pretend to be trans in order to win against women. ” Yet this concept, just like the argument against trans women in women’s spaces seems to be a persistent line of argument by trans excluders, ignoring the evidence to the contrary.

        Yes I agree it’s a matter of acceptance, and yet acceptance does not seem to readily available. Being autistic I too frequently experience a lack of acceptance. Regrettably, most societies are only too willing to “other” those who are in any way different from the norm. Intolerance seems to go hand in hand with a swing to the political right – a direction that much of the world has been heading in over recent years.

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  2. part of me wants Hubbard not to win a medal (at least not a gold) to silence the transphobes who say that a trans woman would win by default and hence should be disallowed from competing as a female. They might not be cured of their hatred but it might go some way towards deflating their argumentation

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    • They would just say she was a “mediocre male athlete”.

      There are 339 events. There is one other trans woman as a substitute. The alleged attempt of “male” athletes to pretend to be trans in order to win medals against women has not happened, though trans women have been theoretically able to compete as women at the Olympics since 2004.

      I want her to win, or get silver, as that Chinese weightlifter appears phenomenal.

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