Relative Values

It takes Megan McArdle a while to make her point in her most recent Washington Post column about transgender athletes competing in women’s athletics:

If cases like Thomas [ed. Lia Thomas, swimming for UPenn’s women’s team] are few, it’s relatively easy to make inclusion paramount. But with even a small percentage of elite athletes transitioning after puberty, trans women could conceivably dominate many women’s sports to the point of unavoidable controversy, because there are a lot more “pretty good” athletes who’ve gone through male puberty than all-star athletes who’ve gone through female puberty.

Though even then we might ask: Who cares? Most people will never have what it takes to compete at the elite levels of high school, college or professional sports. That’s not an argument for kicking the genetically blessed out of the league so that those of us who are slower and weaker can experience the thrill of victory. One might add that it is particularly not an argument for kicking out people who face as many other disadvantages in their lives as trans athletes do.

But if you like that answer, you should probably ask whether women’s sports should exist at all. After all, we didn’t create separate leagues to reinforce the special feminine identity of female athletes; if anything, women’s athletics was supposed to break down such divisions. The separation is a nod to biology: After puberty, biological women can’t compete with similarly gifted biological men.

For me the issue is one of relative values, i.e. which you think is more important. If you believe that to provide transgender athletes with the respect and consideration that is their due is the higher value, that they may prevail against biological female athletes is irrelevant. If on the other hand you believe, in Ms. McArdle’s words, it is more important “for cisgender women to have a place where at least a few of us can experience the thrill of victory”, then requiring that athletes compete in the teams of their birth genders is completely appropriate.

The critical points are that you cannot satisfy those with different priorities simultaneously and that, consistent with my previous post, the decision will be made politically.

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