Teamwork Counts: Why I Support Trans Girls in Girls’ Sports

Teamwork Counts: Why I Support Trans Girls in Girls' Sports
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Those who have met me, even briefly, know one thing about me: I’m small. I stand 5’0″ in my socks and I’m not too hefty. I’ve been an athlete all my life, though, and have almost always competed against opponents who are taller and heavier. That’s only one of the reasons why I don’t understand those who want to limit transgender girls’ participation in girls’ sports.

Shoes and jump rope

I was an NCAA varsity fencer and nationally competitive for several years beyond college. I have a black belt in taekwondo. I’m a cisgender woman and have competed in both sports against women and men (mostly women, but occasionally in mixed-gender tournaments); some of the women were 6′ tall; some of the men were 5’6″ or under, and vice versa. I was good but not exceptional, but I’ve won and I’ve lost regardless of gender, height, or weight. When I lost, I sucked it up and trained harder. Tell me I’d lose just because an opponent was bigger or stronger and my instinct was to prove you wrong.

Yes, height and weight can be an advantage in some sports, but they can also be a disadvantage—and one learns to use what one has. (In fencing, my shorter arms gave me an advantage at close quarters.) And in sports where weight really matters, like wrestling, there are weight categories so a 160-pound athlete doesn’t compete against a 110-pound one. (Having said that, when I went to smaller taekwondo tournaments, sometimes there weren’t enough competitors to break out into weight categories and I’d end up sparring someone who outweighed me by quite a bit. I just learned to move faster.)

Then there are all of the middle-school sports leagues in which some of the kids have hit their growth spurts already and others haven’t, and the size/weight discrepancy among athletes is vast, even within a single gender. Do we tell the smaller kids they can’t play, or make the smaller boys compete on the girls’ teams? No. The point is to give all kids the opportunity to enjoy the many benefits of sport with their peers, which usually means with others of their gender. (Once more for the people in the back: Trans girls are girls.)

There are now, however, bills in 24 states that would ban transgender girls from competing in girls’ sports in public high schools, according to the ACLU. These bills claim that trans girls have an unfair physical advantage over cis girls. Yet as the AP points out, “in almost every case, sponsors cannot cite a single instance in their own state or region where such participation has caused problems.” And as Evan Urquart at Slate explains (my bold):

Trans women have been eligible to compete as women in the Olympics since 2004, and so far, no trans woman has even qualified, much less dominated, any women’s Olympic sport. School-age sports are a somewhat different matter, but the primary purpose of these activities is to promote fitness, goal setting, good peer relationships, and healthy competition, rather than setting records or making money. To simply ban some girls from participating outright, without recognizing that they too deserve these benefits or even attempting to find a path toward fair inclusion, is an extreme punishment, and it targets a group of young girls who are already highly stigmatized. The potential harm to cisgender women athletes posed by trans inclusion is, at best, both speculative and absolutely minuscule, given the small numbers of trans women (less than half of 1 percent of the population) who exist in the first place.

Want more information? Try “Four Myths About Trans Athletes, Debunked,” from Chase Strangio and Gabriel Arkles of the ACLU, or “Fair Play: The Importance of Sports Participation for Transgender Youth,” by Shoshana K. Goldberg at the Center for American Progress. Goldberg asserts, “There is no evidence to support the claim that allowing transgender athletes to participate will reduce or harm participation in girls’ sports,” but “transgender sports bans can have disastrous consequences, particularly as they continue to perpetuate and legitimize rejection of gender identity. While inclusion in sports is not a cure-all for the deep-seated discrimination against transgender youth, their exclusion from such activities can potentially put their lives at risk.”

Yes, there will be times when transgender girls will beat cisgender ones in sports, but it will be because of their training and determination, or a bad day on the part of another competitor, or any number of other factors that go into determining the outcome (ask me about my lucky socks) other than merely the size of the person.

Count me, then, as a cisgender woman who’s been a serious athlete (and still is, though not competitively) but who is all for trans girls’ participation in girls’ sports. But it’s not really my experience that should matter here. Go read the story of 10-year-old Zoe, a girl in Arizona who just wants to play soccer with other girls, and happens to be trans.

Think this is just about sports? It’s not. Anti-LGBTQ organizations are stirring up the fear of trans girls participating in girls’ sports as a reason to vote against the Equality Act, which would provide a broad range of protections to LGBTQ people. We can’t throw these girls under the bus in the name of some greater good, however. There is no greater good than the well-being of young people. We all need to educate ourselves (if we haven’t already) about why trans girls deserve to participate in girls’ sports so that we can convince our friends, neighbors, and elected officials—for the good of trans girls and for the good of the whole LGBTQ community. That’s what being on a team is all about.

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