A good friend just reposted an article on social media about 2 female, transgender high school athletes in Connecticut who won a race defeating a number of cis girls at a track meet. The article is published by a source infamous for its propensity to propagate fake news with a strong conservative bias and its content, starting with the headline, is shockingly offensive. Despite my San Francisco snowflake status, I understand the sentiment behind the basic intent of the creation and subsequent repost of the article.
Living here in SF has given me the opportunity to know and interface with a number of transgender individuals daily. That, paired with my personal experience with the stigma around ethnicity, sexual orientation, and mental health issues has afforded me the chance to completely rethink my preconceived attitudes concerning my transgender friends and the greater community (to all people if we’re honest). When I observe my reactions to the subject matter of this poorly written article, it raises a number of questions:
· Exactly what is the impact of the placement in a high school track event for the participants?
· Why is it that we separate some sports by gender identity and others not? What are the specific criteria?
· Why do we make unfounded and blanket generalizations and assumptions about the physical characteristics transgender individuals (I’m talking to you, genitals, hormones, and muscle mass!)?
· When we talk about what is “fair” in athletics, why do we impose the same standards to cisgender and transgender people?
· In relation to the above, when we do apply/misapply these standards, is it acceptable to assign and superimpose our individual concept of a binary cisgender identity onto a transgender individual?
As humans, we are genetically driven to find patterns and when things do not adhere to our understanding of what these patterns “should” be, we are conditioned to create expected patterns even where they do not exist (“Hey, that cloud looks like Tammy Lahren” or “Which one of you is the girl?”). We do this both as subject and as observer.
Athletics in general seems similarly obsessed with the concept of gender and the assignment of gender roles as they are purported to translate into the roles we “naturally” assume in our daily lives. Oddly, gender-specific sports like girl’s softball, gymnastics, and field hockey persist while others like basketball and soccer exist as exact analogs to their “masculine” counterparts. Gender-agnostic participation also varies.
It was unthinkable, prior to the 1970s, for women to participate in marathons. I was shocked to learn that currently, women who run marathons lacking gender segregation are ineligible to be awarded world records for their achievements as the impression is that they are pacing themselves against men and therefore in possession of an unfair advantage over those competing exclusively against other women.
Why do we segregate athletics by gender to the extent that we do, and why do we impose our impressions of cisgender characteristics on transgender individuals? It is well known that transgender is a term applied to a diverse subset of the gender spectrum. The physical attributes of trans people are more often than not, the subject of speculation and assumption on the part of people who either do not know the individual, are not privy to that information, or have no realistic concept of the endlessly diverse realities of the transgender population (see the abhorrent and vicious comments following the article linked in the first paragraph).
I understand intellectually, the sentiment that some trans girls will naturally be athletically advantaged in comparison to cis girls in certain activities. I think though that it is both unscientific and frankly offensive, the assumption that these girls’ victory can be attributed solely or in part to the gender assigned at birth and that this is, for some reason, unfair. In the video, I see 7 girls running in the race. Each of them has different physical shapes and attributes. Today, we still hear people question whether it is fair that black athletes compete with other ethnicities because of the unfair advantage their “race” affords them. Is it acceptable to claim that some of the girls lost “unfairly” because they are white?
At the end of the day, is it essential in the grand scheme of things who runs faster in this race in Connecticut? What is it that evokes these assumptions and accusations of unfairness, entitlement, mental illness, or confusion?
Trans people are four times more likely to live below the poverty line. 1 in 12 trans women in the US becomes a victim of violence (1 in 8 for TWOC Trans Women of Color). Being transgender is not a lifestyle or a choice. It is among the most stigmatized and misunderstood identities that we as humans can experience. Why do we prioritize the feelings that we assume 5 girls who didn’t place 1st or 2nd in a race at their high school track meet may have had?
Learn More Here:
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