I came across a story in the New York Times about a trans-woman who is suing a national golf organization, the L.G.P.A., because of a rule stating that only those who were “female at birth” will be allowed to compete in women’s competitions:
Lana Lawless is a trans-woman in her mid-fifties who successfully transitioned five years ago. Importantly, she has previously competed in the same event from which she is now being banned and actually won the tournament in 2008. I think it is safe to assume that a trans person winning the tournament upset more conservative members of whatever governing body writes the regulations for the L.G.P.A.
I think the most disturbing thing about the behavior of the L.G.P.A. is the blatant discrimination at work. I realize that trans people, especially in the United States, are not unfamiliar with legalized and institutionalized discrimination. Still, the blatant nature of the rewritten text is so obviously discriminatory that it boggles the mind. It is impossible to conceptualize a sporting organization in the modern day changing its charter to state that all players must have been “white at birth” but in the year 2010 it is still acceptable for an organization to ban trans players.
The issue of trans players in sporting organizations obviously touches on issues not only of legal fairness, but of sporting advantage. After all, men do possess more muscle mass (on average, of course) and assorted other physical advantages when compared to women; this is why most sporting events are divided into men’s and women’s sections. However, in the case of Ms. Lawless specifically, much of her muscle has atrophied due to both her age (57) and her successful chemical transition to a feminized body. There is little difference between Lawless and any woman who has been “female since birth.”
Interestingly, a transwoman who was awarded the right to compete in women’s tennis tournaments in the 1970s, Renee Richards, has only come out in partial support of Lawless. Richards believes that Lawless should be allowed to play, but that not all trans players should be able to compete, due to potential physical advantage. Richards went as far as to issue something of a warning for future controversies in the field of transgender sports, saying, “[The Olympic Committee is] going to get in trouble someday because somebody’s going to come along who’s strong in sprints or weight throwing or whatever and streak the field.”
I disagree with Richards and believe that all trans people should be allowed to compete in whichever gendered division they feel most closely associated with. Considering that professional sports are already riddled with steroid abuse and other unfair competitive advantages, I do not believe that the minor differences in (potential) physical capability between a trans person and a normatively gendered individual are great enough to justify the psychological harm in denying trans people the right to compete. The score of a golf tournament is not as important as the removal of discrimination from our society.