Do Transgender Athletes Have An Advantage?


Jack Tupper

Ever since the late 1950s and early 1960s, transgender people have been pushing boundaries and breaking stigmas that had long been placed on them. With the recent spike in societal acceptance of transgender individuals, many of these people are taking it one step further and breaking new ground in athletics, trailblazing a path for future transgender athletes. However, as often as there are transgender people breaking new ground, there is also those who aim to delegitimize or call into question just how fair this really is. These people mainly set their aim at those athletes who transition from male to female, feeling that they gain an unfair advantage having been born male. This advantage comes from testosterone, which is thought to give them a physical advantage from the start over their biological female-born counterparts. Estrogen supplements can suppress testosterone to an extent, but often it is not enough to fully suppress the testosterone down to the level of the average biological female.

For transgender athletes to be able to compete in major events such as the Olympics, they are required to undergo at least two years of hormone replacement therapy, in the hopes of attempting to counterbalance testosterone levels. Most athletes who undergo this therapy reach an acceptable level, but not a complete nullification of the testosterone. It might not seem like a lot, but the small bit of leftover testosterone could very well turn the tide in favor of the transgender athlete, allowing them to have an intrinsic advantage over their biological female competition that have less testosterone. Many feel this advantage puts the biological female-born athlete at a disadvantage from the start, and brings down the value of the effort that biological female has put into being their absolute best. Even if the testosterone were completely nullified, male to female transgender competitors generally have significant advantages in regards to bone density and muscle mass.

This is not to say that transgender athletes should be banned from sports. Rather, it is to point out the level starting field that most competitions view as fair. Talent only takes top athletes so far, and at that point, it is all about the work they put into the sport. The more they put in, the more they get out. The slight advantage that the transgender person would gain from having that testosterone would provide them with an advantage right out of the gate. For example, if you had the ability to count cards in a deck, you would have an advantage over anyone else not counting the cards. This is a clear advantage over your opponent that takes the competitiveness away from the activity. The same could be said of the advantage testosterone provides to athletes.

If it is perceived that one athlete has an advantage over another before the competition even begins, this will decrease the competitive drives. Competitors would stay away, which could hurt the overall health of the activity. Eventually, there might be enough Trans athletes to be able to form a league of their own, but currently, the fairest solution for everyone involved is for Trans athletes to compete against their biologically-born gender.