In the latest efforts to eliminate the LGBTQ2S+ community, trans people have become the shiny new scapegoat, now that lesbian, gay and bisexual people are somewhat accepted by the mainstream at the moment. Non-binary people are disregarded or denied and often gaslit about their liminal experiences with the gender spectrum; trans men are condescended to, being viewed as frustrated “fallen sisters” who only transition in a desperate attempt to escape misogyny, and trans women are treated as the antichrist.
The most violent transphobic rhetoric usually targets trans women because bigotry against them is the easiest to weaponize.
This patriarchal society has allowed cisgender men to terrorize AFABs (assigned female at birth) to the point that they expect it. Cis men make up 80% to 90% of the sex offender registry and commit 85% of all homicides. Over 80% of women across the United States have experienced sexual harassment in some form. (NPR, Feb. 21, 2018)
Instead of working to reshape ideas of masculinity and the cultivated relationship with violence, for decades all genders are told that this is a natural part of the male experience. And since it’s biological and in no way encouraged and rewarded by society, the minute AMABs (assigned male at birth) hit puberty, the best everyone else can do is try to avoid being the victims of such inevitable violence.
Funnily enough, with this knowledge, women are often told their evolved reflex of viewing most cisgender heterosexual men as a potential threat is an overreaction, although all genders assess the threat levels of cis men upon meeting them.
Anti-trans stereotypes permeate society
Once a transgender woman enters the conversation, suddenly all these statistics matter and cis women need protection, a conversation that wasn’t had before. What the spouters of this rhetoric want people to do is associate trans women with this “biological” tendency of feminized violence.
Therefore one should view them as predators, going through an expensive and emotionally exhausting lifelong process just to get better access to the next victim – even though trans women aren’t a part of the male demographic and are much more likely to be assaulted and murdered themselves. This is effectively weaponizing patriarchy to pit cis women against trans women, and to justify the significant violence trans women face as “protecting women and children.”
While it should be considered a boogeyman, the looming threat of coming into contact with a transwoman permeates society. Its most popular manifestation is the sudden worry about the integrity of female sports. Like all transphobia, the problem with the bogus “concern” over female sports is that it negatively affects everyone.
When trans female athletes happen to be skilled at their sport of choice, their victories are never attributed to their merit, but to their hormones, invoking the argument that their presumed high testosterone levels alone is what brought them to the finish line.
Even though multiple studies reveal that testosterone levels and athletic performance correlate much less than originally thought, tests were conducted after the International Amateur Athletic Federation banned a South African runner – Caster Semenya, a cis woman – from competing in the Olympics due to her naturally high testosterone levels. (workers.org/2016/09/26751/)
Racism, sexism and transphobia in sports
Despite the aforementioned studies directly refuting the IAAF’s claim that women with testosterone levels comparable to the average male have “insurable advantage” over athletes in the average female testosterone range, the IAAF has dismissed each counterclaim, staunchly sticking to their reasoning based in social mythos and, more importantly, the desire to scrutinize female bodies that don’t adhere to European beauty standards. (tinyurl.com/3dp9eh48)
Caster Semenya is a phenotypic Black woman. And just as the IAAF has equated her body with masculinity, in the same way specifically athletic dark-skinned Black women are masculinized for their bodies. In 2021, tennis star Serena Williams, a visibly muscular Black woman, went up against smaller, lighter, biracial Naomi Osaka and got into a conflict with the umpire. A racist political cartoon in the Australian Herald Sun portrayed Williams with caricaturish features throwing a tantrum while her opponent Osaka, of Haitian and Japanese descent, was drawn as a blonde white woman in contrast.
Semenya’s case emphasizes the “transvestigation” on Black women with similar body types, who are targeted for not being “feminine” enough through the eyes of white supremacy and are punished with public hormone testing and humiliation. Even former First Lady Michelle Obama to this day is called a man because of her toned arms, with celebrities such as Joan Rivers having misgendered her and referred to her as “Michael.”
Attacks impact children
The debilitating hatred of trans women deeply affects children. In June of this year an older man was escorted out of a school in British Columbia for harassing a nine-year-old girl with a pixie cut, demanding “certification” that this child was, in fact, assigned female at birth. What he’s requesting here is that this child be subjected to genital inspection, which is illegal in Canada. But it is legal in many U.S. states, including Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Mississippi and North Carolina, under bills named “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act.”
In bills specifically made for children, and framed as solely a woman’s issue, if an athlete’s biological sex is called into question they can be subject to genital inspection. If fondling a child isn’t enough “confirmation,” they will also undergo a DNA test to make sure there is no Y chromosome lurking, and if that’s not enough to satisfy the accusers, the child’s testosterone levels will be analyzed, just like Semenya’s.
The governors of Utah and Indiana actually vetoed the anti-transgender sports acts, resulting in a “rare split in culture wars” between Republicans. (Reuters, March 25, 2022)
Mind you, the British Columbia case is in an elementary school, where hormone levels are indistinguishable between sexes, as is average physical ability. A little girl had a random man request to see her genitals purely because of her short hair and what he described as “floppy boy shorts.”
And if asked in Florida instead of British Columbia, that request becomes infinitely more likely to be carried out. This kind of increasingly accepted reaction teaches little girls their appearance matters more than their physical prowess. They are to appear feminine at all times or risk state-sanctioned molestation.
These practices promote bad conduct in women’s sports, easily weaponizing hierarchies of race, size, and adherence to Eurocentric beauty standards. If the competition is particularly challenging, especially if the girls are taller, darker, stronger, or less conventionally “attractive,” one might be more inclined to accuse them of being trans, and several people may be willing to put them on trial to prove their cis-ness and dainty testosterone levels, effectively demonizing their skill in the process.
And once again, when this athlete excels in their craft, it’s attributed to their physicality, boiling ability down to a patriarchal idea of biology alone. In the summer of 2021, Ricci Tres came under fire for winning a women’s open skateboarding contest against a 13-year-old girl.
This was immediately painted as unfair because of her AMAB status, and not because she’s 29 years old with decades of skill, or that she was competing against children (and one 28-year-old who came in fourth place). She won $500 and a trip to the hormone lab.
And although she had been on estrogen for years, her testosterone levels came back high, which was treated as the smoking gun on why she won – not because she’s been skateboarding since before 80% of her competition at the event could walk.
When pro surfer Sasha Jane Lowerson transitioned the year before entering a woman’s longboarding competition she was painted as looking for an easy win, which she wouldn’t need, as she had won men’s competitions before transitioning.
Do you notice how this never happens with trans men? This witch hunt infantilizes women. What the patriarchy wants them to believe is no matter how hard they train, they will never beat a cis man. Because all men are bigger, faster, stronger, and smarter than you! It’s simply biology! Sorry!
And when right-wingers point the finger at trans women instead of the men insulting their abilities, they feed into this ideology that AFABs are inherently weak.
Women steered toward ‘dainty’ sports
The liberal remedy to this hot button issue is that for many organizations, trans women can compete in sports if they’ve been on estrogen for a long enough time to bring down their T (testerone) levels. But do we really need this? Women participating in sports at all was something hard-fought for and against.
In the Victorian era, women were discouraged from playing sports for fear that exerting that much energy with their frail delicate bodies would somehow affect their ability to bear children.
As the 20th century rolled around, women had their share of dainty, gentle sports like lawn golf and competitive walking, acceptable to the point of their being able to compete in the Olympics.
In 1922, fed up with the Olympics refusing to acknowledge women’s athletics, French athlete Alice Milliat founded the Fédération Sportive Féminine Internationale (FSFI), which created the first (and technically only) Women’s Olympic Games, where women participated in more intensive sports like shot put and the 100 meter dash, shattering 18 male-held world records in the process.
Furious with the organization, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) demanded the term “Olympic” be snatched from the title. This resulted in the “2nd International Ladies Games” in 1926, infamous for an “upsetting” sight.
Although 22 world records were beaten, after the 800 meter run, the women exerting themselves appeared tired! What would become of their wombs?! This fear of female exertion outside of homemaking led to the termination of the already very few women’s athletic programs; many already reluctant sporting organizations pulled their support and funding, and the games were banned until the 1960’s.
Over a decade later Title IX would pass, banning gender discrimination in federally funded education programs and quadrupling female participation in sports for generations to come. And although many modern-day professional women’s teams have averages comparable to men’s teams, the genders are not allowed to integrate. Ask any organization why this is and they’ll tell you this is to minimize the physical advantages men have over women.
Not a ‘fair game’
Realistically there’s rarely such a thing as a fair game in sports because many athletes hold physical advantages over each other whether that be weight, height, or lung capacity. If the delineation in body type greatly affects the outcome, the fairest strategy is to divide into weight classes like boxing, or only recruit athletes over a certain height like the National Basketball Association.
But to segregate over biological sex implies sweeping societal implications when performance studies such as that conducted by Lynda B. Ransdell and Christine L. Wells show you’ll find greater variation within a gender than between genders since gender isn’t a reliable marker for ability.
And in a marginally more accepting society, there will be more athletes outside of the gender binary participating in sports. If coed models are embraced, athletes don’t have to risk triggering dysphoria doing what they love, and don’t have to face the paranoid wrath of women who are taught to believe they are a vessel of biological disadvantages and nothing more.
Caster Semenya won her case against the IAAF, with the federation acknowledging that what took place was in fact a human rights violation. But she is still banned from running competitively again, punished for an unreliable sex marker as many women, trans and cis, expect to be.
Seeing trans woman athletes as athletes and not people trying to game the system against “easy competition” (meaning any cis woman in existence) strengthens positive attitudes towards female sports and women in general. Trans women in sports aren’t the enemy, but are treated as such, out of fear that the disregard and belittling of female athletes will be challenged.
All of the patriarchal and racist stereotypes that are so pervasive in sports reflect the oppressions inherent in the capitalist mode of production. Ending capitalism will lift the crushing weight of these oppressions from all of humanity – including athletes.