We don't have to exclude trans lifters to make strength sports "fair"

Here's the thing about trans lifters: they must be welcomed in training and competition. Any questions about fairness in results or rankings must be LOWER priority than fairness of participation.

If we're going to get upset about a trans woman winning when she "shouldn't" because it's not "fair" then we should be EQUALLY concerned about trans men who end up ranking lower than other men. If you want to make it harder for trans women to win then you should be in favor of making it easier for trans men to win. If you aren't equally concerned about both, then you're not concerned about fairness, you just want to police the definition of "woman." Why?

If we're truly interested in fairness, it's important that the feelings of a few cis women who are salty about coming in second place should not be the barometer for setting rules for the entire sport. What about the feelings of the trans person who won? What about the feelings of the many trans lifters who are excluded or discouraged by explicit policies and by other lifters who see them as not deserving their totals?

Given the above, I don't think concerns about a trans woman's advantages over cis women (whether they exist or not) are all that important. Men aren't entering women's divisions just to get a trophy; I haven't met a man who is interested in doing that, or who would be proud of that trophy.

Fairness?

Usually when we discuss fairness, it's about preventing cheating. Advantages that you have thanks to genetics or training are rewarded. The only advantages that are "unfair" are ones that are obtained outside the rules of the game, like using drugs or bribing judges.

Even if it's true that trans women have an advantage over cis women, then the situation is that trans women, who happen to be trans because that's just how their life turned out, happen to be very strong women. So maybe they win sometimes. Shouldn't the strongest woman win?

I'm also concerned about the lack of a place for people to compete who don't feel they fit into either gender category. If you're non-binary or genderfluid or just beginning your transition or if for any reason you would describe your gender as "it's complicated", why should you have to find a place in a male/female binary at all?

I mean, splitting the field into men's versus women's is an organizational choice. Weight classes are an organizational choice. There are other ways to stratify competition, and even other ways to design what the competition is. (Look at crossfit or strongman for a few other options. In strongman, the events change from one competition to another, and there has been a suggestion that perhaps instead of weight classes people should be grouped into "strength classes" based on, say, what they can deadlift.)

There's a movement in some sports to have a "Mx class" which is open to all genders, and provides an option for any lifter who would prefer not to be in the men's or women's class. I don't think that solves very many problems, although it may have a place especially as a stopgap while we wait for better solutions.

What if?

I'm going to dream big for a minute and imagine that practical concerns are no barrier. What if everybody had to get a DEXA scan done at the beginning of the year, and you were placed into a category based on the total amount of muscle mass you have? That would also eliminate drastic weight cuts, and it would allow gender-agnostic stratification of competition. Maybe I as a 67 kilo woman would be in the same "mass class" as a 52 kilo male lifter.

Or let's say we had better data on how trans athletes' strength changes over time. We don't have this data now, but let's say it's possible to collect as trans people increasingly compete in the sport. What if we could quantify the average advantage/disadvantage, and apply a correction factor? So maybe a trans woman would have 10% subtracted from her total in the first year of hormone therapy, and a trans man would have 10% added. In the second year maybe it would be 5% and no correction thereafter. Or whatever numbers the data would support--maybe it's 40% at first declining to 20% for life.

Neither of these is a perfect solution; men typically have more upper body mass and so total body mass may not be the right measure to use. (Maybe there could be a correction factor for muscle mass distribution, though.) The correction factor for trans athletes could be expanded to include athletes who are otherwise don't fit men's and women's categories; and at that point, why not just combine those categories and just use correction factors to enable men and women to compete together? A downside is that it would require lifters to divulge their medical history, which would be unfair if it singles out trans lifters.

But there are possibilities. We don't have to stick with a system that only recognizes men and women, and we certainly don't have to make life harder on some lifters because of their gender or their transition status. Let's get everybody on the platform before we worry about how they're ranked.


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