Monday, February 27, 2017

Mack Beggs the Question: Where Do Trans Athletes Go From Here?

By now you've undoubtedly heard that Mack Beggs, a 17-year-old high school wrestler who is transitioning from female to male, took home gold in the 110-weight class of the Texas girls state championship. Beggs wanted to wrestle against other boys but the state refused to allow it, so he competed against people whose sex matches what was on his birth certificate. I'm gathering he chose to do this -- despite the fact that he's taking testosterone that undoubtedly gave him an unfair advantage -- to point out how ridiculous the state's policy is. (Some opponents complained about the doping, but the organization that governs school sports in Texas said the state's education code allows the use of a banned drug such as steroids if it "is prescribed by a medical practitioner for a valid medical purpose," which this obviously is.) 

But here's where things get less clear to me. Remember back in 2010 when Kye Allums became the first transgender man to compete in NCAA division one basketball? He competed in women's basketball. This was greeted with applause by Outsports and trans activists, only it seemed to fly in the face of everything the LGBT community is fighting for in wanting transmen to be treated just like cisgender men, who are neither eligible for nor welcomed in women's basketball. In Allums's case, he was allowed to play because he had not begun to undergo hormone therapy, per NCAA rules, but I'm still unclear why Allums would have even wanted to have competed against women in the first place, and why anyone would have thought this was a good thing. (Couldn't it be argued that this helped fuel Texas' decision against Beggs?)  

Moving forward, I can't help but think about what trans pioneer Renee Richards said about her career in tennis. Although she fought for and won the right to compete in professional events in the United States, she now adamantly believes the New York Supreme Court ruling was wrong, and that the only reason she didn't blow away the competition is because she was in her 40s (and a smoker!) when she joined the circuit -- and that if she had transitioned 20 years earlier it would have been ridiculous. (Richards is admittedly a bit of a crank, but I think she's in a much better position to weigh in on these things than nearly anyone else is.) Obviously the opponents from Richards's heyday who thought low-ranked men would all start transitioning so they could become top-ranked in the women's game were scaremongering idiots, just as Republicans who claim men will "pretend to be transgender" to assault women in public restrooms. But that's not the issue here. I'm wondering about about the actual transgender athletes of tomorrow -- and now today, like Mack Beggs. I don't think anyone is that worried that trans men will wind up with an unfair advantage over cisgender men. But what about the other way around? 

Runner Caster Semenya has faced intense scrutiny competing just as she was born. If her breaking records like there's no tomorrow has people crying foul, are we sure we would be comfortable if a (trans) women in a higher-profile sport did the same thing? And then there's the uncomfortable question about body parts. Richards had sex-reassignment surgery, but what if a transgender player opted not to -- would she still be welcome in her sport? (German tennis player Sarah Gronert was born with both male and female sex organs then had surgery and was cleared to compete on the women's tour, winning nine ITF titles. Some did not think it was fair.)  I'm excited that this issue is coming to the forefront. But given the disparate rulings and reactions to Richards, Semenya, Allums, Gronert and Beggs -- where even LGBT people aren't in unanimous agreement -- I can't help but wonder if we have thought this through to its natural conclusion ... like what if a transwoman became the next Serena Williams, or even a solid Top 10 player?

No comments: