Whether to allow biological men into women’s sports may be the silliest debate of our time. Fairness falls so completely to one side; outcomes are obvious and predetermined. If this were not 2020—if Americans were not terrified to acknowledge the plain truths in front of them—this discussion would be confined to its more natural domain: high school auditoriums, where boys and girls in glasses and blazers can earn high marks for casuistry.
There is hardly a woman alive who has not, in her teen years, challenged a boy her age to some competition she easily dominated when they were young, only to discover that in the footrace, the arm-wrestling match and the attempt to move a heavy box, the young man now has the better of her. She may be far more athletic, in much better shape, but that turns out not to matter when pitted against young men in contests of pure strength and speed.
These “organizational” effects of male puberty are profound, and they are permanent: larger hearts and lungs, more oxygenated blood, more fast-twitch muscle fiber, greater upper-body muscle mass, greater lower-body muscle mass, greater bone density. They grant men a massive and unbridgeable advantage over women in nearly every physical contest. Even if a man later takes estrogen and artificially reduces the level of “bioactive” testosterone in his body, he will not surrender these advantages.
To render these differences vivid, there is a wonderful website—Boysvswomen.com—that pits the records of male high school athletes in 2016 against those of female Olympians. In the 100-meter, the 200-meter, the 400-meter and 800-meter races, the male high school players handily dominate the female Olympians, claiming all the top spots. Most significantly, as the website explains: “None of the women’s finals performances met the qualifying time to enter the boys’ competition.”
Imagine a world without Flo-Jo, without Venus or Serena Williams, without modern-day Olympian runner Allyson Felix. That is the world brought about by advocates of transgender-identified biological males competing with women in sports: contests so lopsided that our greatest female athletes never qualify for the Olympics, never make it to Wimbledon—let alone astound us there, with feats of the gods.
Consider Felix, a contender for the title of fastest female sprinter in the world, who holds more Olympic medals than even Usain Bolt. Her lifetime best for the 400-meter is 49.26 seconds. Based on 2018 data, nearly 300 high school boys in the U.S. alone could beat it.
Take the lesson learned by the Williams sisters, who once claimed they could beat any male tennis player ranked outside of the top 200. In 1998, a male tennis player ranked 203rd took them up on the challenge. He beat both Williams sisters decisively, 6-1 over Serena and 6-2 over Venus. “I didn’t know it would be that difficult,” said Serena afterwards. “I played shots that would have been winners on the women’s circuit, and he got to them very easily.”
But it isn’t just all the famous female athletes we might never have heard of—it’s the countless young girls sprinting and playing their hearts out who wouldn’t stand a chance. In Connecticut, biological male athletes who never distinguished themselves on boys’ teams are easily beating the fastest girls, picking off opportunities for college scouting and scholarships, and setting records that perhaps no girl will ever meet. It isn’t merely the loss of material opportunities—the scholarships, the trophies, and so forth—at stake. It’s the countless girls who will take a quick glance at the odds and decide not to try out for the team.
Girls who might be inclined toward our rougher sports—field hockey, lacrosse, rugby, wrestling—will arrive at the rational decision that it isn’t worth the risk. The meet that once offered a stage and the chance to shine now comes to seem like a gladiatorial Roman Colosseum, in which girls are pitted against male bodies. Girls will be badly hurt.
Do transgender athletes have a right to participate in the world of athletics? Emphatically, yes. Transgender athletes who are biologically male must be welcome to participate and excel in sports. Where competitions are divided by sex, the just and rational solution is to ask trans woman athletes to compete against other biological males—on the boys’ teams, where their inclusion does no damage to the fairness of the competition. Male-bodied athletes, transgender-identified or not, ought to compete against each other. Every effort on behalf of inclusivity should be leveled at rendering male sports more inclusive of trans women. Discrimination and harassment must be declared unacceptable.
This is not to suggest that this arrangement would be maximally comfortable for the trans athlete, at least not initially. It would take a certain amount of bravery for a trans woman to show up at a male track meet. There will have to be a trans Jackie Robinson—a pathbreaker after whom none of today’s awkwardness should remain, and outstanding male-bodied trans athletes thereafter should come to seem remarkable for their achievements alone.
The only other option comes with too steep a price. To force young women to compete with male-bodied athletes will bring about the collapse of women’s sports. It will usher in a world where girls recognize the futility of striving to become the next Martina Navratilova, Sheryl Swoopes, Jackie Joyner-Kersee or Mia Hamm. It will strip young women of all the hard-earned entitlements of Title IX. And for what? A cynical contest whose fairness no honest observer will credit? A few limp claps from spectators who know—long before the starter pistol is fired—that the contest is fixed?
The other side of the argument is no argument at all. It is fear. Woke mobs have managed to scare good people into silence. Ordinary Americans are afraid to point out even manifest injustice when they see it. Too many are stricken by the threat of being falsely branded some flavor of “phobe.”
We ought to tackle this fear, and to counter the predictable cries of prejudice with rational argument and a certain well-earned truculence. The emperor has no clothes, and so his biology is plain. It belongs on the men’s team with the other biological boys.
Abigail Shrier is author of Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.