Steph's Place

Trans and Sport

This article was written before the last Summer Olympics in Japan.

I loved my grandfather - the cottage I lived in as a child was semi-detached, and he lived next door. To gain access, I had to walk around a privet hedge that divided the property - being so young, it looked enormous, but it was probably only five feet high. 

I would often visit and watch the television, which in the early 1960s were still relatively rare. As I sat crossed-legged on the floor, my grandmother would rub the back of my neck with her rough-skinned hands while my wonderful grandfather would feed me huge squares of Cadbury's chocolate. On a Saturday afternoon we would often watch sport together, Grandstand on BBC or World of Sport on ITV - I remember he had a saying, which he often repeated: "a good big un will beat a good small un."

Everyone participating in sport has advantages and disadvantages. The big sportsmen are viewed by many as "brick shit houses" - while the smaller men - and women, of course, tend to be quick of the mark and agile. No sport encompasses more differences of size than rugby. So, I decided to look at the stats for international rugby players for 2019/2020 season.

A quick 'Google' revealed that the French international Uini Atonio weighed a massive 145kg (that's 22.8 stones or 319 lbs), whilst the smallest, Japans Fumiaki Tanaka weighed less than half that of Uini Atonio - at just 72 kg. In short, the French player was twice the weight of the Japanese player.

Another example of physical advantage would be athletes taking part in hurdles races. 'Hurdles First' - a website dedicated to athletes competing in this event states this: "Let’s be honest; hurdling is easier if you’re taller." It's not rocket science, is it? A tall high jumper will have an advantage in comparison to a shorter one. In contrast, a short gymnast will have benefits in relation to a tall one - no one doubts doing backflips is easier if you are petit four feet nine than being a six-foot six-inch giant.

The point I am making is sport is rarely 100% fair - at least, not regarding weight or height. But what about sex? For we know men are quicker, stronger, and, in the main, have better endurance than women. Pretty much everyone involved in sport agrees - women are (give or take a per cent) 10-11% disadvantaged - except in some jumping events when a 16% difference becomes apparent. For some reason, yet to be fully explained, women can compete in very long-distance swimming events and have been known to beat men on a like for like basis.

But don’t take my word for it - check for yourself if you wish, there are several links to all my research reports at the bottom of this page.

And then we reach the thorny issue of trans people in sport - not so much trans men but trans women for sure. 

This is 'low hanging fruit' to gender-critical people who seek trans exclusion - a trans woman competing against a natal female can look very unfair. The very nature of biology will suggest the trans woman will look bigger and have that 10-11% speed, strength, and endurance advantage. It obviously doesn’t look good - but then again let us bear in mind that Japanese rugby player competing against the enormous French rugby player - that doesn’t look good either.

Without a doubt, the image most used by the gender-critical is that of Hannah Mouncey (pictured), a trans woman Australian Rules Football player. No one doubts she is big at 1.88 tall and weighing in at 100kg. But not mentioned by the gender-critical is Sarah Perkins (pictured), a natal female who at her heaviest was a whopping 125kg. She plays Australian Rules Football too. Sarah Olle, a Fox News Sports Australia journalist, wrote "Perkins' leading patterns are terrific. She’s quick off the mark, uses her size to great effect, has a monstrous kick and loves a celebration." Sarah, nicknamed "Tex", was an outstanding soccer and netball player but preferred "footy" and over a period of time dieted down to 95kg to increase speed. That was her choice - she effectively swapped the advantage of weight for an advantage in speed.

Hannah Mouncey is very aware that being a trans woman can be perceived as a benefit and has co-operated fully with the relating sports-body who has exceedingly arduous rules regarding testing, in particular testosterone levels. Many would argue she has been 'too fair,' which has deprived her of significant sporting success.

Often abbreviated to "T" - testosterone is without question the critical difference between men's performance and women's sporting abilities. As trans women, we use blockers to reduce T to minimal levels - often far below that of a natal female. The issues were stated perfectly in an article from Stephen Khan in the magazine 'Conversation' in which he rebuffs the idea that women will one day be able to match men in sport. He writes:

Probably the best illustration of the powerful effects of testosterone is a study that compared the race times of transgender women before and after they undertook testosterone suppression to change from normal male levels to normal female levels (or even below the average).

All eight women in the study were far slower after the change than their former high-testosterone self".

One world expert in the effects of T reduction in trans women and a former world-class athlete is Kirsti Miller, who represented Australia in Pentathlon at both junior and senior level. She was also an exceedingly good boxer, soccer player and was a World Champion in the sport of Aquathon. Once Kirsti started to transition though her performances dropped dramatically. Kirsti writes:

"Let’s look at some of the medical consequences that occur when an XY male suffers low levels of testosterone. Testosterone deprivation does not discriminate. I was a world champion & dual international male athlete pre-transition. I lost 11 seconds over 100m freestyle and 2 minutes over 3k running in my 1st year of T deprivation.

When a man has low testosterone or hypogonadism, he will experience many physiological contraindications: loss of sexual and mental health, complete muscle atrophy, increase in subcutaneous fat levels, accelerated bone loss, premature abnormal ageing, a large drop in hematocrit levels, cardiovascular health, ceasing of primary endocrine function and protein androgen synthesis, permanent androgen receptor atrophy. He also faces increased vulnerability to coronary heart disease, prone to joint health and injuries, elevated insulin levels and insulin resistance, elevated core body temperature during exercise, reduced stamina, delayed recovery, lethargy & diabetes together with reduced sex drive.

None of these medical consequences is performance-enhancing. No male in this health condition has ever broken a world record or even competed at the elite level of sports without androgen support. There is no doubt that cis-gender XY Males on average have an advantage in strength speed and endurance. Just looking at all sports world sporting records, clearly shows this to be true. Research has found the difference between men’s and women’s track world records as being 10 to 12%.

The medications administered to transitioning XY females are powerful drugs the same drugs used to chemically castrate sex offenders the same drugs used to castrate prostate cancer sufferers chemically.

This treatment changed my body from a 100kg former dual international male athletes’ body into a 57kg (size 6) transitioned woman’s body. I suffer permanent severe post-menopausal symptoms, including severe osteoporosis -3.2, complete muscle atrophy, and over 200 medical complications in my body, every day of my life, making sport at any level impossible."

Kirsti Millers' expert opinion is for sure damning in relation to trans women in sport. Her evidence suggests much work needs to be done before any trans woman athlete could seriously compete in elite-level track & field events against natal females.

Another trans woman athlete who is often touted by the gender-critical is Canadian trans woman track cyclist Rachael McKinnon. She won the UCI Masters Track World Championship title in October 2018 with the third-place athlete Jen Wagner-Assali saying it was "unfair." Strangely Wagner-Assali failed to mention she had actually beaten McKinnon in 10 of their previous 12 races. After Rachael McKinnon's win, many fair-minded people were happy that after decades of trans folks participating in sport, there was a 'trans' World Champion, albeit in a senior’s event. But the gender-critical is high in number too, and Rachael received more than 100,000 hate messages on Twitter and for security reasons had to completely change her everyday routine both at home and at work.

Hate is a powerful weapon against trans people, and there can be no doubt it is the main reason why there are so few trans athletes. Do cis-gendered sports coaches really want a trans athlete in his or her team? In fairness, trans folk is going to bring significant 'baggage' with them. Whilst most people in society embrace trans people, we all know it only takes one unpleasant incident to ruin our day.

Clearly, we should not let hate stop us - and to those brave souls who carry the trans flag, what are their chances of being able to compete fairly?

Sadly, not high, as the personal experiences of Kirsti Miller clearly demonstrate. Kirsti's view is reinforced by a significant research report from Beth Jones, University of Loughborough - a centre of excellence in many sports. Loughborough is also the home of Seb Coe a former student at the Uni, now its Chancellor, IOC member, and four times an Olympic Champion. Beth's report is entitled "Transgender People in Sport: Is the perceived advantage real? "

The report has 46 citations and concludes:

"There is no research that has directly and consistently found transgender people to have an athletic advantage in sport, so it is difficult to understand why so many current policies continue to discriminate. Inclusive transgender sporting policies need to be developed and implemented that allow transgender people to compete in accordance with their gender identity, regardless of hormone levels.

It is well known that regular exercise is good for your health, with sport engagement and physical activity often used to help promote physical health and manage mental health issues. Transgender people often report high levels of anxiety and depression in comparison to the general population and therefore, could benefit significantly from engaging in sport and physical activity.

Our research has also shown that these stringent and unfair policies have a negative impact on transgender people’s experiences of sport and physical activity; even when the activity is engaged in at a recreational level, such as considering joining a local football team or going to the gym.

Beth’s conclusion has several key phrases - one being "so many current policies continue to discriminate." - the most prominent being that from the IOC or giving the full title - 'The International Olympic Committee.' In 2003 the IOC agreed that trans athletes could participate in the Olympic Games, but there have been no medals - or even any participating competitors. This is pretty damning in itself because Wikipedia reports that "Over 14,000 athletes competed at the 2016 Summer Olympics and 2018 Winter Olympics combined, in 35 different sports and over 400 events". Now, 14,000 is a lot of athletes. How many athletes over the last eight Summer & Winter Olympics’ to which trans people have been in theory "accepted" I am not sure - but a reasonable guess would be 50,000 athletes - all cis-gender - none trans-gender.

Not fair, is it?

One adviser to the IOC is Dr Eric Levain. He said in a radio broadcast in March 2021 these words: 

Yes, 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. 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.

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 a shotput champion's body. And a trans woman 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!

And more and more, many trans women athletes, for example, will take gender-affirming hormones, which will reduce their muscle mass and red blood cells, which carry the oxygen necessary for better performance. And that will also reduce the speed, strength and endurance.

I would encourage parents (of trans kids) and people interested in sports to look at all the sides of the issue and not being fixated on the sole issue of gender. There are so many different attributes for an athlete that make them so diverse, so interesting, so different. Some will be good at one sport. Some will be good at other sports. And we should just celebrate this diversity.

Another adviser to the IOC is Joanna Harper, (also Loughborough Uni) who gave an interview to my trans ambassador friend Katie Neeves. Click HERE to see the interview. Joanna has very similar views to Kirsti Miller, and Wikipedia says this about her:

"Harper argues that the use of estrogen supplements and testosterone blockers (or physical castration via sex reassignment surgery) cause a decrease in muscle mass and oxygen-carrying red blood cells and that this leads to a decrease in strength, speed, and endurance."

Within the interview with Katie Neeves, Joanna brings up that she conflicts with Martina Navratilova herself a member of the LGBT+ community but seen (perhaps unfairly) as an opponent in allowing trans women to participate in elite sport. Many people find Martina's position unreasonable because her trainer was Renee Richards herself a trans woman. Renee too was a tennis player who transitioned the same time as Martina moved to Florida - but Renne failed to make any real impact in the women's tennis circuit, so instead, turned to coaching.

Some within Martina's camp also say that a trans woman (who they see as male) could take an American " native woman's" place by being included in a USA female team. They conveniently forget that Martina did precisely that after being imported from Czechoslovakia in the mid-1970s and starting her new life in Florida to commence an illustrious sporting career as an "American" citizen.

Another famous sportswoman who appears to be 'anti-trans' in regard to competing in sport is Sharron Davies (pictured), a former Olympic swimmer, and Commonwealth gold medal winner. Standing 5' 11" tall Sharron is two inches taller than me and is perfectly built for swimming with powerful broad shoulders. When I saw her stunning picture, I immediately thought of how wrong feminist Ruth Herschberger was in her definition of a man in her best-selling book "Adams Rib."

Herschberger insisted that men had wide broad shoulders whilst women had sloping shoulders. Clearly, Sharron Davies is no man, she is a model and exceedingly beautiful - but she certainly had a phenomenally advantageous physic for swimming. Herschberger, if she were still alive would undoubtedly need to think again, because as a trans woman, I don’t have broad shoulders as my image on this page clearly shows – and yes, I was once a man. So much for "knowledgeable" transphobic "feminists" - no names mentioned!

But what about the UK?

For we have no elite trans men or trans women in sport here. The UK based gender-critical principally points to a scattering of trans athletes in Canada, Australia, or college sports in the US.

Even looking at recreational sport in the UK, I could only find three openly trans participants, though I am told via Twitter there are others. The BBC reported this about a trans woman soccer player:

Sammy Walker, 29, from Bristol, was targeted by Twitter users who labelled her a "paedophile" and claimed she was stealing places from female players.

"I fought tooth and nail to be me, and it obviously hurts," she said.

Does that make you weep? I suggest it should.

No trans person "steals" a place - trans men and trans women EXCHANGE places! 

The BBC also reported about a trans woman rugby player Kelly Morgan. Kelly stands nearly six feet tall - the same as Sharron Davies and no one denies this is an advantage - just as Sharron Davies had an advantage in swimming. But T reduction has a heavy price. Kelly's coach said: "I've seen Kelly struggling more than a lot of the girls with the demands of our training." Kelly, however, is part of a team.

And here is a point that in the trans sports debate that is never raised - participation in THE TEAM.

Kelly plays for Porth Harlequins Ladies who undoubtedly play many competitive games against other ladies, rugby teams, throughout the season. But Kelly trains with her teammates week in week out, and training sessions are real - no player will hold back in internal practice matches - by being involved in sport the first nature is to 'compete'. And every week Kellys' teammates are competing with her in training. Robustly tackling Kelly and Kelly tackling them back - the team are not whingeing about fairness, unlike the gender-crits - who do so from the comfort of their cotton covered, floral patterned, Laura Ashley armchair!

If anyone could potentially have a problem with Kelly, it is undoubtedly her team. But they don’t have a problem, she is accepted.

As this article nears its conclusion, let me mention the third trans woman I have found in UK sport, for she is infamous! Thrown out of the ladies’ team - with many headlines written about her in the UK national press.

Her name? Stella Moore.

Location? Portsmouth, England. And at 67 years of age, I would argue she is not much of a risk to other competitors, especially as she plays Bowls.

Yes - you read that right; Bowls!

She rolls a ball on a strip of grass, yet UK Bowling Association rules have forced her out of competitive women's sport because she is a trans woman.

Will there ever be a genuinely successful trans person in sport?

Well, possibly a trans man because by adding testosterone, to an XX body it does get a turbocharge of sorts. Social acceptance of trans men is by and large accepted. The press won't slay him; a case of female to male makes it OK, pretty much to everyone, except perhaps to the most hardened of transphobic gender-critical.

But for trans women?

Depleting the body of T has a far more significant effect on us trans women in regard to athletic performance. Add to that the pressures of social acceptance, coaches, and the athletes themselves not willing to risk abuse (and yes hate) - I doubt in my lifetime I will ever see a trans woman medal at the Olympics’. The only faintest hope is weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, but reports suggest cis-gendered Russian & Chinese are much stronger than her and Hubbard is plagued with injury.

Is it fair that no trans person has never even competed at the Olympics? 

Statistics would certainly suggest the IOC policy is unfair but equally trans folk must compete on the grounds of ability, not that we are trans and deserve special treatment. 

Sadly, for the foreseeable future though, I suspect, the gender-critical hate groups together with their media allies, will continue to achieve our complete exclusion, twisting facts and targeting trans women athletes in particular, who dare to compete. But that does not mean there isn't a trans woman out there ready to break the mould.

Records are made to be broken - but more to the point reasonable people must accept the truth - that in sport, like much of life, trans people are at this time, grossly disadvantaged. 

And one final note (added April 2021). In the above article, I have been discussing adults in sport. But what about the kids? Click HERE to see a video where a trans child of just 14 years of age is facing being banned from playing in a Hockey team because she is trans. I cried my years out after watching this video - I suspect you will too. 


Thank you for reading my work! ....and click HERE for an update to this article courtesy of Paul Levene. 

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Love and let live