Transgender participation in sport

Hi all

Hope this isn’t too controversial a topic for the forum. I think there’s an interesting ethical and scientific conversation to be had.

First article, a woman (originally born a man) continues to hold the women’s track world title.

Second article, a natural born woman with unusually high but natural levels of testosterone is forced to take drugs to reduce hormones if she wants to continue competing

What are everybody’s thoughts on transgender participation?

Personally I think it’s crazy that someone, originally a biological man, who’s experienced all the benefits of testosterone through puberty, is allowed to compete against natural born women. It seems an unfair and unnatural advantage. Also, for this to happen alongside the Caster Semenya case, where someone born with a natural advantage is penalised, seems incredibly inconsistent and unfair.

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I think it comes down to the rules.
If someone is competing within the rules than it should be allowed, and at the moment that is the case.
This does not say that the rules are correct (or wrong), and they will not change. but at the moment they are the rules and it is rules that make the pastime a sport


The IOC had a recent scientific gathering to discuss this and ended up not being able to agree a change to the current rules.

The current rules aim to handicap athletes who transition to ensure a level playing field. I suspect that for endurance atheltes, the handicapping is relatively successful, but for pure strength events it is less so. There’s loads of good stuff on this (and specifically the Semenya case) here:

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I’m fine with it. Yes she’s world champ at one track competition ( I think it’s fun how many rainbow jerseys there are to be had on the track) but she doesn’t win everything. I heard an interview with her last year and she gets beat by plenty of women who were born women. I also heard an interview with the first transgender participant at the cololado classic last year who said after she started the transition from male to female watched her numbers drop the percentages generally given when speaking of the differing outputs of male and female riders. And she didn’t win or make much of a difference in that field. If Rachel McKinnon starts taking multiple jerseys across multiple disciplines in commanding fashion I think it can call things into question. As it stands right now she’s not getting the benefit of testosterone and as the above article states there are cis gender women who probably have more testosterone than I do as a 35 year old male. We’re in uncharted territory, let’s see where this goes and watch it play out before we jump to conclusions.


I don’t have an opinion on what to do, but I have a strong opinion that McKinnon and some of the “pro-trans” researchers aren’t doing their case a service.

Speaking before the event, McKinnon told Sky News : “By preventing trans women from competing or requiring them to take medication, you’re denying their human rights.”

Dr Rachel McKinnon, who was born a biological male, says all her medical records say female, her doctor treats her as a female, and her racing licence says female, but that “people who oppose her existence still want to think of her as male.”

The researchers suggested that if size or strength of competitors is a concern, different sporting categories not based on gender should be considered.

Let the people race where the rules allow them to. And until there are separate divisions for trans athletes they have to race somewhere.

Personally I found it shocking how Rachel was facing severe hostility in the road Peloton and eventually decided to not race anymore because of this. Even if people disagree with her participation, they should take it up with the governing body and not just bully someone out of the peloton. We should be glad that she found a more welcoming community on the track because, regardless of this discussion, she is a great bike racer.


I for one am not okay with it. To me a born male competing against females is akin to me as a male doping.

A males natural testosterone level is 240-950 ng per dl and a females is 8-60 ng per dl. That is a huge variance. I read the article and it says that the levels if competing as transgender the numbers have to be within range but could be at the very high end for female along with a lifetime of elevated levels is an unfair advantage.

It has been talked about in the podcast (other sources I have looked at also) there are changes in the body that do just go away instantly. Your intracellular changes are there for a very long time. This is also gives dopers an unfair advantage for a long time after they no longer are doping.

The Caster Semenya is unreal that she has a natural level and is being punished??? but they allow a born male compete??? I have read about that one so many times and it is absolutely unfair to her as hers is a genetic trait. Are they trying to remove genetics from competition? Oh your VO2 max is to much better than everyone else’s you have to wear this mask during competition??? Oh your lactic acid levels is this and is better than everyone else we need to regulate that???


Yeah I agree with all of this.

The way I understood testosterone is that even if levels are reduced now, the changes that have happened in the body due to years of testosterone, especially during puberty, still give a huge advantage. In much the same way as dopers can train with drugs, get off them during competition and still reap the benefits, despite no longer doping.

Part of what makes the elite athletes so good is genetics that they were born with. Should we consider it an unfair advantage if Chris Froome is born with genetics that dictate a better V02 than someone else?


I wonder if it makes more sense to separate competitions based on testosterone levels (using some combination of both historical and current levels) instead of gender?

Sports are way more than just test levels.


I don’t understand your point. Sports is also way more than gender too right? :thinking:

I think I’m just saying that if gender is not good way of leveling the playing field then use some other measure.

In cycling in particular VO2 max, lactic acid threshold, body weight, hematocrit level all these mean just as much as test level is all I mean.

God I am gonna get roasted for this for sure but Gender is huge factor in sports because of the physiology difference in men and women. To have them compete against each other just isn’t right.

One thing I have never seen research on is the VO2 max of men vs women? Lactic acid threshold men vs women? hematocrit men vs women? I know testosterone levels is the only one I have seen (haven’t looked for the others) men vs women.


Sports is one area of human culture where, in contradistinction to the many points raised in Judith Butler’s foundational Gender Trouble (among many works – with which I am entirely sympathetic and supportive, outside of sports), biology matters.

Born with it, and assigned the gender at birth? Ok.

Not born with it, gender reassigned or transformed, and reliant on medical products? No.

This is one area in which I – and I realize it is just my middle-aged cis-male opinion – do not seek nuance. Sport is biology + training + craft. It starts with the first, unfortunately for these problems.

(and I don’t think Caster should have to reduce her T – no need to give a born-intersex female a chemical handicap – for those ones in millions who are born intersex and assigned female identity at birth – both matters which were not of their choice, and for which they should not be punished – allowing them to complete as women is, in my mind, a fair judgment to a sub-group of women who face enough prejudice as it is)


This just makes me mad and this forum isn’t really the arena for me to vent my true feelings. This athlete is being singled out and I really feel for her. To my mind, she’s an outlier and she has done nothing underhanded to put herself in that situation. To the best of my knowledge, she’s working with the tools she was gifted.


I think I see where you are going now. And yes I definitely agree that there are lots of other variables here just like the ones you mention. In fact, in addition to gender, we already use age and in some sports, body weight to divide up the participants so that competition is more…fair? more exciting? less predictable? I guess the purpose of divisions in sports is just as vague as the criteria used to divide. :laughing:


Transgender are starting to push world record everywhere in women sport. At this rate the only “women” competing will be transgender.

This is somewhat reminding me of the paralympic scandal, where whole team of sane persons pretended to be disabled to win and in the end replaced almost all the disabled that were meant to be there.

Maybe doing some transgender only competition would solve the problem ? Idk if there will be enough athlete competing in this division tho ?

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Not to mention that she has already devoted years of her life to excel only to have the opportunity to reap the benefits of her efforts removed. I don’t know what the right set of rules should be but there has to be a better way to make changes when they are necessary. For example, perhaps the governing bodies could implement new rules on a trial basis at the lower levels of the sport where stakes are low or non-existent before blowing up someone’s career and livelihood.

I agree with this. She competed within the rules and won therefore she is the champion. So many armchair experts are posting about the unfair advantage with “I think” and “I believe” or “It’s obvious” without backing it up with anything conclusive to support those statement. As a middle-aged, middle-income white male, I grew up in a center-conservative environment so I have my personal biases but I am also very pragmatic and try to objectively look at situations to evaluate their validity (I’m also an engineer-geek). I don’t entirely “get” the transgender thing, but I accept that this is a very real thing for some and I know several M->F and F->M. Based on the current position that trans people are the same as cis people then they should be treated that way, until there is some extensive study to state otherwise.

I know a local M->F trans cyclist who regularly gets beat by the cis-gender field by a significant margin. She rides and trains like everyone else so in her case she is not “crushing” the cis-gendered field because she is trans. In fact I know she has podium’d but I don’t think she has won a race. So, in my sample size of n=1, I don’t see any predetermined genetic advantage that automatically gives her a distinct advantage.


Is this news that has slipped by … I dont recall that many records being held by Trans?


I’ve posted my thoughts on a couple of forums. I have a gender questioning child so this whole thing really resonates with me because it could be something I have to help with navigating someday. But I find RM’s almost militant stance and calling women who object to her participation as transphobic and losers, basically dismissing feelings and any dissent, which I find a terrible way to approach it. Whether she likes it or not, she came into the gender and sport as an outsider and all of a sudden she’s telling people how the sport should be and how they should feel about it all.

Like many others, it’s tough because there’s some evidence to suggest that having gone through male puberty gives transgender women some advantages that just stick with you. She used to post on another forum and raced crits, if you look her up on road results, you can see she was cleaning up for a couple of years.

Anyhow, it’s complex, I’ve seen suggestions for open categories, but everyone deserves dignity and open categories are just telling trans folks that they don’t really belong in any group. But I think there are some valid arguments about whether its unfair to have trans individuals compete with women.