In a world of accepting all races, genders, ethnicities, and identities, it is not surprising that the world of athletics is being called upon to be accepting of everything and everyone. There has always been that high school kid that wants to compete in a sport that isn’t normal for their gender to participate in – boys as cheerleaders, girls as wrestlers and football players. Now we have the debate of allowing transgender athletes competing as the gender that they identify with. In the 2016 Olympic Summer Games in Rio, transgender men (females becoming males) were allowed to compete as men without restrictions. Olympic trans women were allowed to compete in female competition without having to undergo gender reassignment surgery and did not have to wait two years after transitioning, as in previous years. A trans woman only had to declare ‘herself’ as female and prove testosterone levels were comparable to a cisgender woman. (Cisgender means that their biological gender is the same as what they identify as.) This set off a firestorm of debate and controversy over the fairness of competition for females. In an article from the Washington Post written by Steven Petrow , former Olympic judo competitor Ronda Rousey is quoted as she complained to the media “She can try hormones, chop her pecker off, but it’s still the same bone structure a man has. It’s an advantage. I don’t think it’s fair.” Perhaps this issue being pushed onto a global athletic event, like the Olympic Games, created the catalyst to started this movement in lower level sports, like high school and NCAA competition.
As a high school coach, I find it unfortunate that political issues have infiltrated an area like high school sports. For me, high school athletics is about adolescent inclusion and exposure to an activity, about honoring commitments to your team, about time management, about developing bonds with teammates, and about a healthy lesson in winning and losing. For serious high school athletes, it’s a time for physical development, mental toughness, and progress in training. High school athletes also take on regular high school obligations just as non-athletes do – increased course loads, state exams, college entry, job applications, community service requirements, etc. As if that’s not enough, high schoolers hit puberty at some point, and then the whole world just changes. It seems as though testosterone makes high school boys become taller, stronger, faster, and more muscular. For high school girls, the explosion of estrogen starts menstruation cycles, mood swings that spark depression, high risk of anemia, and loss of bone density. there is no debate in the fact that high school is a melting pot of development and identity crisis at an emotional age.
For both boys and girls, emotions run high in high school. Along with that comes identity and image insecurities. There are too many ways to see how you are ‘supposed’ to look – Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, whatever social platform you choose – and too quickly can you be labeled and targeted for not following what is main stream. I dislike the path that social media has taken and the toll it takes on the kids I see. Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s was traumatic enough, I could not imagine the additive of social media and the cyber world into a time when I hated to see my own reflection in the mirror and listened to what everyone thought about me.
And so I have digressed from my topic already …..
Before I go farther, I will state that I think that everyone should be true to themselves and accept others for who they choose to be. If you want to be preppy or gothic or a gypsy, then go for it! If you want to wear women’s clothes or wear only men’s clothes, then go for it! If you are gay/lesbian/bisexual or transitioning to another gender, then good for you and good luck! You are the people who are going against the ‘normal’ standards. You have pick a difficult path and have probably dealt with more criticism and publicity than most. I even applaud those who don’t care about any of this enough to really not have a strong opinion on the matter.
Back to my point, it cannot be denied that there is a difference between male and female (psst, that’s why there is a male and a female), and that there are physical advantages to each gender. Women are naturally more flexible, have higher immune systems, tolerate cold and communicate better, have longevity, and can think multidimensionally more than men. Why do you think that there are so many Fortune 500 female bosses! Conversely, men have longer and larger bones, metabolize faster, produce more red blood cells, have larger muscle fibers, have lower body fat, and a more narrow pelvis. In sports like gymnastics, shooting, and equestrian, women take the advantage due to joint range of motion and mental focus. Men have the clear advantage in sports like running, swimming, and wrestling due to their larger muscle mass, frame, and weight. (and for one particular reader, brain size has nothing to do with it!)
With all of that being said, I am not close minded or a bigot, nor am I misogamist or transphobe. I am a realist who accepts that there are physical and mental differences between male and female.
That’s why it is such a big deal when one wants to go through the process to become the other. There is a long, and arduous process that someone has to go through to lose one gender and develop the other. Psychological, chemical, and physical changes have to be made, and, in my opinion, the change is never truly made. You can’t change chromosomes, as far as I know. Many trans women athletes (men transitioning to women) will acknowledge that they are stronger, taller, and bigger than cisgender women. Joanna Harper, who is a trans woman that writes a sports blog for The Guardian, states, “… it is certainly true that even after hormone therapy, trans women will be, on average, taller, bigger and stronger than other women.” It is important to know that Harper was a marathon runner in her 20’s and transitioned after competing. She noticed that her marathon times supposedly dropped 12% after nine months of hormone therapy. Is it the therapy or getting past your prime in running? Hard to tell. Harper also states in her article that before hormone therapy, trans women have all of the advantages in competition that a male would have over a female. So why did the Olympic Committee decide to allow trans women who have not had surgery or waited the previously required two years to complete hormone therapy? I think it had something to do with the political atmosphere; too bad because I had always respected Olympic competition as holding the utmost standard to competition and being politically or socially immune. I agree with Harper in that gender identity alone is not an acceptable means to compete in the other gender’s events. But where is the middle ground, if there is one?
As anyone who has ever taken hormone therapy knows, it takes time to make a difference. (I took a hormone therapy for post pardum depression and it took WEEKS before it made any real difference.) For those taking hormone therapy for the purpose of changing gender, it can take nine to twelve months before psychological and physical changes occur. It also matters if the person started taking the hormones before, during, or after puberty. Once genetic boys start puberty, testosterone is released and begins undeniable changes, which I discussed earlier. And that brings us to the issue I wanted to bring up…
Is it okay for a high school athlete, who is identifying as a different gender, to compete as their identified gender?
This is a big topic that I do not plan to solve or even pass my opinion on. I just want to start a discussion and bring to light that I am talking about adolescents (ages 12-18), not professional athletes. Take the case of Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller, transgender girls from Connecticut competing in high school track and field. This Indoor Track season, they competed as females due to Connecticut’s state law allowing transgender athletes to compete without restrictions. Yearwood finished second in the state in the 55-meter dash, while Miller finished first. The third place finisher was a genetic female and ran an amazing time of 7.23 seconds. Miller also went on to finish first in the 300 meter dash. These two transgender athletes are also finishing top in their events in Outdoor Track. Parents are outraged at the opportunities for qualifications or spots in high level track meets in which recruiters are watching are being occupied by transgender girls instead of their genetic female daughters. Honestly, if my daughter lost a top spot at a state level track meet to a trans girl, in a state that has a law allowing competition with no restrictions, I’d be upset too! Selina Soule, a competitor against Yearwood and Miller, said “We all know the outcome of the race before it even starts; it’s demoralizing. I fully support and am happy for these athletes for being true to themselves. They should have the right to express themselves in school, but athletics have always had extra rules to keep the competition fair.” She’s right and it just doesn’t seem fair.
If upper level athletes were supposed to wait two years after reassignment surgery, then why aren’t other athletes held to that standard? Is it because there isn’t enough time in college or high school to complete these requirements? There’s a reason for it! Are you really going to let a high schooler, who doesn’t truly know who they are yet, mutilate themselves and take hormones to change their gender? In my opinion, not at a high school level, maybe even not at a college level. I’ll ask this, if you feel as a youth that you are the opposite gender that your were born as, won’t you continue to feel that way and may be better equipped to handle the process when you reach adulthood?
As a coach, I always want fair competition. I want a level playing field and the best to come out on top. I also want a safe and harassment free environment for my athletes. It doesn’t matter who they are or how they identify themselves. in the end, the are high school student athletes. Their academics and development should come first, not politicizing a social issue that they feel they need to be a part of. So let them be; leave the hormone research and athletic experiments to the elite and professional level athletes. Isn’t just surviving high school enough to deal with?
Thoughts …. I’m sure there are many.
“Transgender high school athletes spark controversy, debate in Connecticut” Associated Press. 25 Feb 2019. https://www.foxnews.com/sports/transgender-high-school-athletes-spark-controversy-debate-in-connecticut
Petrow, Steve. “Do transgender athletes have an unfair advantage at Olympics?” The Washington Post. 8 Aug 2016. whttps://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/do-transgender-athletes-have-an-unfair-advantage-at-the-olympics/2016/08/05/08169676-5b50-11e6-9aee-8075993d73a2_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.18efd5edde94
Harper, Joanna. “Sport’s transgender debate needs compromise not conflict” The Guardian. 1 April 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2019/apr/01/sports-transgender-debate-compromise-not-conflict