Let them play: Transgender athletes are not the problem
I rarely write opinion columns, as I feel I have more important stories to tell. But when something that could be damaging to people I love is printed in the paper that I pour my blood, sweat and tears into every week, I can’t and won’t be complicit. And as someone who actually plays a sport alongside folks in the transgender and non-binary communities, I have experience in this subject that Jim Longworth lacks. Mr. Longworth’s opinion column this week suggested that transgender athletes “need a reality check” and that the trans community “needs to be more tolerant of others.” I believe the complete opposite. After all, cisgender people aren’t being murdered for just being true to themselves. Cisgender athletes and people, in general, need to be more tolerant and less concerned about how other people live their lives. And the only “reality check” that is needed is for those who are ignorant of the overall plight of transgender people in the United States of America, especially during the Trump administration. Since 2016, 90 transgender people have been violently murdered, and this increased violence is disproportionally against trans women of color, the Human Rights Campaign reports. Last month, Chanel Scurlock, 23, (a trans woman of color) was fatally shot in Lumberton. In January of this year, the New York Times reported that two women were arrested on charges of sexually harassing a trans woman in the bathroom of Raleigh’s Milk Bar.
I am a proud skater of the Mad Dollies and a co-director of public relations/marketing with Greensboro Roller Derby, which is governed by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. The WFTDA states on its website that it is committed to inclusion and anti-discrimination practices. “An individual who identifies as a trans woman, intersex woman, and/or gender expansive may skate with a WFTDA charter team if women’s flat-track roller derby is the version and composition of roller derby with which they most closely identify.” GSORD perhaps may be the only amateur sports league in the Triad that allows skaters who identify as “a trans woman, an intersex woman, or gender expansive.” (And by all means, if I am incorrect in this assumption, please shoot me an email!)
While I can’t speak for high school or Olympic level sports, I can say that as a cisgender woman and amateur athlete in a contact sport, I do not feel threatened or erased by the presence of my trans, intersex, or gender-non-conforming teammates. If anything, I feel empowered and honored to play by their side. While skating, hitting and blocking against folks that may not have the same parts or gender identity as I do, I truly see and feel no different than playing alongside someone who is like me. My biggest beef with Mr. Longworth’s opinion (aside from his ludicrous assertion that transgender people are the intolerant bullies) are the sources he cites to support his beliefs. He quotes the Alliance Defending Freedom (a conservative Christian organization that claims on their website that “Christians are being punished for living by their convictions”) as well as a FOX News interview with a “notable lesbian activist,” (I have never heard of her) who doesn’t reflect the views of all lesbians or all feminists, but does reflect the views of trans-exclusionary radical feminists. He also quotes the Twitter account “TransActual” and treats them as the only voice of the entire transgender community. Through a couple Google searches, TransActual is based in the United Kingdom, and its website is under construction, so it is unclear if it is an actual organization. I found the credibility of that source questionable, as well as its use in context. In my opinion, Mr. Longworth’s “dilemma” of transgender people competing in sports alongside their cisgender teammates diminishes both cisgender and transgender women’s abilities as athletes. If you assume “based on biology” that the skaters of GSORD are weak in any way, find me at our next bout (Aug. 4 at Skate South in High Point!), and I’ll let you borrow some skates, so you can have a feel for yourself. My derby-wife and co-director of GSORD’s public relations/marketing committee, Nay Slayer, agreed with my sentiments.
“If you feel like you need to discredit another athlete because you deem the situation as ‘unfair’ – you need to practice more,” she wrote me in a Facebook message. “Being an athlete is about being an athlete, regardless of gender or sex. I am confident in my strength and power across all the sports I’ve played. The only issue my vagina has caused is when my tampon string got caught while I was running across the soccer pitch (sorry if that’s vulgar). I welcome playing with anyone, regardless of race, sex, gender, age and skill level. Any true athlete knows the value of learning from others and shouldn’t demean another athlete in any manner. I truly feel in most sports, ‘women’s’ and ‘men’s’ needs to be a thing of the past, and sports at all levels should be skill-based, not gender-based. But that’s in a perfect world where all humans are equal, not in the world where the best soccer players are women, and those women have to fight to receive 1/10 the pay of their male counterparts who cannot even compete on the same level as them.”
Transgender athletes are not trying to cheat the system, and there is absolutely no evidence of that ever happening. They just want to be validated; they just want to play the game; they just want a place to belong. And what about Caster Semenya? She is the two-time Olympic champion track runner whose body naturally produces more testosterone than what is considered “normal” for females. According to Wired.com, The Court of Arbitration for Sport decided in May that Semenya is required to take testosterone suppressants to continue competing with women. All because of testosterone, which supposedly gives athletes an advantage. “The reality is that although testosterone plays a role in elite performance, the details of the science get murky very quickly,” Katelyn Burns writes in Wired. “The athletes with the highest testosterone are not always the winners. Ones with lower levels can also take home gold.”
NBC News reported that the International Association of Athletics Federations has allowed Semenya to compete with men without any restrictions. So, this paradoxical rule does not let a woman play with other women if her testosterone levels are naturally higher, but she can compete with men? Separating women and men in sports by measuring testosterone levels is not only misleading, but it also is not fair. Transgender athletes are not the problem. Intolerant and ignorant people are.
Katie Murawski is the editor of YES! Weekly. She is from Mooresville, North Carolina and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in film studies from Appalachian State University in 2017.