Transphobia or Testosterone Advantage?
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics was the light at the end of the tunnel for athletes who had spent years preparing for the delayed event. This light was blown out for three women of colour and their communities after they were restricted from participating in their chosen events.
As per new rules, an athlete transitioning to a woman must undergo hormone therapy and demonstrate that the total level of male testosterone in the blood has been below ten nanomoles per litre for at least a year before competing.
While openly transgender athletes have been allowed to compete since 2004, Laurel Hubbard is the first transgender female athlete to compete in the quadrennial event, participating in weightlifting.
She transitioned in her mid-30s and won junior titles before her transition.
However, the decision of the IOC to let her compete sparked an international stir. Some were vocal about how they felt new rules provide biological advantages to those who may have increased bone and muscle density due to high testosterone levels.
The Namibian Teenagers
18-year-old Namibian teenagers, Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi's stellar rise came to a sudden halt with the barring of their participation in the 400m race due to Differences of Sexual Development (naturally occurring raised testosterone levels.
There are several genetic polymorphisms - slight changes in the genes - that determine whether somebody has that innate ability to be able to compete at the elite level.
Semenya, an intersex (born with any of several variations in sex characteristics that do not fit the typical definitions for male or female reproductive organs) woman was prohibited from racing in the women’s 800m event.
Many believe that this decision is rooted in racism, claiming the IOC adheres to eurocentric standards of testosterone levels, thus punishing women of colour for having naturally high levels of testosterone. Semenya stated that she took contraceptive pills to reduce her testosterone levels, only to face side effects like fever and abdominal pain.
“Michael Phelps’s arms are wide enough for him to do whatever he wants. Swimmers’ lungs are to other people’s. Basketball players like LeBron James are tall. If all the tall players are banned from playing, will basketball be the same? Usain has amazing muscle fibres. Are they going to stop him, too? My organs may be different and I may have a deep voice, but I am a woman.”
Women's cyclist Veronica Ivy explains transgender women are women in the ways that matter. “Governments and sports organisations, such as the IOC, almost universally make no distinction between gender and sex.”
Though the International Olympic Committee continues its efforts to seek out historical and systematic biases, transphobia continues to hold it in a vice-like grip. But at the same time, the Herculean advocacy against the same still reflects promise and hope.
~ Anuva Roy