Our home was filled with musicals instead of football and hockey games while my children were growing up. How much of that was influenced by my preference for a theatre seat over an arena? We’ll never know. The point is that for years I have been able to avoid the topic of trans kids in sports because my kids didn’t play in organized gendered leagues. I also avoided the subject because it’s complex, nuanced, and not easily brushed aside with a canned response. But the public discourse on whether transgender children should be allowed to play sports is too loud and insidious to ignore any longer. Here are my well-researched thoughts on transgender kids and sports.
First, I want to address the physical and mental health benefits for all children participating in a sport they love to play. Kids learn about teamwork, the life lessons of winning or losing with grace, self-confidence, goal setting, time management and having fun while developing motor skills. Not including transgender kids in sports purposefully removes these benefits from their lives. However, including trans children in sports offers benefits to their teammates too! It teaches them inclusion and encourages values of non-discrimination, and it broadens their perspectives and allows for the development of empathy. Co-ed recreational teams have existed for decades at all age levels breaking down gender stereotypes and fostering inclusivity, empowerment, and self-confidence.
A Little Dose of Reality
I learned early on with my theatre kids that not every child who takes acting classes goes on to star in a Hollywood movie and even fewer win an Oscar—despite thousands of moms thinking their baby is the cutest thing alive. But that doesn’t mean they can’t love the theatre and have fun with every play. The same applies to sports. Not all sports players are destined to be in professional leagues and the Olympics. We need to let kids be kids and play sports for fun, and those children don’t need strangers to medically examine them before chasing a ball down the pitch and getting excited about it going into a net, even if it’s their own. There is a danger to all children when gender policing could subject girls to invasive tests or accusations of being “too masculine” or “too good” at their sport to play or compete.
Clarifying Transgender Terms
A child who socially transitions and only changes their pronouns and gender expression before puberty is a very different situation than a youth or young adult going through puberty or a medical transition. Before puberty, and when on puberty blockers, the child is a hormonal blank slate. Discussing physical differences between boys and girls shouldn’t exist because there are no secondary sex characteristics in pre-pubescent children.
My transgender son is on testosterone and has facial hair, body hair, broad muscular shoulders and he regularly works out. According to many new rules regarding trans kids in sports, he would be forced to compete on a girl’s team. Suppose you believe that transgender people should compete according to their sex assigned at birth in order to “protect” female athletes against unfair advantages that a trans girl might have. Do you really want my 18-year-old son to compete while on testosterone against female athletes? No. Let’s be honest, this is way more about trans women than trans men and reinforces the patriarchy, policing women’s bodies and stereotypes that women are weak and in need of protection and can’t “play like a boy.”
The Veiled and Overt Discrimination
Before we go around claiming that allowing trans girls to play sports will change the entire face of athletic competition, it’s essential to understand the reality of transgender women when it comes to sports. Saying they have an advantage just because they are transgender overlooks what they actually go through. They face a lot of challenges that give them a tougher time in many other aspects of life. They deal with higher rates of bullying, anxiety, and depression, making it much harder to train and compete. On top of that, they often face issues like homelessness and poverty due to family rejection, and getting to a competitive level in every sport is a very expensive endeavour. It’s no wonder we see so few transgender athletes dominating college sports or medalling in the Olympics. It’s not as simple as saying they have a physical advantage (which is scientifically debunked); there’s a lot more to consider.
I will admit to having been lulled into the idea that maybe transgender athletes should have their own separate leagues like we’re back in the “separate but equal” days. Can you imagine? Apart from all the reasons I’ve already mentioned about why this is unnecessary and the fact that there never would be enough trans athletes to create entire leagues because they are 1% of the population instead of 50%, it’s just plain unfair. Look at women’s sports leagues as an example. Separate doesn’t mean equal at all! Female athletes constantly face fewer rewards, less media attention, and lower pay. (Which, I might argue, is why some are so reluctant to welcome transgender women in their competitions.) If we had a transgender sports league, you can bet it would be dealing with the same problems.
Ultimately, I encourage everyone to let trans kids be kids and play sports like every other child on the team they feel most comfortable with. When they grow and venture into competitive sports, I say the International Olympic Committee framework gives excellent guidelines to follow that politicians need not relitigate.
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