The crowd erupted in applause as you just scored the winning goal. “That’s my daughter!” Your dad yells from the bleachers. You celebrate the victory with your teammates and train for the next game. During your next match, you notice someone on the opposing team is a transgender female. How would you feel in this situation?
Since 2017, Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller, two transgender female athletes from Connecticut high schools, have achieved 15 women’s state championships. These titles were previously held by cisgender female athletes (Milanovich, 2019). Several states in the U.S. such as Connecticut allow high school athletes to compete in a sports team that agrees with their gender identity. However, some people do not agree with this policy. Selina Soule, an athlete at Glastonbury High School, feels that those whose sex assigned at birth is male (transgender females) can jeopardize her chances of receiving college scholarships. She says, “I race to win. But that’s virtually impossible now in an unlevel playing field.” The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian group in Connecticut, supports Soule and believes that sport teams should be categorized based on the athletes’ sex assigned at birth (Megan, 2019).
Complaints about transgender girls competing in a sports team with cisgender girls has led to conversations about hormone treatment for the transgender female athletes. In contrast to Connecticut and other states that do not demand transgender athletes to undergo hormone therapy, some organizations require transgender women to undergo testosterone suppression treatment before they can participate in women sport teams. On average, testosterone levels of cisgender men fall between 7.7 and 29.4 nmol/L while cisgender women have 1.7 nmol/L or less The International Olympic Committee allows transgender female athletes to compete on a women’s team if they keep their testosterone levels under 10 nmol/L (Aschwanden, 2019).
The approach of lowering testosterone levels of transgender female athletes may not actually create a level playing field in women sport teams. Alison Heather, a physiologist at the University of Otago, comments on how certain features such as larger lung capacity is maintained after testosterone levels get reduced (Aschwanden, 2019). Since transgender female athletes can retain more air in their lungs, cisgender female athletes can be at a disadvantage during sport games. Furthermore, there are risks associated with hormone treatment for transgender female athletes. These risks include cardiovascular disease, decreased sex drive, and increase in weight (Mayo Clinic, 2017). Continuously suppressing testosterone levels for sport games can lead to complications for transgender female athletes in the future.
Ultimately, it seems likely that debates about whether transgender females should be included in women sport teams will continue to persist. On one side, the inclusion of transgender female athletes can allow them to feel more comfortable in their own bodies and accepted by society. On the other hand, people want fairness for cisgender female athletes. The idea of having a new category in sports that involves only transgender people in the teams has been talked about. This would permit transgender females to have the same opportunities as their cisgender female peers, while maintaining safe hormone levels. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are only about 2% transgender high school students in the United States (The Trevor Project, 2019). Some high schools may not have enough transgender individuals for a sports team to form. Until the population of transgender individuals increases, transgender female athletes should be allowed to participate with cisgender female athletes, but perhaps a solution will arise, as more transgender female athletes become the topic of discussion in the conversation of sports.
Mayo Clinic. (2017). Feminizing hormone therapy. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/mtf-hormone-therapy/about/pac-20385096
Megan, K. (2019). Transgender sports debate polarizes women’s advocates. Retrieved from https://ctmirror.org/2019/07/22/transgender-issues-polarizes-womens-advocates-a-conundrum/
Milanovich, A. Y. (2019). Transgender athletes deserve compassion, but not the right to transform women’s sports. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/voices/2019/09/27/transgender-athletes-supreme-court-sex-equality-column/2421776001/
Aschwanden, C. (2019). Trans athletes are posting victories and shaking up sports. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/story/the-glorious-victories-of-trans-athletes-are-shaking-up-sports/
The Trevor Project. (2019). New federal survey shows 2% of U.S. high school students identify as transgender. Retrieved from https://www.thetrevorproject.org/2019/01/24/new-federal-survey-shows-2-of-us-high-school-students-identify-as-transgender/