New transgender participation policies were released on Sunday by the international governing body of swimming, FINA, which are more restrictive and extreme than any other policies currently in place.
Any transfeminine athlete who transitioned after the age of 12 is prohibited by this rule from competing in the women’s division of elite swimming competitions. For transgender people who have undergone some degree of testosterone-driven puberty, it proposes a third, “open” division. Such a strict policy is not supported by the available science on the impact of testosterone on athletic performance and is also at odds with the new framework for transgender inclusion set forth by the International Olympic Committee.
Transgender athletes are reduced to nothing more than their bodies and their biology when they are subjected to such a restrictive policy. Because it places the fairness of a sporting competition (for whom, exactly, is it fair?) ahead of the rights of an entire group of people, it removes their humanity. Only those who are able to demonstrate their transgender abilities in a certain way are considered to be worthy of competing in a sporting arena.
But there’s a lot more to it. Through the use of policies like these, trans people are reduced to cisgender stereotypes that can be accepted by the wider society. A transgender person does not have to change from one apparent binary gender to another in order to be trans. Not everyone who wants to transition uses hormones or has surgery. As a result of these policies, transgender people who are unable or unwilling to undergo medical transition are devalued as trans people.
To make matters worse, requiring that people begin medical transition before puberty sets up a hierarchy in which those who are aware of and have access to transition as a child are deemed more acceptable or less threatening and, as a result, “better.”
What gives cisgender people the right to make laws governing transgender people’s bodies? Access to gender-affirming care is routinely denied to transgender individuals: Cis people are frequently prescribed hormone blockers or hormone therapy, such as testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, spironolactone, and finasteride. Also included in the list of services provided to cisgender people are hair removal and hair transplants, as well a variety of plastic surgery procedures including breast augmentation, liposuction, gynecological implants and more, for reasons such as self-confidence and the ability to feel more comfortable in their bodies.
This new policy is extremely risky, given that the transgender community has been painted by the political right as a threat to the safety and well-being of (cisgender, heterosexual) Americans.
Over the past year, nearly 670 bills have been introduced in Congress aimed at restricting or limiting the rights of LGBTQ people in the United States or denying them full participation in public life, according to an analysis by NBC News. And 65% of the anti-LGBTQ legislation introduced this year specifically targets transgender people. Transgender people.
Because of the right-wing political panic over transgender people (and mainstream media coverage that presents “two sides” to what is essentially a human rights issue), the FINA policy makes sense. As a direct result of the increasing visibility of transgender athletes in sports, especially women like swimmer Lia Thomas, who became the first openly trans woman to win an NCAA swimming championship, and weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, from New Zealand, who competed in the 2016 Summer Olympics (where she failed to medal). As soon as they start winning, trans athletes become a serious threat to the status quo.
When it comes to transgender people, the cisnormative establishment places them in an impossible situation, which is demonstrated by this policy. An independent think tank that tracks anti-LGBTQ legislation reports that at least 22 states are attempting to ban adolescents from receiving gender affirming medical care, making gender transitions before the age of 12 nearly impossible.
But in order to begin puberty blockers and transition during adolescence, many other factors must be in place. A lot of transgender youth report being kicked out of their homes because of their identities, which is more common than not. They must also have supportive parents and be able to access or afford gender-affirming medical care, both of which are rare (bringing socioeconomic status into play).
Only one conclusion can be drawn from a policy like FINA’s, and that is that cisgender people’s perspective and comfort were given precedence over all else. That a policy intended to mandate participation by a group of people can be so disconnected from the lived experience and needs of that group is ironic in and of itself! Transgender athletes have shown that the goal of FINA is to deny them access to public life, not to find a way for them to participate in sports or medical care or the ability to fully exist in the world.