In high school, I played varsity football as a mere freshman – but don’t get me wrong, I was a truly mediocre athlete. And “played” is a stretch: I never started a game for Monument Valley High in Kayenta, and most of my playing time came during the last game of the year when, down by five touchdowns, Coach Tano threw anybody with a pulse onto the field.
After moving, I barely made the JV as a sophomore at Page High School.
My wife, on the other hand, was a superb athlete: She started every game on her division-winning softball and basketball teams and even got college scholarship offers. That makes me jealous, but I never would’ve considered calling myself “Jenny” just so I could be a star on a sports team. Nor would anyone.
Stating the obvious: Trans women don’t start living as women to increase their chances of making a sports team. The very real pain of gender dysphoria is what drives them to transition, and it would be unfair to deny them the opportunity to live as who they are.
But it’s also unfair to deny cisgender women the level athletic playing field their moms and grandmothers – and even dads and grandfathers – helped create for them with the passage of Title IX, the landmark 1972 civil rights law.
An executive order recently signed by President Joe Biden threatens that equity. It instructs schools receiving Title IX funds to allow students who were born biologically male to compete in women’s athletics – the only requirement being they identify as female. Some people say this is long overdue, but I think it’s a bridge too far. People born with X and Y chromosomes have – in the aggregate, mind you, there are exceptions – greater bone density, lung capacity and muscle mass than those born with two X chromosomes.
And science can only make things slightly more equitable. A study of U.S. Air Force personnel recently published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine shows trans women maintained a physical advantage over their same-gender peers even after two years of hormone treatment – they were able to do 10 percent more pushups, 6 percent more sit-ups and were 12 percent faster on the 1.5 mile-run than the study’s cisgender females.
Still, that scenario seems more fair than the one faced by cisgender high school athletes in Connecticut who competed against Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood, two trans girls who dominated the state track meets a couple of years ago. A state law allowed them to compete as girls even though neither had any hormone treatments.
Maybe science will lead us out of this social dilemma to the promised land of trans-athletic fairness. But until we do it in a way that’s fair to all women, those who were hormonally born that way still need to have a league of their own.