Transgender Politics Is Turning Sports Into Paralympics

Transgender Politics Is Turning Sports Into Paralympics

This is, in itself, disturbing. But what’s more worrying is the acceptance of this state of affairs by journalists and even the athletes who lost their chance at victory.
Elizabeth Bauer
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The latest in the world of transgender teens in high school athletic competitions was a report out of Connecticut that Terry Miller, a sophomore from Bulkeley High School in Hartford, won the girl’s state championship 100- and 200-meter dash races in not just record-setting time, but a time, for the 100-meter, that was characterized as a “blowout.”

The catch, as you may have guessed, is that Terry has an advantage over all the other competitors: Terry is biologically a boy, and indeed, competed on the boy’s team just this past winter. Whether the student has in the meantime begun any sort of hormone regimen is not stated and is not especially relevant, given that other sports-governing bodies with established protocols require two years of hormone regimens. In the 100-meter, the second-place finisher was also a biological boy, Andraya Yearwood.

This is, in itself, disturbing. But what’s more worrying is the acceptance of this state of affairs by journalists and even by those students who lost their chance at victory. Here’s Connecticut Post columnist Jeff Jacobs:

To deny a transgender athlete the chance to compete is wrong in every way. To deny a teenage transgender athlete the opportunity to compete sends the kind of message that lowers the standards of humanity. Those wrestling with gender and sexual identity at this delicate age are especially prone to drug use and suicide.

No sport is worth ruining lives. None.

To be sure, he then quotes, with sympathy, those raising questions of the appropriateness of “transgender females competing without medical intervention,” although that opens up a whole ‘nother can of worms, about the appropriateness of hormone administration to minors.

Here are the words of the young women who lost to Miller:

‘To be honest, I think it’s great they get a chance to compete and as long as they’re happy, I guess, there’s not that much I can do,’ said RHAM’s Bridget Lalonde, who finished third in the 100 behind Miller and Yearwood. ‘The rules are the rules. The only competition is the clock. You can only run as fast as you can.’

Lalonde had a personal best of 12.29. She also would finish second to Miller in the 200. Some would submit she was the real double-winner.

‘Quite honestly, I just focused on me,’ said Carly Swierbut of Newton who won the 400 in a time of 55.48. ‘I know how to run this race. I just focused on the lane in front of me and didn’t worry about anybody else.’

Asked if she had any problems competing against transgender athletes, Swierbut said, “Not at all. If you’re good enough to run, you’re good enough to run. If somebody wants to win, they’re going to work their tail off to win. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you are, everybody should have the chance.”

What’s going on here? It’s too simple to toss around explanations like “they’ve drunk the Kool-Aid.”

Perhaps these girls are simply policing their language, knowing that current politics dictates that they cannot express whatever resentment they might feel. Perhaps they have genuinely acquired the Serenity Prayer wisdom to see that they cannot change their circumstances. But it sounds much more as if everyone has simply forgotten about the fundamental reason for sex-segregated competitions.

Why We Segregate Sexes in Sports

Yes, there are superficial reasons, such as the convenience of having a single locker room for all the members of one’s team. There’s the anticipated greater camaraderie of a single-sex group. There’s the worry about sexual misconduct in a co-ed group, whether on or off the field.

The now-routine proclamations that competitors such as Miller are “just as much ‘real girls’ as all the others” and that it’s a violation of civil rights to institute any policies or stipulations that treat them any differently “just because they were assigned male at birth” suggest that the end result of promoting “girl power” and girls’ and women’s sports as if they at the same skill level as boys’ and men’s, has been a collective amnesia about females’ weaker athletic ability at all levels.

We like to think of women’s athletics as showcasing great competition. But they have more to do with the Paralympics than we’d like to admit. In both cases, an alternate competition class is created to enable those who cannot achieve at the highest levels for their sport to nonetheless gain a structured means of competing against similarly situated individuals, recognition, and, in some cases, even an audience and an income.

How Paralympics Handicaps for The Handicapped

In the Paralympics, there are extensive classifications to promote fairness among competitors with varying degrees of disability. In the case of wheelchair basketball, for instance, players are classified with a certain number of points, and teams must not exceed 14 points altogether on the court.

one-point player is someone with “significant loss of trunk control,” so that they have to hold onto the wheelchair with one hand rather than using both hands for playing. A two-point player has partial trunk control. A four-point player has normal trunk control, and includes some amputees, and a 4.5-point player includes below-the-knee amputations. A five-point player, in some cases, is for players without disabilities who are joining the disabled players by playing in wheelchairs.

For competitions such as swimming and track and field, there are a great number of categories. For track and field, there are multiple wheelchair categories, and further categories for ambulant athletes who nonetheless have some sort of cerebral palsy or a similar impairment affecting muscle tone and coordination.

The most mild of these categories that I can tell, at least as described on Wikipedia, is the T38 classification. That is interesting because at this level, well, it’s not entirely clear to me whether all participants have an unmistakable and obvious disability, or whether there are, in fact, disputes at the margin — whether an athlete qualifies for Paralympic competition, or is just on the other side of the threshold to be a perpetual last-place finisher in non-disabled competitions.

Those who watched the Paralympic coverage this past winter saw skiers coming down a mountaintop, but without the ability to judge who would be the winner based on time alone, as the commentator told us times would be adjusted to incorporate the degree of disability. Whether the experts are able to precisely identify the impact on finishing time that a given level of impairment has, in order to precisely and accurately level the playing field and award the Gold Medal to the competitor who is, in an absolute sense, the best and fastest, has to be taken on faith.

Transgender Politics Complicate Healthy People’s Sports

In women’s versus men’s competitions, on the other hand, there are just two categories, which works out fine most of the time. But in addition to transgender folk who may be deemed female for purposes of competition based on hormone measurements, yet still have the advantage of testosterone-fueled height and muscle development, there are also intersex individuals such as Caster Semenya.

Such people have male levels of testosterone despite being, as they say, “assigned female at birth.” The degrees vary based on their particular condition, despite truly being women or genuinely identifying as intersex—that is, having a condition that means they are somewhere in-between.

While it seems unfair to place these individuals in male competitive classes, and they are too few to warrant their own competitive class, it is hardly appropriate to place these individuals in the same competitive class as “regular” women however much activists want to insist that’s suitable. This gives them an inappropriate advantage that’s the equivalent to wrongly classifying Paralympic athletes.

Unless, that is, we say that women’s athletic competition is not about achievement at all, but about providing opportunities for girls to develop physical fitness, and for women to provide encouragement by setting examples. But in that case, can we at least be honest about it?

Correction: This article’s headline has been changed to “Paralympics” from “Special Olympics.” 

Elizabeth Bauer is a Forbes contributor and actuary who lives in the Chicago area. She also writes as Jane the Actuary at Patheos.com and tweets at @janetheactuary.
Photo Phil Roeder / Flickr

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