Transgender Athletes in Sports

This post is a discussion of a current events issue that is controversial in nature and hotly debated with anyone and everyone weighing in on their opinion. Might as well state my opinion for the record for those who may be concerned. The issue of discussion is transgender athletes competing in sports.

At the center of the issue is Lia, formerly Matt, Thomas, an NCAA men’s collegiate swimmer who underwent sex-change procedures to become a woman, and would not long thereafter win first place at the NCAA national swimming championships in March of 2022. Lia has unwittingly become the face of controversy surrounding transgender athletes and their participation in sports. The issue, as so many are, is highly polarized with one side is adamantly opposed to allowing transgender athletes, especially male-woman transitions, to compete in gender-classed sporting competitions, while the other side labels any attempts to enforce such restrictions as transphobic and oppressive.

The aim of this blog is and always has been to help foster a sense of happiness within ourselves and amongst our peers so that we can be happier together. To teach strategies, share wisdom, and inspire thoughts and actions that help us build happier lives. If Matt Thomas felt that the best way to become happy, to truly be themselves, was to undergo a sex change operation and to become Lia Thomas, then good for them. I cannot imagine what a tough situation that must have been. To grow up so confused and conflicted, unsure of one’s true identity, not believing themselves to fit in, and perhaps even wondering if they were worthy of love and happiness. Who among us can presume to know what makes another person happy other than that person themselves? I applaud Matt for taking these steps and to becoming what I hope is a better version of themselves.

What I do not support is the unrestricted permissibility of transgender athletes to compete in GENDER classed sports. Read that again please. I did not say I oppose transgender people, and I did not say I am opposed to transgender athletes competing in sports. I am however opposed to participation of  transgender athletes in gender-classed or gender-divided sporting competitions.

Here is why.

It is not sexist to point out that there are fundamental anatomical, biological, and physiological traits that favor men over women in athletic performance. Men possess greater muscle mass, a higher percentage of lean body mass, and hormonal advantages – specifically a significantly higher rate of testosterone which allows for quicker recovery, greater muscle growth, and greater power output over female athletes.

This is a scientific fact that is not up for debate. It is not an opinion. Yes, there are certain female athletes who can outperform a large portion of their male counterparts and there are plenty of females in society who are in better shape than many men. But if there is no distinct advantage to being a man over a woman, then why do we even bother to have gender classed athletic competitions in the first place. The reason is that the men would dominate to such an extent it would be considered unfair.

The point I would make to those opposed to the restriction of transgender athletes competing in gender classed sports would be the innate physiological differences that favor men or men who because women later in life.

Matt Thomas was ranked 65th in the country in the in the 2018-2019 (when he was a man) season at the 500m freestyle event. After undergoing a sex-change operation and becoming Lia Thomas, Lia, as a woman, won 1st place in the 500m freestyle.

It is possible to make such bounds in 3-4 years, but undoubtedly the advantages of competing against women -advantages not present when Matt/Lia competed against other biological males, helped Lia earn this edge. Lia Thomas is 23 years old. She began the transformation from male to female in 2019, at roughly the age of 18. The male body starts developing significant amounts of testosterone around the age of 12, as early as 10, and generally no later than 15. So even assuming late-bloomer status, Matt Thomas enjoyed the added benefit of elevated testosterone levels for a minimum of three years, giving him a physiological edge against the female swimmers against whom he would compete as Lia Thomas several years later. This is the equivalent of doping on performance enhancing drugs for 3-5 years. This is illegal in any NCAA, Olympic, and almost every form of professional sport. How is that fair that the national champion of swimming was able to enjoy such an advantage over the competition.

Some sporting competitions are not drug tested and some are not divided into gender based categories. Strongman, in which I compete, is not drug tested and I would hazard a guess that most of the men and most of the women athletes are or have taken some form of PED. We understand that this is a legal part of our competition. It is an even playing field. What is not fair is when an NCAA athlete enjoys an advantage that equates to several years’ worth of PED usage while the competition, born females, would be suspended or banned for doing the same were they to supplement with equivalent levels of testosterone. If a female athlete was found to have the same level of Testosterone that Matt Thomas had in 2018, she would have been guilty of using PED’s and suspended from competition if not banned. Likewise for any Olympian.

I think competition is good for our psyche and our bodies, and that most people do not get enough. Everyone should engage in competition whether it be mental of physical in nature, whether it is in one-on-one style competition, team competition, or simply a competition against yourself. Everyone can and should compete. This includes transgender athletes of any sort. I am glad that Lia Thomas continues to swim. It is likely a positive outlet and a place where she can enjoy the power and wonder of her body and the natural beauty and ability it holds. I do not think it fair though that Lia, or any other transgender athlete, compete in gender classed sports where the participants have been bound to the limits of their own physiology and have played by the rules to earn their place at that competition.

I do hope that there are gender neutral athletic competitions or classifications where athletes such as Lia can participate, and so that they can enjoy the camaraderie, health benefits, and joy that is competing in sports. As I said before, competition is good for us, and it makes us happy. And everyone has a right to be happy.

I intend make this issue solely about Lia Thomas. Lia only has the responsibility and the weight of being perhaps the most famous example of a transgender athlete. If I were to meet Lia I would tell her how proud I am of her for doing such a courageous thing, to become herself and to open herself up to vulnerability in the face of criticism, misunderstanding, and outright hate. I would offer my support and encouragement to whatever her hopes and dreams are. I hope that more people, who feel this is right for them, will be moved by her courage and that others would learn in the process to be more tolerant and understanding, so that we can truly be happy together.

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