How should transgender athletes compete?


If a man and a woman race each other, who do you expect to win? Of course a lot depends on training, on age, on natural ability. Given two athletes with similar abilities, do you think your sex has a bearing on the outcome?

I have to admit when I saw a talk show discussing how transgender teens (assigned male at birth, but identifying as female) were allowed to be on and compete on the same track team as females — females that were born and have lived their lives as physiologically female — I was shocked.

You can read a short article here.

There are differences between a male and female body
Of course I am not talking about just the differences in anatomy. There are physical differences — differences that most people, myself included, just naturally assume make a male faster than a woman:

  • Less fat
  • More muscle
  • Larger hearts and lungs
  • More red blood cells

Of course some females can beat some males. Remember the Battle of the Sexes (Bobby Riggs vs Billy Jean King? If not, read about it here. But that was a 29 year old woman competing against a 55 year old male, hardly a level playing field.

There is little doubt that men do have a physiological advantage to women when it comes to speed — endurance is quite a different story, but I don’t think you’re going to see women beating men in the Boston Marathon anytime soon.

So is it unfair?
I personally think it unfair. To everyone. It’s unfair to a young girl who is, through no fault of her own, most likely beaten by a male — while the male may identify as female, she is still living in a male body with all the physiological advantages that entails.

It is also unfair to the transgender teen who identifies as female. She is already fighting an uphill battle to fit in and feel comfortable in her own skin. It isn’t that she wants to be female, it is that she is — but her body is not. And of course it’s incredibly unfair to say she can’t compete at something she loves to do.

Have we taken fairness too far?
I still remember showing my sister one of my half marathon medals — and her face falling when she learned everyone gets a medal (maybe she’d rethink that now after trying running and hanging up here running shoes after one injury).

I wrote a long time ago, I believe, musing on whether or not we should get medals. Yes, running a half marathon is hard. So is playing in any sport. Would I continue to run half marathons if there was no medal waiting for me at the end? I’m pretty sure I would, but I won’t lie, I’m damn proud of those medals. My nieces who are in their mid 20s are pretty amazed that this old lady can run 13.1 miles (or 10, or 9 — you get the idea!).

I see both sides on this issue, I think, but in the end, I think it is unfair to the female athletes — and probably a slippery slope, as well, because I can see young female runners wanting to take hormones or other substances in an attempt to be able to compete — which we know is a disaster waiting to happen.

Life isn’t always fair. And for some people, unfortunately, it’s more unfair than for others. I do have to wonder if those that identify as female but are physiologically male are truly satisfied with their wins?


Some more reading:

Talk to me:

Do you think it’s fair?

How would you feel if your daughter lost to a male who identified as female?

Will a man, with similar abilities to a woman, always win a road race?

I’m linking up with with MCM Mama Runs, Marcia’s Healthy Slice, and My No Guilt Life for the Tuesdays on the Run linkup.


This week I am also joining up with Running on Happy, Suzlyfe, Crazy Running Girl, and Coach Debbie Runs each week for the Coaches’ Corner linkup


17 thoughts on “How should transgender athletes compete?

  1. Definitely a difficult issue. Esp since some transgender men look more feminine than some women and vice versa. We can’t give every runner a DNA test.

    Glad I just run for fun.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This was actually about high school transgender athletes — they haven’t yet (for the most part, as I understand it ) taken hormones or had surgery.

      But yes, definitely a very difficult issue.


  2. We had a long court battle in the area when a transgender high school student decided “she” wanted to change in the girls’ locker room. The district provided her a private changing room, which personally I’d jump at the chance for, but that apparently wasn’t sufficient. I agree that sometimes fair goes too far.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What an interesting topic, Judy! It’s honestly not something I had even thought about. Likely because we’d rather talk about bathrooms in the news. (or at least the news I’ve seen) Hmmm. I can see this being very difficult to “solve.” Regardless of the solution, there’s always going to be some who find it unfair/inappropriate/not good enough.

    And, I hadn’t thought about the whole medal thing too. Of course I would still run even if there wasn’t the promise of a medal but I would certainly hope that the cost of the race would decrease. I think those medals really signify winning anyway – in the big races, the winners get money, that’s the real prize. But, the rest of us who trained, showed up, and played it all out there, I think we deserve those medals.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had no clue until I heard the story one day — not something that ever crossed my mind.

      I like a medal for a half, and I don’t know how i’d feel if I didn’t get one — OTOH, it’s the rare shorter race here that has a medal and for me it really doesn’t matter, so maybe it wouldn’t really matter for a half, too.


  4. I actually thought about this when the subject came up on the news–I think it was about a college athlete? There is a lot to consider and the way things are right now, I don’t think it’s fair to have a TG athlete compete against other women. I don’t know if taking female hormones levels the playing field. There is a lot to consider.

    I’ve written about the medal thing before. Back in the day, the only runners who got medals either ran a full or half marathon. There weren’t medals for anything less. I don’t expect a medal for a 5k or a 10k, but even that 10 miler I run every year didn’t use to have medals. It’s been an interesting evolution, and I”m not sure I get it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t expect a medal for anything less than a half, and few races here have them for the shorter distances.

      I’ve never done a 10 miler, but I have done a 15k and that doesn’t have a medal. I still come back for it every year.


  5. This is a tough topic, and there are not really any “perfect” answers. I agree with you…I don’t think the playing field is very level. And the medals….I am not a fan of 5K’s giving out medals (except to the runners who win or place in their age groups). That said, I do love most of my medals because they all tell a story or represent a lesson learned.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think most of us have never thought about the whole trangender athlete thing — I know I sure didn’t!

      You are right about a 5k being a huge accomplishment for some. It would be nice if you had the option to opt out or in, I think.


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