Written by Emma Glassman-Hughes
While the past year has brought about some pretty monumental progress for transgender and non-binary communities in the U.S. (here, here, and here to list a few), the fact remains that this group of people is still systematically marginalized and abused by “The Man” (or, ya know, the gender non-conforming entity that maintains white supremacist, heteronormative, patriarchal dominance over the rest of us). On top of widespread intolerance and misunderstandings regarding their individual personal realities, transgender folks (and other members of the LGBQ+ communities) represent a number of homeless youth that is wildly disproportionate to their percentage of the general population, for reasons that span everything from familial rejection to sexual abuse and trauma. Additionally, trans people face amplified threats of violence, particularly if they also happen to be a woman of color. And the icing on the cake: trans people are typically studied, classified, and understood only through stories of struggle and violence, instead of countless other narratives as varied as those of cisgender individuals. With all of this in mind, you could say we were a little more than thrilled with the news of a more inclusive Olympics, which has brought some sincere hope to advocates around the world.
So what does this inclusivity of Olympic proportions look like, exactly? To start, it may surprise you to learn that A) trans people were not allowed to compete in the Olympics at all until the early 2000s, and B) those athletes were legally mandated to have undergone gender reassignment surgery, and their assigned genders needed to have been officially recognized by the government. Yikes--that’s got “ick” written all over it. Recently, however, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has revisited the mandates in an attempt to remain relevant to progressive individuals seeking harmony between athletic and social justice spheres. After determining that requiring surgery is not only massively invasive and inappropriate, but also discriminatory against athletes who can’t afford the surgery or those who would rather avoid a risky medical procedure, the IOC removed the mandate--and in a very evolved and humble way, I must say. From now on, trans men will have virtually no extra hoops to jump through, and, though trans women must still undergo at least one year of hormonal treatment, the doors are open to a great many more talented athletes who deserve to be treated as human beings.
As with most trans issues, however, we have indeed already seen backlash. Much like the controversy over MMA fighter Fallon Fox from just over a year ago, there has been some crowing about inherent unfairness in letting trans women compete against cis women. The argument--so long as it is not cloaked in transphobic sentiment--is pretty logical. Simply identifying one way or another does not change the biological and physical makeup of one’s body, which has some people concerned that a trans female athlete would have unfair advantages over a cis woman with a biologically smaller frame. Sounds reasonable. However, *science* has shown us that a year using hormonal replacement therapy (HRT) actually removes this concern entirely. According to medical experts at the NCAA--that’s “National Collegiate Athletic Association” for those of you out there as athletically illiterate as I am--“any strength and endurance advantages a transgender woman arguably may have as a result of her prior testosterone levels dissipate after about one year of estrogen or testosterone-suppression therapy.” More specifically, according to gynecologist and badass medical profesh Dr. Marci Bowers, “most measures of physical strength minimize, muscle mass decreases, bone density decreases, and [trans women] become fairly comparable to women in their musculature” after a year of HRT. The truth is, all the medical and safety concerns are just unnecessary, particularly when professionals disregard them and an opportunity to expand equality and acceptance is at our feet.
While the Olympics could stand to improve other realms of human rights advocacy (oof), this leap in the direction of radical trans inclusivity and, like, human decency is deeply exciting for social justice nerds like myself and the rest of our team. The progress on behalf of the IOC represents a physical victory because it will open up the doors to a whole host of new talent; but it may be that its symbolic reminder to the world that trans people are not defined by surgery or genitalia that does the most good. Yup. The ball’s in your court, Rio.