Hear Me Out: Topic of the Week: Trans Athletes

If you haven’t heard, Penn swimmer Lia Thomas broke a lot of records last week, and a lot of people are angry. Thomas is at the center of a new round of American culture wars because Thomas is a trans woman.

Next, here in Wyoming, at the time of writing, Bill SF0051 Women’s Sports Equity Act is at the Senate Education Committee would ban transgender women and girls from participating in high school level sports. and collegiate who are not their biological sex at birth.

To quote Nigel Tufnel, the hyperbole and emotion surrounding the subject of trans athletes is at an 11. Specifically trans women.

Rather than wading through this muck and negativity full of bad actors, I want to take a balanced look at this and avoid twists, overgeneralizations, and nonsensical speculation.

Let’s look at what’s going on with Thomas.

While the mainstream media would like you to believe that cases like Thomas are abundant and fast becoming the new normal. It’s wrong. From a numerical perspective, the Williams Institute estimated in 2016 that 0.6% of the US population identifies as transgender. Even with this growing number, we are still talking about a small percentage of people. Often, trans athletes participate in athletic competitions without any exposure. Athletes like Thomas are even rarer.

Trans athletes should be allowed to compete as long as they have no obvious physical advantage. There is a one-year waiting period for Olympic and ID-level trans athletes before they can compete. But, with the way Thomas dominated and, more importantly, a study by Dr. Timothy Roberts published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine, a two-year waiting period might be the best option. Again, at the elite level.

A radical idea crossed my mind, and not out of a shadow or a mockery. If two years is too long, why not allow legalized doping for cisgender women to level the playing field? I’m really curious what elite athletes could achieve if doping were legal. We’ve seen a glimpse of it in MLB, and say what you will about the steroid era, but baseball was a staple on TV then.

Back on topic.

Roberts’ study said that at elite levels, physical benefits persist for trans women after one year of treatment. The study focused only on trans athletes in the elite ranks. To balance the competitive field, a general ban was not suggested, but rather a two-year waiting period before competition, which is quite reasonable. Roberts said that for lower level athletics and your average athlete, a one-year waiting period is good for those athletes.

Margins are slim at the elite level. There’s still a lot to learn, and I’m sure more studies will be published on this in the years to come. But for now and from what we know, Thomas should wait at least another year before competing. And a two-year waiting period for other trans female athletes

Now, regarding the bill passing through the Wyoming Legislature.

Sen. Wendy Schuler (R-Evanston), the bill’s sponsor, didn’t even realize there was already a transgender policy in place by the Wyoming High School Actives Association. This policy has been in place for nearly a decade and gives schools and coaches the agency to handle the situation. Association policy also prevents any “Juwanna Man” situations from occurring. (Worst timing ever for this joke.) There will be no one trying to sneak by the Association because they are prepared for such a situation. (Although this situation is highly unlikely.)

Giving control to the local level for these instances is the best option.

I have more faith in our school administrators and coaches, who actually know the kids, than in a bunch of politicians hungry to get on “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” The proposed law is redundant and just for show, similar to voter ID laws. (You’re telling me a driver’s license and Social Security aren’t enough; I need another form of government ID? I thought the ultimate goal here was to have less government?)

In reality, what Schuler has created is the eventual scenario that happened in Texas a few years ago. A trans boy wanted to compete in the men’s wrestling division. The Texas High School Association, or their version, said no, and he was forced to stay with the girls. He won state championships and was reviled by people who read the title and half the lede. He didn’t want to participate in the girls’ tournament but was forced into it due to the failure of these makers.

Schuler’s bill is unnecessary, and if she had called or emailed the Association, she would have learned that there is a better policy in place. Avoid all that mess. Instead, she rolled with her bias and introduced a bill that is a regression from what is already working. Maybe I’m being too idealistic, but I like to think that most legislators do their due diligence before introducing a bill. Rather than coming up with something on a whim or because other states are doing it. (What’s the version of peer pressure among state governments?)

I don’t speak of this from a holier position than you. Seriously, just a week ago I was on the same side as Schuler. It wasn’t until I started learning more about Thomas, which eventually led me to learn that the Association knew about this long before it entered the public sphere.

It would be one thing if Schuler did a thorough investigation and came to that conclusion, but she didn’t. It’s easy to say because, and we can’t repeat it enough, she didn’t even know that the Association had implemented an effective policy for eight years.

Here’s my bias (and my cliches.), I believe that sports provide some of the best basic lessons life has to offer. The hard work, the bonds forged between teammates, the failures and the successes are all unmatched. Stealing this from children because of a lack of political understanding or influence does not sit well with me.

This bill is a mistake and a step back from an already effective policy put forward by the Association.

Sports Editor’s note: With the winter sports playoffs in full swing, Hear Me Out is on hiatus until March 17. Please send all hateful or positive messages (who doesn’t like a positive email?) to [email protected]ily.com.

Jessica C. Bell