Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Trans Women in Sports

Edit: this was written mere hours before I heard about the controversy surrounding Caster Semenya. Here is an excellent post about some of the science implications in that case. I congratulate Semenya on her win in the 800m and wish her all the best.

At Shakesville today this was posted about the problems faced by trans women who wish to compete in women's sports. The issue that some media commentators seem to have (when do they not have issues?!) with trans sportswomen is their so-called advantage over cis women. Those poor little cis women have no chance against someone who used to be a man!

For a long time in women's sports, right through the 20th century, "mannish" women were treated with suspicion, mainly for potentially being lesbian (where masculine appearance = desire for women, wonderful logic), which we certainly can't have in ladies' sports, heavens no. Additionally, accusing a sportswoman of being lesbian could be fatal for her career. Cue spreading on the femininity thick to avoid accusations, whether lesbian or not.

This all was/is part of strategies to keep sport as a male domain. If women are seen to be able to compete in sports at a comparable standard to men - or even, forget about the men, women competing at all - they threaten the status of sports as places where boys learn to become men, where they can display their masculinity, or something.

But they didn't say that of course. On the outside, the reasons for attacking lesbians in sport were apparently because since lesbian clearly = more masculine (hmm), they would have an advantage over "normal" heterosexual women. So nows this spreads to trans women who are seen to have an advantage, despite no longer being under the influence of male hormones and losing any associated muscle mass. Because as we know, ALL men have superior muscle mass.

I also find it tedious that cis/straight women are considered to be weak, small, slow. This has been disproven, we know there is a significant overlap between the sizes of women and the sizes of men.

Two comment on the Shakesville thread I linked above have made me think.

1) What do these conservative commentators actually care about whether there are trans women, mannish lesbians, etc., in women's sports? Women's sports are a joke to many sports consumers, so why care? If a trans woman is "really" a man, as conservatives hatefully remind us, then she does not threaten the sports = male domain thing, does she, because she's not a "real woman", she's a man and so can't help with the "OMG women are growing as strong as men!" argument.

2) Where's the fear and hatred of trans men? Isn't that a more scary thing for the conservatives? Because trans men are really women, right, so that looks like women actually gaining a foothold in men's sports. But I guess one reason is that trans men are also a joke, they could never compete on the level of "real" men, will never get to the top levels, won't ever truly threaten those beefy macho men.

Its just one more thing that makes me see that heteronormativity, the link between sex, gender and desire, and maculinity/femininity being given tangible, natural and unchanging bodily and emotional qualities (when they seem more and more like a construction of a relationship) are three of the main barriers to equity in sports and elsewhere. Just end all this gender difference crap!


  1. The fastest ever time run by a woman in a marathon is 2hrs, 15mins, 25 seconds. That was Paula Radcliffe in the 2003 London Marathon.

    Looking at the results of the 2009 Marathon, all of the first ten male runners came in under 2hrs 10mins. I believe other marathons show similar results to this.

    If men and women had true equality and competed in the same event, then it is statistically very unlikely that a women would finish in one of the top places (and therefore be out of the prize money, thereby making it even more of a male dominated sport).

    Many other sports show a similar gender gap.

    Surely this justifies gender descrimination in sport?

  2. Hmm, I didn't mention anything about ending the division of women's sports from men's sports. Division, not discrimination. I talked about sport institutions and media assumptions that all non-cis/straight women are like men and should be barred from women's sports.

    The difficult thing about equality is it doesn't always mean "not separate". Separate doesn't always mean discrimination, I assume this is what you meant. So, you missed my point. Thanks for the derail...