Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Olympics Have Fallen - Transgender Inclusion Kills Fairplay

Sometimes I feel like I'm living inside a South Park episode. One where there is some exaggerated politically correct conspiracy that has gotten so big it might consume all of us with its insanity.

This past Sunday, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced a change in policy regarding transgender athletes. Athletes that transition from female to male are now eligible to compete as males without restriction. However, athletes that transition from male to female must officially declare their identity as female and show that their testosterone levels measure below 10 nanomals for at least 12 months prior to competing. Basically, the changes in regulations free trans athletes from previously required genital reassignment surgeries.

Gone are the good ol' days when ancient Greek athletes competed nude. It was a simpler time with simpler ways of determining male versus female. But we are now smack dab in the middle of an era when we are so afraid of hurting people's feelings that we flush the tenets of fair play just so no one feels bullied or excluded.

It's obvious right there in the guidelines that transgender females could potentially have an athletic advantage over biological females. The fact that there is open eligibility for females who identify as men in competition kinda insinuates that the guys aren't particularly worried about their new competition. (That's because the women feeling like men are inherently disadvantaged in comparison to men who've lived their entire lives as biological men.) However, the monitoring of testosterone levels in female athletes screams of inequality. Already transgender men are being treated differently than transgender women. Where is the feminist outcry?

It seems ironic to me, that a sporting event that so strictly prohibits substances affecting athletic performance would so quickly embrace the use of substances that alter an athlete's hormone levels in such extreme ways. Perhaps the cocktail of pharmaceuticals required to inhibit trans athletes' hormones aren't "performance enhancing", but they are certainly "performance influencing". A subtle difference, but perhaps an important one. Using substances that radically change the way a competitor's body works should be suspect. Competition is only fair if athletes aren't radically altering their bodies in unnatural ways.

Feeling like a woman does not a woman make. I realize making such a statement probably proves I need some sort of sensitivity training, but the IOC admits it in their guidelines (hence the differences in requirements for trans women in comparison to those for trans men). The problem with their guidelines is that they don't at all level the female playing field. No amount of injected estrogen can make up for advantages in height, bone density, and reach. And medical data conflicts on just how long it takes to negate the testosterone advantages biological males are born with.

While it's easy to see this whole scenario as some strange ploy by South Park's women to thoroughly ruin the sport of beach volleyball for men everywhere (Imagine Jake Gibb bouncing around in a bikini. You're welcome for the visual), that can't be what's really going on here.

The IOC stated that the changes are "necessary to ensure in so far as possible that trans athletes are not excluded from the opportunity to participate in sporting competition."

I get it. They want to be fair. But by attempting to be fair to everyone. They've ended up being fair to no one.

Will this be the death of women's olympic weightlifting, boxing, wrestling? There are some sports where passing through male puberty could leave a long-lingering advantage over the more traditionally feminine competitors. There is no way to make this fair. The Olympics will never be the same.

And yet...

Maybe it won't change all that much. While it's easy to envision swarms of men switching teams (so to speak) in true South Park style for the sake of winning gold medals, that's not likely to happen. Putting your body through months of hormone therapy just to compete as a woman is extreme for everyone but the craziest of people, and statistically-speaking, "real" transgender people supposedly make up less than one percent of the population.

However, the possibility of even one unfair competition should be enough to make us protest. The spirit of the Olympics is about triumph and equity no matter a person's race, religion, or nationality. I'm just not sure where these trans athletes fit into this... or even if they should fit in at all. (Probably another sign that someone should sign me up for sensitivity training.)

Because I'm still not sure who I'm supposed to root for in a Judo match between a traditional woman and a transgender woman. Do I root for the trans woman? Because wouldn't that be the politically correct thing to do? To cheer on the minority, the historically oppressed, the poster child of progressive tolerance? Or do I support the biological woman? Because isn't that the politically correct thing? To pull for the historically oppressed, and breaking glass ceilings, and making progress toward gender equality? Because "Girl Power"!?!

The inner conflict might be enough to rip giant holes in Western Society's collective conscience.

One thing is for certain. The spirit of Olympic competition has definitely changed. I'm afraid the Olympics have fallen.

18 comments:

Tina Hollenbeck said...

Truth! And, frankly, people can call themselves whatever, but that doesn't change reality. They can take hormones, change their hairstyles, and even add or subtract body parts, but biology is what it is. Unless they can figure out a way to change XY to XX or vice versa, a woman is a woman and a man is a man. End of story...and the fact that we are so far down the road from reality tells me we're living in a worse place than South Park. We're in The Twilight Zone!

Sasha Kuczynski said...

Please educate yourself! "Women feeling like men" is NOT what transgender means. Biological sex is more complex than XX and XY. Here's a good place to start: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RgMiyp5bwrg

(I found this site through your article "5 Things You Didn’t Know Your Children Are Learning In School" on The Mind Unleashed and clicked through for more freethought...I hope you will consider further unleashing your mind on this subject.)

Alice Jones Webb said...

I find it interesting that so many people think "freethought" means thinking just like them.

Sasha said...

Indeed, it seems we think similarly when it comes to the harms of schooling, which spurred my click through. It's worth considering whether the teacher/student binary that causes so much hurt and harm has its roots in the gender binary, the first lens through which we are taught to see the world and one another.

I contend that they are related, and that a worldview that includes as many genders as there are individuals opens us to a broader view of ourselves and each other.

Alice Jones Webb said...

Thank you for taking the time to start conversation. I watched the video you posted and concede that transgender is far more complex a subject than most people believe. I'm willing to do more research. I'm still not certain where this leaves fairplay in regards to sporting events, however. I still believe that by attempting to be fair to everyone, the IOC is being fair to no one.

Sasha Kuczynski said...

Thanks for your reply.

The truth is that each individual on the planet lives in a body that is differently wired, differently abled body, influenced by a different hormonal cocktail than every other person. Even if we're only talking, for example, about folks with XX chromosomes...physically, endocrinologically speaking, they will not all be the same. Some women have more muscle mass or more testosterone than others. (Not to mention the spectrum of access to medicine, nutrition, education, wealth, equipment, training, and encouragement that each athlete is raised with differs wildly!)

So I'm not sure how the IOC can make things "fair" in the way that I think you mean...I don't know if the Olympics have ever *been* fair in the way I think you mean. You say "the possibility of even one unfair competition should be enough to make us protest;" were you protesting before transgender people were part of the conversation?

CC said...

I don’t usually post comments on anything, but I saw your blog link on a FB post for "5 Things You Didn’t Know Your Children Are Learning In School" and I felt like commenting . I watched the You Tube video suggested by the other commentor. Most of that I already knew and the rest is really common sense. Everything in nature has a spectrum, why wouldn’t gender have one. I am bipolar 2 and sit on a spectrum. One end being people who are insane, the other end being very even- keeled individuals without much emotional variation. I am somewhere in the middle, born and also made from environment. I was discussing this Olympic thing with my husband the other night. I come at most things from the perspective of how I would feel if I were in that position. If I were a female Olympic athlete I think it would bother me that bio-males taking female hormones to look more female would really bother me and strike me as unfair. I would want there to be a new competition category started for transgenders, or I guess two. And, as a what I consider to be a rational, logical human being, I would not expect to be included with bio-females if I was in fact born with a penis. I started thinking ‘will I still watch the Olympics if I am upset that males who take female hormones are allowed to compete against bio-females?’ Hmm. Probably not because I do enjoy watching people who have become masters at something demonstrate it for us mere mortals. Like listening to a fabulous singer or looking at amazing art…it gives me a glimpse of miracles. Then I started to think about how nothing on this earth is equal or fair really. Even bio-females differ in their physical strength size, etc. People who are very strong, very fast, very obsessed become top athletes. I am none of those things, so I just work out for my own health and sanity and accept my averageness. Our perceptions of male/female/people have always been challenged because there has always been the spectrum. (I was just telling my son how there was a time when women weren’t “allowed” to wear pants, and if they were rebellious and went against what was expected of them they were treated like they were trouble makers or nuts.) I feel like we are near a point where it’s finally going to tip and we will all just become ‘people who like to do this or that’, not a man who does man things or a woman who does woman things, or a man who does woman things or a woman who does man things, etc. There is some comfort in that because I feel we should all be loving beings and accept the uniqueness inherent in all people and the entire natural world. (end of part 1, 2nd part to follow...too long of a post, eesh)

CC said...

(Part 2) The thing that upsets me is dishonesty. I believe people should be honest, genuine, real. Being born a particular gender shouldn’t mean that you have to dress a certain way, act a certain way, have a certain profession, or love a certain type of person. So if you are born with male parts and you feel like you prefer “female” things, not that we should identify them as such, then go ahead and act, be, feel, look “female”. Why do you feel the need to go have a surgeon cut on your body to change it into something it is not? Why do you feel the need to inject hormones into your body, which can have dangerous side effects, in order to change how much hair you have or how deep your voice is? To me, this behavior seems dishonest…like they are trying to trick others into believing they are something else. I feel like this is going to cause a host of interpersonal problems for young people trying to find a partner to have biological, uterine-born children with. I run through it in my head, what trying to get a date with someone will be like when it’s become “acceptable” for people to physically trick others. How will those conversations go? “Hey, you seem really interesting, I’d like to take you out sometime. But before that I will need to know if you were born a male or female because I’m looking for someone with a working vagina.” Wow. I see things posted on FB saying no one should care or be concerned with which sex someone is. Well, that is true if you’re just interacting with another person as a friend or acquaintance, but when it comes down to intimate relationships I think it IS going to matter whether or not you can tell.

Sasha said...

CC,

Lots to unpack in your post here. First, although you acknowledge first thing that it's common sense that gender exists on a spectrum, you come up with the suggestion that two new categories in the Olympics might be a solution. However, as someone who lives on a spectrum knows, this isn't how a spectrum works. Adding two more categories to the binary does not a spectrum make. Every single person alive today constitutes a point (or multiple points!) along the gender spectrum. Two categories are better than four, but not nearly enough for all of humanity...

I hope we are working toward the kind of world you describe in the tail end of your first post, celebrating the unique in one another and the natural world. However your second post is based on a false premise: that trans folks are tricking people into believing they are another gender. For trans folks, it is living as a gender they were assigned wrongfully that feels like a lie, not the other way around. Being transgender does not mean, as you say, being born male but preferring female things. Once you can really wrap your head around this, understanding becomes easier.

I'm sure you know folks on the bipolar spectrum who choose to better their lives through chemistry. By your logic, why should such folks feel the need to take pills with possible harmful side effects? Does taking medication that affects the personality constitute a lie?

Trans folks are a minority. Your thought that the next generation is going to have trouble finding partners to make "uterine-born" children with sounds more grounded in fear than reality. There are seven billion people on planet earth! Surely we can talk to one another in ways that are curious, honest, and compassionate in our search for a mate.

Thanks for chiming into the conversation...

CC said...

I guess I don’t understand how someone can think that they get a say in what sex they are born as. You get what you get and make the most of it. Everyone is born with things they wish were different or are downright miserable with. I wish I didn’t have bipolar. But everyday I get up and I use my techniques to manage my mood swings. There are good days, there are so-so days, there are excruciating days full of despair or irritability or agitation or anxiety. This is my lot and I focus on my blessings and I take on the challenges with courage. I do not take medication. I had a very bad reaction to meds and so I manage with lifestyle and various coping mechanisms and techniques. Meds for bipolar ease the fluctuations of moods, they do not alter your personality as you suggest. We can’t make allowances for every possibility that exists in the human race. Life isn’t meant to be fair, it’s a challenge, a call to show what you are made of. There are so many viewpoints on this, and I don’t mean any disrespect, but my opinion is that I think transgenders are taking things too far.

Sasha said...

We will agree to disagree. You have your idea about what life is meant to be, and so do all of the other folks you share the world with. You have every right to live life from your perspective, but no one else has to join you in living from your worldview. It takes nothing away from your life for folks whose gender identity does not align with their assigned gender to live how they wish. I wish you the best in your personal challenge.

CC said...

Same to you :-) Peace.

Alice Jones Webb said...

I see your point, Sasha about access to medicine, nutrition, education, etc. That certainly contributes to certain competitors having an advantage over others. It explains why countries like the US dominate the podiums at Olympic competitions. In that aspect any sort of international competition isn't exactly "fair". Although there are many athletes who train outside of their home countries because of the advantage it affords them.

But there have long been strict rules concerning, doping, and other performance altering substances, especially with hormones. Steroidal use is a particularly harmful offense because it is the use of an otherwise un-natural substance into the body that alters the body's chemistry and affects the way the body performs. I think purposely altering hormonal levels is a dangerous game (not just for sports competitions), especially long term alteration.

Alice Jones Webb said...

Thank you both for being willing to engage in respectful conversation and disagreement. It is such a rare thing in today's internet age. You both have my appreciation and respect.

May Loo said...

I wonder when and why we ever separated sex (biology) and gender identity? Acceptance of the body you were born with was a simpler concept in my time. Today with plastic surgery and everything, it's like a person is a product to be altered and manipulated to make the person feel 'good'. It's about me and what I think and believe. Everything is acceptable, nothing is not acceptable and there are no borders anymore. Believing that your gender presentation is more important than biological reality? Sounds like we're living in the Twilight Zone.

Sasha Kuczynski said...

Hi May!

Please consider that "biological reality" is much more complicated than penises and vaginas, or XY and XX. Until you fully grasp the complexities of "biological reality" it's difficult to wrap your head around why gender identity and anatomy may not match up neatly for every person.

Sasha Kuczynski said...

CC -

I've been considering our conversation for the last couple of days and one thing you said keeps circling around in my mind: you say "transgenders are taking things too far." As a thought experiment, imagine substituting other historically maligned groups for "transgenders*" such as "Black people are taking things too far," "Jews are taking things too far," "Gays are taking things too far," or "Women are taking things too far." I bet it's harder to imagine yourself saying these things, but during the course of history there have been many who have done so. For some reason when we challenge assumptions about gender - what I think of as the BIG binary from which all others spring - it gets people's hackles up. I think in 10, 20, 50 years we will look back and wonder what the big deal was.

*FYI "Transgender" is an adjective, not a noun. Say "transgender people," "trans folk," or "trans man/woman" rather than "transgenders." :)

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