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3 Reasons Why Transgender Females Have a Sports Advantage

Credits go to Ted Eytan on Flickr. License can be viewed here.

Many are unaware The Olympics has allowed transgender athletes to compete since 2004. These athletes can compete insofar as they meet certain physiological and timely constraints around their gender transition. Testosterone levels must be under a certain threshold, and the athlete can’t be newly transitioned from male to female. In the recent Tokyo Games New Zealand’s Laurel Hubbard became the first transgender female to compete in an individual event: weightlifting. And even though she wouldn’t see any playing time, Chelsea Wolfe, another transgender female, held a reserve spot on the US Women’s Freestyle BMX team.

After the debut of these athletes the populous reacted in uproar, as to be expected. Many remember the headlines of the Selina Soule story.

Selina, a promising track star, lost her opportunity to compete at the 2019 New England Regional Championship to two transfemale athletes. Since then Selina and her legal team have taken legal action against the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference. But Selina hasn’t been the only athlete subject to inter-sex competition. Alanna Smith and Chelsea Mitchell are two other Connecticut athletes who lost races to biological males –both were promising stars eyeing collegiate scholarships.

The left insists fully transitioned transfemales have no sports advantage over biological females. Unfortunately, some academics are on their side. The prominent researcher Veronica Ivy claimed on CNN that testosterone has no advantageous effects on sports performance. She even stated that many transfemale athletes compete at subpar levels. But, Ivy’s claims are easily explained away. She’s committed a fallacy in experimental design: inter-group vs intra-group comparison. Ivy cited literature that compares males vs. males and their testosterone levels, but she fails to compare males vs. females. It is true that testosterone doesn’t provide much advantage when it’s males vs. males–but this is because they’ve already been selected for that trait.

Ross Tucker explains in detail in this Twitter thread:

#1 Myonucei Accumulation

Myonuceli are the nuclei of muscle fiber cells. Androgens like testosterone aid in proliferating myonuclei accretion during muscle hypertrophy. Men, who have more testosterone circulating in their blood, induce more myonuclei accretion than females because they have more androgenic signaling.

More testosterone = more myonuclei accretion during muscle hypertrophy.

Granted, it’s true transfemales don’t have enough androgens after transitioning to experience higher levels of myomuclei accretion. However, when myonuceli are created they don’t go away. Entire new nuclei are formed, and the nuclei don’t simply disappear because you have low testosterone or atrophied muscle. Transfemales, who are biological men, have accumulated myonuclei during their time exposed to endogenous androgens; when they were “cis”. Not on a supraphysiological level, but on a level that is higher than biological women. A transfemale who was exposed to endogenous androgens a-priori will compete with more myonuclei.

The more myonuclei, the more potential for muscle retention and protein synthesis.

#2 The Pulmonary System

The Pulmonary System consists of the airways, muscles and blood vessels involved in circulation. Before puberty there aren’t many pulmonary differences between males and females. But once puberty runs its course in males testosterone binds to tissues in the body, causing morphological changes. The trachea, lungs, heart and ribcage all expand. This results in a lower cost of oxygen during respiration, and thus a greater VO2-max reading. VO2-max is the amount of oxygen a body can use during exercise. These androgen-induced changes are disproportionate across the two sexes. If you selected a female and male from a group and made sure that they were the same age and height (this is called “controlling for variables”), the male would still have significant pulmonary differences.

Advantageous Morphology

Most discussions about this topic fail to recognize the obvious: morphological differences of height and digit length. Certainly, this accounts for a sports advantage in a sport like basketball.

Leftists have a counterargument for this, though it will be dispensed with herein. Our friends point to the vast morphological variation intra-sex. According to their argument, it doesn’t make sense to discriminate based on sex because it would fail to account for this intra-sex variation. 

It’s true there is vast intra-sex variation. That variation is still present even if you discriminate based on sex. This is demonstrably when watching any professional ball game.

But the left fails to realize discriminating by sex accounts for much of the total morphological variance intra and inter-sex. And, this discrimination by sex is the most pragmatic solution we have. It would be impossible to separate based on every measure. If a sports federation was to discriminate players based on height, digit size, heart volumes, hematocrit levels, or even something as taboo as intelligence–no one would be able to play sports. Fractionating differences to such an extent would result in no competition because no two people are the same. We are unable to practically discriminate at such a level.

However, we know the morphological differences can be alleviated by a statistically significant margin if we descriminate by sex. On average, men are taller than women. On average, men have longer digits than women. Therefore, we can reduce these disparities on average by discriminating sex. We are able to control for some of this variance by using sex and a proxy for grouping because sex has an impact on that morphology.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, much of the sports advantage transfemales have is from the effects of a-priori testosterone exposure. Certainly, when testosterone levels are manually lowered via gender transitioning procedures, the athlete loses whatever advantages were afforded to them from current androgen exposure. However, there are still lingering effects that translate to a sports advantage.

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