in case you missed it, trans* athletes have actually gotten a little play in the media recently, focused mostly around the awesomeness of keelin godsey, a trans* masculine genderqueer [self-identified genderfucker, even!] hammer thrower. keelin just narrowly missed qualifying for the olympics, but he did already do really well in the pan am games.
it is truly awesome to see trans* athletes competing openly [if they so choose], but also is nice that the media coverage is actually pretty good. i mean, shit, i can sit here all day listing off articles full of overtly hateful and negative representations of trans* folks by the media. but the sports illustrated article about the issue [the main coverage that happened prior to the olympic trials] was actually pretty well written, generally supportive and affirming of the trans* athletes they covered [with the exception of lindsey walker...how would you like being called a "radical case" because you happen to be a tall woman?]. certainly not perfect, but not ragingly trans*phobic, at least not at first glance. [oh, how low the media have made me set the bar for them...]
but it sure as shit is pretty sexist. and, as it turns out, it’s pretty trans*-misogynistic, too. actually, the whole cultural narrative that’s developing around trans* athletes [which the sports illustrated article really just reiterated] is really pretty sexist and trans*-misogynistic. unless, of course, men really are better at sports than women. or, rather, that people with a testosterone-dominated hormonal physiology are really better at sports than people with an estrogen-dominated hormonal physiology.
i mean, look at the friggen new ncaa transgender policy:
- A trans male (female to male) student-athlete who has received a medical exception for treatment with testosterone for gender transition may compete on a men’s team but is no longer eligible to compete on a women’s team without changing the team status to a mixed team. A mixed team is eligible only for men’s championships.
- A trans female (male to female) student-athlete being treated with testosterone suppression medication for gender transition may continue to compete on a men’s team but may not compete on a women’s team without changing it to a mixed team status until completing one calendar year of documented testosterone-suppression treatment.
not only are “mixed teams” only eligible for men’s championships, you can compete on a men’s team with either the hormones of a man or a woman, but you can only compete on the women’s team with the hormones of a woman. oh wait, no. you don’t need the woman hormones, just get rid of those man ones.
right. because testosterone provides all the benefits and estrogen all the weaknesses, or as sports illustrated put it:
“Testosterone, which surges during male puberty, is the engine powering an array of a man’s competitive advantages: greater height and weight, higher bone density, increased muscle mass and a greater proportion of oxygen-carrying red cells in the blood. Contrast this with estrogen’s effects (accumulated fat on widened hips), and it is sensible enough to segregate athletes by sex.”
oh, yes, when you put it like that, it is quite sensible. because men are better at sports, duh.
but wait. what? seriously? are they?
i mean, most of us seem to think so, and shit, we’re told this pretty much all the time everywhere…men are better/faster/stronger than women. just like men are better at math and spatial reasoning and women are better at talking about their feelings and raising children. case closed. now let’s have a battle of the sexes!
this notion is problematic for many reasons, not the least of which is that arguments like “women are better at talking about their feelings” or “men are better at sports” completely ignore all of the variation present among individuals within the two genders ['cause ya know, that's how it works, right? just 2?]. we know that people are super variable with respect to all sorts of physical, behavioral, physiological, emotional, etc. traits, yet when we classify people into groups [such as "man" and "woman"], we somehow instantly magically forget that the variation exists. “people are variable, but men and women are different.” oh, of course. and of course all of the good differences, they’re due to testosterone.
for any complex trait like “physical ability”, “size”, or “ability to talk about one’s feelings”, there are lots of underlying contributing factors that interact in crazy complicated ways. certainly, hormones influence a lot of physical traits, both directly and indirectly. but so does constant gender-biased socialization of physical activities.
and until we’re ready to start experimenting on humans in pretty intense ways [i hope we never do that kind of science] or we entirely stop socializing people into pre-conceived gender norms [which is unlikely to happen anytime soon, if at all], we’ll never really know the exact roles that hormone production [or any other biological component] and socialization play in determining one’s athletic ability. so let’s stop pretending like we do.
and in the meantime, let’s start really thinking about all the possible reasons why men appear to be better at sports than women.
is it because they are full of testosterone? or because they were socialized to be more physically active? or is it because the vast majority of contemporary western sports were designed by men for archetypal man body types? or is it because most coaches [even women coaches of women athletes] of those sports were taught in schools of thought/training that are very male-body-centric. or is it something else?
chances are, all of those things [and lots of other shit] contribute a lot, and in complicated interesting ways. just in the same way that all sorts of factors contribute to “spatial reasoning skills” or “math skills”. if we’re willing to unpackage manifestations of sexism/trans*misogyny that are intelligence-focused, we should be willing to go after the athletic ones as well. title ix was a damn good start. but this shit is far from over.