Transgender Athletes Are Not Cheating

Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas didn’t have to twist any arms to make herself eligible to compete as a woman for the University of Pennsylvania. Transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard didn’t have to bribe anyone to make herself eligible to represent New Zealand as a woman in the 2020 Olympic Games. To compete as women, all either of these two athletes had to do was meet the relevant criteria established by the NCAA and International Olympic Committee, respectively.

And to their credit, that’s precisely what Thomas and Hubbard did.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped their critics from falsely accusing them, along with plenty of other transgender athletes, of cheating.

To accuse someone of cheating is to accuse them of undermining, circumventing, or explicitly breaking the rules. Thomas didn’t do that. Hubbard didn’t do that. Former high school track star Andraya Yearwood didn’t do that. To accuse any of these women of cheating is to accuse them of something that all the available evidence proves they did not do.

The cries of “cheater!” seem to me to be a transparent attempt at villainizing trans women for the crime of pursuing their dreams. I’ve read and heard plenty of speculation that these women transition for the sole purpose of gaining a competitive advantage, but that strikes me as self-evidently ridiculous. To put oneself through the trials and tribulations of transitioning for the sake of athletic success, and to do so in a culture that is openly hostile towards transgender people, is a narrative too absurd to be taken the least bit seriously.

Furthermore, as far as I can tell, there exists not a single shred of evidence in support of that narrative.

That said, I do believe that there are legitimate questions regarding the criteria used to determine the eligibility of transgender athletes, and I regret that some of the people who have raised those questions in good faith have had their character and intentions called into question. This issue is, to many millions of Americans, unfamiliar terrain. They haven’t learned the language and terminology one needs to know to successfully navigate these types of discussions, nor have they been brought up to speed on the latest scientific knowledge and data.

I myself admit that I have a great deal to learn — which is why, until now, I’ve mostly just sat back and listened to the discussions taking place around me rather than participating in them directly. And I very much look forward to hearing more of those discussions so that I might better understand the perspectives of all interested parties.

But when it comes specifically to discussions about the participation of transgender athletes in organized sports, I’d much prefer to listen to discussions led by doctors, scientists, statisticians, and other experts — including both cisgender and transgender athletes themselves — who are infinitely more qualified than the rest of us to talk about physiology, biology, gender, and the rules that govern athletic competitions.

I don’t have the necessary expertise to figure out whether the International Olympic Committee’s recently updated guidelines for transgender athletes deserve greater scrutiny, nor do I have any clue if the testosterone threshold set forth in the NCAA’s participation policy for transgender athletes is excessive and unnecessary. As both a sports fan and advocate for human rights, I am very much interested in exploring these issues — and perhaps even contributing my own thoughts from time to time, if I believe it’s appropriate to do so — but I cannot and will not pretend to know how best to resolve them.

What I do know, however, is that the responsibility for revisiting and revising the aforementioned rules and policies falls on the shoulders of the experts tasked with making such determinations. It most certainly does not fall on the shoulders of the athletes themselves. Their only obligation is to follow the rules as they’re written right now. And as long as they do that, anti-transgender activists have absolutely no grounds for accusing transgender athletes of cheating.

Compliance with the rules is the antithesis of cheating, and both Lia Thomas and Laurel Hubbard did in fact comply with the rules they were instructed to follow to make themselves eligible to compete as women. The accusation that they cheated is therefore objectively false, and the same can be said about every other transgender athlete who has been unjustly maligned despite doing exactly what they were supposed to do in order to fulfill the criteria they were told to follow.

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D.A. Kirk

D.A. Kirk

Outer space enthusiast. Japanese history junkie. I write about politics, culture, and mental illness. Disagreement is a precursor to progress.