Want to be a Nexus Correspondent in 2021?
Waikato Students' Union Logo

Trans Weightlifter Shouldn’t be Internet Punching Bag – Issue 15

One of the shittiest things about the internet has been the rise of what I call “the complete fucking numpty brigade”. These are the people who think watching a couple of YouTube videos and reading a thread on 4Chan constitutes ‘research’ and somehow makes their opinion as valid as someone with a medical degree, PhD or lived experience of the issue at hand. Reality check: It doesn’t.


The numpty brigade have been hard at work recently, airing their toxic opinions in the comment sections of articles about transgender athletes – and specifically transgender women.


New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard is creating headlines around the world as the first transgender Olympian in history, but trans athletes have been competing and placing in international events for many years. And whenever they do, internet commentators start shrieking about ‘cheating’ and ‘natural advantages’ and ‘protecting women’s sport’ without ever looking at the facts. Even people who believe themselves to be accepting of trans people will still posit that they should compete in a different category for trans athletes, to keep things ‘fair’. 


Now let me be clear for those of you with short attention spans – the IOC has allowed transgender athletes for 17 years, but this is the first time a transgender athlete has qualified. Being born with a penis does not automatically make you faster, stronger or fitter, which many of the incels yelling about it should know. In fact, the only sport in which being born with a penis is an advantage, is penis fencing, which thankfully is something only flatworms do (and maybe you and your flatmates after a few Woodys on Saturday night – no judgement, fellas).


An immediate and obvious fact against the argument that trans women athletes have a natural advantage over cis women is this: Laurel is currently ranked 15th in the world, not 1st. People also overlook the fact that there are international-level trans male athletes, like US runner Chris Mosier. Mosier was the athlete who convinced the IOC to remove the arbitrary requirement for genital surgery from the conditions for trans athletes to qualify. Currently, trans women can enter female categories so long as their testosterone remains below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least one year, while trans men may compete in male categories without restriction. However, there’s still not enough data around the connection between testosterone and athletic performance to know if this is realistic, given that some elite cisgender male athletes have testosterone levels lower than this anyway. 


Human performance is variable for any number of reasons, and sex is only one of these. Being naturally tall or big-boned or having greater lung capacity can be an advantage or disadvantage, depending on your sport. We don’t segregate athletes by any of these factors. But we have become used to sport being very black and white in terms of sex segregation, when actually, sex and gender are much less binary than we’ve been lead to believe. 


There’s more research needed on the biomechanics of cis versus trans athletic performance, but there’s no evidence that cisgender athletes are at any disadvantage under the current regulations. The main thing to remember is that transgender people are people, and trans athletes are here to stay. Let’s celebrate that, and save the hate for the numpties instead.


More Stories
Editorial – Issue 8