How to categorize a transgender competitor?

The title gives it away, but I received an interesting question recently about a transgender competitor: Can he/she compete and fight against men/women?

Transgender sign

Transgender sign

According to the International Athletics Committee, a transgender competitor who is now a man (from a woman) may compete against other men. However, a transgender competitor who is now a woman (from a man) must undergo a testosterone test which will determine how far along the transition she is. Apparently, this will then determine if she has an unfair advantage or not. This kind of makes sense but it assumes that men are “better” than women…

In most martial arts and combat sports, competitors are grouped by weight, age, gender and grade. This is to level the playing field so, for example, I (a black belt heavy weight adult male) am not fighting a little yellow belt girl. Obviously I have an advantage here. However, if most of those dimensions were equal bar gender, it could be argued this is a fair fight.

I know some may argue that men are just naturally stronger/faster than women – the 100m sprint is a good example of this:
100m sprint men’s world record 9.58 seconds
100m sprint women’s world record 10.49 seconds

Bolt 100m men's sprint

Olympic 100m sprint

Females have some attributes that are better than men, the first that comes to mind is flexibility. Women tend to be more subtle than men. Therefore, do women have an unfair advantage over men? Some sports may be more gender neutral e.g. darts, shooting and horse riding etc. Does Taekwondo or Martial Arts fall into this category? Probably not.

Back to the question in hand, which category can a transgender compete in? Was a woman, now a man – fine. Was a man, now a woman – questionable. This all comes down to is there an unfair advantage? There are parallels to Oscar Pistorious who was not allowed to compete in the able bodied Olympics as it was deemed his blades gave him an unfair advantage, despite the fact he is disabled (no legs).

On reflection, there is an unifying force here and that is how it feels, irrespective of gender, to compete with the natural attributes that are given to you or that you train so hard to improve. Personally, I think it’s great that we’re coming to the age where self-expression is less frowned upon and tabooed. No matter who you are, we all face our own challenges before we step into the ring.

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