Monday, March 1, 2021

A Level Playing Field?

By Gina

I recently read there is currently a ruckus going on in the rugby world, as a result of transgender players being informed by the sport’s ruling body that they cannot take part in the women’s version of the game. That gives me an opportunity to look at similar situations over the years, where the sporting status quo has been changed as a result of developments in the greater scheme of things:

When talented amateur tennis player Dr Richard Raskind had Gender Reassignment Surgery in the 1970’s, as Renée Richards (s)he she put the cat amongst the pigeons by entering women’s professional tournaments. Along with other physical advantages, at over 6 feet tall she had a head-start over most of her rivals (ho ho). In the end her advanced age did for her as a singles competitor (her male peers had long-since retired), and as such she failed to give the likes of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova sleepless nights. But suppose she had been in her physical prime, where as such she might well have blasted them into oblivion? And despite her belated entry into the arena, she still managed to reach the ladies doubles finals of a major tournament (where ironically one of her genetic opponents was nearly as tall and physically-imposing as she was)!

When I was in my mid-30’s I considered myself to be a decent badminton player, if a somewhat rusty and out-of-shape one at that point. As such I challenged a teenaged female acquaintance of mine who had already played at regional if not national level to a match. I couldn’t beat her, but once I got her gauge managed to take one game to a tie-break. Which makes me wonder in retrospect how I might have fared had I taken the same route as Ms. Richards? To put that in context: a few years later I joined a local club a few years later and my form and fitness improved as a result. But as a male player, I still less chance of being picked for the club’s league team than flying to the moon.

In the 70’s and 80’s, those of us in this parish were privileged to have what were regarded as three of the greatest middle-distance runners of all time in Messrs. Coe, Cram and Ovett. However, they competed in an era when the sport was still officially amateur, and thus potential rivals from much poorer parts of the world had no funding or incentive to challenge. But once the sport went professional not long afterwards, hardly surprisingly athletes from third world countries in central Africa and elsewhere started coming out of the woodwork and cashing in accordingly – to the point where they now completely dominate. As such, our fastest current middle-distance specialist (who ironically has just bettered the PB’s of said legendary trio) probably has as much chance of winning an Olympic gold medal as I had making my badminton club’s league team.

The point I am trying to make from the above examples is that once the goalposts are moved, then in sporting terms it can lead to a “cuckoo in the nest” syndrome. In terms of transsexualism I would say that is particularly prevalent, as nowadays not only are GRS procedures far more commonplace, but many parts of the world are now also comparatively more tolerant of transpersons than before – even those who have not gone “all the way”. Another sign of the times is that many women now compete in sports such as football and rugby (even at a professional level in some cases) that were previously exclusively a male preserve, and it seems that some younger transsexuals want a bite at that cherry too.

For what it’s worth: even if I were a sportingly-gifted transgender woman in my physical prime, I would not be interested in participating at a professional sporting level with the bio variety.* For one thing, you can be assured that any plans to merge seamlessly into society as a female will go completely down the toilet. Plus I really do not think it is fair on genetic women anyway. But perhaps as a result of being more high-profile now (not to mention more lucrative!), it seems many disagree.

So does that mean it should be accepted that trans women compete against those of the genetic variety? Presumably due at least in part to the easy availability of processed food and fitness clubs these days, the latter are physically bigger and stronger than their forebears (in my youth I was considered to be of average male height, but these days am probably now more-akin to average female height!). Yet despite that, it wouldn’t surprise me if they still lost out in an arm-wrestling contest to a transsexual gobbling down hormones like a corn-fed chicken. 

Getting back on track: of course the debate also rages on over genetically intersexed athletes cleaning up in the female middle-distance events these days, with the sport’s authorities trying to impose a testosterone-limiting regime on those concerned in order to avoid making it a procession and thus a mockery. So bearing all the above in mind: should there now be a third “inbetweenie” gender classification in professional sport? If so, then perhaps the athlete formerly known as Bruce Jenner might be tempted to come out of retirement?

* On a “friendly” amateur level, as a transgender sportsperson I would derive far more pleasure from beating a man at badminton than a woman!

Source: Rue La La
Source: Rue La La

Arsenio Hall femulating in the 1988 film Coming to America.
Arsenio Hall femulating in the 1988 film Coming to America.


  1. The use of (s)he is insulting to all women

  2. I must say, as interesting as this topic is, I could not complete the article due to the writing style. It was convoluted and difficult to follow. Just sayin'.

  3. I think you should reconsider your essay in light of this article: Sport and Transgender People: A Systematic Review of the Literature Relating to Sport Participation and Competitive Sport Policies ( Especially with the second key point, "There is no direct and consistent research to suggest that transgender female individuals (and transgender male individuals) have an athletic advantage in sport and, therefore, the majority of competitive sport policies are discriminatory against this population."

    By stating "Plus I really do not think it is fair on genetic women anyway" you perpetuate the belief that transwomen are simply men in dresses and that detracts from what seems to be your overall message of trans acceptance.

    Another good article is this one, Testing, hormones, hatred: What it’s like to compete as a transgender athlete (

    Finally I'd like to point out it's interesting that it's always about Transwomen competing with Ciswomen but no one ever cares about Transmen competing with Cismen.

  4. I was rolling my eyes at this posting, too. Transwomen lose lots of their (former) male muscle strength during HRT. The playing field, so to speak, is a lot more even than people perceive. I'm old enough to remember when Billie Jean King went crazy about Renee Richards playing competitive women's tennis. She suggested that if Richards were allowed to play, "...then everybody will be doing it" (my paraphrasing). Everybody???? I didn't think so. Richards did play and pretty much got her ass kicked by all the women she played against.

    The athletic advantage issue is just another excuse for transphobic people to discriminate against us -- and for politicians to to gang up on our small community. Don't they have better things to do, like protect their citizens from Covid, for instance??

  5. Dear Stana , I agree with what you said here "Plus I really do not think it is fair on genetic women anyway. " , people have to realize trans is a big tent , we cannot be put into a mold , and I am glad you are getting better .

    1. Those are not my words. The article was written by Gina.

    2. I’m afraid of the backlash from cis women about trans in women’s sports

  6. regarding the responses to this article: it was conceived not to cause offence to transgender folk, but as a hopefully objective attempt to examine and analyse what is (still) a hot potato from both sides of the fence. since it was originally written i have heard and read about M-to-F HRT and the physical effects it has, but not anything that suggests renee richards had such treatment and experienced strength and muscle loss accordingly. what i am aware of now is that in more recent times ms richards has been quoted as saying (via wikipedia): "having lived for the past 30 years, i (have come to) know if i'd had surgery at the age of 22, and then at 24 went on the tour, no genetic woman in the world would have been able to come close to me"

    perhaps the only true way to prove if a transgender woman has an unfair advantage or not over their bio opponents in a sport such as tennis (and thus end the debate accordingly) is for a man who can consistently beat the best women in the world to transition with HRT, and then play them again to see what difference there is in terms of results? until such time that happens, then my article suggests an alternative means of dealing with what is a classic case of "you can't please all of the people all of the time" i.e. introduce an "intersex" gender category in professional competitive sport, alongside those of "male" and "female"