The title of this piece comes from the final stanza of the Rudyard Kipling poem If
If you can fill the unforgiving minutehttps://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46473/if—
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it
Growing up, sports were a huge part of my life. I started playing soccer at age 6 and only retired as I approached age 50. I also competed in gymnastics, track, golf, tennis, equestrian gymkhana and shooting events.
The many lessons I learned on athletic fields have served me well in life.
Lessons about teamwork, fair play, and setting and achieving goals. The most important might have been after I played against those who were stronger, more powerful and better skilled — as more of my character was revealed by how I handled a loss than how I celebrated a win.
I don’t discount other tangible benefits I gained from sports. Beyond improving my general health, my active youth helped me become more comfortable with my developing body. Being physically fit helped me have the energy and mental focus I needed to get things done off the field, too.
I’ve found lifelong friends among my teammates and competitors. Some of my best memories are of the enormous fun I experienced playing games and the places I went and people I met while doing so.
So, when I tell you that everyone should have athletic opportunities, I know what I’m talking about. In fact, I believe we should be expanding rather than restricting access to sports.
The misnamed “Save Women’s Sports Act” doesn’t do anything to protect students from discrimination on the basis of their gender identity. You can tell this because the very groups that have been in the trenches, fighting for equal justice issues for women and girls oppose these bills. As a point of fact, I belong to two of the almost twenty women’s organizations who penned an open letter to the bill’s authors expressing their opposition. From the letter:
SB172 and HB 466 violate the basic rights of young transgender Louisianans, expose the state to expensive litigation and economic pressure, and attempt to police gender norms in a manner which distracts from the genuine crises facing women and girls in the world of athletics while violating their privacy.
Let me address some of the reasons that are given by supporters of this harmful legislation, a similar version of which was just passed by the Arizona House of Representatives.
The biggest argument comes from the theory of scarcity, which argues that trans athletes are taking a spot away from someone else or there are only so many opportunities for girls and women to play at the top level or there are so few scholarships handed out making it unfair to allow trans athletes to compete.
People are right to worry about sex discrimination in sports but transgender athletes are not why there are inequalities in opportunities and allocation of resources for girls sports.
The premise that trans athletes will outperform their peers is not supported by the evidence. It just isn’t true that everyone assigned male at birth is automatically bigger, faster and stronger than anyone assigned female at birth. The playing field is not entirely level. There will always be those blessed with physical and mental abilities beyond one’s ken. I was a good soccer player but I was no Michelle Akers or Marta. Should they be penalized because they were so much better at the game?
Speaking from my own experience, there were no girls soccer teams when I moved to Georgia in the late 70’s and so I petitioned to play on the boys teams. Well into high school, I could outperform many of my opposite sex age mates and, when I lost that extra step, I could still beat many of them with craftiness and experience. Should I not have been allowed to play the game I love simply because there wasn’t a girl’s team?
Expanding opportunities and resources so everyone can play seems a far better solution.
Advantages in sports also go beyond physical prowess or skill. Some students have wealthy parents who pay for private coaching, strength training and summer camp. Should those athletes be put in a separate league?
Let me be clear. I ❤️ Title IX. This federal law outlawed gender-based discrimination for federally-funded education programs and led to the creation of college teams in a myriad of sports, which in turn spurred the creation of elementary and high school teams.
Title IX gave me opportunities to compete at a higher level than I ever could before. I started college where there wasn’t a women’s soccer team but was able to start one with a Title IX challenge. By my senior year, as a result of my efforts off and on the field, I received a scholarship for athletics and was recognized as an Academic All American.
Title IX also gave me a chance to see women compete in sports traditionally denied to women and girls. Women athletes fought for inclusion at every level, pushing schools until there was enough interest and public support to make the concept of professional women athletes seem common place.
While we still have ways to go (like getting equal pay or equal media coverage for women’s sports), we can’t move forward by putting barriers to the athletes coming behind us.
The echoes of those early fights for equality in athletics are being seen again today with transgender athletes. They are competing in the category which best fits who they are and we need to honor their willingness to step out and try.
Another argument against trans participation comes from the horrible canard that you can tell by looking at someone what their gender identity is.
We really saw a lot of this during the Cold War with the gender policing of Eastern European women athletes because they weren’t feminine enough to be ‘real women.’
I hated those arguments as I’ve always had short hair and small breasts and proudly wear the label tomboy. I have also experienced the humiliation of being pulled from women’s restrooms because I didn’t fit someone’s judgement of my gender.
Try to imagine how traumatizing it is to be pulled aside because someone didn’t think you belonged on the field and demanded you show chromosomal or hormonal proof or submit to a physical genital examination to prove your bonafides?
Do you realize how easy it would be for a competitor or opposing coach to make such an accusation to explain their loss? There is enough bad sportsmanship out there already without weaponizing sports against anyone who is gender non-conforming.
These hateful bills by Senator Mizell and Representative Amadee create a test for establishing sex using four characteristics (internal and external reproductive anatomy, testosterone levels, and genetic analysis), which can then be used to bar transgender people from appropriately gendered teams and leagues.
That isn’t fair and it certainly isn’t equal. I advocate for equality for all women, not just a certain type of woman, not just for those who pass or don’t challenge gender stereotypes or societal conceptions of properly feminine behavior.
The most pernicious argument about trans participation is the one about how unfair it is for men to compete against women in sports. Sometimes added to this is the need for safe spaces in locker rooms and restrooms.
The tired old myth of burly, bearded predators of vulnerable girls has been used as clickbait by the Alliance Defending Freedom in their many attempts to restrict bathroom access. They try to use fear and discomfort with the Other to justify their hostility and distortions of science and the law.
In actuality, trans students have more to fear from their peers when it comes to being bullied, harassed and sexually assaulted while trying to use the restroom that best matches their valid identity. Almost 60 percent of transgender Americans have avoided using public restrooms for fear of confrontation, saying they have been harassed and assaulted.
Cisgender boys are not trying to sneak into girl’s sports to try and dominate the competition. Further, transgender participation hasn’t led to a surge in transgender girls and women winning national championships. Most trans athletes perform within expected ranges for their age and gender identity. It is highly unfortunate that the few transgender girls and women who have achieved some level of sports success have faced backlash instead of celebrations of their victories.
Trans girls are girls. Period. Misgendering transgender youths is an attempt to erase them from public life and is an attack on the basic dignity and humanity of transgender students.
I really wish women’s rights activists would stop repeating the talking points of the religious extremists. Please trust me, if the people aligned with you on this issue are not the ones who are aligned with your other core issues, then you need to consider getting better friends.
We should be wary whenever an alleged concern for “protecting” us is invoked to justify our exclusion from something. Remember, it wasn’t so long ago the idea that physical exertion would harm women’s reproductive organs or that women’s bodies were inherently inferior was used to “protect” women out of participation in marathons and contact sports.
41 percent of transgender folks consider suicide because they aren’t allowed to be their true, authentic selves and the daily discrimination they endure. Subjecting transgender student athletes to added barriers against full participation in sports, from onerous medical requirements to segregation in locker rooms to outright bans on their participation, serves only to deepen the harm to their physical and emotional wellbeing.
There is so much to be gained from participation in sports. To deny those benefits to transgender students is not feminist, not legal, and is just plain wrong.
Let them play, Louisiana. Let them play.