Rights of transgender athletes cannot be determined by law

May 26, 2017 — by Christopher Lee

Reporter argues that the law shouldn't decide the rules for transgender athletes.


On Feb. 18, controversy erupted at a girls’ Texas state wrestling competition after a transgender boy Mack Beggs, at the time undergoing testosterone treatments to transition from female to male, won the competition.

Some argued that the testosterone treatment gave him more strength and an advantage over the girls. But because Texas state law designates that athletes are allowed to compete only with opponents of their biological sex, Beggs had to compete as a female.

Was this the right decision? The answer is maybe. The truth is that it’s hard to say how much testosterone therapy increase someone’s strength.

Some females are much stronger than some men despite having less testosterone. And there are no scientifically accepted standards expressing the acceptable range of muscle mass to be feminine. This means there should be no one-size-fits-all law to handle these situations.

Additionally, with transgender males, the distinction between testosterone use as a hormone treatment and as a performance-enhancing drug is blurred.

This is because any muscle mass a trans male gains as a result of hormone therapy would be the result of a drug that an equivalent biological male would be banned for.

Even under the assumption that the trans male takes the testosterone therapy solely for the transition to become more masculine, any increase of muscle mass is not earned through hard work and instead a result of drugs.

This poses the question: What levels of testosterone exceed the territory of hormone therapy and into the area of illegal drug driven muscle mass growth?

After all, any muscle mass gained from steroids is classified as unfair by numerous sports organizations, so muscle mass gained from hormone therapy would be as well.

Athletes who work to build up muscle over their lifetime without the help of supplemental hormones have their efforts wasted when others can do the same with hormone therapy in a few years.

According to new Olympic regulations approved in 2015, transgender women will not be required to undergo sex reassignment surgery in order to participate under their new gender, but will be required to maintain levels of testosterone under 10 nanomoles per liter of blood for at least a year.

Furthermore, testosterone varies wildly from men to women according to the American Association for Clinical Chemistry, as some biological females have testosterone levels mirroring that of males and thus anywhere from seven to eight times higher levels of testosterone compared to the average female.

As such, even transgender females may have less testosterone than masculine biological females, making it nearly impossible to draw a line between the qualities that transgender athletes need to fulfill to compete with their transitioned gender.

In the end, these decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis with the authorities of sports organizations and doctors of transgender patients determining whether it is fair for the athlete to participate.

In other words, whether an athlete has too much muscle mass or too little to participate should be a conclusion drawn by those with authority and knowledge of the subject, not simple legislation.

If a doctor along with a sports official determines that a male transgender athlete has gained too much muscle mass relative to his body weight, then he should not be allowed to participate in the men’s division, and vice versa if a transgender woman retains too much muscle.

Our society is entering new territory when it comes gender identities, and we need to be prepared to compromise on the new gray areas that cannot be governed by a legislature stuck in the age of yea or nay social politics.