New Zealand’s Laurel Hubbard competes at the IWF Weightlifting World Championships in California last year (Supplied: Linda Brothers/IWF)
Another sporting event, another transgender outrage. New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard is at the centre of a media-driven, talkback-fuelled controversy at the Commonwealth Games, where she has been forced to withdraw after an injury.
To many of the questions you might have heard discussed today about her inclusion the answers are — no, no, no, no and no.
The discussions have been largely driven by ignorance, pseudo-science and bigotry.
Here are five myths about transgender athletes in sport debunked.
1. A transgender woman will always beat others who were born female
Wrong. For example Hubbard was beaten twice at the December World Weightlifting Championships in Anaheim. American Sarah Robles won gold in the snatch, clean and jerk and overall categories while Hubbard finished with two silver medals in the snatch and overall categories, but out of the medals all together for the clean and jerk.
Scientific evidence debunks the socially constructed binary model of gender where we traditionally only recognise men and women. Traditionally we have recognised sex as either male or female, but the science has shown there are a range of chromosome combinations.
2. Testosterone determines speed and strength, and transgender males to females will always have an advantage
Untrue. A transitioned female generates no hormones at all then goes into a menopausal state. The level of synthetic hormones they are allowed to take under IOC rules are so low they actually reduce the physical capability of the body to a point where sport becomes harder to play competitively.
3. Transgender athletes will always be bigger and therefore stronger
Incorrect. Women, like men, come in all shapes and sizes. Our socially constructed view is that women need to look a certain way (usually more feminine) and men another (usually taller and stronger).
Nobody says Usain Bolt should not be able to compete against his rivals because his legs are longer than most of his rivals, just as nobody says Michael Phelps should not have been allowed to compete in swimming because his arm span was longer than anyone else’s.
4. There is no place for transgender athletes in sport.
Yes, there is. Traditionally competitive sport was developed by men for men. Women were not allowed to play. Now women can compete but many of the old divisions — such as along gender lines — remain.
As society becomes better educated and better informed about the reality of the human body, sport will need to adjust the way it is administered and played.
Nobody should be excluded from playing sport because of the “way they look”.
Sport is supposed to be inclusive and a human right for all.
We should be working towards a system that supports diversity, inclusion and accessibility.
5. High-profile events like the Commonwealth Games should ban transgender athletes
Wrong. This is what chief executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation David Grevemberg told The Ticket:
“If a sport needs to constructively discriminate in order to maintain its integrity or legitimacy then there should be a process that does not infringe upon the rights of individuals.
“The process needs to consider three things: first its safety, second its fairness and third its universal application.
“If you can create an argument, through evidence, that says one or all of these criteria prove that we should discriminate against someone, then we have a point to consider. But until that point it’s an issue of someone’s rights and their recognition of who they are.
“These are people that have recognition by their nations as being female and they have passion in their hearts to compete on the world stage in their sport, and I think their respective sports need to champion their ambitions.
“And as a federation we need to provide a framework and a constructive discussion on how best to approach any questions that people may have in terms of their own prejudice.”
Tracey Holmes is the host of The Ticket. Kristen Worley is a Canadian transgender cyclist, who won her case in the Human Rights Tribunal in Canada to challenge the gender rules of sport as determined by the IOC.