Like many children of the 70s, I came of age watching Olympians like Mary Lou Retton, Greg Louganis, Scott Hamilton, and Carl Lewis.
They were like young gods; the world held its breath as they gracefully broke the rules of gravity, time, distance, force and speed. The laws of nature appeared to bow to their incredible talents.
For a brief season, mere mortals like me could contemplate the world’s best athletes in awe and admiration. I studied the physiques and mindsets of the female athletes and wondered if I would grow up to have the spring-like stature of a gymnast, the steady hands of an archer, or the endurance of a marathoner.
This summer in Tokyo things are different.
Despite the International Olympic Committee’s mission and commitment “to encourage fair play”, “to act against discrimination” and “to encourage and support the promotion of women,” it has abandoned women. The pinnacle event for female sports is a mockery.
Why? Because men are masquerading as women at Tokyo. At least three men have taken the place of female athletes at the Olympics.
Canadian Stephanie Barret is a 42-year-old archer who was born male — unambiguously male, biologically and sexually. Around 2012, Barret announced on Twitter that he was beginning cross-sex hormones and preparing for cross-sex surgeries. Laurel Hubbard is a 43-year-old New Zealand weightlifter, also born male, who also began his medical transition around 2013. These two will represent their countries at the Olympics.
Chelsea Wolfe, a 28-year-old American BMX rider, was born a male and came out as a trans woman in 2014. Wolfe is slated as an alternate for the United States and will compete if one of his female teammates is unable to compete. With Covid stalking the Olympic Village, this is quite possible.
These male-born athletes are competing in the women’s category under rules which were established by the International Olympics Committee in 2003 and re-affirmed in 2015. They state that female-to-male transgender athletes may compete in the male category with no restrictions. Male-to-female athletes must have declared a female identity “for sporting purposes” for a minimum of four years and the athlete’s testosterone levels must be below 10 nmol/L for at least 12 months. Surgical anatomical changes are not required to confirm their gender identity.
Sex matters, a lot
Though it is increasingly controversial to say so, biological sex is obviously one of the most significant factors in athletic performance.
On average, men are taller, stronger, and faster. From birth, the male body develops stronger muscles, larger lungs, larger bones, and higher haemoglobin levels. Across all sports, this advantage explains why men’s records are 10 to 30 percent faster, higher and longer than women’s.
And it explains why we have separate categories for male and female sports.
The IOC’s circulating testosterone limit of 10 nmol/L for male-to-female athletes appears to have been plucked out of thin air. The normal range for men is 8 to 29 nmol/L and the normal range for women is 0.1-1.8 nmol/L.
Even women with hyperandrogenism caused by polycystic ovarian syndrome have levels from 0.8 to 4.8 nmol/L.
In short, requiring male-to-female athletes to lower their testosterone levels to 10 nmol/L does not eliminate their testosterone advantage. They are still within normal male range and they still have 2 to 5 times the amount of testosterone that women have.
Even if these male-to-female athletes removed all circulating testosterone from their bodies (which they shouldn’t because that would create new medical problems for them) they would still have the advantage of their larger hearts and their superior bone mass, hip shape, and muscles.
The three trans athletes mentioned above are all men who identify as women — not the other way around. The IOC does not even bother to restrict the participation of women who as identify as men; they know that the advantage of adding testosterone to women’s bodies (called illegal doping if these women compete as women) will not make up for the significant differences between sexes.
The IOC’s policy poses no threat whatsoever to male athletes.
By mangling its definition of sex, the IOC is disenfranchising real women. Womanhood is not a costume. It is not a circulating testosterone level of less than 10 nmol/L. It is not a feeling. Female sex is the absence of the Y chromosome and male sex is the presence of it.
This difference is established at conception, is present in every cell of your body, and is responsible for the cascading development of primary sexual organs and secondary sexual characteristic that makes the difference quite clear in 99.982 percent of cases.
But males go to the Olympics with even more advantages.
The difference between the sexes is not just physical, but political, cultural, and social. These three male-to-female athletes have benefitted from the masculine development of their bodies that occurred until the age that they began to suppress their testosterone.
Hubbard is a 6-foot, 1-inch-tall weightlifter. Barrett is a 6-foot, 2-inches-tall archer. Wolfe came fifth place at the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in her/his rookie year.
They benefitted from the absence of training interruptions due to menstruation, pregnancy, and/or breastfeeding. They benefitted from social and cultural values that encourage athletics in boys and discourage them in girls.
They benefitted from laws that are prioritizing the emotional feelings of male-bodied people over the feelings and concerns of female-bodied people.
Today, there are three world-class female athletes from New Zealand, Canada and the US who are sitting at home watching the Olympics on the TV when they should have been competing in Tokyo.
This month, as the world gathers to watch and celebrate the Olympics, we will not see the best athletes the world has to offer.
OK, we’ll see the best men. But some of the best women will be absent — not because another woman beat them, but because a man did.
That’s not fair, that’s not supporting women, and that’s not the sporting spirit of the Olympic Games.