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“Protect women’s sports” is a phrase that I’ve been seeing a lot lately. Having read the title of this article, you might be asking yourself, “what’s your problem with protecting women’s sports?” Indeed, I am a very big fan of women’s sports and there’s nothing I want more than to see women’s leagues grow and thrive.
My problem with the phrase “protect women’s sports” however, is that it only ever comes from people who are trying to use women’s sports as a way to further marginalize and exclude transgender people. It has come up a lot recently, as several US states have put in place legislation that effectively bans transgender athletes from participating in school sports. Three states have enacted legislation like that just this year alone: Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas.
The Governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, told the Associated Press that the legislation was “common sense,” that they didn’t want to be, “overshadowed by political correctness.” Hutchinson then went on to say that he was unaware of any instances of transgender athletes playing on women’s sports teams in Arkansas.
I decided to give Hutchinson the benefit of the doubt, so I googled, “Asa Hutchinson WNBA”; if he’s such a big supporter of women’s sports, then surely there must be a picture of him courtside at a game, or maybe he campaigned to get a team instated in his state. There were no such results. That’s really the issue here, isn’t it? Women’s sports are being used as a site for discrimination by people who really couldn’t care less about women’s sports.
What’s clear to me is that these kinds of people are pretending to care about women’s sports the same way they were pretending to care about bathrooms a few years ago; it’s all just transparent bigotry that has nothing to do what they claim they care about.
If they did truly care about women’s sports, then they would know that trans people have been playing in women’s sports leagues for years. In 2016, Harrison Browne announced, while playing in the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL), that he was transgender. He became the first openly trans person in professional hockey. Browne was not shunned from the league, nor from his team, rather he was embraced by fans and teammates and became the first man to play in the NWHL. He won two championships before retiring in 2018.
Oh, but these people don’t actually care about transgender men and boys participating in sports do they? What they care about is a so called “unfair advantage” that having gone through male puberty supposedly gives transgender women and girls.
Okay, here’s another example then. Jessica Platt started playing for the Toronto Furies, a professional women’s hockey team in Canada, in 2016. In her time with the Furies, Platt was a solid defender who didn’t put up that many points. In 2018, Platt announced that she was trans and had been on hormone replacement therapy since 2012. As a fan of that team, not once did I notice a difference in the way Jessica Platt played hockey and the way that her cisgender peers did.
Which brings me to another point, so what if I did? So what if there is a difference in the way that trans athletes play sports and the way that cis athletes play sports? Sports are full of all kinds of biological differences and quite often they are celebrated.
Michael Phelps’ body makes an unusually low amount of lactic acid, which allows him to recover quicker than his competition. He also has an unusually long wingspan and massive feet. Yet, we don’t question Michael Phelps’ eligibility to compete against swimmers without those advantages. In fact, we celebrate them by saying that the universe must have given him the perfect body for swimming. If we were really all about “fairness” then no one under 6’5” would be allowed to play basketball. We wouldn’t let ambidextrous people play baseball because they’d have an unfair advantage when pitching and hitting.
The thing is, I don’t think sports are really about “fairness” at the core of it all. Whether you think sports are about winning and competition, or about having fun and building communities, or something else entirely, the concept of fairness is not an objective measure of sport.
What I suspect is that people pushing legislation like this care little about fairness, less about women and even less about women’s sports. It’s just another way to discriminate.
The final argument that I’ve seen online is so ridiculous that it’s borderline laughable. The argument goes like this: what if a cis man pretends to be transgender so that he can dominate at women’s sports? This is a problematic argument, firstly, because it pushes the inherently transphobic narrative that trans women are just “men in dresses.” But beyond that, it’s quite possibly the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. Once again, if these people actually cared about and followed women’s sports they’d see how utterly idiotic they sound.
But sure, let’s talk about it. Let’s say that for example that I am a cisgender man. I played basketball in high school and college and I was okay, but I was never great. I can dunk though and someone in the comments of a YouTube video told me that women in the WNBA can’t do that, so I decide that I’m going to “come out” as transgender so that I can play against what I believe is inferior competition.
Let’s say they let me do that. So now I have to go on hormone replacement therapy for at least a year before I’m allowed to play, I have to live publicly as a trans woman and deal with all of the dangers that come with that. Let’s say I do all of that and it’s my first season in the WNBA, not only am I on hormones that have changed the way that my muscles work, but I make a grand total of $57,000 a year and every time ESPN posts my highlights a guy in the comments section tells me to make him a sandwich. What a really great plan.
Women’s sports do need protecting, but the thing that they do not need protecting from is transgender women (who, in case I haven’t made it abundantly clear, are real women). Women’s sports needs protecting from institutions who find creative ways to shortchange girls sports teams while still remaining Title IX “compliant.” We could protect women from the harassment they often receive simply for participating in sports. We could protect women from financial insecurity that comes with receiving a fraction of the pay for playing the same sports as their male counterparts. I will never have respect for anyone who claims that trans women will ruin women’s sports and I absolutely refuse to even listen to them if they don’t also care about these issues that pose actual threats to the sustainability of women’s sports.
There is no good reason to completely exclude transgender people from sports. All of this legislation is just transphobia thinly veiled as “protecting women.” Sports are an important piece of so many people’s lives. Sports keep people active, are where lifelong friendships are made and character lessons are taught. There are countless benefits to being involved in sports, so to ban an entire demographic of people from participating, like this legislation does, is nothing short of evil.