La Jornada – Between medicine and inclusion, transgender athletes clash with prejudice

There are athletes who must adapt to the changes in their own body, in addition to overcoming the fear of rejection, taking hormone therapy, training as if they were 100 percent without being, winning or losing and thus facing criticism and discrimination. That journey is the experience of a transgender person looking to compete in high performance.

The participation of the athletes trans in elite competitions it has opened a debate between sports medicine and the inclusion of sexual diversity.

The most recent cases were those of the young American swimmer Lia Thomas, who chained victories in university competitions and was accused of an alleged physical advantage, despite being subjected to hormone therapy for two years, as well as that of the British cyclist Emily Bridges, who was denied entry to a race.

Adaptation and suffering

“The adaptation process is a suffering. I don’t see an advantage in performance, but there are many costs that I have to pay physically and emotionally in order to be a high-performance athlete,” Argentine Mara Gómez, the first transgender soccer player in a women’s professional league, said about this transition.

Opinions are diverse. “Transgender athletes, despite lower testosterone levels, have advantages for being taller, stronger, less pelvic width and are more aggressive in competition,” he told the portal Runner’s World María José Martínez Patiño, former Spanish athlete, suspended in 1986 for having a male chromosome and who now collaborates with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in the study of gender problems.

One of the earliest precedents was the case of American tennis player Renée Richards, formerly Richard Raskind, who competed in doubles at the US Open in 1977, after the New York Supreme Court ruled in favor of allowing her to participate.

The IOC opened the possibility for transgender athletes to participate in Olympic sports in 2003 and modified its regulations in 2015. It established a requirement that athletes declare themselves female and set a cap on testosterone levels of 10 nanomoles per liter of blood.

Under this guideline, the Australian weightlifter Laurel Hubbard became the first transgender athlete to compete in an Olympic Games, although she was eliminated in the category of more than 87 kilograms in Tokyo 2020 after not achieving a successful lift.

“If I had an advantage, I would have even won gold,” said Mexican Ricardo del Real, who made his gender transition years after having won several world and Pan American medals in taekwondo as a woman.

Hubbard was not the only one to break stereotypes at Tokyo 2020. Canadian Quinn made history as the first athlete trans non-binary to win an Olympic medal after her team beat Sweden in the women’s soccer final.

The player even competed in the National Women’s Soccer League in the United States, but it was not until September 2020 that she revealed her identity as a non-binary transgender person, referring to those who do not identify with the male or female profiles imposed by society. .

After these first experiences in the Olympic Games, the IOC changed its rules in November 2021 with the intention of generating inclusion. “You don’t need to use testosterone (to decide who can compete). But this is a suggestion, it is not an absolute rule, “explained the agency’s medical director, Richard Budgett.

With this measure, the IOC declared itself in favor of inclusion and left it to the federations to impose their regulations and measures for transgender participants. He detailed that the new guidelines are the result of a two-year consultation process with more than 250 athletes and stakeholders.

“We are in diapers for this issue, the IOC said yes to inclusion, however the federations are not experts in scientific and medical issues, they do not have the capacity to carry out such important studies with volunteers,” Ricardo del Real pointed out.

“It is important that there is more visibility and reasoned information so that people begin a gender transition as soon as possible and their bodies are well adapted,” he added.

Even though Mara Gómez debuted in professional soccer in 2020 as the first transgender with Villa San Carlos in the first division of Argentina, FIFA has not expressed a position.

Mara was saved by soccer after having received bullying in adolescence and hovering over suicide. Finding a space for inclusion in the neighborhood where he lived, he sought the path to professionalism.

But his debut as a footballer hardly enjoyed it. He had been undergoing hormone therapy for two years, had lost muscle mass and did not have optimal physical resistance, he had even seen psychologists to carry out the transition process.

“To be a professional I had to increase the dose of hormone therapy, when I debuted I was physically and emotionally unwell. He even lost his balance,” Gomez said. “With all that, they say I have a physical advantage, but already in my second club, now with Estudiantes, I’ve only scored one goal.”

More studies and information

The soccer player considered it important that international organizations begin to work with a gender perspective and especially thinking about a sport that is not limited to the traditional profiles of the feminine and masculine, in reference to breaking gender and sexual orientation stereotypes.

“There has to be more studies, education and information. Among cisgender athletes there is also an advantage so there are winners and losers. The IOC no longer considers testosterone as a parameter, because other factors influence the preparation of a high-performance athlete, such as diet or training, ”he pointed out.

In this aspect, Lucía Ciccia and Hortensia Moreno, researchers at the Center for Research and Gender Studies (CIEG), agree, pointing out: “testosterone is not the cause of athletic supremacy.”

Bone density, in which stress and diet play a major role, still need to be considered, Ciccia said in a journal issue. UNAM Gazette.

The most recent case was that of cyclist Emily Bridges, who was declared “ineligible” to participate in the British national championship women’s omnium event in March.

The uproar was such that even the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, said that “biological men should not compete in women’s events.”

Differences in Sexual Development (DSD) have been another issue that has caused a stir in the sport, especially after the case of the double Olympic champion Caster Semenya, who was prevented by the IAAF from competing in the distances of her specialty, from 400 to 1,500 meters, if he did not reduce his testosterone levels below 5 nanomoles per liter of blood.

“According to World Athletics and its members, I am a man when it comes to 400, 800 and 1,500 meters! Then a woman in 100, 200 and long distance competitions. What research! What kind of fool would do that?” Semenya posted a few days ago on social media.

“Hormonal therapy begins to have effects within the first three months, but the time it takes to complete the process depends on each person, it can be up to two years and the treatment is for life,” said Erica Itzel González, doctor and sexologist of the Condesa specialized clinic.

“Before, only the binary (male and female) was seen. There are critics of transgender women, but they do not consider that cisgender men have a strength advantage over boys trans. It is a time to break stereotypes not only in sports, ”she maintained.