The Controversy of Transgender Athletes in High Level Sports

When it comes to an individual’s biological make up, there are two options for how our sex chromosomes pair up. Male (XY) or female (XX). Just because someone is born a certain sex does not always mean they identify with it. The term transgender is an umbrella term which is defined as an individual who’s gender identity is opposite from their assigned sex. Individuals who identify as transgender often face discrimination, alienation, abuse (verbal, physical, sexual, etc) and victimization in their everyday lives. While society as a whole is slowly becoming more accepting of the LGBTQ+ community, there is still many forms of prejudice, stereotyping and oppression trans individuals face.

Unknown protestor advocating for equality and respect for the lives of transgender individuals.

Understanding our identity as human beings takes a lifetime and comes with both beauty and hardships. As stated earlier, transgender individuals not only face these internally, but they also deal with the pressures from societies ideals and values. One of the main things that unites individuals, communities, society and the world is the game of sport. There has been an increase in talk over whether or not transgender athletes should be allowed to compete alongside the gender they identify as. Many believe that transgender individuals have a genetic advantage depending on their assigned sex assigned at birth. Whether this be an increase in testosterone and muscle mass from undergoing male puberty or an increase in flexibility from undergoing female puberty. These can be seen as unfair advantages by competitors, fans and society as a whole and are examples of certain individuals reasoning behind keeping trans athletes from competing.

Jennifer Wagner-Assali, a high level cyclist emotionally tweets about her loss to a transgender woman alongside her in a cycling race

Many competitors argue that competing against a trans athlete is distracting, unfair and stripping them of the medals that they deserve. However, on the other side there are people that argue for the inclusion of trans athletes into sport to compete with and against the gender they identify as. Some have even pointed out that the “advantages” trans athletes have are not unfair at all. They base this on the idea that in sport there are already so many unjust allowances where athletes and teams have an upper hand. For example, height in basketball, weight in wrestling and double jointedness in swimming. While these are all genetic variances among athletes, these differences do not disqualify them from competition, but instead are seen as strengths and idolized by many.

While the controversy over transgender inclusion in sport focuses mainly on the genetic makeup of athletes, it delves way deeper into the underlying stereotypes and prejudices society has as a whole. While individuals may not identify as transphobic, these slight acts of discrimination against trans athletes fall into that box. Sport was and is a profoundly beautiful creation. It allows individuals to show their strengths, determination and athletic capabilities alongside allowing for a fun way to achieve personal goals and become apart of a community respected by so many. While we can not replace history and the views of the past, we can learn from it and progress forward in hopes of keeping the inclusivity and beauty of sport alive.


Rachel McKinnon is pictured in the middle above winning gold in a cycling event (Twitter/@RachelMcKinnon)

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