Who Should Play?

Who Should Play?


Leonard Zwelling

I have been avoiding writing about this for months now. It is something that I have been trying to wrap my brain around for a very long time. It goes back almost fifty years. The question: how does a cis-gender, heterosexual, white male deal with the fact that the world is a very diverse place and all assumptions about gender, sex and race must be thrown out as prejudicial and wrong. Every person wants to be seen as an individual. Every person ought to be seen as an individual. No one should be defined by the manner in which they choose to characterize their sexual orientation or gender. OK. There it is. But here’s the hitch. What’s the fair way to deal with young athletes who were born XY male but identify as female as young people? Do such people have an unfair advantage in women’s athletics?

Several state legislatures are dealing with this now and doing so with a meat cleaver. Mississippi and South Dakota are barring trans-female athletes from competition for fear they have an unfair advantage by having been born with male hormones and possibly been under the influence of those hormones as their bones and muscles developed. At least that’s my understanding of the concern.

I am not an expert on such matters. It certainly seems that if a person is born with an XY genetic make-up and does not intervene in the developmental process until that individual is 16 or so, that person, even once under testosterone suppression might have an unusual leg up on XX competition of the same age. BUT, there must be a better way to deal with this complex issue than passing obstructive legislation which only harms trans-females who already have plenty of difficulties to handle in the world.

For me this began one night in the emergency room of Eugene Leland Memorial Hospital in Hyattsville, Maryland when a young woman required stitches to mend a knife wound inflicted by her female lover. Being unbelievably naïve for a practicing physician, I asked her when she knew she was a lesbian.

“About the same time you knew you were straight,” she answered.

From that day forward, my horizons only widened. When I walked into a public men’s restroom at Legacy Community Health Clinic and saw a pretty young woman putting on her make-up, I became more aware of the plight of the transsexual community. That trans-woman was in transition at the time and had not quite completed the process so she was forced to use a men’s bathroom. This became a huge issue in Texas and other places that tried to mandate people use the restroom that matched their assigned sex at birth.

Folks, human beings come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and sexual preferences. If this bothers you, get over yourself. It just is. As such, there are a certain number of babies born as males with XY chromosomes who grow up preferring to be female. Again, that just is. How we accommodate these trans-women when it comes to athletics is a difficult, but essential question. I don’t have a glib answer. Perhaps certain standards must be set in testosterone levels, measures of strength, or metrics of speed. But even then, this will be problematic as women accomplish more and more in the pool and on the track making it very difficult to establish such standards. World records are always falling in men’s and women’s athletics. Today’s women’s times might have been accomplished by few men fifty years ago.

One thing I am quite sure of. It should be the athletes themselves that decide how to deal with this. State legislatures have no great scholars nor possessors of Delphic insight that they ought to be making these decisions. This is one for the women of any given sport to determine. Men have no role in this. They will only mess it up.

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