The dumbest moral panic: Trans participation in sports

“Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert…

Jean-Paul Sartre

Something marginally positive has happened for trans people in America, and so the forces of reaction (or bigotry, if you prefer) have come out in force to not only prevent any positive developments but to regress. These diehard traditionalists are now sounding the alarm to warn of an impending catastrophe: trans people participating in sports, and winning. Specifically, they “have concerns” about trans women participating in the women’s category and monopolizing the top spots for every sport (trans men are forgotten in this discussion, as usual). While this movement presents a real and serious threat to the rights and safety of trans people in America, I struggle to take it seriously because of how incredibly stupid it is. They speak of trans people playing sports with the same urgency and intensity that they would a coming apocalypse and it is completely ridiculous. Yet despite the ridiculousness of the topic and the discourse around it, we cannot afford to ignore it, as the rights of all trans people are on the line.

I am conflicted on if it is even worth arguing against these kinds of bigoted beliefs. I agree with the opening quote from Sartre, the bigot is aware of the ridiculous nature of their theories and arguments. They do not care if they are proven wrong because they do not need to be logically consistent or factually correct. They only need to waste the time of their “ideological” opponents (if it can be said that the bigot has an ideology aside from hate). In this sense, there is no point in discussing or confronting these ideas, as there is no way to persuade away bigotry. Despite this, I still believe there is value in addressing these “concerns” solely for the sake of preventing the spread of hate unopposed. The purpose of debunking these false beliefs is not to convince transphobes, as they are frankly beyond convincing, but to prevent them from convincing others. This is not an ideal response, as it may give the appearance of there being two “equally valid sides” to an issue when there is not, however it is better than allowing bigotry to be disseminated unopposed. Until we reach a point where we can prevent discriminatory views from having a national platform, I don’t think we can avoid confronting these hateful movements.

Any discussion about trans participation in sports seems to devolve to a single question: “Do trans athletes have an advantage over cis athletes?”, which is a mistake. That question is irrelevant, it is a red herring that derails the conversation and prevents meaningful discussion. The correct question to center the discussion on is “Should trans people be allowed to participate in sports leagues that match their gender identity”, and the correct answer is yes, they should. In my opinion, any other answer requires discrimination based on gender identity. Trans women are women and should be allowed to participate in women’s sports. Trans men are men and should be allowed to participate in men’s sports. Any other answer is not only discriminatory but also sets a dangerous precedent. Any compromise on the rights and humanity of trans people weakens the rights of trans people and creates the justification for future discrimination.

Even though preventing trans people from participating in sports leagues that align with their gender identity is discriminatory, there are still those who suggest doing so for the sake of fairness. However these arguments are all based on a false premise, sports are not and have never been fair. This should not be a controversial statement, society generally accepts that sports are unfair until the idea of fairness can be used to discriminate against marginalized groups. For example, nobody argues for banning tall people from playing basketball, even though it has been repeatedly demonstrated that height provides a significant advantage in the sport. Similarly, there is no international push to investigate if people from East Africa have an unfair advantage in middle and long-distance running events even though they current dominate the records in these categories. However, when it comes to trans people, who are not dominating any sport and have no proven advantage, there is a rush to defend the sanctity of sport. The only time that fairness in sports is brought out is when it can be used to harm marginalized people.

I am tired of hearing fearmongering about the imagined threat that trans people represent to the world of athletics. Not only are these fears ridiculous, they are also a smokescreen to allow open discrimination against trans people in the name of “fairness”. Trans men and women deserve the right to participate in athletics and leagues that align with their gender identity. Any other answer is inherently discriminatory and denies the reality of a person’s gender identity.

One thought on “The dumbest moral panic: Trans participation in sports

  1. This was one of the most difficult posts that I have ever written and there were a lot of topics that did not make it into the final version. One such topic was the historical context of this issue and how this issue parallels both the general trend of discrimination as seen in history and specific examples from other marginalized groups. I believe that this is an important discussion. However, there was no good place in the post to place this section that did not mess with the flow. The other notable absence is the lack of any reference to or discussion of non-binary trans people. I did not feel knowledgeable enough to discuss the unique discrimination and challenges that they face. However, they deserve the same rights and freedom from discrimination that binary trans people do. They too should not be barred from participation in sports.


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