The issue of whether transgender (trans) athletes have an advantage over cisgender (cis) athletes has been a topic of much debate in recent years – especially amongst professional sporting organizations.
With increasing acceptance of the transgender community and individuals being able to compete in their chosen sports, the question of whether trans athletes have an advantage over cis athletes is one that requires investigation. This article will explore the topic in depth by looking at the biology and physiology of trans athletes, examining current policies and regulations that govern trans participation in sports, and discussing some of the arguments both in favor of and against trans athletes being able to compete on equal terms with cis athletes.
What Does it Mean to be “Cis” or “Trans”?
Before delving into this topic, it is important to understand the terminology being used. A “cis” individual is someone whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth. Thus, for example, if a male-born person identifies as male, then they are considered “cis”. In contrast, a “trans” individual is someone whose gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. That is, someone who was born male but identifies as female (or non-binary) would be considered “trans.”
Biologic and Physiologic Differences Between Trans and Cis Athletes
One of the key arguments against trans athletes is that they have an unfair physical advantage over cis athletes. It is well-known that certain physical attributes, such as strength and size, can be largely predetermined by biological factors, such as sex hormones (i.e. testosterone). As such, it could be argued that trans athletes – particularly in sports where strength and power are important – would have an inherent physical advantage over cis athletes, due to the higher levels of hormones naturally present in trans athletes.
However, this argument ignores one important factor: the use of hormone therapy. As part of their transition, many trans athletes elect to undergo hormone therapy in order to help them achieve the desired physical and emotional changes. This therapy often involves the use of estrogen or testosterone blockers, which can play a major role in reducing the difference in biological factors between trans and cis athletes. Moreover, many governing bodies in sport – such as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and USATF – have adopted policies to ensure that all athletes, regardless of gender identity, must adhere to the same hormone levels. This helps to ensure fairness for all athletes competing in a given sport.
Policies and Regulations Around Trans Participation in Sports
As previously mentioned, many governing bodies in sport have adopted policies to ensure that all athletes, regardless of gender identity, must adhere to the same regulated hormone levels. The IOC’s regulations state that “any competitor who transitions from male to female (female to male) is eligible to compete in the female (male) category under the following conditions: the competitor has declared that her gender identity is female (male) and the declaration is recognised in the applicable official documents; the competitor has gone through gender transition; the competitor’s total testosterone level in serum has been below 10 nmol/L for at least 12 months prior to her first competition”. Similarly, the USATF has also introduced a number of regulations around the participation of trans athletes in its competitions, such as banning the use of anabolic steroids and requiring athletes to be able to provide evidence of hormone levels before competing.
In addition to regulations around hormone levels, many organizations have also put in place policies to ensure trans athletes are not unfairly excluded or singled out from competing in their chosen sport. These policies typically include providing a safe environment for trans athletes to participate, as well as protecting their identity and rights within the context of sport. This helps to ensure trans athletes are treated with fairness and respect, and able to compete on equal terms with cis athletes.
Arguments for and Against Trans Athletes Competing On Equal Terms
There are a number of arguments both in favor of and against trans athletes being able to compete on equal terms with cis athletes. Proponents of allowing trans athletes to compete in their chosen sports argue that they should be treated like any other athlete, and be given the chance to compete on an even playing field. Moreover, they argue that it is unfair to exclude trans athletes based on an inherent physical advantage, when other athletes (such as those who are taller, or have greater natural endurance) are not subjected to similar restrictions. This is especially true when considering the rigorous hormone regulations in place, which help to reduce differences between athletes.
On the other side of the argument, opponents of trans athletes competing on equal terms claim that trans athletes have an inherent physical advantage due to their higher levels of hormones. They argue that this would give trans athletes an advantage over cis athletes and could ultimately lead to unfair outcomes and unequal competitive opportunities. In addition, some opponents believe that trans athletes should compete in tournaments and events separate from those for cis athletes, so that the playing field is leveled.
The issue of whether trans athletes have an advantage over cis athletes is one that is highly complex and requires further investigation. We have explored the biology and physiology of trans athletes, examined current policies and regulations that govern their participation in sports, and discussed some of the arguments both in favor of and against trans athletes being able to compete on equal terms with cis athletes. Ultimately, it is important that we create a safe and fair sporting environment where all athletes, regardless of gender identity, are able to compete on an equal footing.