Whenever we ask about why a policy that is controversial was passed, the first response often is, “Think of the children.”
I find this fascinating and also a little fear-mongering. We were all children once. At 11 years old, did you understand what was happening in the world and have your own opinion about society and culture? For me, I just hated having to do homework and looked forward to snow days so school was canceled.
In almost every policy and argument surrounding whether transgender athletes should be allowed to participate in sports in their preferred gender, the first word usually is “children” and the last sentence usually involves safety and the good of the many. Using this argument whenever we talk about how to handle transgender athletes enables us to justify something that we know is unethical or wrong as a necessary evil. But ethical policies, or ones that make sense, never need to use children as a justification.
In the recently passed Iowa bill banning transgender athletes, State Rep. Barbara Ehardt, the bill’s sponsor, said she began working on it in an effort to “protect opportunities for girls and women.”
“We physically cannot compete against biological boys, we just cannot, and once those opportunities are lost, they are gone, you cannot get those back,” she said. “This could literally tear teams and communities apart.”
So there we have it: think of the children, and it’s for the greater good.
This is not the first time people in the majority have used the biology excuse to try and prevent a minority and oppressed population from participating in sports. African American women faced similar arguments in trying to compete in athletics with their white counterparts: that they have an unfair biological advantage.
In the discussion “Race, Power & American Sports” featuring Dave Zirin and Sut Jhally, Zirin explained how “there is a long history in the U.S. Olympic movement throughout the 20th century of trying to figure out ways to bar African American women, saying they had unfair advantages, biological advantages. One member of the International Olympic Committee once spoke about creating a separate hermaphrodite category just for African-American women.”
Zirin went on to explain how a South African runner, Caster Semenya, “was accused by her white Australian competitors of being ‘intersex.’”
“The way they raise these issues was seen by people in South Africa as being deeply, deeply racist — as if her body type did not conform to what they wanted it to look like, or they thought it should look like, and therefore there must be something wrong with her,” Zirin said.
A common theme I find when discussing this topic is that trans women have an unfair advantage in participating in women’s sports. When transwomen take testosterone blockers, however, it not only decreases and prevents erections and libido but also reduces the size, fertility and function of male genitalia.
Others argue that transwomen’s participation puts cisgendered women’s safety at risk. In 2014, the Child Protection League, a conservative group, ran an ad in a Minnesota newspaper to protest transgender students’ participation in high school sports. It read, “A male wants to shower beside your 14-year-old daughter. Are YOU OK with that?”
When you put it like that, how could anyone be OK with that? What that statement didn’t say, however, is that the “male” actually is a transgender female and that she is most likely also 14 or even younger. Yet the first image that pops in my head upon reading that is of an older man showering with a young girl, implying sexual abuse or assault, and therefore painting transgender athletes as sexual deviants.
If no transgender athletes could participate in their preferred genders but only in their biological ones, then a transgender male, who is on testosterone, would not be allowed to play against men. Instead, he would compete with women, thereby creating the problem that this argument wanted to avoid.
Telling transgender people that they couldn’t play sports would prevent them from taking part in the incredible developmental experiences that sports offer. The NCAA, at least, seems to have a pretty logical transgender policy in place to allow transgender people to compete. As long as a transgender person is on hormone therapy for at least a year straight, which is not unreasonable and also is considered medically stable in the context of hormone therapy, he or she can participate in his or her gender-preferred sport.
I have been accepted to an all-women’s college in Virginia, a small community that highly encourages each student to play a sport because it builds teamwork and camaraderie. I can do so because the school only requires that a student have “female” on her birth certificate to attend, which I now have thanks to Pennsylvania’s laws supporting transgender people. I can’t tell you how excited I am to try playing field hockey with my future classmates. This is an opportunity that many, many people in my position never get.
There are no concerns about whether I will be a superior player (I have never played before, so how could I?), no fear about locker room issues, no concern about developmental issues. All that exists is an opportunity for a woman to become part of a team and a community surrounding a competitive physical activity. And isn’t that the point of sports?
A Tunkhannock native, Erica Smith is a 28-year-old disabled veteran, dog mom, transgender woman and graduate of Marywood University, where she earned dual bachelor’s degrees in philosophy and physician assistant studies with minors in history, astronomy and bioethics plus an honors citation. She is a feminist philosopher and a bioethicist (certificate level) who is pursuing a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling at Marywood and has written two graduate-level theses, “Ethical Medical Treatment for Children and Adolescents with Gender Dysphoria” and “An Ethical Analysis of the Mental Healthcare System Treatment of Gender Dysphoric Patients.” As an advocate for LGBTQIA++ people in Northeast Pennsylvania, she has spoken at events and tries to educate and start conversations on the topic. Additionally, Smith is a volunteer firefighter/EMT and loves reading, playing with her dog, playing video games, building computers, drawing, journaling and spending time with her Christian women’s group, Delight. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.