Recently, RuPaul’s Drag Race came under fire for its usage of the word she-male in a skit in which contestants had to guess whether a picture of a person’s legs were those of a ‘male’ or those of a ‘she-male’. The complaint by transgender advocates was that such language denigrates transgender people by invalidating their gender identity.
Some transgender women, such as model Carmen Carrera, have denounced the usage as unequivocally pejorative, while other transgender women, such as classical pianist and musician Our Lady J, have defended it as artistically meaningful and provocative.
This whole fiasco has forced me to wonder how transgender people are being treated in the everyday world. Just as some transgender people are entertainers, some are also athletes. While the dialogue over usage of she-male in Drag Race heats up, transgender people are also facing obstacles in the world of sports.
Recently, personal trainer and Crossfit athlete Chloie Jonsson, who is a transgender woman, sued Crossfit for discrimination on the basis of gender identity. The fitness company allegedly barred Jonsson from competing in the women’s division of the CrossFit Games. In defense of Jonsson, GLAAD created a petition requesting that CrossFit change its policy to allow ‘transgender athletes to compete under their consistent, lived identity’.
CrossFit responded with this less-than-sympathetic and doggedly deterministic statement:
The fundamental, ineluctable fact is that a male competitor who has a sex reassignment procedure still has the genetic makeup that confers a physical and physiological advantage over women. That Chloie may have felt herself emotionally, and very conscientiously, to be a woman in her heart, and that she ultimately underwent the legal and other surgical procedures to carry that out, cannot change that reality. Further, the timing of her sex reassignment surgery (and any subsequent hormone therapy) does not change this discussion.
Our decision has nothing to do with ‘ignorance’ or being bigots — it has to do with a very real understanding of the human genome, of fundamental biology, that you are either intentionally ignoring or missed in high school.
How positively decisive and ‘scientific’. But CrossFit’s decision is not necessarily based on an ineluctable fact about biology, at least in regard to transgender women who have undergone gender reassignment surgery. Rather, they seem preoccupied with black-and-white ideas about sex biology. Consider this argument by an anonymous Facebook user in response to a cisgender woman’s attack on transgender model Carmen Carrera:
With the removal of the testicles, plus 2 or more years of hormone therapy, she is at a disadvantage, not an advantage. Her testosterone levels are nearly zero, BELOW cisgender females, whose ovaries do produce some testosterone. Plus
with the loss of testosterone, muscle mass reverts to female structure. Genes (XY or XX) have zero to do with this. Did you know that 1 in 30,000 females at birth is XY, has a vagina, and grows up to be a girl like any other girl? Did you know that 1 in 100,000 males at birth is XX, has a penis, and grows up to be a guy like any other guy?
The truth is far more complex than grade school biology might assume and there is zero evidence that trans women have any substantive advantage in sports.
Who should I believe? You? Or the medical professionals who analyzed all this data and said that transwomen are biologically women for the purposes of competition? I think I’ll stick with the opinions of the experts.
The woman in question does not “still have testosterone”, meaning your entire line of reasoning rests of false assumptions. I would suggest you reconsider your logic, because by starting with erroneous assumptions, you have reached an erroneous conclusion.
Another anonymous Facebook user showed how it is profoundly insulting and biologically inaccurate to deny transgender people their identity, especially after transitioning (although whether or not one has transitioned does not affect their identity):
No, she’s not. She’s not male; especially after going through HRT and (presumably) surgery. Everyone has testosterone in them. Everyone also has estrogen and progesterone. EVERYONE. It just so happens that these hormones are present in someone’s body in different levels based on their designation at birth. When someone goes on HRT, the hormone levels in their body change – if someone AMAB goes on estrogen, their muscles shrink and weaken, bone density goes up, fat distribution changes, body hair and skin softens. Same with someone AFAB going on testosterone – their muscles get bigger, faster; bone density goes down, body hair increases and their body fat moves to cis male patterns.
The fact that someone was AMAB or AFAB has no standing after they’ve been on HRT for extended periods of time. Like someone said in the comments elsewhere, trans women often end up weaker than cis women due to the estrogen they’re taking (which can knock their testosterone levels way below what a woman is supposed to have).
This isn’t an attack, it’s a biology lesson.
Would you tell someone who was AFAB and is naturally 6’2″, 320 lbs.+, who has been on testosterone for over a year, that he shouldn’t compete with cis men just because he had been born with a vagina?
Same basic principle. This isn’t a matter of “she was designated male at birth so she has all the advantages a cis male would have competing with cis women!” – it’s transphobia and transmisogyny.
Obviously the point is that transgender women should be able to compete in women’s sports alongside cisgender women, and, also, that transgender men should be able to compete in men’s sports alongside cisgender men. It seems that when surgery and hormone treatments permit, transgender women might actually have a disadvantage compared with cisgender women. Perhaps research will reveal something similar about transgender men.
There are four things to take away from this.
First, if a transgender person is denied participation in all sports, where are they to play sports? In a special Transgender Olympics? I suppose they could, but it doesn’t seem very fair, does it? Transgender women are women, and transgender men are men. I understand this might seem strange, but think about it. Is it fair?
Second, why do companies like CrossFit still believe that men are like this, and women are like that? It’s pseudoscientific bullshit. Cordelia Fine proves so many of these ideas wrong in Delusions of Gender. It is not enough to challenge the notion that gender is ‘ineluctable’. We have to call out pseudo-science purveyors of gender like John Gray on their bullshit.
Third, how are males superior to females? I can understand physical contact sports like football. Yes, most men are physically stronger than women. But what about sports like golf, or tennis, or badminton, or running? What about archery, balance, flexibility, and agility? Women are superior to men in some of these areas. How can you say that men are physically superior to women? You can’t, because they are not.
Fourth, some people of some ethnic descents have an advantage over some people of other ethnic descents. Should you discriminate against Asian men because they are shorter than African men? Where are you going to draw the line?
I will leave you with a superb fight scene featuring Gina Carano in Haywire: