There's been a debate surrounding transgender athletes recently due to Lia Thomas, a transgender woman, winning this year's NCAA women's swimming championship.
Lia Thomas won the "Ivy 2022 Champion" in swimming - celebrating victory in the 500-yard freestyle and the 200-yard freestyle.
Lia's participation and eventual win sparked controversy and criticism about whether it's "fair" for someone assigned male at birth with a male muscle structure to participate in a swimming category with female-born swimmers.
She currently ranks #44 among US female swimmers and #31 among female college swimmers, which means there are still female swimmers with a faster time than Lia, despite the "advantages" she's being criticized for having.
Lia has built her skills as a swimmer for years as she's been an avid swimmer since age 5, training and setting new records for herself. Unfortunately, her skills and accomplishments as a swimmer have been eclipsed by discussions of her gender.
It's because of that reason why Lia kept her identity a secret because she didn't want to risk losing her swimming career.
CNN reported that she started hormone replacement therapy in May 2019 and came out as trans that fall, yet she still had to compete on the men's team. She said it was awkward and uncomfortable, and her speed suffered as her muscles weakened from hormone therapy.
As a result, her times were even slower than they were after she transitioned, which is what many trans athletes go through. It's not uncommon for trans women to find a slight decrease in performance overall because of hormone therapy.
The NCAA requires that transgender athletes have one year of hormone replacement therapy to be cleared to participate, which Lia did.
Affirm Trans Athletes
There's already a stigma against the trans community, and trans people already have a hard time finding safe spaces.
Trans people enjoy sports just as much as cisgender people. Should they be taken out of sports because of how they identify?
Regarding athletes, they only have a short window to participate in their sport. Many athletes retire before they turn 40 to avoid permanent physical injuries.
For example, fellow swimmer Michael Phelps retired from competitive swimming at the age of 31. It's also not uncommon for professional football players and hockey players to quit before they hit their mid 30's.
As of May 2022, 18 US states have banned or limited the participation of trans athletes in schools.
With this short window for an athlete's career, these sports bans stop their athletic career before it begins and holds them back from playing the sports they love.
With these changing times, discussions need to take place between trans individuals and sport organizers to discuss these concerns and to better understand what would make for a fair competition.
More conversations and research will equal better policies.
If an athlete, whether trans or not, has the skills and is ready to rise to the occasion, they should be able to participate.
To even the playing field, men's and women's sports have always been kept separate, but there are examples of women beating men when challenged based on having superior skills.
For example, Billie Jean King famously beat Bobby Riggs in a 1973 match dubbed "The Battle of the Sexes."
And in 2006, Michaela Hutchison made history by winning the 103-pound title at the 2006 state wrestling championships to become the nation's first girl to win a state high school championship against boys.
Lia Thomas and other transgender women like her should be allowed to swim equally with the gender they identify. Believing her muscle mass to be the problem because she got it before transitioning and not "naturally" from her assigned birth sex does not automatically make her a better swimmer.
Scientifically, there is not an unfair advantage to transgender women, and the argument of "fairness" forgets the mental anguish of not being affirmed.
Let transgender women play sports and be on the team that matches their gender identity.