“What is a woman?” is becoming increasingly difficult to answer in political circles. Keir Starmer and others do not want to discuss the issue. It’s also becoming increasingly contentious in women’s sports. It is a matter of scientific consensus that there are clear biological differences between male and female humans. Unfortunately, it is now taboo to say this on the grounds of being transphobic.
Lia Thomas, a biological male who identifies as a woman recently won gold at the NCAA championships, crushing biological females competing in this event. Lia was born a biological male and went through male puberty, conferring advantages that come as part of male development. This includes stronger bones, greater muscle size, and greater heart and lung capacity.
Despite taking hormones to supress testosterone levels, it’s likely that Lia’s male anatomy confers significant advantages over the female competitors. You might argue this is perfectly acceptable as woman vary their levels of hormones. Women with a condition called PCOS (Polycystic ovary syndrome) have elevated testosterone levels, and it can be argued gives them advantages in sport (despite the negative effects in other aspects of health). However, biological females with high testosterone levels are treated differently in sport.
Caster Semenya, one such female. was required to take hormone supressing drugs in order to be allowed to compete, despite being biologically female. It was reported in the New York Times, that The IAAF submitted evidence to a court in Switzerland claiming Semenya is biologically male with a female identity. Yet, her birth certificate identifies her as female. To any reasonable thinking person, she is being deliberately mis-gendered. When this happens to females, society accepts this as fair.
Semenya, has a natural advantage, that she is required to supress by taking hormones that could harm her health. She is not doping, or doing anything illegal, this is her normal biological function. She has xx chromosomes, along with female anatomy and reproductive organs.
Thomas, who was born biologically male and has not undergone anything beyond hormone treatment is heralded as a champion female athlete. Is sex determined by one’s testosterone levels alone? This is an argument grounded in fallacy. Basketball gives us another example which helps illustrate this: An average woman is 5’3”. The Average height of female basketball players is 5’9”. The average height of male basketball players is 6’3’’ to 6’9’.
There may be females who are as tall as 6’3 but these are generally outliers, and they cannot supress this. If a male who was not performing well at 6’3 decides to identify as a woman, then that person would have a substantial biological advantage over the females both in terms of height, as well as heart and lung capacity. If you apply this to a woman transitioning to man, they will not grow in height just because they took a bit of extra testosterone. Neither will they develop a bigger set of lungs.
It is a false equivalence to suggest a female with elevated testosterone levels is the same as a male. Just as it is a false equivalence to say that a male who supresses their testosterone levels is a female. Being male and female is determined by multiple biological characteristics and is a far more complex question than someone’s testosterone levels. The International Olympic Committee has shifted responsibility on this and allows the world governing body for each sport to decide what is permitted.
So, what is the solution? We do not let able bodied athletes compete in the Paralympics and we should not allow biological males to compete in women’s sport.
The most reasonable solution is to create a category for transgender athletes. Transgender athletes should be allowed to participate in competition, but not to the detriment of biological females. The reality is that transgender women are biologically male, and no amount of hormones or surgery can alter the reality of this condition.
There must be a place for all athletes, but you cannot have your cake and eat it.We have male, female, and para categories in sports because those competitors are not the same at a biological level. Wishing differently will not make it so. The debate needs to be held openly in the public square, without fear of reprisal from sport governing bodies, government or employers.