Margaret Court is wrong on transgender athletes and transgender children

Last week, Tennis great Margaret Court criticised transgender athletes in a sermon at a Perth church just weeks before she is to be honoured by Tennis Australia, saying, “… you know with that LGBT, they’ll wish they never put the T on the end of it because, particularly in women’s sports, they’re going to have so many problems”.

Problems? What problems? One of my ex-girlfriends and I wrestled each other for fun once. Unlike her, I’ve gone through male puberty, I do more physical exercise than she does, and I’m taller than her, yet she beat me hands-down in all of our wrestling matches. One shouldn’t underestimate the power of hormone replacement therapy, and there’s more to this debate than meets the eyeball test. We’ve yet to see a scientific consensus paper come out to ‘settle’ the debate.

In the meantime, and in light of the Hannah Mouncey controversy in 2018, AFLW now require transwomen players to provide readings for their testosterone levels, as well as their height and weight measurements. Fair enough, because in boxing for example, boxers are divided into weight classes, so a transwoman boxer is not going to be bigger than her peers. Specifically, AFLW competitors must maintain testosterone levels below 5nmol/L for 24 months, and the International Olympic Committee is considering to take a similar approach. Fair enough, because the usual testosterone level range for women is 0.06–1.68nmols/L, and for men it’s 7.7–29.4nmols/L.

This still doesn’t change the fact that whilst people can transition genders, their genetics can’t be changed. Sports is already made up of athletes, including Usain Bolt, who have advantages for all kinds of genetic reasons different to each other. If everyone was genetically the same for each gender, people would find sports to be boring I’d imagine. In professional level sports, transwomen continue to be underrepresented, so sports isn’t going to get any more exciting soon due to more trans people coming out. There is never a truly level playing field in sports, and no athlete is expected to compete against others who are identically matched in size, strength, ability or intelligence.

So the argument to create a separate category for trans athletes effectively bans them from actual competition, because in most sports, there are too few trans athletes around. As a transwoman badminton player, I don’t know of any other transwoman badminton player in Australia. Who would I play against? Even if I could find a transwoman to play against in singles (my strength lies in doubles), what’s the point of that? She and I would earn either first or second place in every competition, and those medals would carry no significance, because our victories would not matter.

Imagine a young girl who is incredibly tall and will someday stand well above six feet. Should she pursue gymnastics or diving, her height may be a hindrance, and she will likely never score top results. Should she pursue volleyball, however, her height will be an incredible competitive advantage. After thousands of hours of hard work and training, she may even reach the Olympics.

Now, imagine a young girl who was born into a male’s body. At some point in her life, she transitions to become female, yet elements of her male anatomy remain. Should this young girl pursue a sport like gymnastics or the pole vault, her physiology may hold her back. Nobody will raise concerns over unfair advantages, should she pursue these sports. But, what if this girl chooses cycling or weightlifting or some other sport where here unique physiology gives her a competitive advantage? Is her anatomy something to be looked at the same way society views the tall girl’s height? Or, is it something to be punished?

If one opposes transitioned transwomen, who’ve been through male puberty, participating in women’s sports, why would one also oppose transgirl from transitioning to prevent themselves from going through the same male puberty? You can’t serve cake and eat it too, Rev Court. She elaborated at the same sermon, “… when children are making the decision at seven or eight years of age to change their sex… no, just read the first two chapters of Genesis, that’s all I say. Male and female… And you have got young people taking hormones and having changes, by the time they are 17 they are thinking, ‘Now I’m a boy and really I was a girl’. Because, you know what, God’s made us that way”.

No one decides to have gender dysphoria, and no one is medically “changing their sex” at seven or eight years of age. Transition treatment for trans children is not as radical as it seems. The first step for a child, if they want to, is to let them wear whatever clothes fit their gender, and pick a name that feels right for them. It doesn’t sound like much, but it can go a long way for these children. Studies focused on just socially transitioned children have found that their mental health was almost as good as the other children. Trans children cannot go on hormone medication when they hit puberty, they can only go on puberty blockers, which is different — it only suppresses the hormone that triggers puberty. This is not conditioning, “children to accept a life of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex as normal and healthful”, as conjectured by the discredited American College of Pediatricians.

Blockers give trans adolescents more time to be sure about their gender identity before puberty cannot be healthily delayed any further. Puberty blockers, which are reversible, have been used for decades for children with precocious puberty, with little negative side effects. Having gone through a second (female) puberty on hormone replacement therapy, I can attest that hormone medication is more or less safe. Like other medication, I’m at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, but what medication doesn’t have side effects and risks that don’t outweigh the health benefits. One of those health benefits is that the gender transition regret rate is consistently less than 1%, irrespective of when the transition started. That failure rate is lower than many medical treatments available out there. Note that gender transition in any form is not cure, that’s why it’s called treatment, not cure.

It appears that Rev Court referenced the alleged phenomenon of Rapid-Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD) in her sermon. The ROGD premise is that there are cases of surprised parents who don’t notice anything odd about their child growing up, then surprisingly their child comes out as trans during adolescence apparently due to external influences such as social media. ROGD has been used in public discourse to argue that trans children and adolescents shouldn’t be allowed to transition. However, the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, has seen more than 700 children diagnosed with gender dysphoria, and only 4% of those children ‘grow out of it’. 96% of those diagnosed as trans as children remained so at late adolescence.

Perhaps the parents of alleged ROGD children didn’t notice anything due to unintentional childhood emotional neglect. Perhaps awareness-raising by social media and the public lives of trans people themselves is just bringing the transgender self of an adolescent out of the woodworks sooner rather than later. It’s likely that ROGD adolescents fall into the 4%, but they should not be left behind. If ROGD is a real phenomenon that can stand on its two feet, then descriptive and diagnostic data must be developed so that it can be accepted by the healthcare profession. At present, there is no consistently reliable data available on ROGD to develop effective treatment and support services for it. So the only way to draw clear conclusions about the identity persistence of trans children is to conduct prospective studies of children with gender dysphoria diagnosis. No muddying the waters. Said prospective studies are ongoing, and they indicate that the Royal Children’s Hospital Gender Service (RCHGS) is on the right track.

Finally, Rev Court has misrepresented the Book of Genesis, specifically, Genesis 1:27, which states that, “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them”, for the ultimate purpose of union and procreation. But God doesn’t have arms and legs like we do. He obviously made most of us categorically male and female as a convenient way to keep human beings around generation after generation. However, “his own image” is not a reference to our physical bodies. As human beings, we are not clones of each other, and each of us are unique, hence the semi-colon in “he created them; male and female”.

God’s overarching plan for humanity may have well been that for man and woman to enter into faithful, exclusive and lifelong union, but that wasn’t the only plan. If it was the only plan, the Bible would be as thin as a rail, and the world would be a very boring place, antithetical to people’s need for (inter)personal growth. Personal growth that would honour God’s plan for them. Not every woman is able to bear children for example, and there’s neuroscientific studies, besides similar studies pointing to the natural occurrence of homosexuality, to show that trans people’s brains are wired to their gender identity rather than their ‘biological sex’. I am not God’s mistake, rather, I worship with my spirit, which was made in the image of God.

God has a plan for everyone, and it’s not the same for everyone. Otherwise the vow of celibacy wouldn’t exist, amongst other nuances, that contradict God’s union plan for man and woman. We’re all sinners, and it is through sin and moving beyond sin do we grow. God’s plan for you is for you to understand between you and God. By extension, the Bible may be Holy, but it is Holy to the extent that they’re written, collated and handed down by people in accordance with their individual understandings of their plans with God. That is a series of complex snapshots that collectively reflect the authors’ historical and intellectual underpinnings.

Your serve, Rev Court. It’s no wonder that Tennis Australia only agreed to “recognise but not celebrate” your sporting achievements later this month.

Pronouns: who/cares | Humble Catholic in my own way | Catholic Liberal Arts student @notredameaus

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