Thursday, June 30, 2022

What "Save Women's Sports" has wrought

There are so many anti-trans bills passed by and pending in state legislatures here in the United States that I cannot even begin to address them all except to say this has been a concerted movement targeting trans youth for several years now and it is horrifying.

The bill in Utah is my focus today. All the bills are horrible and saddening and enraging, but this all that and more. This one demonstrates the consequences of the anti-trans "save women's sports" movement.

The bill, which originated in 2021, bans children from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity. It was passed in March 2022, the governor vetoed it, the legislature overrode the governor's veto. 

Governor Cox, a Republican, expressed some compassion when explaining his veto of the bill. He cited that fact that Utah had four transgender children playing school-sponsored sports at the time. (I would argue that the number does not matter, but will save that post for another day.)

“Four kids who aren’t dominating or winning trophies or taking scholarships. Four kids who are just trying to find some friends and feel like they are a part of something. Four kids trying to get through each day,” Gov. Cox wrote in the letter. “Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few. I don’t understand what they are going through or why they feel the way they do. But I want them to live. And all the research shows that even a little acceptance and connection can reduce suicidality significantly. For that reason, as much as any other, I have taken this action in the hope that we can continue to work together and find a better way.”

Like in other states that have passed anti-trans laws, Utah is facing a legal challenge from the families of trans children. This lawsuit is in its early stages.

Despite this challenge and fears that Utah will be passed over for events like the Olympics or the 2023 NBA All-Star Game (come on, NBA--use your power for good here) the legislature has moved forward with its assault on the dignity, rights, and health of children. The bill created the Utah School Activity Eligibility Commission whose members are appointed by the legislature. These members get to determine who is eligible to play girls' sports in the state by establishing a baseline range of physical characteristics that include height, weight, wingspan, flexibility, among others and by meeting with students whose eligibility is in question.  

Students who want to play girls' sports but whose birth certificates (for whatever reason) have them designated as male must submit documentation to this group (i.e. out themselves, i.e, endanger themselves) and meet with this group in a CLOSED session. What kind of traumatic events will occur behind those closed doors? [I am watching Under the Banner of Heaven on Hulu right now so my feelings about Utah are not very positive right now anyway.]

This is so very flawed and misogynistic and racist. Who is going to be targeted? Most definitely girls who are racial minorities and any girl who does not appear feminine enough. This is Caster Semenya all over again. Who is too strong, too tall, too wide? 

The commission will establish gendered baselines for all activities. So now what happens to the cisgender boy who is "too short" for volleyball or the cisgender girl who is "too tall" for field hockey? What happens to children with disabilities? What happens to children who weigh more than the baseline? 

The philosophy behind interscholastic sports is participation for the purpose of health, and emotional and social growth. They should not be promoting ableism, fat phobia, racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. 

This is what the save women's sports movement has wrought. In arguing that we need all these (scientifically unsupported) regulations to make sports "safe" for cisgender, white, middle-class women, they have endangered so many people across ages, races, and socioeconomic classes. They have increased the surveillance of all women. They have increased gender- and race-based violence. All of the efforts to make sports more inclusive by combatting all the -isms I listed above are being erased by these so-called women's sport advocates. 

Monday, June 20, 2022

NCAA Inclusion Forum Talks Around Trans Inclusion

 [this is cross-posted. Original post is at Title IX Blog.]

 I virtually attended last week's NCAA annual Inclusion Forum which was celebrating Title IX but also included issues of BIPOC inclusion and athlete mental health (among others).

There was a panel on Thursday afternoon headlined by former Harvard swimmer Schuyler Bailar about trans athletes. 

When the conference was announced, I was curious about how the organization would approach--or even if they would--trans athletes given the recent seemingly abrupt change in their policy (January 2022--curiously amidst the growing visibility of Penn swimmer Lia Thomas). They moved from a not ideal but not totally horrible policy in which hormone levels (specifically testosterone) governed participation, to a we-are-cowards-kowtowing-to-the-misnamed-fear-mongering-save-women's-sports folks policy in which trans athletes are treated as cheaters constantly having to submit to surveillance. Additionally, the NCAA policy is basically a non-policy because they have decided to follow the "Olympic model" in which each college sport will follow the rules of its governing body. 

They have washed their hands of responsibility to throw the anti-trans activists off their backs, and they have sacrificed trans athletes in the process as well as compromising their own philosophy about the goal of college sports and inclusion and participation. To be fair, the organization has never truly adhered to that philosophy. [I will save a more thorough interrogation of the policy for another post.]  

The description of the panel in the agenda (available in the first link above) was as follows:

Session 1 | Beyond the Headlines: Understanding the Trans & Non Binary Student-Athlete Experience Media headlines and state laws have contributed to increased discussion about transgender and nonbinary athletes. Rarely are the perspectives of these athletes shared or included in these discussions. This session provides an opportunity to hear directly from a former trans student-athlete about their experience in college sports and to discuss with administrators how campuses can support all student-athletes around this subject. 

Schuyler told his story, the panel (there were two others who work in college athletics) answered some pre-set questions posed by the moderator, and we in the audience were allowed to submit questions in the Q&A window. Several of us asked questions about policy--the NCAA's and other organizations' policies. NONE of them were picked. 

In the chat, as things were winding down and it was clear these questions would go unasked, I commented on this fact. Schuyler saw my comment, in which I mentioned that these policies are a form of violence (because he had talked about violent threats against him on social media and anti-trans violence in general). He responded that the panel was not about policy but about showing the humanity of trans people by sharing the story of a trans person. 

Humanity is great; I wish the NCAA had more of it in fact. But framing this panel as one about humanity and then refusing to discuss policies that are the opposite of humane; that in fact are othering, is disingenuous. I am not directly blaming Schuyler Bailar. I am sure the directive was issued from on high. In fact, when I went to the panel description as it was presented on the meeting platform (different from the posted agenda), I found this addition: Please note, this session is not intended to discuss or go into detail around the NCAA's transgender student-athlete participation policy.

The humanity discourse was a cover. It allowed the NCAA to show a success story in Schuyler Bailar. It threw attention off of their own inhumane governance. It is a cover for the violence they are doing. It focused on one person, which has been a huge problem in ALL the discussions of trans athletes. They are focusing on individuals and not the larger philosophy(ies) and ethics of sport and human dignity. This approach has made lightning rods out of people such as Lia Thomas. It literally endangers lives by perpetuating the idea that trans people are not fully human; that they should be subjected to constant testing and monitoring and scrutiny. It was offensive that they approached the issue this way at a conference about inclusion. 

Wednesday, June 08, 2022

Confession: I don't care about rainbows


This perhaps make me an outsider in the LGBTQ+ community. Even before the concept of rainbow-washing was a thing, I was not especially drawn to companies/entities that displayed a rainbow flag. How did I know if it was genuine? What did the display of the flag even mean in terms of actions taken (or not); what did support/allyship look like? 

And so, I am not particularly disturbed that some players for the Tampa Bay Rays chose not to wear rainbow patches and rainbow logo hats during their recent Pride Night. Five players said it conflicted with their religious beliefs. While, yes, their discourse of conflict with beliefs and not judging/being welcoming is contradictory, that is not new when it comes to this issue. 

The patch/hat was an opt-in for players. Now we know more about the five players who chose not to participate. They don't support LGBT rights because they feel it conflicts with their religion. Ok. 

I am more interested in what the players who chose to wear the Pride gear feel and do. I am more interested in what the Rays as an organization do. 

I am currently finishing(ish) research/writing on the sports closet/coming out discourses. One of the issues that I take up is how sport organizations capitalize on things like Pride Nights and "support" for athletes who come out, but that such actions are not especially progressive nor do they represent how gay players themselves experience their workplaces (in the case of professional sports) on a daily basis. [Think about Raiders player Carl Nassib who had to play under Jon Gruden.]

Five players on one MLB team made it clear that they don't support gay rights. That does not offer us special insight into the Rays, the MLB, or professional sports. Some people don't want to be associated with gay things. This is not shocking. Given everything else happening in sports around gender, sexuality, race, I don't even find this incident especially dismaying. 

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

I'm back!

After a 6-year hiatus which I spent being on the academic job market, getting a TT job and getting tenure, I have returned to After Atalanta. I am excited about phase 2(?) of AA and getting back to more public scholarship. I have kept up a sporadic presence at the Title IX Blog, which I am solely in charge of now (yikes!), but am trying to be more consistent. Since so many of my current interests (trans policies, labor, ethics) fall outside Title IX or are only tangentially related, I wanted to come back here. 

I am not sure what form posts will take. Likely, some of them will resemble what I had been doing. I am planning one on the new Ohio law that allows anyone to question the sex of any female child playing sports. "Verification" would be done via genital, penetrative exams. 

But I imagine briefer "quick take" posts as well. Things too long for Twitter (I will be using @titleixblog for After Atalanta content as well) but definitely worth mentioning. (I have some about the Women's College World Series which culminates this week.)

Over the next weeks, I will be trying to clean up the blog--remove dead links, add new resources, etc. I have to think about how/if I will address the comments section as well. (Things are scary in social media!!)

Glad to be back!!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Fixing advantage by fixing bodies?

If we thought the international sports community had learned something about gender and sex, biology, identity and athleticism after the debacle caused by the International Association of Athletics Federations in its process of “gender verification” in the case of South African runner Caster Semenya, an April New York Times op-ed about these issues has shocked the naiveté right out of us. I would have liked to believe that the humiliation Semenya underwent when members of the international track and field community questioned her sex thus triggering physical, medical, and psychological examinations would become an anomaly. Based on the information presented by co-authors Katrina Karkazis and Rebecca Jordan-Young, it was not. The difference: the process of accusing and testing Semenya was very public; the process of testing and “fixing” the bodies of athletes who do not conform to the IAAF’s new hormone level policies (also adopted by the IOC and FIFA) have been quite hidden. While the Semenya case was a clear violation of her privacy, the implementation of the new eligibility rules based on the level of testosterone individual women produce seems less about privacy and more about keeping secrets.
Karkazis and Jordan-Young, drawing on a 2013 Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism article about the case of four athletes who did not meet the new eligibility rules, are exposing some of the little known facts about their application. Some sport governing bodies, we don’t know which ones, are testing “suspect” female athletes to determine their testosterone levels. If it is too high, in other words it exceeds the acceptable level for females according to the organization’s rules, they are referred to doctors for more tests and “therapies.”
There are three issues I want to raise here that stem from those last two sentences. First, quick background: the article in the medical journal is based on four cases of young (18-21) female athletes, all from developing countries, who were sent to doctors in France when their testosterone serum levels were deemed outside the normal female range.
I will start with the most shocking piece of the article. The therapies that, once completed, allowed these women back into competition included removing internal testes and reducing their clitorises; procedures that are both medically invasive and, according to the doctors who performed them, unnecessary. Here is the text from the June 1, 2013 volume of Clinical Endocrinology:
Although leaving male gonads in [these] patients carries no health risk, each athlete was informed that gonadectomy would most likely decrease their performance level but allow them to continue elite sport in the female category. We thus proposed a partial clitoridectomy with a bilateral gonadectomy, followed by a deferred feminizing vaginoplasty and estrogen replacement therapy, to which the 4 athletes agreed after informed consent on surgical and medical procedures. Sports authorities then allowed them to continue competing in the female category 1 year after gonadectomy.
The authors do not delve into the moral or ethical implications of this treatment. Rather their premise is it is medically interesting that these women made it to adulthood without diagnosis, had family genetic histories which include other sexual differentiation disorders, and that these and other factors point to the need for screening of all young athletes “with primary amenorrhea and hyperandrogenism to protect their health and privacy and ensure fairness in female competition.”
When African and Middle Eastern people engage in genital surgeries on women, westerners call it mutilation. When French doctors do it, it gets called therapy completed in the name of competitive fairness.
Second, the idea that there is a “normal” is highly problematic. A study from the same journal, published just a year before this one, found that testosterone levels in elite athletes do not always predict success. The study of nearly 700 male and female elite athletes found overlap in the ranges of testosterone, including 16.5% of men who had levels in the “female range.” This finding reinforces previous arguments in the debate over sex testing, fairness, and advantages. Why is advantage only being measured by hormones? Swimmer Michael Phelps’s size 14 feet and hyperflexibility fall outside the range of normal. Should doctors shave down his toes and shorten his ankle tendons? Sport governance bodies are not considering the many biological and cultural conditions that confer or decrease in individual athletes. They have zeroed in on hormones.
Finally, the concept of a suspect female athlete is, well, highly suspect. Though some sporting bodies are starting screening on every competitor in female categories, the possibility of discrimination based on race, performed femininity, nationalism, and class remains too high. Who is being brought in for testing and “therapy” is about more than countries with poor health care systems, as the French doctors suggest.
How does it come to pass that sport governing organizations, whose very existence is predicated on moving, achieving, striving bodies, know so little about bodies? I would suggest that it is ironic, but I fear that word might misrepresent the gravity of the present situation. What it appears to be is that these organizations are considering and assessing the politics and the policies more intently than the interests of the athletes whom they allegedly serve. And they are using the medical industry to help them do so.

Friday, February 14, 2014

You can literally see the inequality

Last weekish I wrote about my astonishment that there isn't a 4-women bobsled event and how this speaks to the inequality that still remains in the Olympics in spite of visible and highly touted progress (i.e., the much-belated inclusion of women's ski jumping) because of the lack of equality in the events themselves. Even women's ski jumping has only one event while the men have two (two different sized hills).
Want to see the inequality? Not in a pie graph or nifty infographic (though those are fun); but here in the medal ceremony for the team luge event. This was a new event this year (I think--I had never seen it before) in which a team comprised of a female sledder, a male sledder, and a doubles team relay down the course. When one entity crosses the line, he/she hits a paddle which releases the gate at the top for the next entity.
Each team has 1 woman and three men. Why? Because female lugers only have one event--the singles. Just like the female bobsledders only have the 2-person race. Within sports in where the inequality lies.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Why adjectives matter: The case of women's sports

I ended yesterday's post with a line about female Olympians, who are the minority gender at the Winter Olympics, receiving a greater piece of spotlight. The caveat (in addition to the fact that it actually might not be true if one does a thorough content analysis of media coverage) is that the spotlight they are under highlights their sexuality, or rather their performance of their (hetero)sexuality/femininity.
Obviously in most other arenas (pun intended) the spotlight on female athletes and women's sports is pretty dim. So much so that the media sometimes forgets altogether that women's sports exist. Because when "women" gets placed in front of "sports" it has some kind of cloaking effect, rendering women's sports invisible to the world.
This phenomenon was on display last year when Andy Murray won Wimbledon, the first Brit to do so since Fred Perry in the 1930s. Except for Dorothy Round Little, Angela Mortimer Barrett, Ann Haydon-Jones, and Virgina Wade (the last, who should get additional props for winning it with just one last name). Some media outlets were able to point out the discrimination within 24 hours, which I guess is a marker of this thing we call "progress."
But the phenomenon emerged again mere days ago when the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl--the first Seattle team to win a title since the Supersonics won the NBA championship in 1979. That news had Seattle Storm star Lauren Jackson more than a little confused (she was pissed!) because she remembers being on two championship-winning teams in 2004 and 2010.
I haven't yet seen any corrections to the misinformation.