As the first openly transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics, 43-year-old Laurel Hubbard is set to make history at Tokyo this summer.
Born as a male, Hubbard set junior records competing against men in the M105+ division in his home country of New Zealand in 1998 before transitioning to 2013. As a woman, she won two gold medals and one gold medal at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa. Roma 2020 World Cup in Italy. Now competing against female lifters in the +87 kg (192 lb) category, she is ranked 15th in the world.
But not everyone is celebrating her achievements.
Belgian weightlifter Anna van Bellingen, who will compete against Hubbard this summer, recently told the Olympic news site insidedgames Hubbard’s inclusion “feels like a bad joke.”
“Anyone who has trained in weightlifting at a high level knows the same is true in their bones,” Van Bellingen said. “This particular situation is unfair to the sport and the athletes.”
Transgender athletes’ rights have been a political hot potato of late, with more than a hundred bills barring transgender women from competing in women’s sports being filed in state legislatures across the US. Last month in Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis signed the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, banning transgender women and girls from participating in sports that align with their gender identity.
A Republican state representative, Tracy Koster, defended the law by calling out her 6-year-old daughter, saying she did it “to ensure her an equal playing field.” Meanwhile, GLAAD spokeswoman Serena Sonoma called 2021 “a record year for anti-trans law.”
Now, a new book”T: The story of testosterone, the hormone that dominates and divides us(Henry Holt & Co.), on Tuesday, is set to stir up the hornet’s nest even more. In it, author and Harvard biologist Carol Hoeven reveals that males born “in comparison to females of puberty Nearly twenty-five times the level of testosterone”, giving them “an athletic advantage over those who have not experienced male puberty.”
“Prior to puberty, boys and girls do not differ much in strength, speed or power,” Houwen told The Post.
But that all changes at the age of 12, when boys start to move on.
“At age 15, boys beat girls by more than an average of four seconds in the 30-meter run,” Houwen said. “They will be able to throw much farther and with greater accuracy.”
All that testosterone also dramatically increases their muscle mass and strength, and young men will begin to outperform women in athletic activities, Houwen claims, by anywhere from 10 to 50 percent.
“On average, especially in men and women who train equally hard, the effect of testosterone gives men an athletic edge,” Houwen says.
“All other things being equal, transwomen like Laurel Hubbard, who have gone through normal male puberty, retain much, but not all, athletic advantages over women who are born.”
In the past, pinpointing “testosterone benefits” was not so controversial. In 2010, Israeli physicist Ira Hammerman Investigated The gap between male and female elite athletes in competitions ranging from running to swimming, spans more than half a century. They found that women consistently had 10 percent less time than their male peers.
“The marathon world record for women is two hours and fourteen minutes, which is about twelve minutes slower than the men’s world record,” writes Houwen.
This sex gap in performance means that in many events, “thousands of male athletes are ahead of the best female,” writes Houwen.
“In 2019, around 2,500 men, nearly a third of the total number of men competing worldwide in the IAAF 100-meter event, beat the fastest women’s time. Without segregation, it is not as if the men would win – the women would never have qualified for the competitions in the first place. ”
But today, the idea that transgender and “perinatal” women are separate conflicts with the current progressive thinking that transgender people do not deserve equal treatment with those born with their gender identity, they are biologically equal as well.
Some have even argued that the athletic differences between birth men and women stem from psychological rather than biological causes.
Nottingham Trent University psychologist Beth Jones, speaking to the BBC in 2018, said that “women limit their potential psychologically because they are competing against other women. If they feel that they are competing against men, they will probably do better and more at that level.” will compete.
Veronica Ivy, a transgender woman, activist, philosophy professor and competitive cyclist – she became the first transgender world track cycling champion in 2018. argued that “there is no association between unaltered endogenous testosterone and sports performance” and calls it “a myth”.
She also claimed that “the gap in performance between elite men and women is closing in every sport. As men improve and new records are set, women’s records are increasingly being set.”
But Houwen disagrees.
“Ivy is wrong,” she writes in her book. “Whatever the reason, the gap is not closing.”
In 2019, two former Wimbledon champions, Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King, were caught on opposite sides of the debate. Navratilova argued in the London Times op-ed That it was “crazy and cheating” to allow transgender women to compete in women’s sports tournaments. the king came to his rescue on twitter But argued that science should be the “true arbiter” on whether transgender women can compete fairly in women’s sports.
When John McEnroe suggested In a 2017 interview that Serena Williams would only be 700th in the world “if she played on the men’s circuit,” she was widely criticized.
But just four years ago, Williams Have you seen on David Letterman’s “Late Night” and said basically the same thing.
“If I had to play Andy Murray, I would have lost 6-0, 6-0 in five to six minutes, maybe 10 minutes,” she told Letterman. “Men are very fast and they work hard. They work hard, it’s just a different sport. I like to play women’s tennis. I only want to play girls because I don’t want to be embarrassed.
Hubbard is the first to take advantage of new rules passed by the International Olympic Committee in 2015 that require transgender athletes competing in women’s events to lower their testosterone levels to less than ten nanomoles per liter at least one year before their competition. are required to do. It’s a dramatic change from previous rules, which required trans athletes to undergo gender reassignment surgery and several years of hormone therapy before competing.
World Athletics, the international governing body for track and field athletics, established its own rules in 2019 requiring transgender female athletes to lower their testosterone levels within six months of competition.
But at the same time, a new study Published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that even one year of testosterone reduction therapy may not be enough to reduce athletic gains.
Timothy Roberts, lead author of the study and director of the Adolescent Medicine Training Program at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., told The Post that “it took two years for the average transgender woman to perform in sit-ups or push-ups. The average cis -Performed in one minute for gender to decline to female levels. This benefit was smaller than the benefit present before starting the hormone, but it was still there.”
“Experts and activists debate the question of how much strength and muscle mass falls after a testosterone-suppressing drug,” Houwen says. “But evidence suggests that male-specific levels of muscle mass and strength are not completely lost. In some trans women, no muscle is lost at all.”
High testosterone levels have also prevented some “childbirth” women from competing in women’s sports. South African sprinter and two-time Olympic champion in the 800 meters, Castor Semenya, was born as a woman, but was barred from competing in the upcoming Olympics due to her high natural testosterone. To compete, Semenya would need to use the drug to lower his testosterone levels to less than five nanomoles per liter of blood, which he has refused to do. he is currently Attractive Decision.
Michael Bahrke, who has studied steroids and co-edited the book “Performance-enhancing substances in sports and exercise,” said not all sports provide the benefit of testosterone. While athletes who rely on muscular strength and endurance, such as weight lifters and track-and-field stars, get a boost from testosterone, others, who do curling, golf and compete in stock car racing, for example, requiring superior hand-eye coordination, flexibility, and/or anatomy to rise up to be successful.
Still, testosterone gains, although small, are something Houwen says can’t be ignored. So what’s the solution for trans female athletes?
In 2019, researchers from the University of Otago in New Zealand as proposed That transwoman athletes compete in their own category, essentially creating a third division for trans and intersex women to remove any unfair advantage.
In the meantime, Houwen says he has “no solution.”
“I don’t know how to solve this problem,” she says. “But I understand that it must be very difficult to identify as a woman, to love and excel in sport, but not be able to compete in the women’s category.”
Whatever the answer, she says we should consider the human rights perspective, but that science should play an important role.
“Scientific facts can inform our decisions,” Houwen says, “and when it comes to sports, it should weigh heavily.”