Wave Of Bills To Block Trans Athletes Has No Basis In Science, Researcher Says : NPR

  

Category:  News & Politics

Via:  thomas  •  2 weeks ago  •  25 comments

By:   NPR. org

Wave Of Bills To Block Trans Athletes Has No Basis In Science, Researcher Says : NPR
Legislation in several states would limit or prohibit transgender women from competing in women's athletics. An expert on sex differences in athletes says the bills aren't rooted in science.

This argument in popular culture seems to have a more nuanced undergirding.


S E E D E D   C O N T E N T



March 18, 20215:17 PM ET

Tinbete Ermyas, Kira Wakeam

Wave Of Bills To Block Trans Athletes Has No Basis In Science, Researcher Says


Throughout the country, roughly 35 bills have been introduced by state legislators that would limit or prohibit transgender women from competing in women's athletics, according to the LGBTQ rights group Freedom for All Americans. That's up from only two in 2019.

The latest action in this push came last week, when Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves signed into law the "Mississippi Fairness Act." The law prohibits schools from allowing transgender female students to compete in female sports and cites "inherent differences between men and women" as one of the reasons to block these athletes from competition.

The often heated debates around these bills have centered on whether transgender women and girls have an unfair advantage over cisgender women — a term used for those who identify with the sex assigned to them at birth.

Proponents say the legislation is needed in order to maintain fairness in women's athletics by reducing what they believe is an inherent competitive edge of trans athletes who identify as female. Critics call that a false argument and say the proposals are being used as a way to discriminate against transgender Americans. These proposals, they say, also risk opening the door to humiliating treatment of women and girls who don't fit culturally-accepted notions of femininity.

Often missing from the culture-war aspect of the debate is a focus on the type of questions that Dr. Eric Vilain has spent much of his career researching. Vilain, a pediatrician and geneticist who studies sex differences in athletes, says there are no good faith reasons to limit transgender women's participation in sports, especially at the high school level. Vilain has advised both the International Olympic Committee and the NCAA, and says these laws generally aren't based in scientific evidence, but rather "target women who have either a different biology or ... simply look different."

Vilain joined NPR's Michel Martin earlier this week for a discussion about the science surrounding trans athletes. Below are excerpts from that conversation, edited in parts for clarity and length.

Interview Highlights


Supporters of these bills say they are meant to eliminate any competitive advantage that transgender athletes may have. So I'd like to ask you if there is data on this and what does it show?

We know that men have, on average, an advantage in performance in athletics of about 10% to 12% over women, which the sports authorities have attributed to differences in levels of a male hormone called testosterone. But the question is whether there is in real life, during actual competitions, an advantage of performance linked to this male hormone and whether trans athletes are systematically winning all competitions. The answer to this latter question, are trans athletes winning everything, is simple — that's not the case. And higher levels of the male hormone testosterone are associated with better performance only in a very small number of athletic disciplines: 400 meters, 800 meters, hammer throw, pole vault — and it certainly does not explain the whole 10% difference.

And lastly, I would say that every sport requires different talents and anatomies for success. So I think we should focus on celebrating this diversity, rather than focusing on relative notions of fairness. For example, the body of a marathon runner is extremely different from the body of a shot put champion, and a transwoman athlete may have some advantage on the basketball field because of her height, but would be at a disadvantage in gymnastics. So it's complicated.

In your view, because you have advised the NCAA on this as well as the International Olympic Committee, is there a reason to limit the participation of transgender athletes at the high school level or perhaps even at the collegiate level? Is there any good faith reason to do that?

I don't think so. First, I will say that there is a huge difference between elite sports and sports in schools. Sports in schools are supposed to be primarily about inclusivity, setting individual goals, collective goals and well-being. And it is not supposed to be about crushing the competition. But if we want to make it this way, then the rules still need to be inclusive, or at least not come up with arguments that are not based in science. So one of the major issues in school — and of course in the elite world — is that binary categories make it quite difficult to come up with reasonable eligibility regulations. And they do create a lot of frustrations. So one way out of this could be opening up categories. That would be a way to explore different ways, a path to do sports competitions, especially in schools. However, adding categories needs to be well thought out and done with equal access to benefits, such as scholarships. Otherwise, it would create categories of second class citizens, which is certainly not a good thing.

One of the groups that has come out against these types of laws is the National Women's Law Center. They wrote a brief against a bill in Idaho that seeks to ban transgender girls from participating in youth female sports. And in it, they write, "The law allows anyone for any reason to question whether a student athlete is a woman or girl. And then the student has to verify her gender by undergoing invasive testing, which could include a gynecological exam, blood work or chromosome testing." And one of the plaintiffs was a plaintiff named Jane Doe, who was a cisgender female athlete, but she doesn't normally wear skirts or dresses and has an athletic build. And they're saying that under a law like this, somebody could just ask or insist that this athlete undergo one of these exams to prove her gender, that that's inherently harmful and serves no legitimate purpose. What do you say to that?

You know, it's interesting because in the field of sports, there's a long history of discrimination that targets women that look different. Again, the science of whether testosterone in real life is actually providing an advantage in competition is not clearly established. But more disturbingly is that all these rules at the elite level have affected women — not all women, but women with a Y chromosome. And often, it's triggered by women who look different. So I'm a little disturbed to hear that these issues at the elite level are now reaching the middle and high schools and colleges.

You helped the NCAA shape their guidelines for the inclusion of transgender athletes in 2011. You also advise the International Olympic Committee on similar issues. What do you look at when determining what makes a certain sport fair, especially given an eye to both fairness and inclusivity?

If we want to think about fairness, we should look first at the principles of the Olympic charter. It says every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport without discrimination of any kind. And in the Olympic spirit, what's true for schools should be true for colleges and should be for the elite level. And there is really a long journey of athletes with gender variations that are facing increasing rulings that are often discriminatory and not based on science. And they should inspire us to consider the full complexity of interpretation of data and cherish our more treasured values, which I would say in science is evidence, and of course embrace inclusivity.


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Thomas
Freshman Guide
1  seeder  Thomas    2 weeks ago

A little dated in the age of the twenty-four hour news cycle, but this story has a slightly different take on the question of whether transgender people should be able to compete in sports. 

 
 
 
Greg Jones
Masters Participates
1.1  Greg Jones  replied to  Thomas @1    2 weeks ago

but this story has a slightly different take on the question of whether transgender people should be able to compete in sports. 

Transgender people should be able to compete with other transgender people in sports. 

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
2  Kavika     2 weeks ago

Interesting and worthwhile reading and it presents a totally different case than what we hear from the politicians and others. Food for thought

 
 
 
Thomas
Freshman Guide
2.1  seeder  Thomas  replied to  Kavika @2    2 weeks ago
...presents a totally different case than what we hear from the politicians and others

I really am not that surprised that it poses the questions and  answers differently than the politicians.  Politicians only have padding their base in mind. "How do I get to frame this question so that I can get more votes?" 

The questions asked and the answers given are ALWAYS more nuanced when asked by somebody who is not a culture warrior.

I looked more deeply into the statement that some women have a Y chromosome. I did a search using Google with "women with a Y chromosome" and that turned up quite a bit of interesting information> Link

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
2.1.1  Kavika   replied to  Thomas @2.1    2 weeks ago

Good link, thanks.

 
 
 
bbl-1
PhD Quiet
3  bbl-1    2 weeks ago

MAGAS do not care.  Do not believe in basis, science, fair play, honesty or good will.  

When the MAGA is done hurting them they'll move to someone else until it finally falls on you.

 
 
 
Thomas
Freshman Guide
3.1  seeder  Thomas  replied to  bbl-1 @3    2 weeks ago

Alright. Could you please tell us how you really feel about the matter? Don't hold back. 

 
 
 
bbl-1
PhD Quiet
3.1.1  bbl-1  replied to  Thomas @3.1    2 weeks ago

Well if folk would simply------------MYOB-----------everything will just settle where ever it is comfortable for them.

Kind of like, "Don't like Brussel Sprouts?"  Eat something else.  It is not complicated.

 
 
 
sandy-2021492
Professor Principal
3.2  sandy-2021492  replied to  bbl-1 @3    2 weeks ago

This isn't just a conservative vs. liberal issue.  I think there is ample evidence that cis female athletes will be at a physical disadvantage competing against trans girls and women.

 
 
 
Thomas
Freshman Guide
3.2.1  seeder  Thomas  replied to  sandy-2021492 @3.2    2 weeks ago

That may be the case, or it may not. For your everyday garden variety sports league, I don't think that it is going to make any difference.  

What the person was saying is that most of the time, the difference in physical ability is not all that important. It is a matter of talent and perseverance. Y'all are viewing this like it is somebody trying to put a ringer in on the JV team. I don't feel that it is anything like that at all. I think, me, my own opinion, that if someone is joining the team at high school, it is because they want to join the team. It is not like there is some cabal out there that wants to make better athletes out of girls so they are convincing the boys to switch over to girls after puberty. I don't think that is even a thing.

For whatever the reason, these individuals expressed a desire to be a female. That is what they think they are. For whatever reason, their parents are supporting that decision. The kids just want to be kids. They don't really care about much else. So if their parents are supportive and the kids are doing what they want to do, I don't see as if we have any say in the matter at all. Imagine that, parents supporting their children in their own choices. I suppose you don't consider the parents as worthy because they are letting their child do this. I suppose that you don't think that they have not wrestled with the many ,many intricacies of what their children will have to go through as a transgender. Do you? I thought that supporting their children, with much thought involved, is what parents were supposed to do.

One can have the personal belief that it is wrong to do any of that, but as soon as the personal belief starts telling others what they should and should not do, it has gone too far. In my opinion. 

 
 
 
sandy-2021492
Professor Principal
3.2.2  sandy-2021492  replied to  Thomas @3.2.1    2 weeks ago
What the person was saying is that most of the time, the difference in physical ability is not all that important. It is a matter of talent and perseverance.

TBH, I think that's something that sounds nice, but isn't realistic, except for the talent part.  And a large part of talent is physical ability.

 
 
 
pat wilson
Professor Guide
4  pat wilson    2 weeks ago

I don't have a problem with how anyone presents themselves gender-wise but it seems obvious that a biological male athlete will almost always have a bigger advantage over biological female athletes.

 
 
 
bbl-1
PhD Quiet
4.1  bbl-1  replied to  pat wilson @4    2 weeks ago

Perhaps, but the 'girls' have an advantage.  They are smarter, ( many of them ) understand the long view and now know the ironing board can be used for a variety of things.

Boys?  Either can't figure why they are or why they should have to.  A bit of s/ here.

 
 
 
Tacos!
PhD Expert
5  Tacos!    2 weeks ago

Oh my goodness, there is a lot of baloney in this article. Sorry if my response is long . . .

An expert on sex differences in athletes says the bills aren't rooted in science.

They actually are rooted in science, and the unwillingness to acknowledge that fact weakens the argument.

Critics call that a false argument and say the proposals are being used as a way to discriminate against transgender Americans.

I doubt that. This suggests that legislators are actively looking for ways to discriminate against trans people. Even the ones who think it's icky probably have more on their plate.

Athletics is a situation where trans women are seeking inclusion into an activity they would have been excluded from based on the sex of their birth. Legislators didn't seek to discriminate against trans athletes in a vacuum. A handful of results that exploded records and destroyed competition have prompted this legislative response

These proposals, they say, also risk opening the door to humiliating treatment of women and girls who don't fit culturally-accepted notions of femininity.

Yeah, but they don't say how. What parent is going to tolerate humiliating treatment of their kid?

And then the student has to verify her gender by undergoing invasive testing, which could include a gynecological exam, blood work or chromosome testing."

No. All anybody wants to really see is a birth certificate.

Vilain, a pediatrician and geneticist who studies sex differences in athletes, says there are no good faith reasons to limit transgender women's participation in sports, especially at the high school level.

There absolutely are many good faith reasons. And I think the number of amateur and professional athletes who have come out against transfemale inclusion in athletics speaks to their good faith. Female athletes, in particular, understand how hard it was to carve out a space for women to compete. So while they might be sympathetic to those on the outside, looking in, they also care about fair competition.

these laws generally aren't based in scientific evidence, but rather "target women who have either a different biology or ... simply look different.

That assumes a bias in others only on the grounds that they hold an opposing point of view.

which the sports authorities have attributed to differences in levels of a male hormone called testosterone

Testosterone in the blood is an indicator of potential doping, but it is not the whole story on advantages in sports. No one thinks it is. This claim misrepresents what sports authorities think. It's not all about testosterone.

And lastly, I would say that every sport requires different talents and anatomies for success.

True, but this observes a fact that isn't relevant to supporting his position. Males typically have many advantages over females in athletics, and some of those advantages remain even after extensive hormone treatments. 

So I think we should focus on celebrating this diversity, rather than focusing on relative notions of fairness.

Oh my God, that's dumb. Fairness is essential to competition. If we're going to throw out "relative notions of fairness," let's just let everybody can use steroids, doctored equipment, or ignore rules like boundary markers. I just can't take seriously someone who wants to talk about sports but so blithely dismisses the importance of fair competition.

For example, the body of a marathon runner is extremely different from the body of a shot put champion, and a transwoman athlete may have some advantage on the basketball field because of her height, but would be at a disadvantage in gymnastics. So it's complicated.

It's not that complicated.  Men have advantages in all those sports, and retain those advantages - albeit to a much lesser degree - even without testosterone.

A transfemale marathon runner, for example, will retain the larger heart and lungs, and the more vertical femur orientation that enhances running that "she" developed as a biological male. She may always process oxygen more effectively. Everything else being equal, she will always be a more efficient runner than her cisfemale competitors.

The shot putter will always have the larger hands, and vertical driving legs she developed as a male.

but would be at a disadvantage in gymnastics

If there is a sport where a disadvantage could be demonstrated, I think most people would have no objection to a transfemale competing with girls. The proof of that is that almost no one cares about the impact of transmales competing with boys. 

Sports in schools are supposed to be primarily about inclusivity, setting individual goals, collective goals and well-being. And it is not supposed to be about crushing the competition.

Hah! Maybe at your school, but not at all schools. Athletic programs are about whatever the school says they are about. So, at some schools, it's just about giving kids an opportunity to explore something new, be physical, make friends, or build self esteem. At other schools, it's all about winning, and may even be serious business for the school and/or the students.

binary categories make it quite difficult to come up with reasonable eligibility regulations

Look, sex is binary. Sorry, but that's just the world. Now, things like sexual orientation and gender identity can be fluid, and that's fine. But the division of sports is based on sex, not on gender identity or roles. Even with the tiny percentage of people with chromosomal abnormalities (Klinefelter's, e.g.), if you were born with a y-chromosome, you were born male. You might not feel very male, and you might even not produce a lot of testosterone. But you will still develop based on biological fundamentals.

If you want to have surgery and hormone treatments, then God bless you. I hope you will be happy and healthy, and I would never endorse excluding you from anything on any other basis. Live how you want, but if you grew up male, your body developed in the way that males develop. That's not discrimination. It's biology. To take that advantage and compete against girls is just not fair.

So one way out of this could be opening up categories.

I don't think new categories is the answer. For one thing, it's just not feasible. Schools and other organizations just don't have the resources.

Also, I will allow at least the possibility that there could exist a transfemale athlete who does not hold an unfair advantage or could at least participate in a setting that isn't particularly competitive. The numbers for this problem are always going to be low, so I favor considering them on an individual basis.

 
 
 
Thomas
Freshman Guide
5.1  seeder  Thomas  replied to  Tacos! @5    2 weeks ago

All of your arguments assume a fully developed male athlete (or at lest beyond puberty) transitioning into female sport. 

...if you were born with a y-chromosome, you were born male.

Unless it isn't so ..... 

Sex chromosomes usually determine whether you are female or male. Women are XX. Men are XY. However, genetically, a few women are actually men. They grow up as women with a woman’s body, and most only discover well into puberty that they are different. Danish researchers map for the first time how many women are genetically men. The proportion was higher than expected.

or maybe this on e

"Our findings clearly rule out a direct effect of the Y chromosome in producing masculine patterns of response," says Kim Wallen, an Emory professor of psychology and behavioral neuroendocrinology. "It's further evidence that we need to revamp our thinking about what we mean by 'man' and 'woman.'"

It seems that the deeper we dig into the subject, the more that what we once took for granted is not upheld by the science.

At my high school, long ago and far away, we had a soccer team. Because we were a very small school, we could not field both a male and female team. Normally, in the fall the girls played field hockey (who ever thought that was dainty??) and the boys played soccer. But, occasionally, there would be girls who wanted to play soccer instead, so they were allowed to do so. Now, I will be the first to admit that any of these girls could outplay me on the soccer field. My takeaway from this is that it is not always the physique that you have but what you do with your body that matters. Especially in the high school sports realm.

 
 
 
Split Personality
PhD Principal
5.1.1  Split Personality  replied to  Thomas @5.1    2 weeks ago

I raised two filed hockey freaks. It ain't dainty and we have the tee shirts, the balls and of course shin guards.

The game itself predates the Egyptians and was made from bamboo, as painted in the caves and tombs of many Egyptians.

 
 
 
bbl-1
PhD Quiet
5.2  bbl-1  replied to  Tacos! @5    2 weeks ago

Voted you up.  This is really not important enough to cause a dust up.  There is a lot more going on that just this.

 
 
 
sandy-2021492
Professor Principal
6  sandy-2021492    2 weeks ago
First, I will say that there is a huge difference between elite sports and sports in schools. Sports in schools are supposed to be primarily about inclusivity, setting individual goals, collective goals and well-being.

Yeah, gonna have to disagree here.  High school sports can be extremely competitive, and there is no reason that they shouldn't be.  Yes, the stakes aren't as high, but these kids are still mostly playing to win.  And school sports are some athletes' gateway to elite sports.  I honestly have to wonder if Dr. Vilain played sports in school, himself.

 
 
 
bbl-1
PhD Quiet
6.1  bbl-1  replied to  sandy-2021492 @6    2 weeks ago

Good point.  

How about a 'Trans League' open to----anybody that qualifies?

 
 
 
Tacos!
PhD Expert
6.1.1  Tacos!  replied to  bbl-1 @6.1    2 weeks ago

It’s a nice idea, but other than maybe in the most populated cities, you’re never going to get enough interested people to justify it.

 
 
 
bbl-1
PhD Quiet
6.1.2  bbl-1  replied to  Tacos! @6.1.1    2 weeks ago

Then that will take care of that.  It's all about the money.  No money----won't happen.

 
 
 
Thomas
Freshman Guide
6.2  seeder  Thomas  replied to  sandy-2021492 @6    2 weeks ago

In high school, I was playing for playing's sake. If they had had a football team, now that would have been different. But they did not. It was more of a social activity than anything. 

I think there are many different reasons to play sports. I do not think that there is anyone out there trying to change their gender affiliation just to win a game. If there is someone who wants to be a girl (I noticed that we totally ignore the females who want to be identified as a male and their sports relationship) let them. I would be willing to bet that there is so much more going on in their life than sports. Imagine, growing up, and all of the sudden you feel somehow as if you don't belong with the group that you are apparently a part of. I would not think it a whimsical choice to tell my parents," Hey Mom and Dad! I think I want to be a girl." 

I personally think we are viewing this issue from the wrong perspective.

 
 
 
sandy-2021492
Professor Principal
6.2.1  sandy-2021492  replied to  Thomas @6.2    2 weeks ago
In high school, I was playing for playing's sake.

I liked to play, but I played to win.  It wasn't a social activity for me.  There was a social aspect, and I considered my teammates to be friends, but we were competitive.

Imagine, growing up, and all of the sudden you feel somehow as if you don't belong with the group that you are apparently a part of. I would not think it a whimsical choice to tell my parents," Hey Mom and Dad! I think I want to be a girl."

I sympathize with that, and support them, but not at the expense of  cis  female athletes, who have already struggled to be treated equally, and haven't quite achieved that yet.  Have you seen the NCAA women's basketball tournament weight room as compared to the men's? 

Women already struggle for respect and the right to play and train in sports.  I don't think women should be asked to give up their playing field in the name of inclusivity, when they're still excluded, themselves.

 
 
 
Hallux
Freshman Expert
7  Hallux    2 weeks ago

This will all come to a head when the CRSPR kids come out to play ... in the meantime the trans kids will have to spend some mean times in political labs.

 
 
 
Thomas
Freshman Guide
7.1  seeder  Thomas  replied to  Hallux @7    2 weeks ago

LOL

Take that, phylogeneticists.

 
 
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