Level Playing Field is a Myth Says Academic
“Those who argue that women with differences of sexual development and transgender should not be allowed to compete in women’s sports usually claim that their testosterone levels and different muscle-to-fat ratios give them an unfair advantage over their competitors. But excluding these women from competition is unfair and potentially a human rights violation,” New Zealand Law Journal editor and lecturer Brenda Midson writes in a piece featured in The Conversation.
“Those with differences of sexual development include women who are born with genetic conditions that give them athletic advantages more commonly attributed to males. Hyperandrogenism, for example, causes the individual to produce more testosterone than is typically present in women,” Midson writes.
“There is also the issue of transgendered women athletes who want to compete against other women. Transgender New Zealand weightlifter, Laurel Hubbard, competed in the 2018 Commonwealth games, amid complaints from the Australian Weightlifting Federation. Another New Zealander, Kate Weatherly (pictured), a transgender downhill mountain bike rider, has faced the same kind of scrutiny and challenges to her right to compete against other women.
“There is disagreement among experts about whether transgender women do in fact have a physical advantage. Some evidence suggests the opposite is true and the therapy required to transition to a woman results in lower levels of testosterone than are found in women generally.
“Hubbard has been subjected to monthly testosterone tests and her testosterone levels are lower than a ‘normal’ female. Part of the problem here, too, is the assumptions about the characteristics of ‘normal’.
“In New Zealand, under section 28 of the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Act 1995, a person may apply to the Family Court to have their birth certificate record they are of the opposite sex to that already recorded on the document. There are certain conditions that must be satisfied, and the application must be supported by ‘expert medical evidence’.
“But a new bill proposes to replace the existing process with one based on self-identification, to ‘allow people to have greater autonomy over their identity’. The Select Committee also recommended including the options of ‘inter-sex’ and ‘X (unspecified)’ to recognise non-binary sexual and gender identities.
“A self-identification policy does have the potential to impinge on women’s rights as well as for abuse by males who do not actually identify as women. Hubbard and Weatherly are women, notwithstanding that they were assigned a different biological sex at birth.
“They should both be treated as such for all purposes. Regardless of their biological sex – if in fact there is such an incontrovertible thing – they are not men masquerading as women to secure a competitive advantage. A nuanced approach is called for; while a self-identification policy may not be the answer, neither is an approach that requires medical intervention as a pre-requisite for recognition.”
Original article by Brenda Midson, The Conversation, February 22, 2019.