The Myth Of The Record SMASHING Trans-Athlete

Joe Rogan seems to be totally incapable of leaving alone a topic that he rightfully gets a lot of flack for. He seems to think that if he continues sticking to his guns, digging the heels of his worn tennis shoes in to the sand, that all of the apparent flaws in reasoning will disappear completely. But that’s not how it works. Joe Rogan has only resurfaced this stuff over and over, but I won’t even be discussing him directly or anything. More the general transphobia, evidence, lack thereof, and ideas surrounding transathleticism controversies (the totality of which are nothingburgers).

Transphobia’s newest frontier is something that rests in a zone of plausible deniability in the area of fairness in sports. Let’s get something very clearly out of the way up front;

Sports Aren’t Fair Already

If anyone appeals to the averages to make a statement about a group based on a protected class, this usually gives us some useful information. But among the average, a top-performing athlete is not. I have debated many people that still hold latent transphobic biases internally on the issue of transpeople in competitive sports, and they usually refer to something like height, or muscle mass, or some other averages of typically Men vs Women.

Let’s look to reality for once, get those troublesome feelings out of the way. Are WNBA competitors a representation of the average height of women? No. Are female powerlifting competitors truly representative of women’s averages for muscle mass? No. Are female cyclists truly representative of women’s long-term endurance and burst power averages? No. So anyone appealing to the averages for a certain gender has already committed a category error. It’s completely irrelevant to the discussion.

Since top-performing athletes as a category necessarily is going to filter for only people in these extremes, extraordinary people that are not their associated averages… The only data that is even tangentially relevant would necessarily be that of comparing cisgendered women with transgendered women, where the population focuses are solely around top-performing athletes.

So hopefully that puts to rest this idea that sports need to be purely egalitarian and perfectly fair. Some people are just naturally taller, or stronger, or have the capacity to be either, or they are faster, have larger lungs, etc… no matter what grouping you will wish to arbitrarily assign so as to justify your certain brand of segregation you wish to inflict upon others.

Where’s The Data Bro? Don’t Need It.

Sadly, there isn’t much. Nothing that can be said is conclusive. We can talk ourselves in circles about merely speculative data-points that reference how this specific physiological trait differs from the average ciswoman with regards to post-puberty HRT in transwomen, but that does not get us anywhere near even drawing a conclusion. But we don’t even need a solid conclusion, we just need principled sufficient reason as to believe something to be true or to disbelieve it. So let’s define the question.

Do transwomen have an unfair advantage over ciswomen in competitive sports, to the degree at which that it would be morally repugnant to allow them to compete in the same category?

Essentially this is what everyone is trying to answer or assess, or more often than not, assume. Common sense needs to be thrown out completely because we are products of an environment which produced us to see the world the way we do now, and we will all differ in those biases to one degree or another. Therefore, we have to completely ignore common sense.

This section isn’t about the data, it’s about how we don’t actually need data to determine what’s wrong or what’s right with regards to the prescriptions for this moral analyses. We don’t intuitively believe that one is guilty until proven innocent in most of the societies that people who will read this may come from, I assume. So why are we doing this as a precaution, declaring transwomen guilty on the face of it? Haven’t we learned from our past mistakes in being hasty?

We had segregation of the races in our sports for so long, and it was pretty obvious that was a mistake. And when segregation in sports along racial boundaries was lifted, what happened? People complained, scientific racism explanations were looked to for why black competitors were absolutely dominating sports like Boxing, Baseball, American Football, Basketball, and more… These were all a folly, there might be some sociological research that may lead us to some explanation, but even that is risky territory. The true area where we should employ a precautionary principle is not in our inclusiveness of transwomen in women’s sports, we should employ the precautionary principle toward banning transwomen on little objective information.

Transference of Harms

Historical appeal is an excellent guide, but not remotely close to a solid framework or anything like that. We can infer from history that when you take away some small rights for a group, this can lead to further “dehumanization” of that group. In turn this next act of dehumanization can lead to even further harms. Some internet skeptics believe a slippery slope to be inherently fallacious, but it’s only fallacious if the teleological connections are broken at some point in the change. Just as an ad-hominem is only a fallacy if you are saying your opponent is wrong BECAUSE of the particular insult you have dished out. This stuff can get a little confusing. Beat with me.

Martin Niemöller’s famous poem demonstrates the logical slippery slope of transference of harms that can occur:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Now, this may seem melodramatic to people that direct transphobia are not the recipients of. That may ruffle a few feathers. But in German society post-WW1, do you think a German citizen who was Christian and liked Nationalistic sentiments and didn’t like socialism or Jews… Did they feel threatened? Likewise, did a moderate German who had no feelings either way about those things feel threatened by socialists being locked up and executed? The answer is obviously no.

Let’s slide it further into somewhere I’m personally familiar with, American history. White southerners were appalled at the Civil Rights Act. They believed that Black Americans already had all of the rights they did too. A campaign of propaganda from southern racist lawmakers and influencers was highly effective well over 100 years that gas-lit this population into believing the lie that 1950’s Georgia was egalitarian. It was not. Would any of those white individuals think that laws which targeted Black Americans might target them one day? Of course not, they couldn’t even come to the honest realization that there was anything being done to black people at the time!

To the reader that is not a member of a marginalized group, these above paragraphs are mostly for you so that you can remove the wool over your eyes, and see why transpeople might feel their very life is threatened by even giving an inch. This is because there is historic precedent going back to antiquity of bigots taking a mile in turn. And I’m saying this to you as a cisgender bisexual white man myself who is mostly straight-passing. So I am one who also had to have my own wool removed through other people calling out my bullshit, and me trying to be diligent in understanding the world around me to the best of my abilities.

So this slippery slope from “transwomen are built like men” to “transwomen are men” is incredibly steep and short. It’s a 2 inch step that many can’t help but take, apparently. Indeed I would say that many people who say they former are already not likely aware that they formally believe the latter. And it’s built on an assumption that is flawed already, namely the former statement. If the former isn’t even justified, and people become aware that it’s ignorant and not likely to be true, maybe they were never take that step to the latter statement. This is moral use of the difference between the slippery slope argument and the slippery slope fallacy. If we can disconnect the former statement, it necessarily follows that the latter cannot be rationally reached.

But at least you can recognize, most of us anyways today, that the people in this video were ignorant fools.

Truly a different time, but is it that different?

Precautionary Principle Reversed

We should not be using something like a precautionary principle on people in a way that assumes they are guilty before innocent. If you think someone is a bit creepy, you don’t murder them out of the assumption that they might be a serial murderer, do you? Intuitively we recognize this as flawed reasoning on the face of it.

Likewise, we shouldn’t assume that transwomen have an advantage over ciswomen in competitive sports, on account of facts we don’t really apparently know or have conclusive data on.

Innocent until proven guilty is a very strong principle that most people intuitively believe in. There has to be some sort of underlying reason for this that we can infer from. Why not that most people have some strong sense of duty when it comes to justice? What would sports have to do with justice? Everything of course. Who is allowed to play is determined by an almost senate-like council depending on the organization, and many of them are voted in by current or former competitors who have administrative roles themselves. Sports institutions are often made up in democratic or republican style structures so that the competitors will feel they are being treated fairly.

But not unlike the shoppers above, there seems to be a large number of ciswomen who ignorantly believe that transwomen are guilty until proven innocent. There is this perception that transwomen are unfairly crushing records and beating opponents. Is this true? Well if you believe sensationalized headlines, I could see how you could come to a pretty sensational conclusion. But as many of us know, headlines don’t tell us the whole story. We’ll take a look at a few recent stories and deal with them.

Misleading Headlines, Damnable Misleading Headlines

Outsports, bless their hearts, fucked up royally with their sensationalized headline, “Trans powerlifter smashes records and draws backlash“. Not really the kind of headline you’d think a website representing LGBTQIA+ competitors’ interests would run if they were aware of the implications. But that’s the headline they went with, as stupid a decision as it was. Did she “smash” records?

TypeMary GregoryUSPA Women’s 82.5kg RAW DivisionDifference
Squats314.2 lbs407.90 lbs (Ashley Newman)+29.82%
Bench232.6 lbs231.5 lbs (Michelle Vandeburgh)-0.47%
Deadlift424.4 lbs457.5 lbs (Ashley Newman)+7.79%
Total971.1 lbs1085.8 lbs (Ashley Newman)+11.81%

I think it should be fairly obvious that the records she supposedly “smashed” were relative to a certain context. That is, she only “smashed” the records of a certain powerlifting organization. That is the 100% Raw Powerlifting Federation Masters National Championship. It should be obvious that ciswomen are more than capable of “smashing” Mary Gregory’s performance here with the exception of Bench by only less than HALF of a percent in difference. Are ciswomen at their absolute physiological limits possible? I doubt that. You probably should too.

Castor Semenya Supposedly SMASHING Records?

What about Castor Semenya? Well, first of all, she’s not even transgender. She’s intersex. I would be remiss to my intersex friends if I didn’t mention that it’s kind of insulting to many of them to conflate the two. But let’s see another headline, “Caster Semenya smashes Commonwealth Games record to win 800m gold to complete double after 1,500m title“. Smashes again? This is a bit exhausting by this point… She ran a 1:56.68 in the 800m. But they say Commonwealth Games record, don’t they? Why don’t they say WORLD RECORD if women who don’t have a supposedly standard level of testosterone perfectly stable throughout their life (show me this mythical creature by the way, thanks)? Well it’s because the truth is, women who are likely ciswomen have “SMASHED” her new time going all the way back to 1976, from what I can see. Castor Semenya’s best time in the 800m is 1:54:60.

Jarmila Kratochvílová got a time of 1:5328 in July 26, 1983. You can google it yourself or click the link to Wikipedia’s entries right here yourself and see that Castor Semenya’s best time ever. As you can see, this would put here in 6th place in the top 25. She’s not even the world record holder. Now, the implication is that testosterone in women gives you some kind of “manly” advantage. Castor’s T-levels were not even close to men’s typical levels. She had been tested at the point of testing at 173 ng/dl. Male levels typically run 280 to 1100 ng/dl. Women typically run 15 to 70 ng/dl. So some reports claimed she had 3 times the testosterone. This isn’t totally accurate. She had less than 3 times, and she was just about as close to the high AVERAGE range for women as the low AVERAGE range for men. But are women LIMITED to 70 ng/dl. This is false. We have to think about these terms in the proper context.

It may be the case that ciswoman runners have unusually high testosterone and the selection bias effect on the individuals that make it to the prestigious group of top performers… Are necessarily the ones that already have unusually high testosterone. Should we cater to the normal and average for sports? Brings me right back to the beginning, doesn’t it? Castor Semenya’s t-levels do not get close to men’s levels, and she’s not a man at all, she’s a woman who has a specific intersex condition that makes her produce a little more testosterone than the average woman. She’s an important case study in all this controversy because she seems to prove that a lifetime of testosterone naturally occurring through puberty and beyond didn’t necessarily make her have any unfair advantage at all over stereotypical ciswoman traits.

So, we can look at Men’s times to see the dramatic disparity that all of these other primary and secondary sex characteristics (that are often mitigated heavily by HRT in transpeople, and are present in Castor Semenya on account of her being biologically female) to see that the disparity in performance is absolutely HUGE. The headlines of not-stereotypically feminine women “SMASHING” records seem to imply a MALE advantage. How true is that?

Castor Semenya 800m – 1:54.60

David Rudisha 800m – 1:40.91

Wow, a staggering almost 14 second lead! I think we can easily see that Castor Semenya is within the range of top-level performing female athletes from the past 43 years of competition, and we can see she is nowhere near male performance whatsoever.

So if other people have access to this information, why haven’t they done the due diligence that I did? Let’s revisit Mary Gregory, the transwoman powerlifter from earlier and compare her to men’s performance as well to drive the point home that there is a gargantuan difference between a transwoman and a cisman’s performance in probably the most obvious example of testosterone influenced competition:

Mary Gregory RecordsUSPA Men’s 82.5kg RAW DivisionDifference
Squats314.2 lbs639.30 lbs+103.46%
Bench232.6 lbs446.40 lbs+91.91%
Deadlift424.4 lbs661.40 lbs+55.84%
Total971.1 lbs1719.60 lbs+77.07%

Pretty clear. A 75% advantage for men over the supposed “SMASHER” of ciswomen’s scores (who didn’t even break any ciswoman records save one by only 0.47%).

The facts, as they say, don’t care about your feelings. It seems apparent that transwomen perform within expected ranges with that of ciswomen and are dramatically underperforming when compared to cismen. Can we put this bigoted bullshit to rest already? I hope so.

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