Approximately 150 miles from Shippensburg University at the University of Pennsylvania, 16 swimmers on the women’s team wrote to Penn officials that their team member Lia Thomas, a transgender woman, has “an unfair advantage.” Unfortunately, these types of concerns regarding transgender individuals in sports is not uncommon by any means.
“Lia has every right to live her life authentically. However, we also realize that when it comes to sports competition, that the biology of sex is a separate issue from someone’s gender identity,” the letter stated, according to CNN. “Biologically, Lia holds an unfair advantage over competition in the women’s category, as evidenced by her rankings that have bounced from #462 as a male to #1 as a female.”
The letter was turned into Penn officials anonymously through Nancy Hogshead-Makar, an Olympic gold medalist. She is also the founder of Champion Women, a non-profit group that advocates for girls and women in sports. Yet apparently not all women.
In the middle of January 2022, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) changed their rules regarding transgender athletes. The new guidelines require trans women to submit their testosterone levels via test in order to compete. The governing body for each sport gets to decide how high testosterone levels are allowed to be.
Before the change in policy, the NCAA required trans athletes to be on testosterone-suppressants for 12 months before allowing the women to compete in women’s sports. The USA Swimming, the national governing body, has guidelines that are quite strict and only allow for half of the testosterone level than the NCAA guidelines permitted. They require that less tahn 5 nanomoles per liter of testosterone be present in their athletes for 36 months before the athlete applies for the team.
The 36 months that USA Swimming outlines in their guidelines is not supported by scientific research. This evidenced by how most trans women experience the largest decrease in their muscle mass within the first year of taking testosterone-suppressants, which is data supported by the National Institute of Health (NIH).
This can be seen even in the comparison between Lia Thomas’s best times in her event before and after her transition. After transitioning, Thomas’s national best in the Women’s 400 was 4:34.06, which is 15 seconds slower than her best time pre-transition.
For swimmers, that 15 seconds is a lot of crucial time. Yet, the only thing that anyone is addressing in terms of transgender athletes is the fact that these athletes get an “advantage.” If these swimmers from the University of Pennsylvania can support Lia in her being her “authentic self,” then where is the support for her as a swimmer on the team?
Other professional swimmers, those who are not transgender, have “biological advantages." The point of competitive sports is to be better than your opponent.
For example, Michael Phelps, a record holding Olympic gold medalist, has many aspects that make him naturally more suited as a swimmer. Phelps has hyperextended joints and double-jointed ankles that allow his ankles to move 15% more than his Olympic level opponents. He also produces less lactic acid than others, which means that he can recover more quickly than other people when exercising.
Despite this, Phelps released a statement regarding transgender athletes stating that sports, though, need to have a “level playing field.”
Not to mention, approximately 5% of cisgender female athletes have testosterone levels that are more than double the amount set in the USA Swimming guidelines. Women considered “too masculine” could be subject to accusations or the potential of invasive testing. Women, all women, do not need any more smothering than they already receive in society from birth, and trans women specifically do not need to be met with yet another disadvantage.
Society has placed so much emphasis on gender and that we have tricked ourselves into believing that men and women cannot fairly compete against each other. If this continues, we may just end up watching mediocre athletes play mediocre sports. Let people compete as they wish to compete because at the end of the day, the world keeps turning and records are meant to be broken.