American swimmer Lia Thomas made history by becoming the first trans athlete to win a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) senior title by winning the 500-yard freestyle. But the joy was short-lived, as her success has now become a political issue.
The 22-year-old was accused of unfair advantage on social networks, and there was even talk of fraud. He went so far that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a statement declaring runner-up Emma Weyant, also of Florida, the winner. That was pure populism, because of course DeSantis has no authority to interfere in the results of a national sports association – his maneuver of wanting to present himself as the “protector” of an athlete in his state was very transparent. DeSantis still had symbolic effect. By urging the NCAA to destroy women’s sports and undermine the integrity of the competition, he ultimately denied her identity as a woman to Thomas.
The outbreak of Trump’s friend DeSantis is the sad low point of a transhostile development in competitive sports in general. Just last year, weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, who became the first trans athlete in history to compete in the Olympics, faced discriminatory hostility even before the Games began. Ultimately, she was eliminated after three failed attempts. The situation was similar in rugby, where the world association wanted to completely exclude trans women from women’s teams. Safety concerns and physical advantages were discussed. Scientific studies have long ago put an end to such prejudices and have shown that a higher testosterone value does not automatically mean advantages.
[Neuigkeiten aus der queeren Welt gibt es im Queerspiegel-Newsletter des Tagesspiegel, der zweimal im Monat erscheint – hier geht es zur Anmeldung.]
This also applies to Thomas, by the way: his body changed as a result of taking the hormones, his times have almost always become much slower. A comparison of her times before and after the start of her transition suggests that she doesn’t really have the great advantages over women that her opponents always accuse her of, but that she used to swim at a level very high. College records for men used to be within their reach.
The argument to protect women’s sport seems pretentious
In general, the question arises as to why an athlete’s testosterone level is given so much more importance than other biological factors such as body size. And why are the possible disadvantages of trans men not discussed? People like DeSantis like to claim that they want to protect the women’s category and women’s sport as such, but that argument seems false. Rather, a certain ideal of womanhood must be upheld, if necessary through violent methods such as gender controls, which force trans and intersex women to take medication with no foreseeable health consequences.
Incidentally, Erica Sullivan, who placed third in the competition, rallied behind Thomas and defended her from hostilities, as did fourth-placed Brooke Forde. Sullivan said, “As a woman in sports, I can tell you that I know what the real threats are to women’s sports.” Pay inequality or lack of representation can finally be addressed consistently. Trans women do not represent a threat, on the contrary: they are the ones who are in danger from discriminatory structures and deserve protection.