Being trans doesn’t give you an advantage in sport, but fear of discrimination keeps us from playing

Martina Navratilova recently tweeted ‘You can’t just proclaim yourself a female and be able to compete against women’ (Picture: Johnny Louis/Getty)

Renée Richards made history in the 1977 US Open when she became the first openly trans woman to compete with other women professionally.

Much like today, there were loud critical voices. Some people were concerned this would result in an influx of men pretending to be women to dominate women’s sport and Richards even received death threats.

While she has enjoyed good success in her career, she was never a dominating player in women’s tennis and ranked similarly in the women’s league as she did in the men’s league. So much for the alleged unfair advantage of hers.

It’s been well over four decades since that US Open, but the same arguments are still being thrown around now in discussions about trans women in sports, even by tennis player Martina Navratilova — who was not only coached by Richards — but also competed against her three times and won every time.

When it comes down to trans women, I don’t blame people for being concerned.

The image most people have of trans women in sports is probably Caitlyn Jenner in her hay day competing as an Olympic champion.

If I thought I’d be up against that level of competition as an athlete, I’d be concerned too but the reality is much more complex.

Trans women have to undergo hormone replacement therapy for a certain amount of time and show low levels of testosterone before they are eligible to compete. 

While some trans women enjoy success in their chosen sport, trans women are certainly not dominating women’s sports on a professional level.

According to recent studies, hormone replacement therapy for trans women causes a significant decrease of muscle mass and bone density.

In other words, all alleged advantages people claim trans women have, are quickly depleted as they lose the strength, speed and endurance they had when their bodies were fuelled by testosterone.

The idea of someone pretending to be a woman and putting themselves through all that just to ‘dominate women’s sport’ therefore sounds like a ridiculous conspiracy theory.

As a trans person who has been on oestrogen for over a decade, I can testify that the strength, endurance and speed I had before has vastly decreased.

My testosterone levels are so low that they’re medically undetectable. If it wasn’t for yoga, I would struggle to carry my grocery bags home.

Moreover, many trans people stop playing sports once they transition out of fear of discrimination and because of the stigma attached to it.

That’s why I left sports once I transitioned, despite already having a wall of medals and a promising athletic career on a national level in Iceland.

While some trans women enjoy success in their chosen sport, trans women are certainly not dominating women’s sports on a professional level.

And yet people claim it’s not an ‘equal playing field’.

As it is, the system is flawed and does not take into consideration the vast diversity of human biology. Sports have rarely ever been fair, as many people enjoy advantages of all sorts due to their physical attributes.

This has been repeatedly proven in cases of intersex women like Caster Semenya, who was famously stripped of her golden medal in 2009, only to be get it back after she had endured humiliating tests to ‘prove’ that she was in fact female.

And now, the International Association of Athletics Federations has imposed a rule on hormone levels, which will force women like Semenya to suppress their testosterone through medication in order to be eligible to compete.

But despite critics echoing concerns of the past against trans women in sport, we have come a long way since Richards first sought to compete with other women in the 70s.

As trans people are able to come out sooner, more and more trans women will have had access to hormone blockers as teenagers and later on cross-sex hormones.

This means that we are now seeing a generation of trans women entering their 20s who never had their bodies shaped through a testosterone-fuelled puberty that traumatised them.

It also means that in the near future all of the alleged advantages that trans women might have in terms of sports will unequivocally no longer exist.

What will the critics say then?

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