Sports: Should Changing One’s Sex Allow Them to Compete in Sports in Their New Gender?

The world is not a simple place. It never really was, even though many may contend that earlier times were much less complicated. (In reality, difficult issues likely just got, well…buried, or semi-forgotten.)

However, technology, science, openness and acceptance to one’s individuality have all sped up the pace. We are moving at warp speed into a newer, more open-minded existence. One where tolerance of others to live their lives as they see fit becomes the norm, at least as long as the choices they make to do so do not interfere with the rights of or harm others.

And from my perspective, that is a pretty good thing.

Yet, there are going to be questions, issues that come up, especially within the competitive sports world, that speak to the idea of fairness…equitability. Just such a circumstance was brought to the surface recently by ESPN Radio personalities Steve Czaban and Andy Pollin through their insensitive take on the transsexual junior college basketball player Gabrielle Ludwig and her playing on a women’s college team.

Born as a man, Gabrielle went through all the trials and tribulations (and then some) that come about when one feels a mismatch between their birth gender and their gender identity. This eventually led to the decision to undergo sex change surgery and, I assume hormone therapy, to transition into a woman.

With a 6’ 6” frame, and unquenchable thirst for basketball (she played JUCO basketball as a young man), Gabrielle, now at age 50, went back to the game she loved accepting a spot on Mission College’s women’s basketball team. It was this choice that brought out the negative commentary by ESPN reporters Czaban and Pollin (which came one day after the Gabrielle’s linked story above), something Yahoo sports reporter Eric Adelson took issue with in his well-written piece, Radio hosts' insensitive blast of transsexual athlete comes under fire.

Aside from the discussion of the ESPN reporters’ on-air commentary, I think Adelson hits on a very important point in his article, one that brings focus to the very question I am asking. He writes:

The larger issue here is not some guys going Beavis and Butthead on the radio. It's how little is known about what the term "transgender" means, particularly when it comes to the fields of athletics. There's an important discussion to be had about the supposed physiological advantage a transgender athlete may have on a basketball court, but Czaban, Pollin and Knoche didn't even come close to having it.

And this is where the discussion gets more serious as to whether Gabrielle, or anyone in that same circumstance, should be allowed to change their gender and then become eligible to play a sport as a member of that new gender. Adelson points out that the IOC and the NCAA has already concluded that they can, as long as they meet very specific criteria to “minimise[sic] gender-related advantages.”

As my title infers, that is my question as well. When one changes their sex from male to female, do they carry any of their male physical characteristics with them giving them a gender-related advantage?

Eric does cite a study (Equal Opportunity for Transgender Student Athletes) which states “advantages a transgender girl or woman arguably may have as a result of her prior testosterone levels dissipate after about one year of estrogen therapy.”  However, is testosterone the only factor that gives males an advantage? Are there others?

My points come from the same arguments that I lay out for the use of illegal PED’s, the same thought process used when talking about the Lance Armstrong debacle. A position coming from the clear advantage that illegal PED’s give.

When one changes the body, biologically, to something that it was not meant (a key word here) to be, AND that change gives one a distinct advantage over competitors in sports, then it should not be allowed in the competitive arena.

However, that same position dictates that the opposite is also true regardless of the situation. To me, if there is no determinable advantage for Gabrielle (or any other transsexual) from what she would have had if physically born a female than, really…there should be no argument here; she should be allowed to play. That is barring any other eligibility rules that apply.

Currently, I am ignorant of the science behind transgender transformation, so it would be inappropriate to put myself on one side of the fence or the other. All I do know is that, based on the pace at which society is moving (with regard to advances of all types), questions like the ones posed here are only the beginning.

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[Note: IOC Guidelines (from CNN article), “According to IOC guidelines, transsexual athletes must have undergone hormone replacement therapy for at least two years, be legally recognized as the sex in which they want to compete and have had "sex reassignment" surgery in order to compete in their authentic gender. Many international sports organizations, including the governing body for wrestling, have adopted or defer to the IOC policies.”]

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