Denial of Lia Thomas’ Biological Advantages Doesn’t Make Them Any Less Real

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Susan Shaw, a women’s and gender studies professor at Oregon State, penned a recent op-ed in Forbes titled “Transgender Swimmer Lia Thomas’ Body is Not the Problem.”

But that headline relies on a fallacy increasingly recognized by the public as such: Lia Thomas’ body is exactly the problem.

Not satisfied with stealing the NCAA Division I, 500-meter freestyle championship from a woman in 2022, Thomas is now suing World Aquatics in the international Court of Arbitration for Sport for its refusal to let Thomas, who was born male but “identifies” as transgender, compete in the women’s category in elite swimming events, such as the USA Olympic team swimming trials.

Their onerous regulation? World Aquatics permits transgender women to compete in women’s events only if they transitioned before age 12 or before one of the early stages of puberty.

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Shaw believes that the deep divisions over transgender athletic participation are based not on research evidence on trans athletic advantages, but rather on “our deeply-held and rather largely unexamined assumptions about biology and gender.”

But those purported assumptions are backed by hard scientific research referenced in the joint statement of the International Federation of Sports Medicine and the European Federation of Sports Medicine Associations, which indicated that the International Olympic Committee—with its trans-inclusive sport regulations—had failed to take proper account of “scientific, biological or medical aspects.”

In particular, it ignored that “high testosterone concentrations, either endogenous or exogenous, confer a baseline advantage for athletes in certain sports … and must be mitigated.”

World Aquatics later convened its own group of scientists with the aim of developing sport-specific transgender athletic regulations. In findings to file under “told you so,” the scientists reported that “biological sex is a key determinant of athletic performance,” with males outperforming females in sports (including aquatic sports) that are primarily determined by neuromuscular, cardiovascular and respiratory function, and anthropometrics including body and limb size.

The Independent Women’s Forum compiled some of the more compelling research on physiological distinctions between men and women in its report “Competition,” available at the group’s website.

So, yes, Lia Thomas—at 6-foot-1, with broader shoulders, higher muscle mass, greater bone density and longer legs—has a distinct athletic benefit over even the most highly trained female aquatic competitors in the world.

Like other feminists, Ms. Shaw stresses the “illusion of difference” between the sexes, claiming that if “women cut their hair the same way as men, wore ‘men’s’ clothes, and didn’t shave their legs and underarms, wear makeup, or pluck their eyebrows, they wouldn’t look nearly as different from men as they do.”

But there is a yawning chasm of difference between looking the same and being the same. And for decades, feminists fought the tired trope that women are to be distinguished (from men and each other) primarily by how they look. This a strangely reductionist argument for a purported feminist to rely so much on superficial expressions of womanhood.

Womanhood is not makeup, hairstyles, dresses or high heels. And even critically thinking gender zealots ought to know better.

A favorite tactic of the anti-biology crowd is to force a convolution of the sexes and paint immutable differences as artificial, ensuring that women’s equality can be decimated sport by sport, bathroom by bathroom, program by program.

Shaw strains to argue that we “can’t even define biological sex all that well.” Of course we can. Sex is defined by sexual reproduction and sex cells called gametes. Biologists recognize it. Other professors recognize it. Teenagers recognize it. Federal judges recognize it (though perhaps not all Supreme Court justices do). Even young children, observant as they are, recognize that boys and girls are different.

Why else would there be a need to proselytize these same children into a world where gender unicorns, drag queens and subjective self-identification take the place of what their eyes know to be true?

The motivating force behind significant civil rights gains for women was the understanding that while men and women are different, opportunities for each must be equal. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote as much in 1996 in her majority opinion in U.S. v. Virginia: “Physical differences between men and women, however, are enduring: ‘[T]he two sexes are not fungible; a community made up exclusively of one [sex] is different from a community composed of both.’”

In the battle for women’s athletic equality, male bodies will always be the problem.

Originally published at WashingtonTimes.com

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