The 450 words I have to write this column are nowhere near enough to capture the depth of my outrage of using female athletic participation as a weapon in a fight against trans folks, nor to capture my absolute disgust at the wave of anti-trans legislation that has flooded the states. If this legislation only impacted trans people, it would be worthy of vigorous opposition. The reality is anti-trans legislation and sex stereotyping harms all women — cisgender and transgender — and intersex and nonbinary people.
Alongside my rage is my fear. I am terrified about the possibility that the inhumane practices that have existed to exclude anyone who isn’t deemed a “real woman” in elite athletics will become widespread in our colleges and our K-12 schools. “Sex verification” has included mandatory physical checks to examine reproductive or secondary sex organs and blood testing to examine chromosomes and hormones. The testing has become sophisticated and intense — as Ruth Padawer’s reporting noted, “[n]o governing body has so tenaciously tried to determine who counts as a woman for the purpose of sports as the I.A.A.F. and the International Olympic Committee.”
Imagine, any time a 12-, 16- or 20-year-old female athlete excels, an opposing team could demand that she undergo exploratory medical procedures to determine whether she’s female enough. Since schools don’t have the sophisticated labs available in the Olympics, maybe they will make female athletes strip and possibly sexually assault them by physically checking their genitalia.
Perhaps the likely chilling effect the ability to question the “realness” of a girl or woman is really the point behind the anti-trans legislation. If any of these people claiming to protect female athletic participation actually cared about female athletic participation, there’s a much better way to work towards that goal: actually fight for Title IX and the ban on sex discrimination in education.
Any girl who has ever played sports has seen the way her participation is devalued, seen the way girls’ programs get less funding, fewer experienced coaches, the crappy fields, the worst practice times and the least amount of support from the school and the community.
This is not by accident. It’s only been since 1972 that female athletes had genuine opportunities to participate in athletics. Since then, there has been fierce opposition to equal access. Opponents succeeded in defining equity as a 60/40 male to female participation ratio as compliance with Title IX. Even with this math, most colleges still fall short.
I refuse to fall for a dangerous attempt to divide me from any athletes that falls on the female continuum. Their fight is my fight — and our fight is for greater opportunities for all of us to play.
Jill Mullins is a social justice lawyer in Bellingham, Washington.
Read more in the Mar. 17-23, 2021 issue.