How do we “play up! play up! and play the game”? Part 1

Men v Women

This question seems to be getting a lot of air time at the moment, and it is one that is ruffling a few feathers. Fallon Fox, a MtF martial arts fighter in the United States, is campaigning not to have to reveal her medical history to her opponents before a fight; Bobbi Lancaster, a 62 year-old MtF golfer is seeking to fulfil a lifelong ambition and enter the L.P.G.A. tour; and, educational establishments across the U.S.A. are being asked to consider what their policy is regarding transgender students and sport.

Sport is one of those areas of life where segregation according to sex is still practised and accepted. The reasons most commonly cited for not mixing the sexes are –

a) men have a physical advantage over women. The competition would therefore be unfairly weighted in favour of men;

b) because women are physically slighter than men, there is a greater danger of them being hurt when in opposition to men;

c) men and women see sport differently. Men are gladiatorial, competitive, and committed to chasing the prize; women less so. It’s what makes men’s sport so exciting, and worth more in terms of advertising revenue and prize money – apparently!

The route that educational establishments seem to be taking at present is that FtM students may participate in men’s sport, but MtF students must undergo a psychological examination to ensure that their gender identification is sincere, or be undergoing hormone treatment and/or reassignment procedures, before they can compete on a women’s team.

The argument for this distinction in the treatment of MtF transgender students is to stop coaches packing their women’s basketball teams with men in drag. I suppose anything is possible, but I suspect most jocks wouldn’t give the idea house room – a) because it might impugn their manhood; and, b) the sportsman in them wants to play and win against another men’s team.

There is also the argument that plagues MtF sportswomen regarding their extra height, reach, and leverage when compared with an average cisgender woman. The argument goes that this could prove advantageous and put opponents at greater risk of injury. However, many ciswomen in sport are tall, contributing to their success. Should they be excluded from competing when they reach six foot?

The third reason for segregating the sexes when it comes to sport may seem trivial in comparison with the other two, but I think it goes to the heart of the problem for trans-people. I don’t hold with the argument that men’s sport is more exciting, more watchable, and more competitive than women’s sport, but I do think that the approach is different between the sexes. If it is testosterone that makes a man think differently from a woman about sport then a transman on testosterone is also likely to think differently from a woman about sport. Irrespective of all other considerations, he is therefore likely to feel more comfortable playing with a men’s team because his approach will mesh with that of other players. The opposite would also be true for transwomen in sport who have suppressed their testosterone levels.

How many times have we been told by commentators of elite sport that the win is a mental one? What sets a champion apart from his/her rivals is courage, mental toughness, and the will to win. Not their strength, not their training, and not their equipment. To an extent this is commentator hyperbole, but anyone who has played sport at any level knows there is some truth in it. It is that truth which, I believe, makes it fair and safe for transmen and transwomen to take part in sport as their chosen gender.

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