Where do Transgender Athletes Compete?

The ambiguity of biological distinctions and mental gender perception may complicate the future of transgender athletes.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Many have heard of Lia Thomas, the controversial swimmer who swept the female swimming league, and, with her success, brought a lot of criticism regarding how we should accept transgender athletes into the athletic world. The NCAA and USA swimming league changed its acceptable testosterone guidelines as a result, but the ambiguity of biological distinctions and mental gender perception complicates the future of transgender athletes.

Freshman and member of Stuyvesant’s swimming team Olivia Kim is a strong advocate for allowing transgender athletes to compete in the gender category they feel most comfortable with, stating how distinguishing categories based on biological differences isn’t right. “It’s the same argument if someone had broader shoulders and longer legs and longer arms. [...] You can’t make an average for that,” she said.

Nevertheless, statistics reveal a tendency of elite male athletes outperforming elite female athletes by 10-12 percent, a difference that becomes more significant as the sport becomes more selective. Freshman and swimmer Sienna Ng stated, “Male Olympians are generally faster than female Olympian swimmers, though it is not always the case.”

Currently, transgender athletes must be willing to reach the hormonal requirements for testosterone by taking testosterone-suppressing drugs. While freshman Shanveer Singh agreed with Kim, he also expressed that these hormonal regulations are necessary. “If [transgender athletes] still want to play the sport and identify as transgender, if they want the best of both worlds, they need to take the hormones,” he said.

A common stumping block on the hormone issue is creating a standard for hormone requirements. Hormones are biologically diverse and constantly fluctuating, so it is difficult to determine if they are actually accurate in showing biological advantages. Sophomore Catherine Chen said, “I don’t think there can be a concrete conversion of ‘Oh, this level of testosterone will be adequate enough to give you the proper level of femininity.’” She also felt that the USA swimming league’s changed testosterone requirements in response to Lia Thomas’s success was discriminatory. “I feel like it’s kind of unfair that they’re using [her as] a representative. [...] You can’t make the limit even lower because she’s performing better than everyone else,” Chen said.

Junior Ameer Alnasser also agrees with Chen, and mentions runner Caster Semenya, a cisgender female athlete who was prohibited from competing due to her naturally high testosterone levels. “Whenever we try to distinguish based on hormone levels, there will always be odd cases of biological women who have abnormally high testosterone levels. [...] It’s always going to be a slippery slope,” he said.

We may need to take a fresh approach on the issue: as Kim suggested, we can remove gender categories altogether and create an open swimming league, allowing for all genders to compete together, even as high up as the Olympics. “[Lia Thomas’s controversy] is kind of asking ourselves ‘What are the specific categories we should make?’” she stated.

Alnasser expands on this idea by proposing that we start naming teams men vs. non-men to provide more gender inclusion to non-binary people. He stated, “I think the bigger issue in sports is [...] the gender dysmorphia that non-binary people face.”

Both Kim and Alnasser agree that sports should be for enjoyment and that the athletes’ comfort should be prioritized. “Gender dysmorphia is much more important. The rights of each person, over the advantages that do happen, that’s what matters more,” Alnasser said.