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Right-wingers have been complaining about trans women competing in women’s sports for decades. But when President Biden, not long after taking office, signed an executive order against anti-LGBTQ discrimination, conservatives fought it with a widespread attack trans women athletes.
This complaint can seem convincing to people who aren’t anti-trans themselves, but who don’t know much about the issues. The anti-trans attack, used again and again, is to show a clip or photo of an athletic competition in which a supposedly trans woman is competing and winning, with a caption saying that “biological” women or girls cannot win. And to many people, that looks like common sense.
But the out-of-context clips and photos are a lie. First of all, it’s not always the case that the athlete shown in the clips is trans! Sometimes it’s a cis woman who is large or muscular or has short hair. (The anti-trans movement is creating a culture of harassment and suspicion that harms all women – cis and trans – who aren’t sufficiently feminine-looking for anti-trans standards.)
More importantly, a single clip or photo can only show a moment, and that moment usually isn’t representative of the whole. I recently wrote a Twitter thread about a thirteen-second clip of a high school track event, in which two trans girls place first and second in a sprint. Anti-trans activists have been claiming this proves cis girls can’t compete against trans girls in athletics.
Except that some cis girls in that same clip actually beat the trans girls in other races. One of the cis girls who lost that race – and whose parents sued to get the trans girls barred from competition – won against those same trans girls in the next two races, and went on to win the state title for high school girls sprinting. As the judge wrote when he threw out the lawsuit, the evidence shows that cis girls have been able to compete and win.
No one – not even the greatest athlete of all time – wins every time they compete. Anti-trans bigots use this fact to create a false narrative that cis women and girls can’t compete against trans women and girls. But that’s objectively false.
Although a few trans athletes have won occasional events, they haven’t dominated girl’s or women’s sports. And although they’ve been allowed to compete as women since 2004, in all that time not a single trans women athlete has been among the over ten thousand women who have made it into the Olympics. (It looks likely that a trans woman will make it to the upcoming Tokyo Olympics – but one out over tens thousand hardly justifies the claim that cis women can’t compete.)
It’s true that, on average, male athletes get higher scores than female athletes – running faster, lifting heavier, and so on. People who don’t know better assume that this means that trans women will have a similar advantage over cis women. But we now have years of trans women competing with cis women in athletics to look at, and we know this hasn’t been the case. If trans women had the same athletic advantages men do, trans women would be dominating a lot of women’s sports. But trans women are like women, not like cis men, and cis women have been entirely able to compete.
Language is always a problem for me when I write cartoons about anti-trans bigots. Realistically, the two characters in this cartoon wouldn’t use the term “trans women”; they’d use more bigoted language, and they’d misgender.
It’s one of those times where I weigh being accurate, versus possibly causing unprepared trans readers to wince. I came down on the side of being unrealistic. My cartoons are already unrealistic in many ways (real people rarely speak as efficiently as characters in a cartoon do, for example), and I don’t think it harms the cartoon to be unrealistic in this way as well.
TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON
This cartoon has four panels.
A bald man with a furrowed brow, wearing a shirt with a necktie, is sitting in what appears to be a radio recording booth; there’s a big microphone held up by a pro-looking microphone holder thingy (which is the technical term), a laptop open next to him and some notecards and a pencil on the desk in front of him, a coffee mug, and a wall clock behind him. He isn’t yelling, but he looks a bit angry and intense.
A large caption says “2004.”
FURROW: Now that trans women can compete in the Olympics, no biological women will ever win! This will destroy women’s sports!
We are looking at an iphone being held in someone’s hand. On the screen of the iphone, an angry woman, with a high hairdo and hoop earrings, is talking. A graphic at the bottom of her window says “FOX.” A chyron at the bottom says “Next: Is Obama Satan? Or does he just worship Satan?” Graphic boxes to the left and right of her head say “FEAR” and “PANIC.”
A large caption says “2013.”
TALLHAIR: If California allows trans girls on high school teams, they’ll dominate! Other girls will never be able to compete! This will destroy women’s sports!
The same two characters are seated together at a round table, in what appears to be a coffee shop or diner; they both have cups of coffee on the table in front of them. He is again wearing a shirt and tie, but his tie is pulled down a bit and his top button is open. She’s wearing a more casual outfit, a open sweater over a striped shirt. They both look aggravated.
A large caption says “NOW.”
TALLHAIR: It’s been years and trans girls still haven’t dominated high school sports!
FURROW: And not one trans woman has even gotten in the Olympics! Other women beat them all the time!
Same shot and scene. The tall-haired woman, even more frustrated, throws her hands in the air; the furrowed-brow man leans his head on his hands, looking dejected.
TALLHAIR: ‘Godammit, why aren’t women’s sports destroyed yet?
FURROW: I know. I’m disappointed too.