by Margot Gysbrechts, spokesperson at Out For The Win
KNOCKING TRANS MYTHS OVER
Thursday 31 March was Trans Day of Visibility, a day on which we celebrate trans people and draw attention to the discrimination and difficulties trans people face on a daily basis all over the world. Barely a day later, Van Doesburg illustrates why days like yesterday are still necessary in our society. The article is not only transphobic but also factually untrue and relies on prejudice, stereotypes and myths about trans athletes in our sporting competitions.
Lia Thomas, trans woman, competed in several disciplines in swimming. She won one medal in the 500-yard freestyle and was 1.75 seconds faster than the second. In comparison, Felicia Pasadyn, another swimmer, won at the same tournament in the 200 yards backstroke with a difference of 3.81 seconds. Lia’s performance is excellent, but not groundbreaking and not even in a top 50.
Lia was also strong in the men’s competition: she was 11th in the 1000 metres and dropped back in the rankings when she started hormone treatments. In the meantime, Lia has been swimming in the women’s competitions for some time, without any problems or protests, until she won a medal.
“Every sport requires physical benefits, being trans doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with it.”
HIJACKERS OR EXCELERS?
To assume that trans women simply go through a transition to win in the women’s leagues is downright crude and shows a lack of knowledge and empathy. Trans people go through a long, difficult and frustrating process to be who they are. They encounter misunderstanding, it often takes a long time before they dare or want to return to sports and they often lose competitive advantages. Moreover, top-class sport is a tough environment where you have to be incredibly strong mentally in order to improve every day. Combining top-level sports with a transition often requires twice the mental strength.
In addition, every sport requires physical advantages; being trans does not necessarily have anything to do with this. Every top athlete has biological advantages: Michael Phelps, one of the greatest swimmers of all time, had the perfect physique to swim at a high level and produced only half as much lactic acid as his opponents in the water. Usain Bolt has more fast-twitch muscle fibres in his legs than the average man, so his explosive power is much higher than that of his opponents. Should we therefore ban them from men’s competitions because they hijack the men’s sport with their physical advantages? Or will they be allowed to participate in their sporting discipline simply because they are not trans and we as a society therefore have no stick to beat with? Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps are just good athletes, can Lia Thomas be too?
“The attempt to ban trans women from women’s leagues is not only morally unacceptable but will destroy the entire sport of women.”
“Sport is about rules, a defined playing field and fair play’, we read in the column. But sport is about much more than just these three principles. Sport has a social importance. The mission of Sport Flanders is very clear: “We want to offer all people in Flanders as many opportunities as possible to sport and exercise throughout their lives. We do this by making the sports and exercise offer in Flanders as high quality and as accessible as possible for everyone. Whether you are a recreational athlete or a top athlete: you get our full attention”. A mission supported by the Flemish Minister of Sport, Ben Weyts, a fellow party member of Van Doesburg. A mission that underlines the importance of inclusiveness within the sports world.
The attempt to exclude trans women from women’s competitions is not only morally unacceptable but will destroy the entire women’s sport. It means that you have to define who is a woman and you reduce women to a few arbitrary characteristics. This affects all women and will discriminate against many more cis women than it will exclude trans women. Just think of Caster Semenya, one of the most talked about female athletes who is no longer allowed to run based on arbitrary rules.
Calling trans women a threat to women’s sports is quite hypocritical if more recognition for the same women’s sport is not forthcoming. Women’s competitions still receive too little attention, too little visibility, too little money and too little support. Instead of focusing on trans women and thus pitting women against each other, both inside and outside sports competitions, it would be better to invest energy in a better framework for women’s sport.
Trans women are women and have the right to play sports in women’s leagues. And if you are so convinced that trans women are a threat to women’s sport, make a list of trans women who are champions in their discipline and who have never achieved anything like what other women have done. We’ll wait.