The Wesleyan Argus | The Winter Olympics mark an all-too-rare step forward for trans athletes
The 2022 Winter Olympics has many controversies looming behind it, ranging from unfavorable quarantine conditions for athletes who have tested positive for COVID-19, concerns about climate changeand a potential conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Things may look bleak, but there’s still plenty to celebrate when it comes to social issues at the Olympics this year.
This calendar year has been historic for transgender athletes. The unusual timing of the 2020 Summer Olympics means many “firsts” for the Summer and Winter Olympics are taking place less than six months apart. After the Tokyo Olympics saw a record number of trans athletes, the Winter Olympics celebrated their first non-binary competitor, Timothée LeDuc. LeDuc will compete for the United States in pair figure skating with partner, Ashley Cain-Gribble. LeDuc seeks to challenge gender norms and show the world how pair skating is changing for the better.
Additionally, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will no longer use testosterone levels to determine whether or not an athlete can compete. The new IOC guidelines instead advocate policies that disqualify transgender and/or intersex athletes if they have a demonstrated competitive advantage. This is a departure from the old policy, where trans athletes had to have testosterone levels below 10 nmol/L. This change should be welcomed with open arms. Previously, the IOC guidelines caused significant distress to athletes as what should have been their private medical records were subject to public scrutiny.
Unfortunately, not everyone seems to agree. After reading about the IOC’s decision, I celebrated the slow progress for sport on the world stage. After checking the reviews, however, I started to lose my confidence a bit. While a few anonymous comments on a news article won’t determine majority opinion, it’s disheartening how many people disagree with these new policies, as well as how many people feel comfortable spitting. transphobic rhetoric.
These harmful ideas are also supported by politics. These global victories for trans rights are overshadowed by increased censorship of LGBTQ citizens in China. Accounts on popular messaging services were closed, Shanghai Pride was forced to cancel all events last yearand non-governmental organizations seeking to serve LGBTQ people struggle to hold events due to a lack of funding in a hostile environment.
The United States is not much better. A law ban transgender athletes in South Dakota passed the House on February 1, 2022 alongside a second bill banning transgender youth from using multi-stall bathrooms matching their gender. Mark Miller, the South Dakota Governor’s chief of staff, drew a comparison between transgender children and terrorists.
Discussing trans rights in sport feels like a “one step forward, three steps back” deal. We progress further when we enable athletes to compete at the international level and serve as role models for the next generation. At the same time, these children are watching lawmakers try to stop them from being like any other child. A legislator should not care so much about where a child uses the bathroom or which one is used.
This is why it is important to recognize victories. That’s why it’s important to draw attention to stories that are being ignored. The media is often selective in the stories they cover about transgender athletes; most of the time, one reads stories about trans women‘s wins and cis women’s complaints that question the fairness of wins. But we don’t often read stories of successful trans men. The results of non-binary athletes are not reviewed. And you’d be hard pressed to find a story about a losing trans woman. Our biases are confirmed by what the media covers, leading to a cycle where people believe that many trans women regularly beat cis women in competition.
This is a maliciously false story. The first transgender woman to compete in the Olympics was Laurel Hubbard, who competed in weightlifting at the 2020 Summer Olympics, but has not completed any of its lifts. As transition loses its social stigma, more and more trans women compete, but they fail to make it to the national or international level. And if they do, they’re not constantly blowing up their competitors.
Trans women are women and deserve to compete with other women. We should not use examples of incredibly talented and deserving athletes to legislate against children who want to compete in sports. Children deserve to play the way they want. If there is any chance that a future child will grow up to compete on the world stage, then we should let them.
Cameron Bonnevie can be reached at [email protected].