In 2018, I was an athlete at Track Cycling Worlds in Los Angeles, where the first trans-identified male secured not only a women’s world title, but a women’s world record. As female athletes, we were frustrated that policies we were instructed to trust failed us. We were told not to question them, or to speak out, and when we did we were silenced with unscientific claims that male inclusion was fair and necessary.
In the five years since that moment, I have been involved with international and national organizations that seek to protect the rights of women and girls in sports, at every age. Here in North Carolina, we have the opportunity, again, to secure fair and meaningful competition for girls.
I am a liberal woman. I am a wife, mother, and a registered Democrat. Most of the people I associate with are open minded. But we tend to agree, from a practical standpoint, that the inclusion of male bodies in female sport is unfair. Policies that force this ideology on girls and women are wrong and need urgent discussion. This should not be a partisan issue. I’m encouraged by the support of Republicans and baffled and disappointed by the lack of support from my Democratic Party.
Female sport exists to showcase the awesome ability of the female body and mind to accomplish feats of strength, speed, rigor, and agility amongst other female athletes. But without a separation of the sexes in sports, females will find themselves excluded from their own sports rather than celebrated in them. Males’ perspectives and feelings are being considered more important than awarding and recognizing female skill, talent, drive and training. What does this say about the status of girls? Is there not value in female athletic performance and accomplishment?
Two years ago I testified for the Save Women’s Sports bill in Raleigh. My testimony highlighted how males and females are different. I leaned on my expertise not only as a lifelong athlete but as a woman. Common sense gives us all perspective on the differences between males and females, as we each have the lived experience as one or the other. One does not have to be a biologist to know these basic facts. Despite numerous biologists and sport scientists describing the innumerable physical differences and advantages males have over females in sport and long-term athletic performance, politicians and advocates of inclusion falsely state otherwise.
Why women’s sports are in danger, but not men’s
Within the context of transgender participation, the controversy most often surrounds the inclusion of trans-identified males (individuals born male and who self-identify as “non-binary,” “gender fluid,” or “female”) in women’s sports. At the middle and high school level of sport in North Carolina, there is zero transparency. Specifically, female athletes are not informed of a male body, regardless of subjective self identification, in their sport. Since girls and their parents are unaware of male-bodied teammates or opponents, they are unable to make proactive decisions. They are not given the opportunity to choose whether or not to participate. This is especially important if they want to avoid higher injury risk or sharing locker rooms.
According to the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) policy, there is no requirement other than “self-identification” for trans-identified males. There is no requirement for medical transition. There is no requirement for puberty blockers. The practical application is emotionally traumatizing for female athletes.
Females experience puberty differently than males. Boys develop muscles and bones which are advantageous for any sports they choose to participate in. These advantages cannot be eliminated and are immutable, even if they should decide later in life to “transition.” Female puberty often brings weight gain, a distribution shift in fat and lean muscle, breast development, and of course, menstruation. Females have much higher rates of knee injury and experience higher rates of concussion than their male counterparts in sports.
Privacy issues are also of concern, as females are forced to share locker rooms and changing facilities with trans-identified males that typically have intact male genitalia. I certainly do not want my daughter forced into a situation where her privacy and feelings are subjugated to that of a trans-identified male.
Less discussed is the participation of trans-identified females in male sport (a transgender person who was born female and self-identifies as “non-binary,” “gender fluid,” or “male”). There is a reason trans-identified females are not prevalent in male or open sports. The female body, even when supplemented with testosterone, is unable to compete successfully with males in sport. There is no discussion to handicap male athletes’ natural advantages to level the playing field for trans-identified females who wish to compete as male. Additionally, trans-identified females if supplementing with testosterone should not be allowed to compete with females, as testosterone is a known performance-enhancing drug.
A growing issue
I have a friend who is a high school track-and-field coach. Since my testimony two years ago, I know of at least two applications for trans-identified males that have been submitted to join the girl’s team. Another friend is a coach for National Interscholastic Cycling Association — an American non-profit organization that promotes youth mountain biking programs in the United States. They have also received an application for a trans-identified male to compete on the girl’s team this year.
In my sport of cycling, more than 25 male bodies are present in our races; recently a former teammate in N.C. retired from elite competition, as she was forced to battle for fourth place, placing between two males at a National Championship this past December. Additional friends and coaches have mentioned to me the increasing presence of male bodies in female sport in North Carolina. Our state’s out of date policies limiting discussion and silencing dissent need review and revision. North Carolina has already experienced the real danger of male bodies injuring females; we cannot wait for another instance like the Cherokee volleyball incident, where a trans-identified male spiked the ball to the opposing team and hit a female athlete in the head with such force that it caused permanent neurological damage.
As a mother of two athletic children enrolled in public education in North Carolina, I am aware of the inevitable conflict of transgender participation in sport with my daughter (for my son, I will not have to have this conversation or make considerations for fairness in his athletic pursuits). There is no place for hate in this discussion, however. Policies with regard to participation in sport are easy to create; there should be no special allowances or rules for gender identity. Bodies play sports, not identities.
It takes only one trans-identified male to displace the trajectory of every female athlete in sport. We know this from the hundreds of female titles, awards, medals, and podium spots lost throughout the world in nearly every sport. We know that the United Kingdom and large sporting bodies have arrived at the same conclusion, with both World Aquatics (swimming and diving) and World Athletics (track and field) excluding individuals who have experienced male puberty in women’s events.
The female sex is a protected category based on biology; the male category has traditionally been the open category. In North Carolina, when considering “what sports team to participate in,” one only needs to understand basic immutable biology and play sport accordingly. As a society, we can celebrate the differences of individuals but hold bodies accountable in sport. The future of every female athlete counts on it.