A high school athlete’s decision to participate in collegiate athletics isn’t usually a difficult process. Most high school athletes are scouted by potential coaches. Then, the toughest part for the athlete is deciding on which college he or she wishes to attend. If the athlete happens to be transgender, then the procedure becomes complicated, and in some instances, unfair.
According to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Media Reference Guide, transgender is “an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth.” An individual who was born male can be female, and an individual who was born female be male.
A college’s rules about transgender student athletes fluctuate depending on the association that the college follows. The regulations can also change from college to college within a specific organization. For example, colleges that fall under the National Collegiate Athlete Association (NCAA) have a unique policy. The NCAA contains over 1,000 colleges and 23 sports. However, a specific college like SUNY Fredonia, which is a part of the NCAA, may have allowances that vary slightly from the NCAA’s stated protocols.
The NCAA has a distinct set of codes if the transgender student athlete has gone through sex reassignment surgery. According to GLAAD Media Reference Guide, sex reassignment surgery “refers to doctor-supervised surgical interventions, and is only one small part of transition.” For instance, a transgender female can have surgery to have her male genitals altered to female genitals. A transgender male can undertake procedures to have his female genitals changed into male genitals.
For transgender student athletes who are in the process of taking hormonal therapy to transition into their desired genders, the guidelines become a bit trickier. In this circumstance, the NCAA’s method divides in two, depending on if the athlete happens to be transgender male or transgender female.
Kyle Allums, quoted in a Time story by Katy Steinmetz published on 11.28.14, “you’re asking somebody who is all about the best athletes competing against the best athletes, regardless of gender. If you want to identify as being a gladiator, as queer, as gender nonconforming, I really don’t care. Are you going to make this basket when it counts? Sports is about winning. It’s about competing. It’s about respect. And it’s about how you play the game. It’s not about the body you’re born into.” Kyle is the first openly transgender NCAA Division I athlete.
A transgender female athlete who is taking hormonal treatments like testosterone suppressants must use them for a full year before being able to compete on a women’s team. A transgender female may continue to compete on a men’s team until a year’s worth of hormonal treatment is done. A transgender female cannot compete on a women’s team prior to a year’s worth of hormonal treatment, without changing the team’s status to include both males and females. A transgender females is a female who was assigned as male at birth, but who identifies with the female gender.
A transgender male athlete who is utilizing hormonal treatments doesn’t need to wait for an entire year before playing on a men’s team. A transgender male athlete cannot be a part of a women’s team, regardless of how long the athlete has been taking testosterone. The only way that a transgender male can continue the eligibility on a women’s team after starting hormonal therapy is by altering the team’s status to include both genders. A transgender male is a male who was assigned as female at birth, but who identifies with the male gender.
For a transgender student athlete who has chosen not to or has yet to have hormonal therapy and sex reassignment surgery, the NCAA’s rules change once again. In this instance, a transgender athlete can participate in a gender-divided team that matches the athlete’s assigned birth gender. However, the options divide further, hinging on whether the athlete is transgender female or transgender male.
According to NCAA Policy on Student-Athlete Participation, “any transgender student-athlete who is not taking hormone treatment related to gender transition may participate in sex-separated sports activities in accordance with his or her assigned birth gender.”
In other words, a transgender male student athlete who is not taking testosterone is free to participate in either the men’s or women’s team for a sport. A transgender female student athlete who is not taking testosterone suppressants is limited to only being allowed to compete on a women’s team. In this case, the transgender female student athlete cannot be a part of a women’s team, which matches the athlete’s gender identity.
Transgender individuals’ choice of whether or not to undergo hormonal therapy or sex reassignment surgery is for a multitude of reasons. Some transgender individuals don’t feel the need to physically alter their bodies to match the way that they view themselves. Other transgender individuals cannot afford the expenses of hormonal therapy and sex reassignment surgery, which can cost thousands of dollars and not typically covered under most health care plans.
If a transgender individual has taken hormonal therapy or utilized sex reassignment therapy, a transgender individual has still transitioned. According to the GLAAD Media Reference Guide, “altering one’s birth sex is not a one-step procedure; it is a complex process that occurs over a long period of time.” The act of transitioning is different for each transgender individual, and transitioning doesn’t necessarily include physical changes like hormonal therapy or surgery. According to the GLAAD Media Reference Guide, “transition can include some or all of the following personal, medical, and legal steps: telling one’s family, friends, and co-workers; using a different name and new pronouns; dressing differently; changing one’s name and/or sex on legal documents; hormone therapy; and possibly (though not always) one or more types of surgery. The exact steps involved in transition vary from person to person.”
The NCAA has taken measures to ensure that colleges are following the association’s regulations for transgender student athletes. For example, the NCAA has created a questionnaire for cities that are hosting championships. The questions include hypothetical situations, like what would the colleges do if a transgender student athlete was facing discrimination.
Hudson Taylor, quoted in a New York Times story by Marc Tracy published on 7.11.16, “the questionnaire in and of itself is a tangible step to help ensure that N.C.A.A. events are held in an L.G.B.T.-inclusive environment.” Taylor is the executive director of Athlete Ally, which is a nonprofit organization that combats homophobia and transphobia in sports organizations.
While the NCAA has taken initiatives to protect transgender student athletes against outside prejudicial actions, the real issue lies in the NCAA’s own approach toward transgender student athletes. The NCAA does not give equal opportunities to transgender female student athletes that are bestowed upon transgender male student athletes.
Transgender male student athletes who haven’t taken hormonal therapy or had sex reassignment surgery can play on a men’s or women’s team. On the other hand, transgender female athletes who haven’t taken any hormonal therapy or had sex reassignment surgery can only play on a men’s team.
Transgender male student athletes are allowed to play on either gender’s team. Transgender female student athletes are limited to be a part of only one team, which is sexist. This distinction in policy implies that transgender female athletes are inheritability better at sports than transgender male athletes. The reasoning behind this line of thinking goes back to the belief that males, or individuals assigned male at birth, are faster, stronger and better than females, or individuals assigned female at birth. This line of thinking is not only incorrect, but also perpetuates the belief that one sex is better than the other.
Transgender student athletes should be able to play on the team that adheres to their gender identity, regardless of whether or not they have undergone hormonal therapy or sex reassignment surgery.