On the eve of Laurel Hubbard becoming the first ever Transgender Women to compete at an Olympics Games I wrote that if she somehow managed to defy the odds to win a Women’s weightlifting Gold, or indeed any colour Medal, she would be crucified by the UK media and on social media. I also predicted that if she finished outside a Medal position she would still be crucified by the UK media and on social media simply for supposedly ‘stealing’ the place of a ‘Natal Women’. I take no pleasure from being right – but in truth it wasn’t exactly difficult to predict.
As we now know, unfortunately for Laurel she didn’t manage to perform to her highest ability, which even though was never going to trouble the Gold Medal winner, she was eliminated having registered three foul lifts. Given all the hype and high level interest it was a disappointing end for Laurel to her Olympic journey but the true story was always going to be about her incredibly historic and truly brave participation (given the level of media and social media backlash/hatred that she knew she would face), rather than her actual performance on the day. And on the face of it, it was a result that in one way did nothing to prove that Trans Women have any unfair advantage due to retained male puberty testosterone levels, or (as so often claimed) muscle mass memory and bone density.
In truth, the IOC’s current Policy on Transgender Women participation only has concern for testosterone level reduction and to date has had zero regard or care for the physical effect that prolonged treatment of this nature is having on Trans Women, and If anything, Laurel’s performance points more to the debilitating effects of Trans Women athletes suffer from complete androgen deprivation – Laurels brave performance was in reality at a considerable disadvantage due to the effect of her treatment.
I do suspect that many Gender Critical advocates were secretly hoping that Laurel had at least won a Medal to give them that opportunity to shout ‘UNFAIR ADVANTAGE!’ from the rooftops, and were left feeling robbed of an easy (even if untruthful) way to once again attack Trans Rights. Any claims now of her having an unfair advantage would clearly be futile given her below par performance result.
But as I had predicted, even a failure of this level where the first and only Trans Women in Olympic History to even qualify clearly didn’t display evidence or proof of having any unfair advantage, the anti-trans rhetoric was still brazenly paraded for all to see. As expected, the Gender Critical attack instead took the form of ‘robbing the place of a Natal Women’.
According to journalist Suzanne Moore; “Laurel Hubbard’s Olympic quest hasn’t helped trans rights. The weightlifter’s inclusion meant another woman’s exclusion – and all it achieved was sparking a debate about unfair advantages”
As I stated, this was not an unexpected attempt to claim some kind of ‘Gender Critical’ victory from the jaws of the clearest of sporting defeats, but let us just consider on what basis this attack is being made and whether this does indeed ‘spark debate about unfair advantages’. So what is actually being claimed by the statement ‘Laurel’s inclusion meant another woman’s exclusion’.
The point bring made is that only natal women, i.e. those registered at birth as Women, are truly Women and on that basis Women’s sport must only be open to natal Women. It is made very clear that those that hold extreme Gender Critical views refuse to accept that Trans Women are Women on any level. And it is also very clear to me that such a denial represents the very cornerstone of Transphobia – it is the most fervent denial of their basic existence – what statement could therefore be more non-accepting and therefore be more transphobic? None.
For this reason, anyone who refuses to accept Laurel’s participation purely on the basis that they deny the place of a natal woman, is promoting a highly transphobic perspective. It is clearly not based on sporting fairness – it is based solely on a refusal to accept Trans Women as Women.
Interestingly I hear no similar call for the exclusion of Trans Men. The fact they have no Male Puberty advantages is surely irrelevant to the issue of denying a Natal Man an Olympic Place. So yet again their argument falls down as the issue isn’t really about fairness, it’s just targeted attacks on Trans Women.
There is however something to note about the language used by Suzanne Moore – ‘the weightlifter’s inclusion meant another woman’s exclusion’ – ‘another Women’ – I would suspect that Suzanne is far too accomplished a writer for this to have been stated in error, and if not, this is an admission by Suzanne Moore that Laurel is a Women. If that is the case, then I do have to ask what is her issue?
It is no different to saying ‘Usain Bolt’s inclusion meant another man’s exclusion’ – well yes, of course it would – that’s the thing about sport – unless you are expecting every single 100m runner who wants to compete in the Olympics turning up with everyone crowding together on the start line! Clearly that doesn’t happen and why we have rules of entry and qualification for the maximum number permitted in each category of competition, and unfortunately for every single athlete in every single sport that just misses that qualification cut, they will have ‘lost their place’ to those that legally qualified above them. So to highlight ‘another women’ losing their place to Laurel is simply a non-issue, it’s exactly what is expected and clearly happens in every single event.
Trans Women who rightly demand as a human right to compete in Woman’s elite sport, clearly do have to acknowledge that automatic entry to any Trans Women that has benefited from Male puberty will require qualification restrictions to address this. But by doing so, Trans Women and those Intersex are currently subjected to requirements that have never been placed or required on any other athletes that clearly had even the highest levels of unfair sporting advantage which enabled them to dominate their sport (see my article on this: Fairness in Sport - a Level Playing Field).
And yet whilst Trans Women accept that their unfair natural advantage does need to be mitigated, it is also clear that whilst there is such an outcry against Trans Women for doing so within the rules to fairly rebalance any unfair advantage, there is no outcry to any other competitors attempt to gain any kind of advantage, be it fair or not, to win at all costs as long as it is within the rules.
As the Tokyo Olympics draw to a close and Team GB finish in an incredible 4th Place on the Medal Table by replicating their 65 Medal haul from the 2012 London Olympics, the true story of how that was achieved makes very interesting reading In Search of Olympic Sporting Glory and truly exposes how we regard ‘fairness in sport’ and some, like Suzanne Moore, are unjustifiably holding Trans Women to standards and requirements way above anyone else . Why is this? Could there possibly be a targeted agenda against Trans Women? Perish the thought!
As the IOC’s medical and science director Dr Richard Budgett recently stated “The other important thing to remember is that Trans Women are Women. You have got to include all women if you possibly can.” The IOC has therefore made their ongoing position on this very clear, and the only issue here is with those adopting that transphobic stance of non-acceptance that Trans Women are not Women. As a Women, Laurel clearly hasn’t ‘stolen’ a pace of another Women – she legally and fairly earned it.
Another event along a similar line has been highlighted in these Olympics. How amazing has it been to celebrate the sensational Bronze Medal success of 13 year old GB skateboarder Sky Brown, but I was intrigued to hear in interviews afterwards that she has an American accent. From the information explaining Sky's family background, it became clear that Sky was born in Japan; her mother is Japanese and her father British. She currently lives half the year in Japan and other half in the USA (which explained her accent), but she has never lived in Great Britain. The reason she legally qualifies to represent GB is purely because her father is British.
So surely it would be expected that there would be an outcry from those claiming Sky had ‘stolen the place of a Natural born GB Skateboarder’? But no - the silence was deafening. Is this fair? In the same way was it fair that Martina Navratilova ‘took’ the place of a natural born US tennis player when she defected from Czechoslovakia and then represented the US in the Fed Cup? Of course it is fair, because it’s within the rules and neither Sky nor Martina did anything wrong – they didn’t make the rules, they simply complied within them, and so did Laurel, and yet only her participation is met with such outcry – so more evidence of an agenda against Trans Women.
So what is fundamentally clear is that Laurel’s participation did not ‘steal’ anyone else’s place.
Quite clearly, as this reasoning has nothing to do with unfairness, the only reason her failure to win a medal ‘sparked’ any calls of unfairness would be from those insisting Laurel should not be competing because she is not a Women, and therefore for Transphobic reasons. How can this possible be acceptable on social media let alone to be printed in our National newspapers?
Laurel has never sought to be in the spotlight and has always shied away from media attention, and in a rare interview following her Olympic participation she played down her achievement showing great humility.
"I don't think it should be historic. I think as we move into a new and more understanding world, people are starting to realise that people like me are just people"
"We are human and, as such, I hope that just being here is enough. All I have ever wanted as an athlete is to be regarded as an athlete."
Laurel showed her true class to the end. Contrary to some of the criticism thrown at her, she has never looked to take any unfair advantage of her situation and simply wanted to be permitted to be who she is. She doesn’t see herself as a historic trailblazer and all she wanted was to be treated normally, like every other athlete. In truth she is no different to any other Transgender person who just wants the rest of the world to treat them as normal.
So according to Suzanne Moore “Laurel Hubbard’s Olympic quest hasn’t helped trans rights”, but again, I beg to differ.
Prior to this Olympics, the participation of Transgender athletes was anything but normal – it was non-existent.
But now we have had the first Trans Women competitor and also one Non-binary competitor (Canadian footballer, Quinn who historically won the Gold Medal) and if the new IOC Policy can achieve greater, fairer inclusion, and Laurel becomes the first of many Trans Women athletes that are given that opportunity to fulfil their sporting dreams, then transgender competitors will become a normal occurrence. And thanks to Laurel we have finally started moving down that path.