Trans People Have ‘No Competitive Advantage’ And Should Be Included In Olympics ‘Full-Stop’, Says Athlete
Jenna Weiner has been involved in sports for almost her entire life; including before, during and after she transitioned to a woman, so as transgender people have their inclusion in sports questioned, she has shared her thoughts on what it means to be trans in sports.
Over the past few months, a widely-debated topic among politicians, schools, sporting organisations and the LGBTQ+ community has been whether transgender people should be able to compete in sports and teams that reflect the gender with which they identify.
Jenna, a 27-year-old education and training coordinator working for a nonprofit that engages with LGBTQ+ youth, is familiar with all aspects of the situation through playing soccer as a child before she transitioned, as well as being involved in track and cross-country running in high school.
In college, she got into playing ultimate frisbee, playing both before she transitioned and when she started to undergo her transition around May 2016, when she started graduate school in Reno, Nevada.
Jenna, who uses she/her pronouns and identifies as a queer transgender woman, did not come out publicly until the first few months of 2017, so while she felt included in sports before she transitioned, she ‘sometimes didn’t feel like [she] quite fit into the male sports culture’ because there was ‘something different’ about her.
Ultimate frisbee remained Jenna’s primary extracurricular activity throughout her transition and over the following years. After she transitioned Jenna had to navigate what it meant to be a woman in women’s sport culture, but thankfully she was accepted as herself and included in the team by her teammates.
Other transgender people are not so fortunate, as has been made apparent in some of the rulings reached by schools and athletes related to bigger competitions such as the Olympics.
The International Olympic Committee has issued guidelines that allow transgender athletes to compete in women’s events provided they agree to have their testosterone levels monitored monthly in the year before their first competition, but the efforts to be inclusive have proved controversial, with tens of thousands of people having signed a petition to suspend the policy.
The petition argues that the ruling is unfair to women due to the ‘incontrovertible physical advantage that transwomen have’, and that it ‘completely ignores the physical advantages in speed, height, stamina and strength that a male-born athlete will have’.
In June, New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard was praised for becoming the first transgender athlete set to compete at the Olympics. However, much like the backlash against the Olympics guidelines, her inclusion in the games was criticised and prompted fellow weightlifter Anna Vanbellinghen to say that while she supports the trans community, the situation surrounding Hubbard’s involvement was ‘unfair to the sport and to the athletes’.
Meanwhile, many transgender girls and women in schools and colleges across the US have been banned from participating in female sports, with the law in Florida, for example, stating that students must play on the teams of the biological sex on their birth certificate.
When it comes to transgender people competing in teams or competitions catered to the gender with which they identify, Jenna is all for the inclusion. Having continued to play on sports teams both before and after her transition, she explained that her gender identity has not had an impact on which sports she plays; only whether she played for the men’s or women’s team.
For both students in schools and established athletes looking to take part in the bigger competitions, Jenna carries the same belief: trans people should be able to take part in sports as they identify.
She told UNILAD:
Young trans people should play as they identify and should be able to change what teams they play with as they wish. Playing sports is important to young people’s growth and development and that applies to young trans people just like everybody else.
As for the Olympics, she said, ‘Trans people should be able to compete in the Olympics for the gender with which they identify full-stop.’
Jenna criticised the notion that transgender people may have certain biological and competitive advantages when playing as the gender with which they identify, arguing, ‘If they are good enough to qualify for the Olympics then they should be able to compete in the Olympics in alignment with their gender identity.’
Transgender people do not have competitive advantages due to their sex assigned at birth, and the variety of human bodies and experiences means that assumptions that certain genders have strengths that might make them better in a sport is unfounded.
Joanna Harper, a trans woman who is one of the world’s leading researchers on transitioning athletes, said that as a population group trans women do have athletic advantages over cisgender women, however she noted that we ‘allow advantages in sports’.
Per ABC News, Harper pointed out that athletic abilities vary regardless of the gender someone is assigned at birth; for example, in baseball it is not uncommon for left-handed players to have some advantages over right-handed players.
Moreover, Harper explained the hormone replacement therapy that trans women undergo during transition is responsible for changing the body in a way that allows ‘trans women and [cisgender] women to compete against one another in a meaningful fashion in most sports’.
She expressed belief that it is ‘never the right response to outright ban trans athletes’, explaining that she thinks there is ‘some set of solutions that can be implemented’ to allow trans women to be integrated for all sports at all levels.
There is still a lot of work to be done to ensure transgender people are not made to feel excluded when it comes to sports, so Jenna believes it is vital to have non-discrimination policies in place to help ensure protection for those involved if transphobic discrimination is an issue.
She told UNILAD that sports coaches and management should undergo training and awareness-building to help handle situations involving trans people in sports, including knowing the correct terminology and knowing how to respond to situations sensitively.
Furthermore, Jenna stressed the need for team and sport cultures to become more inclusive of the transgender people who will likely be involved in them now or in the future, in turn allowing everyone to be comfortable in taking part unapologetically as their true selves.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues and want to speak to someone in confidence contact Mindline Trans+ on 0300 330 5468. The line is open 8pm–midnight Mondays and Fridays and is run by trans volunteers.
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