The case for trans athletes

Duke Editorial Staff

Sept. 2, 2021

Sports are some of the most popular events around the world, giving athletes the opportunity to compete and push the boundaries of what is humanly possible. 

Even for people who do not follow athletics closely, household names like Usain Bolt and Simone Biles are known because of the magnitude of their achievements. 

Suffice to say, most people can at least appreciate the spirit of athletic competition and achievement. That is, if it’s fair.

“Fairness is a difficult thing to come about in sports. Some people just have biological advantages.”

This is what Andie Taylor, a transgender woman who runs competitively, said in a New York Times video.

Fairness is a mainstay when discussing transgender participation in sports, whether it be at an elite or casual level. The main argument that arises is whether or not transgender women should be allowed to compete in traditional women’s sports. 

The assumption is that because of their history as a biological male, they will have a physical advantage over cisgender women, and “destroy women’s sports.”

Most arguments about physical advantages refer to a combination of factors relating to testosterone levels, as well as other factors like height/weight, muscle mass and red blood cells. Proponents argue that these factors intrinsically give transgender women an advantage.

Different body types are advantageous for different sports. An athlete that has an advantage in one sport may be at a disadvantage in another. If there was a transgender athlete who was taller than their competition, it does not necessarily translate to an athletic advantage because height is not advantageous in all sports.

It is also important to realize that advantages already exist in sports among cisgender athletes, and they are not banned. Michael Phelps, for example, produces half of the lactic acid of his competition, and he is a celebrated Olympic champion. 

Transgender athletes should not be excluded from sports because of their identity.

Transgender athletes have been allowed to compete in the Olympics since 2004, but this did not occur until this past summer in Tokyo. Laurel Hubbard, a weightlifter from New Zealand, was the first transgender athlete to compete in the Olympics. Hubbard failed to win any medals in the women’s over-87-kilogram division in the recent games. 

This conveys a larger point that transgender athletes, so far, have not been dominating sports when they are allowed to compete, which is the main criticism against trans individuals.

There is no conclusive evidence that suggests transgender athletes create an unfair playing field for cisgender athletes, so it is wrong to exclude them from sports at any level.