Transsexuals and athletics

Discussion in 'Fencing Discussion' started by Montoya, Oct 20, 2010.

  1. Montoya

    Montoya DE Bracket

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    While there have been a few forum discussions about this in years past, these were very limited discussions about what seemed to be a very theoretical issue. However in light of last weekend’s results in Cincinnati, I would like to reopen this discussion. For those of you who were not there, one of the Vet women’s events was won by a woman who previously competed as a man and in fact has represented the US previously on both junior and veteran men’s teams.

    At the outset, I should say that as a participant in this event, I cannot pretend to be without self-interest in this matter. I am not a particularly small or weak woman, and I fence in mixed competitions regularly, but it seems to me that male to female transsexuals competing against women will, on average have both historical and physiologic advantages. The issue of female to male transsexuals competing in men’s competitions is less likely to excite the same passions because they are significantly less likely to be advantaged by competing against men.


    The better informed among you will know that in 2004 the IOC ruled that transsexuals who have undergone gender reassignment surgery; attained legal recognition of their new gender; and have “appropriate” hormone therapy are eligible for IOC sanctioned competition two years after gonadectomy. As someone with a medical/scientific background, I have been trying to find the data that would have supported this decision. To date, I have found little to none. More recently the vocal and politicized transgender lobby has released a report looking for more inclusive policies for transgendered athletes in high school and collegiate athletics. The recently released report states “according to medical experts on this issue, the assumption that a transgender girl or woman competing on a women’s team would have a competitive advantage outside the range of performance and competitive advantage or disadvantage that already exists among female athletes is not supported by evidence. As one survey of the existing research concludes, “the data available does not appear to suggest that transitioned athletes would compete at a advantage or disadvantage as compared with physically born men and women.”” However the quotation used in this report is incomplete. The full quote reads: “While to date the data available does not appear to suggest that transitioned athletes would compete at an advantage or disadvantage as compared with physically born men and women, there is not enough data available to fully substantiate this claim.” The same paper also states, “To date there are limited data with regards to the effects cross-sex hormone administration have on factors that influence performance. No study has been conducted in transitioned athletes and no study has performed any objective performance testing (i.e. VO2peak, time trial performance or strength). We do know the effects of testosterone and estrogen administration on body composition and muscle mass; however, these factors themselves do not necessarily dictate performance. Until specific research is conducted comparing performance measures in transitioned and physically born men and women no conclusive statement can be made with regards to competitive advantage/disadvantage” Shoddy logic – and a political agenda – have transformed the absence of any data into a false “proof” that male to female transsexuals have no competitive athletic advantage.
     
  2. multum in parvo

    multum in parvo Made the Cut

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    Would it make sense to file a complaint to USA Fencing and the IOC? If the research behind the legislation is inconclusive, perhaps they need to revisit the ruling.
     
  3. erooMynohtnA

    erooMynohtnA Podium

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    If there's no data, there's no data. Don't use a lack of data as proof that there is no advantage, and don't use the spurious claim that there is no advantage as proof that there is.

    The IOC is very clear about transsexuals. The USFA should follow like the good little duckling it is. End of story, as far as the USFA is concerned. As far as the IOC is concerned, it should get some data.

    If no advantage is to be found, there is no problem. If advantages are found, there are several problems. Foremost in my mind, there would be a pressure for certain male athletes to undergo gender reassignment surgery. Then, there's obviously the fairness issue, which I think is pretty much bull****. Life is not fair.

    I am not as tall as Seth Kelsey, as fast as Gerek Meinhardt, as strong as Anne Marsh, as coordinated as Becca Ward, or as smart as any of them. Yet I am somehow forced to compete with them or be separate from them based upon my genitals, rather than some division based upon innate potential like VO2 max, muscle growth, recovery time, or height. There will always be inequities, you just have to pick your poison, and having testicles, ovaries, or neither just seems like a weird one to pick.
     
  4. gatsby

    gatsby Rookie

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    I think a poster above me is ignoring a bit of biology here.
    The Facts:
    Sports are usually separated by gender to account for physical differences between the sexes. Like it or not, the average man is significantly stronger and faster than the average woman (in absolute quantifiable terms). This applies to athletes at the top level of their sports as well. Male Olympic fencers, tennis players, soccer players, etc are going to be stronger and faster than female Olympians in the same sport. And while fencing also takes a great deal of skill, intelligence, and experience, no one is going to argue that superior strength and speed are not definite advantages.

    When an elite athlete biologically develops for four/five decades as a male and then undergoes a sex change, what you end up with is a woman with the physical attributes of a top-tier male athlete. People can throw out the "life isn't fair" argument all they want, but keep in mind that it's relatively safe to say that no born-female fifty year old could fence like the fencer in question.
     
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  5. Peach

    Peach Podium

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    The USFA already has a policy, which is on page 157 of the USA Fencing Athlete Handbook. It's based on the IOC Stockholm Consensus. We'd be getting on a very slippery slope, with a lot of potential liability (and some real injustice, in my opinion), if we tried to decide what gender someone is based on their birth certificate or based on an assumption of absolute difference in strength between the genders. The bell curves mapping strength and speed overlap. They aren't separate.

    I'd also like to point out that someone who sat and watched the final with me (we were sitting where we couldn't see the name on the back) was later quite certain the competitor was another female athlete entirely, a birth-gender female who happens to be very tall. My friend argued with me until I wasn't sure myself, and I had to go look up the results again.
     
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2010
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  6. MyrddinsPrecint

    MyrddinsPrecint Podium

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    Don't worry, I'll come back to this after work when I have some real time, but here's a question in the meantime:

    For most people, sex=gender=obvious. They were born with body parts and hormone levels and a gender identity and experience that were all consistant. Most people are super easy to categorize. But then there are a surprisingly large number (I'll look it up later for you) who biologically are unusual. I'm not talking about people who FEEL out of place in the sex they were born in, although I'm happy to discuss that too. I'm talking about people who have genitals that aren't fully formed, or hormone levels that are completely out of range for their otherwise obvious sex, or people with more sexual organs than the average human. People who seem completely male, but have two X chromosomes.

    We have to, as an organization, define what is "male enough" or "female enough". Yes, we're kind of working blind, and there isn't nearly enough data. But in the meantime, there are real humans who were born with strange situations. Some of them are only marginally unusual from a sporting perspective.

    I assume any number of people have and will quibble with the current definitions/policies. What would you suggest instead?
     
  7. hello?

    hello? Podium

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    I think everyone is very well aware of this -- ergo the frustration. It was based on a decision that was made on shoddy logic ("There is no data that proves there is an advantage, therefore there is no advantage." You have to admit that they could just as easily -- and erroneously -- argued "There is no data that proves there is no advantage, therefore there is an advantage.")

    I am, quite frankly, surprised by this, even though looks are irrelevant. The result is much more telling. The score was 7-1 -- and she defeated an incredibly strong A-rated fencer who is at least 6 years younger.

    Also, posters seem to be ignoring a bit of HISTORY. The athlete in question made the junior finals at a time when NO woman was ALLOWED to fence epee. Period. Many of the veterans who are currently attempting to make the team remember that time -- and, in fact, at least one remembers our champion and her results then. Also, they remember when no serious coach would take them seriously even if they wanted to fence epee at the club. At a time when this fencer was getting top level coaching from a Russian coach, coaches simply could not be bothered teaching epee to women since it was felt at the time that women were not strong enough to fence it.

    And male (or female) Olympic athletes are also not going to be going through menopause -- and all the damaging effects this has on a woman's joints and bone density. The IOC ruling, and the subsequent USFA ruling, was probably not taking fifty-year old athletes into account. A whole new "biology" applies here.

    I am also not as fast, as strong, as coordinated, or as smart as the woman who came in second at the event in question -- and yet, I believe that if I wanted to keep training and worked hard enough I could have a chance. No forty or fifty year old woman can train hard enough or work hard enough to beat the woman who came in first. Period.

    Also, I wish I had started fencing a lot earlier than in my forties. However, that was my choice. Some of these vet competitors wanted to fence epee when they were younger and they were not allowed.

    Trust me, I am well aware that there is no "good" way of resolving this. I have been thinking about it for over a year since I happened to have warmed up with this woman last year, when she competed at a div 1 event. The SECOND our blades engaged, I realized I was fencing a man -- and a very experienced one at that. At the time, she chose not to compete in vet events -- and I attributed it to the fact that she could not possibly have fun beating all thirty-something of us 5-0 or 10-0. (An extremely experienced fencer who was in her pool on Saturday felt that she simply allowed them to get some touches.)

    To be honest, my big question is what enjoyment she could possibly be getting out of participating in this event. She already made the Vet team once (I think she also made the junior team). You even have to pay your own way. What fun could this possibly be for her?
     
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2010
  8. hello?

    hello? Podium

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    Again, there is no 'good' way to solve this. And, in my mind, there is no question that she is a woman now. (I have a very good friend who did the reverse gender change and I never think of him as a woman.) The problem here is that the fact that she was a man for forty-something years gives her an insurmountable advantage over other fifty or sixty-year old female epee fencers.

    (Perhaps she should take up sabre.)

    A guy at my club had this suggestion when I brought it up last year, after having warmed up with her for Div 1:

    "If she is bothered by the idea that all the other fifty-year old women will hate her if she competes, then she is a woman and should be allowed to fence. If she doesn't give a **hit what all the other fifty-year old women think of her, then she is a man and should not be allowed to compete."
     
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2010
  9. Montoya

    Montoya DE Bracket

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    Before starting this thread, I did a lot of reading, including the Stockholm Consensus. I also know that the USFA follows IOC policies and that these policies are unlikely to change. But as I said, I’m interested in knowing who made this recommendation and why. The membership of the ad hoc committee is part of the consensus statement. I have been researching the professional credentials of the (predominately male) committee members and have not found that they have any published expertise in the area of physiology and gender. Nor have I found any data in the medical literature that supports this decision. A MD degree does not immunize a “medical expert” from having unsupported and unscientific opinions. When I was in medical school, one of my professors who was a devout born-again pro-life Christian, presented himself as an expert witness to a state committee considering some aspect of the abortion debate. While he was an outstanding physician in his own field, his field had nothing to do with abortion. This misuse of his credentials cost him his academic position.
     
  10. Bonehead

    Bonehead Podium

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    Well the Gender Categories are somewhat abritrary as is. On average men are more successful at fencing, but I'm sure if you did the stats you could find other characteristics, such as height, weight etc. (Or obviously the disproportionate representation of left handers)

    I personally would advocate for open events, but I understand peoples want for a gender category.

    So the question is; Ladies, how do you feel about a transgender in your category.
     
  11. kalivor

    kalivor Podium

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    So ... are you arguing that all the good women's veterans currently fence foil for historical reasons? Hence transexual epeeists are violating a spirit of fair play, but a transexual foilist would not be?
     
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  12. vivoescrimare

    vivoescrimare DE Bracket

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    I assume he is suggesting that the fencer would clearly have an unfair advantage in training. (Nurture vs. Nature.) While true, this is also somewhat specious - I started fencing in college, so its unfair that I have to compete with 23 year olds who may have been fencing seriously for 15 years.
     
  13. kapunga

    kapunga Rookie

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    It's not specious. The advantage isn't that the fencer trained for longer, the advantage is that the fencer was allowed access to training for longer. You could have started fencing seriously 15 years ago, had you chosen to.
     
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  14. Bonehead

    Bonehead Podium

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    This is going to end up in a choice / determinism debate.
     
  15. kalivor

    kalivor Podium

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    Are people seriously using length-of-time-that-the-athlete-could-have-trained argument for a veteran's competition? Crying "I wasn't allowed to train hard 30 years ago"?
     
  16. fdad

    fdad Podium

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    The rules for team qualifying competitions should follow the same rules as the associated international competitions. If the US does not send transgender athletes, but other countries do, the US team will be at a disadvantage. The best qualified athletes should be sent and they should train/qualify against the level of competition they would expect to meet. If the person that refused the silver medal were to make the US team, and face the same situation in an international event, would they refuse the medal there too? Would that violate their obligation to the national team?

    Taking gender out of the equation, should an athlete be able to train over a period of years while taking advantage of HGH/Steriods during the period while they were developing, and then compete after two years of documented abstinence?
     
  17. TBean

    TBean Podium

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    or that women could/did not train for epee (seriously) 30 years ago because we didn't compete in the event at elite levels until the 1989 world championships and 1996 for Olympics.
     
  18. erooMynohtnA

    erooMynohtnA Podium

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    I'm not trying to offend anyone by oversimplifying the well thought out arguments you've presented about a nuanced issue. However this basically sounds like to this to me:

    "How can a wittle bitty woman ever beat a stwong man?"
     
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  19. Jason

    Jason Podium

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    Are you arguing in favor of dissolving any gender restrictions in competition? Make all events mixed? How often have you seen a top-tier female fencer beat a top-tier male fencer? How often have you seen the reverse? What about a mid-level female fencer beat a top-tier male? And the reverse?
     
  20. SabreReedfrost

    SabreReedfrost Rookie

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    Of course, the ultimate problem is what sort of action to take on the matter. Could a rule be passed that specifically targets people such as these, keeping them out of the unfair competitions? I can see that bringing on a lot of backlash. Also, should a rule such as actually be initiated, it seems that it could force fencers like these out of competitions on either side of the gender.
     

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