A briefing on the controversy over transgender athletes


The Tokyo Games marked the first time openly transgender athletes competed as Olympians, but their eligibility has cast a closer look into an unfair advantage. The experts behind the studies weigh in.

As of Aug. 25, deliberation over Senate Bill 2 (SB2) has been postponed, as Texas lawmakers in the House Public Education Committee are still discussing its advancement through the court system. 

If successful, SB2 would require Texas public school students, starting with kindergarteners and extending to collegiate-level athletes to play on teams that correspond with their sex assigned at birth. The bill would not allow athletes to participate on teams as the gender  they identify as. SB2would effectively restrict transgender students from participating in sports with their correct labels. 

SB2 was crafted by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, and pushed by Republican senate members and conservative advocacy groups. However, Texas is not the only state to enact bills like this; Mississippi, West Virginia, Arizona, and more  also previously pushed or actively passed similar legislation. 

The resistance against transgender athletes focuses on “competitive fairness,” or the assumption that those born as men (cisgender males) are stronger or faster than those born as women (cisgender females), and therefore should compete separately. 

Biologically, there are differences in the weight distribution, testosterone levels, strength and sizes between the sexes. However, when transgender people medically transition through  hormone blockers or hormone replacement therapy, their biology physically starts to take on the characteristics of the opposite sex.   

Transgender researcher and athlete Joanna Harper, who worked with transgender female runners, noticed the effect of hormone replacement therapy. The athletes experienced more than a 10% decrease in their speed, which lines up with the 10% speed difference in professional male and female runners.  

Despite this science, there is still a double standard. Under the assumption that transgender women may hold a competitive advantage if they competed with cisgender women, it is imperative to acknowledge the“unfairness” that might occur when transgender men dominate women’s sports. 

In 2017, Texas high school wrestler Mack Beggs could not compete in the men’s league, even when he was actively transitioning. Beggs won  the season by finishing 57-0. His skill as an athlete combined with the testosterone altering his body made him an all-star in the women’s league. He also won  the 2018 girls’ division with a 32-0 record, but it wasn’t until college when he was able to compete in the men’s league. 

If Texas legislators choose to pursue true fairness but want to use biology as the argument for invalidating transgender athletes, they must  consider how far along athletes are in their transition.. Focusing solely on one’s “gender” undermines the accomplishments and comfort of athletes that do not fit the gender binary, and ignores the actual science of athleticism. Constricting the world of sports to a person’s anatomical parts—instead of measuring athletes on similar biology and skill levels—is truly the catalyst to sports inequality; and something the Republican senate’s anti-transgender rhetoric is conveniently avoiding.