Last week, a biological teenage girl taking hormones to affirm her transgender identity as a boy won a second women’s wrestling title. Her victory echoes a massive scandal from the very same Olympics at which Bruce Jenner won his first gold medal — the 1976 summer Olympics in Montreal, Canada.
When Mack Beggs beat Kayla Fitts for the Texas women’s wrestling title, Fitts said the match was not fair. “I understand if you want to transition your gender,” she told The Dallas Morning News. “I understand that totally. But there’s a time and a place.”
“You can do that after high school. Or if you want to do it, you can quit the sport. Because I don’t think it’s fair at all that you’re taking testosterone. That’s steroids. I know it’s not a lot. But still,” Fitts said.
Beggs defended herself, saying she would rather compete against boys, because she identifies as a boy. The state ruled that since she is biologically a girl, she must compete with girls, however. Her cross-sex hormones do not change her biological sex.
This case proves that transgender competitors in sports is a lose-lose situation.
If you kow-tow to the transgender identity, men transitioning to become women have an unfair advantage. Andraya Yearwood, for example, a male-to-female transgender, won national Track and Field competitions in Connecticut, despite being only a freshman! Nattaphon “Ice” Wangyot did the same in Alaska, though at least he was a senior. In both cases, the girls competing against them felt cheated. The problem goes behind high school — New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard set new records for women, perhaps because he is biologically a man, whatever hormones he takes.
The opposite situation proves just as bad, however, and hearkens back to a scandal that plagued the 1976 Olympics where Bruce Jenner — now triply famous for becoming the first transgender celebrity — won his gold medal.
That year, East German female swimmers took 11 of 13 gold medals, after they had not won a single race in 1972. Camille Wright, a U.S. Olympic swimmer who came in second behind a swimmer from East Germany, recalled seeing the swimmers while preparing for a 1975 meet.
“I glanced at them and thought, ‘Wow, these are big guys.’ Then I saw a strap on one of the swimsuits and I thought: ‘Oh my God, they’re women! We have to swim against them?'” Wright told The New York Times. A fellow U.S. Olympic swimmer who also took second said she had never regarded her three second-place finishes to be losses, because she had been “beaten by men.”
When Americans voiced suspicions that the East Germans were using performance-enhancing drugs, they were dismissed as being poor losers. After the fall of the Berlin wall, however, documents and court testimony proved that East Germany operated a state-sponsored system of providing performance-enhancing drugs to as many as 10,000 athletes from 1968 to 1988.
In 1998, the U.S. Olympic Committee formally requested that gold medals from the 1976 summer games be re-allocated. That effort failed, as cheating by hormonal cocktail became cemented into the history books.
Few would accuse Mack Beggs of taking male hormones like testosterone (which act like performance-enhancing drugs) merely to gain an athletic edge on the competition. American doctors diagnose transgender people with “gender dysphoria,” the condition of persistently (and tragically) identifying as the gender opposite one’s birth sex. Beggs likely truly believes she should be a man, and she asked to compete against men — a situation where she would likely be disadvantaged.
Following this logic, New Jersey’s high school athletic association just approved a measure no longer requiring transgender high school athletes to get a doctor’s note proving their gender dysphoria. Most teens identifying as transgender are not likely to do so merely to gain an athletic edge. Even so, it seems reasonable for there to be some guarantee, especially for their competitors.
Then again, it may be small consolation for Fitts to know for certain that Beggs does identify as a male. Her sense of betrayal mimics that of the 1976 U.S. Olympians. This sad case illustrates that blatantly refusing transgender identity in sports is no pat answer to prevent the kind of unfairness that results when a biological man competes against women.
Beggs did not conspire to cheat, and the East German women in the 1976 Olympics may have been forced to take performance-enhancing drugs that made them look like men. (It was a Communist country, after all.) Even so, both Fitts and Wright know the same predicament of effectively winning the top spot but having awards stolen from them by other women with an unfair chemical advantage.
It is hardly fair to force high school students who identify as transgender to refrain from all sports, but it is even less fair to ask everyone else to compete against them.