Part 2: Why Are We Harassing Trans People?
Have you noticed that in all the complaints and stress about trans issues, there doesn’t seem to be much bother about trans men? If you were assigned as a women a birth, but you reject that assignment and want to live life as a man, it’s like we as a society say: Sure. Why not. We get it. Being a man has tons of advantages. Men have it better in life. They have always had more opportunities. It makes sense. Go for it.
If you’re not very curvy, and make your clothing and hair and interests masculine, and don’t change anything else, you can probably “pass” as a man. Even if you’re petite or have a higher voice. Because we’ve all met men who are petite, who have higher voices, who don’t have many typical masculine characteristics. If you decide to take hormones, you’ll likely be able to grow a beard or develop male pattern baldness or get more muscle mass, and you’ll now “pass” as a man easily. I can’t think of any trans men I know personally who have problems getting misgendered after transition. They are perceived as men. Period.
I’m not sure what that is about, except that it’s always been a part of our myths and understanding that women want to be men. We have lots of stories of women who dress up as men in order to gain access to what men have — jobs, or political power, or money, etc. We have generations of women who have tried to be “one of the guys” in an attempt to get ahead at work or fit in with a friend group. So maybe trans men seem like an extension of that perception: of course women want to be men.
But the same thing doesn’t seem to hold true for trans women. It’s unclear to me why that is. But I think it’s connected to a deep disgust that anyone would CHOOSE to be a woman. I don’t think we’ve ever gotten close to reckoning with how much western culture hates women. Men hate women. Women hate women. Everyone hates women. Western culture considers women to be the weaker sex, the lesser sex. The famous Greek philosophers — Socrates, Aristotle, Plato — hated women. Paul the Apostle hated women. We’ve got thousands of years of hating women under our belts. So personally, I think our ingrained hate of women has something to do with the sometimes awful reactions we see toward trans women. It’s like we as a society say: What? You want to be a woman? That’s insane. You’ll make less money. The clothes and shoes women wear are really uncomfortable. You have to diet constantly. You’ll have less power. Women don’t enjoy sex. And you can’t even have a baby which is the only real purpose of women anyway. It makes no sense. Why would you do such a thing? Gross.
But maybe that’s too general. Let talk more specifically about sports. Gender and sports is causing a whole lot of people a weird amount of anxiety. One of the big assumptions seems to be that men (or teenage boys) are willing to change genders in order to win a high school sports trophy. This is obviously an insane idea to believe. Do we really believe anyone would be so flippant about changing their gender? Do we really believe there’s a 16 year old boy who is willing to sit down and tell his Grandma and his father and his buddies that he’s actually a girl, that he wants to be called by a girl’s name, that he’s going to wear skirts and dresses and ruffles to school — all so he can possibly (it’s not guaranteed!) win a trophy at the high school swim meet?
Surely, everyone sees how ridiculous, how comical, that belief is. No hope for an athletic medal is enough motivation to go through work of coming out at trans. And we don’t need to worry about that happening. If a trans student wants to play sports, it’s just because they want to play sports. We can trust they didn’t choose to come out as trans in order to get some sort of athletic advantage.
This is more of a side note to the sports conversation, but the idea of changing genders flippantly is just not believable. In addition to coming out and risking every relationship and ounce of stability that they have, a trans girl would also need to be willing to do things like take hormones and hormone blockers, learn a completely different way of dressing, and learn how to create feminine hair styles and wear makeup. A trans girl also gives up the cultural advantages of being a man — more earning power, more opportunities, etc.. A trans girl may have to deal with years (if not a lifetime) of being mis-gendered, ridiculed, mocked, and ostracized.
But back to sports — I actually love the topic of gender and sports and how things could look differently if sports had developed with all genders competing together. Because it’s not like back in Athens at the first Olympics they said okay, we’re going to divide everything by gender. No. They just didn’t let women compete at all.
Sports are divided by gender because by the time women were allowed to participate, men had already had decades (or centuries!) of training, and almost all current sports were specifically developed with only men in mind. So women were forced into their own categories. There’s also strong evidence that sports are gendered anytime women compete with men directly and threaten the dominance of men.
But I think it’s helpful to think about how sports would look differently if they had been developed with all genders competing together. Would the sports we cherish incorporate more flexibility and endurance? Would the major emphasis be on collaboration, with a minor focus on competition? We have no idea! We have never lived in a world that wasn't totally patriarchal.
If all genders competed together for the last 200 years, would coaches have used strategies and rules that take advantage of the physical strengths and characteristics of all genders? Tall heights are a strength in some sports, short heights in others. Flexibility is important in some sports, not so much in others. The world of sports would likely look completely different, and probably better, in a world where all genders competed together. Who knows. Maybe we'd have seen more sports develop along the lines of Ultra-marathons. From the article I link to:"Ultra-marathons are the great equaliser, because there are no other sports where men and women can compete side by side in terms of physicality."
The insistence that it's important or beneficial that all sports be divided by gender, now and forevermore, is silly. Most sports as they are currently played are historically quite young, with ever-changing rules. Other sports could be invented or developed instead.
But of course, we can’t go back in time, thousands of years, to the first Olympiad. So let’s do another thought experiment. Let’s pretend we want to combine men’s and women’s basketball right now in our current world. Now remember, the sport was developed with only men in mind, but any gender could potentially do well in basketball. You need speed, hand-eye coordination, endurance. There’s not a lot of heavy lifting, but a large stature can help with blocking, and height can help bring you closer to the basket.
Along those lines, what sort of rules changes could we make so that all genders could compete together equally. Here’s three I came up with: 1) Any team (high school, college, pro) has to reflect the population of the city where it's based as closely as reasonably possible. So for example, if the town is 10% Vietnamese expats and 50% women, the team would also be 50% women and 10% Vietnamese expats. 2) Time on the court has to be split evenly among all teammates. If there are 14 teammates, they all play the same amount of time. If someone is injured, then 13 teammates all play the same amount of time. 3) Any one teammate maxes out at 20 points per game. If they've earned 20 points, they can still play, but they can't earn points anymore.
These changes would require radical new play strategies, require teams to coordinate efforts among players more intensely, and create exciting, unpredictable games that highlight tons of different play techniques instead of just a handful of all-stars doing the same thing. Now imagine these rules were in place in 1936 as basketball was just starting out. How would the game have developed differently? Would height and size still be hugely important? Would being protective of other players so they can get their 20 points be what makes an MVP? Use a little imagination! You can love or hate my rule suggestions, but it would be hard to argue that they wouldn't have drastically changed the game. What would basketball look like after 8 decades of this? It would likely be very awesome, though very different than it is now.
Here’s another idea: What if basketball teams were organized based on similar heights. (Like how boxing and wrestling are organized by weight.) What if there were teams of only people over 6’6”. Other teams that are 6’- 6’6”. Other teams that are 5’6” to 6’. Other teams that are 5’ to 5’6”. etc. And maybe the height of the basket would change for each team — tallest for the tallest team, and getting shorter for the shorter teams. And the ball could be a bit smaller for the more petite teams who are likely to have smaller hands.
We don’t really know what a pro-level basketball team of people who are 5’6” to 6” would be like, because currently you essentially have to be over 6 feet to play professionally. But there’s no reason a shorter team who has been trained by pro-coaches and worked out as much as the taller team, and was playing against other comparably-sized teams, wouldn’t be just as awesome to watch as the tallest teams. It would still be the same game, requiring the same skills. The players would just be shorter. It would open the sport to many, many more people, and it would be interesting to see if and how play strategy changed for teams of shorter heights.
Do I think the world is ready to combine men’s and women’s basketball? Probably not. But it would sure be great if people realized that just because something is divided by gender, doesn’t mean it needs to be, or that it wouldn’t be better organized a different way. Organizing teams by gender is no more “natural” than organizing things by height, eye color, or weight.
What about something like sprints? If we combine genders for sprints, aren’t men always going to win? Right now, yes, it sure seems that way. Personally, I don’t think it would be fair to gender-combine all sports right this minute. Men have had decades and centuries of athletic development that has only recently been offered to women. And we don’t really know how different men’s and women’s bodies are if they were brought up in world that wasn’t focused on gender.
It reminds me of a story in a Malcolm Gladwell book — it’s about hockey players, and how weirdly the vast majority of the best hockey players have birthdays in January. And why is that? It’s because when they started out as pre-schoolers, the January birthday kids were the oldest kids on the team. A few months of age difference as adults doesn’t affect much of anything, but at age four, a 6 or 9 months age difference means the older kids have a big advantage. Kids are still changing and growing rapidly at those ages. So, the kids with January birthdays did better, and they got put on better teams, and the better teams had better coaches, and they kept getting every training advantage, year after year, until all those small advantages added up and made a big difference in their skill level.
As far as sports go, the same thing has happened to men for millennia. Women weren’t allowed to train or practice, or even participate, while men got better and better and better. And by the time women were allowed to play, the men already had a huge advantage. Would there still be a huge advantage if men and women had competed together for 200 years? We may never know, but the more we learn about biology, the more it seems like the differences in skill level could be negligible. I’m thinking of the Radiolab Series called Gonads, where they reported that violence produces testosterone, not the other way around. If women were required to be physically competitive with men, would the women produce more testosterone? It seems likely. If women athletes carried more testosterone, would their upper body strength increase? It seems likely. Would those types of changes even things out in some types of competition? Maybe someday we’ll find out.
Or, maybe with all genders competing together we would change our definitions of athleticism. Instead of developing sports around height and muscle mass, maybe they would be built on other physical characteristics — like flexibility and concentration and stamina. Why should we want to keep contact sports as they are currently played? American football is known to cause permanent brain damage to players. Why wouldn’t we demand changes?
Some sports are beginning to combine genders. Horse-back riding is one, and I’ve heard of awesome all-gender volleyball leagues. But the only sport I can think of that has been developed for both men and women is competitive cheerleading. Teams are typically co-ed. There are assignments that are well suited to strength and there are assignments well suited to a very petite size. And the routines are the best when they take advantage of everyone’s abilities. I can already hear some of you laughing at the idea of cheerleading as a sport, but watch even one competition and you will agree that not only is it a sport, it also requires more athleticism than many other popular sports.
All that is being asked is to simply let trans people compete. Stop worrying about it. Stop panicking. Last month in Utah, the state legislature spent a lot of time, energy, and resources making a law to prevent trans kids from competing in sports. And there is exactly ONE trans girl that is currently competing in the whole state. All that stress. A whole new law. All focused on ONE kid.
To be clear, a trans girl competing in high school sports is not “taking anyone’s spot”. It’s sports. Spots are not guaranteed. Stuff happens. Athletes get disappointed. I ran track in high school and concentrated on long-jump my senior year. I was really good. At the state track meet my final jump felt amazing. I was flying. I knew it was farther than I’d ever jumped, no question. But the jump was marked as a scratch (meaning they said my toe went over the jump line), so they didn’t measure it. I have no idea how far I jumped and am still irritated about it. Instead of a winning medal, I placed 7th in the state based on a jump from a qualifying session the day before. Tough luck for me. That’s sports. If a trans girl gets a place on your high school team, and you don’t, tough luck for you. It’s not the trans girls fault. They are just a teenager, trying to live their life; they are not your enemy.
Lastly, let’s talk about women’s bathrooms for a minute. The paranoia involved in these discussions needs to stop. It doesn’t matter what bathroom someone uses. You don’t need to worry about it. At lots of public places (like restaurants) there is only one toilet, and everybody survives. It all works out. And I’ve seen men in the women’s bathroom all my life — sometimes they come in to change a diaper because there’s not diaper station in the men’s bathroom. Sometimes they bring their child in to use the women’s bathroom because they want to avoid the urinal section in the men’s bathroom. Again, it’s not scary. It’s totally fine.
If you want to fear being attacked in a public women’s bathroom, you are free to do so, but leave trans women out of your violent fantasies. Here’s the real issue: Men attack women every single day — at home, in classrooms, in bathrooms, in offices, in movie theaters, at sporting events, at bars, literally everywhere. And in most of the assaults, the man is someone the girl or woman knows in real life. For example, 85 to 90 percent of sexual assaults reported by college women are perpetrated by someone known to the victim. Statistically, your girls won’t be attacked by a stranger in the bathroom, they’ll be attacked by their boyfriend, or coach, or father.
Men have made these assaults against women for the entire history of the world. Men never needed to claim to be a trans woman in order to attack a woman, and they still don’t need to claim such a thing. If you’re worried about violence against women, as you should be, then go yell at men. Men are the issue. Leave trans women out of it.
Okay. That’s two long newsletters. I truly appreciate you reading. I hope you have a wonderful weekend.
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