Sexuality and Gender Perspectives in Sport: Playing free & equal

Sexuality and Gender Perspectives in Sport: Playing free & equal

Author: – Ritin Kujur

History and Introduction: Olympics And Gender Testing

Every sport is based on the values of fair play, solidarity, and excellence. It encourages humans to achieve new feats and push the limit of their physical and mental capabilities. The need for divisions in sporting events became necessary because there are differences in persons based on their biology.

Throughout most of the history of sports, it has been dominated by the participation of only men. Women were not encouraged to contribute to sports or any physical activity. The norms which were influenced by the societal mentality restricted them only to attend household chores and bringing up the children. It was only in 1900, during the summer Olympics games that women were allowed to participate in specific events. In some events like rowing, they even had to compete along with men. With advancements, women sports received recognition, and their participation increased. However, it is far from being on the same level as men’s sports. Women sports receive much less media coverage, and the athletes also tend to earn less compared to men sports. They often have valued more for attractiveness instead of expertise. The article discusses the relatively new issue regarding the participation of trans athletes under the female category, which is a matter of concern because it can destroy female sports.

The Olympic Charter says that “The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity, and fair play“. Transgender athletes are often denied this right and have to face many challenges.

However, the participation of the trans community is a highly debated topic. The question arises whether it is fair to permit transexual athletes to compete in the sport.

When genetics-based gender testing started for verification, preventing male athletes from participating in the disguise of females, it became evident that there were athletes who were physically female but male genotype.

Therefore, female athletes with ‘unusual’ genetic makeup were unfairly taken out.  The test also actually failed to identify female athletes whose physiology would give them a competitive advantage—for example, individuals with virilizing forms of congenital adrenal hyperplasia. Numerous athletes also suffered tremendous psychological harm from the public scrutiny that ensued when the ‘abnormal’ test results were disclosed publicly.[1] This particular step was implemented without acknowledging the privacy concerns of trans individual.

The bisexual individual consists of male to female and female to male. The latter case is rarely objected on the grounds of fair play, and hence we will limit the discussion to MTF. However, governing bodies of different sports lay different rules regarding the participation of trans athletes, which depends on the requirements of the sport. Currently, most sporting bodies direct trans female athletes to undergo sex reassignment surgery and at least one year of hormonal treatment.

Condition of transexual and gender dysphoric athletes

The transgender athlete is at risk for teasing, bullying, and harassment, which can negatively affect well-being and mental health.[2] They may also experience shame and isolation[3]. Participation in sports provides a protective factor for these challenges[4], thereby suggesting that it would likely benefit transgender youth. Therefore, transgender individuals must participate in sports. Sports participation promotes physical and mental health, and builds confidence, cultivates leadership, and correlates to success in general.[5]

Transgender individuals, however, face unique challenges posed by this binary or dualistic view of sex. because binary sex/gender is consistently reinforced through gendered expectations of masculine and feminine behaviours in sport.

Arguments against the participation of MTF trans as female categories

What rules, indeed what ethics, should govern the ability of bisexual athletes to participate in competitive sport?

It is contended that most people exposed to testosterone from puberty onward will develop physical and physiological attributes that contribute to a distinct performance advantage over most women. These attributes can withstand the hormonal manipulation of sex reassignment, thereby giving the male to female bisexual athletes an unfair competitive advantage. Some attributes like height, bone density, and heart size cannot be reversed, offering an unfair performance advantage to male to female bisexual athletes who participate in sports for which height is thought to be an asset, such as volleyball, basketball, and netball.[6]

OPPOSING ARGUMENTS

  • Physical attributes, not the only factors required to win: other attributes like skills, strategies mental toughness also matters.
  • Researched studies are inconclusive and need more analysis: Can we say with certainty that male to female bisexual athletes has an unfair performance advantage. For example, in some aspects like flexibility and dexterity, female athletes are on average better. The limited evidence shows that cross sexual hormonal therapy produces a significant alteration in physiological variables that are thought to be relevant to athletic performance insufficient to give us confidence that bisexual athletes do not have a compelling and competitive advantage.
  • Every individual is different: genetic variability is inevitable, and certainly could produce an “uber-athlete” who would naturally excel at sports. Spontaneous genetic mutations that produce distinctly favourable performance advantages may also be assumed to occur relatively infrequently.
  • The pain of being identified as the wrong gender exceed any cultural advantage, they may obtain from getting their gender change. Therefore, it is wrong to assert that some individuals change gender only for success in sport.
  • Finally, athletic opportunities should be equally available to them for a straightforward reason: they are no less deserving of the opportunity to play, simply because they are transgender.

In this age and time, we need to discard the illogical old beliefs. Every participant in sport deserves an equal opportunity. At the same time, When enforcing the rights of transgender, the rights of female athletes must also not be violated. Proposal for a separate trans category is objected because there will not be sufficient competition due to a lack of participants.

We need to make changes to the system. We cannot predict the future. We must take the risk and try changing the policies for the sake of humanity. The experience will eventually tell us whether we made the correct decision and whether the new female athletic playing field will remain level or not.

Types of policies[7]

Presently, private and public policies addressing participation by transgender athletes can be described on a spectrum of least to most inclusive.

1. Preferential policies: these policies require individuals to undergo sex reassignment surgery plus hormonal treatment of one year. Used by International Olympic committees, These policies are disastrous for teenage athletes. For example

International Olympic Committee and International Athletic Association further divide the participation based on post-puberty and pre-puberty surgery.

Pre puberty: After gender reconstruction surgery the individual would lie in genetic intersex state, that is he would have a physiology of female but anatomy and genetically of a male It would, therefore, seem reasonable to permit these males to female bisexuals to compete as females

Post puberty: There remains the possibility that residual testosterone-induced attributes could influence performance capacity, and thus it could be logically argued that the decision to permit participation or not should be made by sport basis.

The problem arises that It is not medically advised to undergo surgery before the age of 18. Further, with a relatively small window of opportunity (e.g., five years of college eligibility, Olympic Games every four years), beginning hormone therapy can be harmful to their career: They will have to sit out of competition for at least one year, Get used to a new physicality (e.g., change in centre of gravity), and try out for a new team corresponding with their bodily changes.

2. Inclusive policies: These do not require surgery and requires only hormonal therapy. Unlike the IOC, the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (USA), which follows this type of policies, does not require sex reassignment surgery or legal recognition of one’s transitioned sex ,instead the NCAA regards hormone treatment as sufficient to neutralize any source of gender-related physical advantage that may be relevant to the sport.   It also allows individuals who identify themselves as male but assigned females at birth to participate in the women category, i.e., without legal recognition. Further trans-male athletes who have undergone surgery and taking external testosterone an otherwise banned substance are also allowed to participate in men’s category.

3. Most Inclusive policies: these policies neither require hormonal therapy or sex reassignment surgey. The most inclusive policies governing participation by transgender athletes are those that turn not on whether the athletes have transitioned to some degree, but on what gender category that athlete declares as most appropriate for her- or himself.  This broad language of both WIAA’s (Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association) and Massachusetts’s verification provision ensures that no particular form of medical treatment—such as surgical or hormonal transition—or legal documentation is required to verify one’s gender identity for athletic participation or any other context of the law. However, to maintain fairness amonst all competitiors, a panel would be involved if participation in a sex-segregated sport was challenged by anyone[8].

THE WAY FORWARD IN INDIA

Unlike the United States, the position of trans athletes in India is unclear. There is not any reported participation of transgender athletes in India. Rarely athletes with the intersex condition come to light, that too, only at the international stage. The trans community is part of our culture at least for a thousand years, but they still exist as a marginalized community. The legal recognition of the LGBT+ community was established recently after the judgment of Navjot Singh Johar vs UOI. They are now protected from discrimination. A lot is to be done from the national to local levels to increase their participation. We should develop more inclusive policies for their participation. Only a few states have organized sporting activities for transgender. In 2017, Kerala organized India’s first-ever transgender state-level meet for athletics in which around 130 athletes participated. In 2020, Ya All, an NGO based out of Imphal, helped start an all-transgender football team in Manipur and organized friendly matches during the Yaoshang festival. There is a need for reform in the division of sports, which is discussed in this article.

First of all, an overall strategy should be the inclusion of athletes is to with the help of state law, and other nondiscrimination policies must be adopted. Any inconsistencies with state laws by sporting bodies must be challenged.

Efforts should be directed toward national-level governing bodies of respected sports in India, to draft and formulate policies for trans people, since they have jurisdiction all over India.

There are some sports in which gender division is not necessary, e.g., Chess. Removing this division will help individuals who identify their genders as something other than male or female. It, therefore, might be excluded or deterred from participation not because of the absence of a transgender inclusion policy but by the more fundamental fact of having only two sex categories from which to pick.

CONCLUSION

It is vital for the holistic development of the Trans community that they participate in sports. Few countries have a transgender policy for inclusion in sports. In India, there is a need to integrate trans community into mainstream society; sports can be a suitable medium.

Meanwhile, the conflicting interest of Trans female and female athletes needs conclusive studies; therefore, it is not right to ban trans athletes to participate as females. The solution could be reformed in the sports division. Instead of dividing athletes based on gender, they could be categorized based on skill and physiology. Competition could be based on skill level rather than gender. Further, segregation should be avoided in sports, which are based purely on mental skills does not require physiological skills (i.e. Chess), to include participation irrespective of gender identity.


[1] Id.

[2] Elizabeth M. Diaz, Joseph G. Kosciw & Emily A. Greytak, School connectedness for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth: in-school victimization and institutional supports, 17 The Prevention Researcher 15–18 (2010).

[3] Arnold H. Grossman & Anthony R. D’augelli, Transgender Youth: Invisible and Vulnerable, 51 Journal of Homosexuality 111–128 (2006).

[4] Lindsay A. Taliaferro et al., High School Youth and Suicide Risk: Exploring Protection Afforded Through Physical Activity and Sport Participation, 78 Journal of School Health 545–553 (2008).

[5] Richard Bailey, Physical Education and Sport in Schools: A Review of Benefits and Outcomes, 76 J School Health 397–401 (2006).

[6] Reeser, supra note 1.

[7] Erin E Buzuvis, Including Transgender Athletes in Sex-Segregated Sport 14.

[8] Section 18.15.0 , WIAA handbook

Featured image source: – https://www.nbcboston.com/news/national-international/california-will-house-transgender-inmates-by-gender-identity/2202242/

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