In America today, one of our most hot-button topics is the issue of trans-rights.
As what I consider to be a progressive person, I think it is very important for people to be able to choose the gender they feel most comfortable with and be accepted as said gender by those around them. Accepting and welcoming those different from us is an important step on the road to a more equal and tolerant society.
Stepping aside from the social and political elements of the trans rights issue, I wanted to address the controversy stemming from transgender female athletes in combat sports and weight lifting and the alleged advantage these athletes have over natural born-women they are competing against.
Does a man transitioning to a female really have a high enough advantage over their female competition to warrant concern over the fairness of the match?
In an interview with Otago University physiology Professor Alison Heather by New Zealand’s RadioLIVE, Heather states that men transitioning into women would usually have physical advantages.
“A man transitioning to a female has physiological advantages that they take into their new female life based on their previous male life,” she says.
Heather goes on to say that men generally have larger bone structures, bigger hearts and lungs and stronger bones. “In general males outperform females across most sports, in weightlifting and strength sports that male to female difference can be up to 25 percent.”
With figures like this, it is hard to argue that having formerly been a man would have no impact when competing against all natural-born women.
One athlete who has been the subject of controversy is Ms. Laurel Hubbard, a 39 year old weightlifter from New Zealand who transitioned to female after competing in weightlifting as a man until the age of 35.
Weightlifting coach for the Samoan team Jerry Wallwork states that he believes Ms. Hubbard would have an unfair advantage over her competition, saying, “a man is a man and a woman is a woman and I know a lot of changes have gone through, but in the past Laurel Hubbard used to be a male champion weightlifter. The strength is still there and I think it’s very unfair, and for females it’s unfair.
Although his statement is considered politically incorrect, I sympathize with this coach as he is concerned that those he is coaching will not have a fair chance at coming out on top.
On the other hand, is it really fair to disqualify somebody based on a legitimate life decision as personal or important as transitioning to another gender?
One ardent defender of Ms. Hubbard is her friend and rival, British weightlifter Emily Campbell. “At the end of the day I believe everyone should be able to do something they love and she qualified in her own right like the rest of us girls”, Campbell said. “I am looking forward to competing against every single one of the girls in that line up.”
After carefully examining both sides of this extremely touchy issue, I’ve reached the nuanced opinion that trans athletes should absolutely be able to compete in these competitions if the risk of them having an advantage over the competition is minimal.
If a transgender athlete falls within the range of accepted testosterone levels and the athletes they are competing against are aware of the situation and consent to the competition, I think there is no reason they should be disqualified.