In a piece this week, Wired author Christie Aschwanden approached the touchy topic of transgender athletes with the deceitful premise that she would give both sides of the argument a fair shake. But not only is this premise undermined by two paragraphs in, it is actually exposed by the URL of the article itself. While the piece is titled “Trans Athletes Are Posting Victories and Shaking Up Sports,” the article’s address talks up the “glorious victories of trans athletes.” We assume a Wired editor decided that was a little too over-the-top, but you don’t have to read much of this story (absurdly classified in the “science” category) to see that it would have been a more appropriate title. This piece might as well have been written by GLAAD themselves.
After a rundown of some recent controversial “girls” who have scored prominent victories in competition against girls (with no quotes necessary), Achwanden opines: “These recent performances are inherently praiseworthy—shining examples of what humans can accomplish with training and effort.”
Well, no. Not inherently so, at all.
“Nowhere are the debates around transgender rights as stark as they are in sports, where the temptation to draw a hard biological line has run up against the limits of what science can offer. The outcome, at least so far, is an inconsistent mix of rules that leaves almost nothing resolved,” explains Achwanden.
After a discussion of NCAA and International Olympic Committee rules, Achwanden quickly turns to Joanna Harper, “a transgender woman, distance runner, and researcher who served on the IOC committee that developed that organization’s current rules.” In other words, a man.
“Fair is a very subjective word,” said Harper. Who do you design the rules to be fair for, exactly? “To billions of typical women who cannot compete with men at high levels of sport?” Or “a very repressed minority in transgender people who only want to enjoy the same things that everybody else does, including participation in sports?”
Oh, well that’s easy. The first one. If you weren’t a “transgender women” yourself, you would have probably seen how simple that was to answer.
To be “fair” to the author, she does pivot from this ridiculous first half to a more balanced look at the controversy. She slashes the myth that transgender “women” are the same as regular women once they’ve gotten their testosterone levels down and she points out some compromise sporting possibilities such as opening up a third division just for transgender athletes.
Naturally, transgender athletes don’t like this option.
“As a transgender person myself, I don’t want to compete in a third category, which many people would see as a freak category,” a wary Harper told Wired.
Where’s the shrugging emoji when you need it?
But after pretending to cover the story fairly from both angles, Achwanden finishes up roughly where she started.
“Where to draw the line between inclusiveness for transgender athletes and fairness for cis ones is an ethical question that ultimately requires value judgements that can only be informed, not decided, by science,” she concludes. “Even basic notions of a level playing field aren’t easy to codify. Which means that at some point the question of who is a woman becomes a cultural inquiry: How athletically outstanding can a girl or woman be before we no longer see her as female?”
No, it doesn’t come down to that at all. Did anyone ever suggest re-terming Serena Williams as a man? A girl or woman can be as athletically outstanding as they want and remain in the female category. But a man, no matter his excellence or lack thereof, should never be sneaking in to compete against the girls. If we would just get that (extremely simple) matter straight, all of this controversy would disappear overnight.