Transgender Territory

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Editor’s note: This commentary published by KCRW includes arguments to exclude transgender athletes from participating in competition in accordance with their gender identity. As a matter of general practice and in the name of transparency, KCRW does not alter or remove past content, regardless of how public discourse has evolved around the subject matter. After backlash to these views in later years and in the lead up to the release of a 2023 Netflix biopic Nyad, commentator Diana Nyad publicly stated support for transgender athletes

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

As of this week, women's professional golf has changed its rule of gender qualification. One no longer needs to be born female to play LPGA tournament golf. The issue has been forced within the LPGA because of a lawsuit filed by a transgender woman, Lana Lawless, claiming the organization's previous exclusionary stance violated common civil rights.

In amending their constitution, the LPGA took into consideration some studies that claim a male who has gone through a full year of estrogen therapy no longer exhibits the typical male characteristics that can make for a stronger, quicker, superior athlete. Lawless has not only had a year of estrogen therapy. She is a 57-year-old retired police officer who went through gender-reassignment surgery five years ago. Lawless, her legal team, and at least certain institutions of research stand adamant that she is both medically and legally female, and now has no athletic advantage whatsoever over other women.

Interesting to note that none other than Renee Richards herself, the pioneer and most famous among transgender athletes, is not so sure of Lawless' claim to no advantages. Richards sued to play on the women's pro tennis tour back in the ‘70's, after her change from Richard Raskind, a ranked male tennis player. Richards is sympathetic to Lawless' demand for civil rights. It's the biology that's tricky. Richards is a doctor, not convinced that transgender women don't have some skeletal size advantage and inherent tendon/ligament strength, even after estrogen has taken their hormones to a complete female system. Lawless, to that point, is 5'11” and close to 200 pounds. Are we to assume that, had she been born female to her same two parents, her bones would have been as long, her hands and feet as big, her general size as massive? Of course not. Yet two year ago, Lawless, the woman, won the Long Drive Championship among pros, meaning she took the title and the cash, as if she had no gender advantage. So Richards asks, what if Lawless were younger? What if she were 22, not 57? What if she were consistently winning prize money on the pro tour? Would the LPGA players vote the same way? It's a good point.

Transgender athletes are coming out in high school and college arenas in notable numbers these days. And almost every case has different dimensions. Kye Allums at George Washington University, was born female but now lives as a “he” in every way, except he has not yet gone through any hormone therapy. So Kye is playing on their Division I basketball team, presenting male but competing as female. But what about those who have made partial or complete transitions?

We could say the cases are so few that inclusivity is the honorable stance. But is that our criteria in establishing fair playing fields, that so few people violate a fair-minded spirit, we should just ignore those few consequences? Even if one high school girl can't make her team because an innately stronger transgender girl has beat her out, should we wipe that slate clean with “Well, so few cases, it doesn't matter.”?

In testing South African track star Caster Semenya for gender identity last summer, we learned that gender is not always as clear cut as we would imagine.

Transgenders are individuals who deserve respect, on the playing field and off. But, as Renee Richards suggests, we may discover that, athletically, they require a special category of competition.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.



Diana Nyad