Transgender Athletes: An Overview and the Public’s Opinion

By: Amy Lu

Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

Since the 1900s, queer movements have been continuously on the rise. From gays to transgenders to asexuals, more and more people are coming out as LGBTQ+ and the mass public is slowly but steadily beginning to acknowledge this new age of free love and orientation. However, now that we have gotten past this first stage of acknowledgment, new hurdles, such as the issue over whether or not transgender athletes should compete in their preferred sport gender section, are emerging.

Overview

Despite what some may think, transgender athletes have been around since before the 2000s and first came out in the 1900s. An example of an early transgender athlete is Renée Richards, who was a tennis player competing in the male category, but underwent gender reassignment surgery in 1975 and began competing in the women’s category a year later.

After Renée Richards came out and chose to compete as a woman, there was massive media backlash criticizing her decision, and the effect her seemingly physical advantage would have over the other female players. While there were more cases of transgender athletes coming out before and after Richards, their media exposure was less amplified and didn’t spark as much of a debate until transgender woman Laurel Hubbard was chosen to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as a weightlifter representing New Zealand.

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Hubbard is the first transgender person to ever compete in the Olympics, so this naturally generated a large wave of varied responses, most of them questioning the decision. The most significant concern is that Hubbard will have a physical advantage over the other women, despite meeting all of the IOC’s criteria for transgender women and lowering her testosterone levels.

Similarly, transgender woman Veronica Ivy (formerly Rachel McKinnon) received a bad reputation for choosing to participate in women’s sports, and it only worsened after becoming the first transgender world champion in track cycling.

Public Opinion

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It would seem that the reason the majority of the public disapproves of athletes switching sport gender categories -particularly from male to female – is because of the natural difference in physical strength between the two sexes.

It is a known fact that men have more natural body strength than women. Even with the help of gender reassignment surgery and hormone replacement therapy, the puberty men went through before their transition does not go away. This controversy over whether or not surgery and therapy can level the playing field for transgender people has only been brought up within the recent few years, which means there isn’t much supporting evidence for either side to prove the soundness of their opinions.

Because there have only been a few experiments done to verify the validity of gender reassignment surgery and hormone replacement therapy, and comparing someone’s athletic data before and after transitioning, there isn’t much quantitative support to prove how effective surgery and treatment are towards ensuring transgender women are eligible to compete with cisgender women.

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It also doesn’t help that many of the current high-profile transgender athletes compete in sports that rely heavily on physical strength over technique, which is why the majority of the public disagrees with the decisions of sports committees, such as the IOC, to allow transgender athletes to compete in a new sport gender category.

And so, while there is not a large amount of evidence either side can use to support their arguments, each side is still just as passionate as if there were. Since LGBTQ+ people are still being discriminated against throughout the world, there will always be several people who will support them for social justice and equality. Still, sports have never had much to do with social fairness and stands from a primarily physical standpoint. So, while ideally, these two sides could come to a consensus, that will most likely need to wait until hard evidence is published.

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