As usual, your historical perspective sheds new light on today's politics. Seems like the exclusion of trans girl athletes is another instance of how Black children in a racist society are perceived as more adult than white ones, excluded much earlier from the innocence and vulnerability of childhood.

Your remarks on the gender-policing of play made me think about "always already" trans self-narration. Self-doubt about being a real trans person if we didn't play with the "other" gender's toys as a kid.

Expand full comment

I'm afraid I have to disagree with this article, and pretty strongly.

Let me start by pointing out that I have no horse in this race. There are arguments to be made for both positions.

First though, it is important to emphasize that nobody is banning or proposing banning transwomen (or transmen) from sport. They are absolutely welcome to participate in sport (absent some new rule I have not yet discovered). Rather, the debate concerns in *which* group of students they can participate. Framing this as a ban on trans people is misleading.

Next it appears you are failing to properly engage with the opposition when writing things like, "exclusions rationalized through pop-science concepts of athletic advantage". The physical advantages enjoyed by males (at least post pubescent) are incredibly well-documented, and easy to see - hardly a product of 'pop science'. You can see more about this at the end of my comment.

In fact, this is in some sense the most troubling part of the debate. I think it is more than reasonable to acknowledge the physical advantages enjoyed by males (at least, enjoyed in the average case - that's an important point), and yet still argue for a more inclusive approach to sports that welcomes transwomen to participate in sport with biological women.

Unfortunately I have yet to encounter somebody making this argument. I have yet to see somebody both (a) acknowledge the differences in speed, strength and athleticism between women and men (again, in the average case, not necessarily in every case), and yet (b) still argue for permitting transwomen to compete with biological women in sport.

We could, after all, look at the male biological body as just another example of a genetic benefit (here meaning a benefit only as it pertains to sport), similar to how we might think of (let's say) fast-twitch muscle fiber genes.

We don't partition women's sport based on these types of genetic differences, or physical advantages - why not treat XX/XY-based differences in the same way?

Indeed, one of the clear ways out of the woods is to just let all students participate in sport together, and stop segregating sport by women and men. That's a very reasonable response to the debate, though of course it would essentially mean the end of competitive sport for biological women (the more competitive the sport, the greater that sport will feel the effects of male physical advantages).

I'll also add that one telling aspect of the debate - if the folks who wanted transwomen to participate in sport only with other men were motivated by transphobia, they would equally condemn all forms of trans sport participation. However that is not what we see - most of the condemnation is reserved for transwomen, because of course that's the group that gets an advantage. Transmen put themselves at a serious disadvantage, and that's why people don't care very much.

However any one of us may think about this issue, many Americans see transwomen participating in women's sport as deeply unfair to biological women. I don't believe this concern is driven by contempt, or hatred, or any other ugly emotion (though of course in some cases, it might be - I just don't think it is generally true).

Addendum: You can find all manner of research on the topic of the physical differences between men and women, and almost none of it is politicized or objectionable. This type of research also doesn't require much analysis, with which somebody might try to hide or manipulate the truth.

Without cherry picking, I started looking at data around bench press differences (men on average can bench press almost twice as much as women):


Here is information on squats - it recommends men start at 287 lbs, while women start at 141 (of course this doesn't necessarily mean women *can't* squat as much as men, but it strongly suggests as much). The difference here is again almost 2x.


These are just a handful of examples, and the data here is extremely consistent. Men are also taller, have stronger & longer bones, etc. Now, in some margins the advantage might be smaller, and in some larger, but there is a consistent theme here.

Expand full comment

Trans girls and women are NOT being banned from sports, they're merely being told they have to compete in the "open" division (often called boys/mens) with other males. There's nothing anti-trans about protecting female sports for females as per Title IX. Sex and gender are different and it's sex that gives males the unfair advantage, as documented in this Substack piece. https://normanjansen.substack.com/p/fairness-for-female-athletes

Expand full comment

what a necessary perspective - the beauty and importance of play, movement, embodiment.

Expand full comment

this is very beautiful-- thank you for foregrounding the importance of play.

Expand full comment

The overall point is incredibly well-made and timely, but I do think it’s worth noting that, while the Title IX regulations are built on a faulty notion of compromise, the actual exceptions are much more narrowly scoped than suggested. Indeed, the full draft rules specifically suggests that many of the example exceptions you list would not be valid and, in practice, the draft rules are built pretty heavily on the foundation of the West Virginia case that gets a positive mention.

Apologies if the comment reads a little bit reviewer 2, I am a massive fan of your work and I think the comment absolutely doesn’t challenge the actual argument you’re making or even the specific way that the draft regulation fits within it as the loopholes do exist and, if not as significant as suggested, remain quite large.

Expand full comment