American swimmer Lia Thomas made history by becoming the first trans athlete to win a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) top category title by winning the 500-yard freestyle. But the joy did not last long, because their success has now become a political issue.
The 22-year-old was accused of unfair advantages on social media, and there was even talk of fraud. It went so far that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a statement declaring runner-up Emma Weyant, also from Florida, to be the winner instead. That was pure populism, because of course DeSantis has no authority to interfere with the results of a national sports association – his maneuver to want to present himself as the “protector” of an athlete in his state was very transparent. DeSantis still had a symbolic effect. By urging the NCAA to destroy women’s sports and undermine the integrity of the competition, he ultimately denied Thomas her identity as a woman.
The outbreak of Trump friend DeSantis is the sad low point of a trans-hostile development in competitive sports in general. Just last year, weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, who became the first trans athlete in history to compete in the Olympics, faced discriminatory hostilities before the Games even started. Ultimately, she was eliminated after three failed attempts. The situation was similar in rugby, where the world association wanted to exclude trans women entirely from women’s teams. There was talk of safety concerns and physical advantages. Scientific studies have long since done away with such prejudices and have shown that a higher testosterone value does not automatically mean advantages.
This also applies to Thomas, by the way: her body changed as a result of taking the hormones, her times have almost always become much slower. A comparison of her times before and after the start of her transition suggests that she doesn’t actually have the great advantages with women that her opponents always accuse her of – but that she used to swim at a very high level. The university records for men used to be just as within reach for them.
The argument to protect women’s sport seems pretentious
In general, the question arises as to why an athlete’s testosterone level is given so much more importance than other biological factors such as body size. And why are potential disadvantages of trans men not discussed? People like DeSantis’ like to claim that they want to protect the category of women and women’s sport as such, but that argument seems bogus. Rather, a certain ideal of woman should be maintained – if necessary by violent methods such as gender controls, which force trans and intersex women to take medication without the health consequences being foreseeable.
Incidentally, Erica Sullivan, who placed third in the competition, rallied behind Thomas and defended her against the hostilities, as did fourth-placed Brooke Forde. Sullivan said, “As a woman in sport, I can tell you that I know what the real threats to women’s sport are.” unequal pay or lack of representation can finally be tackled consistently. Trans women do not pose a threat, quite the opposite: they are the ones who are endangered by the discriminatory structures and deserve protection.