Should trans athletes be allowed to compete as they see fit? Issue needs yes-or-no answer

It’s a crazy gender world out there, folks. And, of course, the battlefield over transgender citizens’ societal and political rights has coalesced — where else? — in the so-called toy department known as sports.

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Penn’s Lia Thomas, a transgender athlete, caused quite an uproar when she won the NCAA women’s 500-yard freestyle in 2022.

Mary Schwalm/AP

I’ll bet you didn’t see this one coming in the transgender-athletes-in-women’s-sports melee: The International Chess Federation (FIDE) just banned transgender women from competing in the women’s category.

You expect this in tough, physical sports such as rugby and boxing, both of which have banned transgender females over fairness concerns, like getting smashed in the face.

But chess? Where moving a pawn an inch or reaching out and tapping a clock are about as rugged as it gets?

And here’s the really interesting part: FIDE will not only remove some past titles won by trans women but also some won by trans men who once were female.

The mind boggles. Are genetic females, thus, better than genetic males at chess and have an unfair advantage on that 64-square board, like queens taking kings, even after transitioning? Hail, estrogen!

It’s a crazy gender world out there, folks. And, of course, the battlefield over transgender citizens’ societal and political rights has coalesced — where else? — in the so-called toy department known as sports.

The conflict basically is that what is fair to transgender humans ethically might not be fair practically in sports competition, particularly in elite women’s sports. The conflict bubbled to the surface when 6-3 trans female swimmer Lia Thomas, a male three years before, won the women’s NCAA 500-yard freestyle in 2022. In her Penn locker room were female teammates upset by having to undress daily in her presence because Thomas was still anatomically a male.

One of those teammates was Paula Scanlan, who stated, “I know of women with sexual trauma who are adversely impacted by having biological males in their locker room without their consent. I know this because I am one of these women.’’

Thomas has said: “I don’t need anybody’s permission to be myself.’’

Last month, the International Cycling Federation ruled that female transgender cyclists who transitioned after they went through puberty as males will no longer be allowed in women’s races. That’s interesting because there already have been a number of transgender female cycling winners in elite competition.

The big thing here appears to be hormones, specifically the male hormone testosterone, the stuff that makes a bull a bull. If you go through puberty with it en route to becoming an adult male, you will likely be bigger, stronger, have larger bones and greater heart and lung capacity than someone who did not. That is, females.

And that testosterone-induced advantage is one that doesn’t completely disappear, sports-wise speaking, even after hormonal transitioning to become a female. Thomas didn’t shrink or have shorter arms after hormone treatment, for example.

Men will beat women in almost any sport (except chess, apparently). Consider that in 2017, the U.S. women’s national team lost a soccer game to a Dallas under-15 boys squad. In 2020, Serena Williams said, “If I were to play Andy Murray, I would lose 6-0, 6-0 in five to six minutes, maybe 10 minutes.’’

It is deeply ironic that women who earned their fair chance to compete against each other in all sports with the passage of the federal law known as Title IX, in 1972, now feel threatened by some of that same extension of free competition to trans women. Martina Navratilova, for example, the nine-time Wimbledon singles champ, has said of transgender athletes competing as females, “It’s insane, and it’s cheating.’’

Up north last week, trans athlete Anne Andres won the Western Canadian Powerlifting Championship, hoisting just over 1,317 pounds in the three lifts, setting a world record in the dead lift en route. She beat her closest rival by more than 400 pounds. Some competitors were upset. Andres herself wrote online that she is a “tranny freak.’’

The answer to all this is windingly, exhaustingly complex. Yet the decision must be simple: yes or no to allowing transgender athletes to compete as they see fit. Or do we simply have a transgender division in all sports. And how would that be done?

Soccer star Megan Rapinoe defends transgender sports rights, pointing out how marginalized and villainized trans people are, anyway: “We’re talking about people’s lives. I’m sorry, your kid’s high school volleyball team just isn’t that important. It’s not more important than any one kid’s life.’’

This is true. But elite championships matter to those who’ve dedicated their lives to their sport. How would Rapinoe have felt if her spot on the World Cup team were taken by a trans winger?

There is an answer to all this out there. I’m not sure what it is. I’m still thinking about that chess ruling.

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