With the Olympics right around the corner, there is a new rule instilled by the International Olympic Committee that states that transgender people are now able to compete in the Olympic Games and other international sporting events without gender reassignment surgery.
In November 2015, there was a consensus meeting that set guidelines for men who identify as women to compete. In this process, the transgender women must undergo testosterone testing where the total testosterone level in serum must remain below 10 nmol/L for at least a year.
For women to compete as men, there are no such regulations. This insinuates the physical advantage that men have over women.
It seems as though many agree with this rule and believe hormone testing should be the only thing to separate transgender women from competing. However, those who agree with the ruling overlooked one major detail: anatomical differences between genders.
The Games require a lot of physical strength and endurance from both sexes. However, there are different requirements instituted for each.
Muscle make-up in men and women’s bodies is the primary issue. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information’s website, “Fiber areas and type were determined from needle biopsies and muscle areas by computerized topographical scanning. The women were approximately 52 percent and 66 percent as strong as the men in the upper and lower body, respectively.”
In July 2015, Women’s Ultimate Fighting Championship bantamweight champion Rhonda Rousey and UFC president Dana White both disagreed with Fallon Fox being able to compete as a transgender woman in the league for this very reason. White said, “I’ll leave it up to the athletic commissions and the doctors and scientists” to determine whether out not this is an unfair advantage. However, White also said, “I don’t think that somebody who used to be a man and became a woman should be able to fight another woman.”
Women and men’s center of gravity is partly what makes this issue so serious. The average woman holds weight and maintains the majority of strength in her hips and lower body. However, the average man’s strength and most of his weight is in the shoulders and upper body.
Tumbling, for instance, is a specific place one can find this contrast. Because of the weight and muscle distribution, men are typically more capable of doing a rotation or a flip more easily than most women. This is not to say men are more powerful or stronger than women, but the distribution of weight plays a key role in how transgender women could find an unfair advantage in competing against women in tumbling.
A study in the journal Gait and Posture done by Valentina Graci and colleagues, working at the University of Maryland, Washington University, and St. Louis University studied the differences in the ways men and women disperse their weight. The study showed that women flexed their trunks less than men. Women also rotated their trunks and pelvises toward the weight-bearing limbs more than men.
Figure skating is another Olympic event where this could be an issue. Men and women are structurally different. Far more men in the history of the Olympics have completed quadruple jumps, a move accomplished by completing four rotations in the air before landing, partly because the average man has smaller hip bones. Therefore it causes them to perform turns quicker, allowing them to get more turns in the same amount of air time. This is also enhanced by the same shoulder muscles that give men an advantage in tumbling. A large portion of the momentum needed to achieve four rotations comes from upper body strength.
Even though allowing transgenders to compete is believed to show equality for both sexes, there are numerous anatomical discrepancies between cisgender and transgender athletes. Although the rule was created to promote inclusion, it creates an unfair advantage because of anatomical differences.