The Dishonest Assault on Transgender Athletes

The photo immediately went viral, and was transformed into a fascist meme. It depicts transgender female swimmer Lia Thomas, after having won the 500-yard freestyle at the 2022 NCAA Women’s Swimming competition; and, over to one side, her three closest competitors, huddled together in a manner that seemingly suggests they are protesting the outcome. The fascists lauded their “courage” for “taking a stand” for “what’s right”. And the media maelstrom over Thomas, the first transgender to win such an event, fueled the outrage machine to further vilify transgender athletes, transgenders in general, and the “leftists” who don’t hate them the way God intended.

It may not shock you too much to learn this, but there is actually less to this photo than meets the eye. It does not depict a protest. The three young women are clustered together simply because they are old friends. Other photos, far less widely circulated, depict them assuming their proper positions, and even congratulating Thomas for her victory. All of them at some point have spoken out in support of transgender competitors, and even of Thomas herself. At least one of them has expressed disgust that her photo is being used in a deceptive manner to gin up animosity toward Thomas.

It shouldn’t be at all surprising that the smear campaign against her is inaccurate or downright dishonest, because the assault against transgenders in general leans heavily on misinformation. Indeed, the same can be said of any group targeted by bigots, whether it be gays, Jews, atheists, socialists, immigrants, African-Americans or “liberals”. Transgenders just happen to be the favored whipping boy/ girl at the moment. Accordingly, the lies about them have flowed thick and fast.

The bigots have claimed that everybody is born either male or female, no questions asked. Nope. There are about two dozen intersex conditions that occur in some individuals, making it difficult to fit them neatly into either the M or F box. And that’s just considering only biology, as black-and-white thinkers are wont to do.

They have claimed that a non-binary perception of gender and transgenderism is a new phenomenon — one Fox “News” host said that it didn’t even exist 4 years ago! Nope. Gender fluidity appears to be as old as humanity itself. Some Native American tribes traditionally recognized as many as 5 genders.

They have claimed that transgenders simply decide to be transgenders because it’s a cool and trendy thing to do — as witness the “explosion” in the number of reported transgenders in recent years. Which indicates that the bigots don’t know the difference between reported numbers and actual numbers. Once upon a time, those of us who were left-handed were considered abnormal, and were forced to be right-handed by school teachers and other authority figures. Once that stopped, a lot more people (surprise) admitted being left-handed. That doesn’t mean there was an “explosion” of people “deciding” to be southpaws.

When it comes to trans athletes, there is one misconception in particular that is the backbone of the bigot assault: the myth that trans women automatically have an advantage in athletic competitions. Now those who are not well informed about the matter (which, let’s face it, is probably the great majority of us) might assume that this is true. After all, individuals who are classified as males at birth tend to grow up with bigger and stronger bodies. But hormone replacement therapy (HRT) significantly weakens muscles. And while trans athletes still seem to retain a slight advantage in muscular strength alone, there are other factors to be considered. It’s not at all clear that there is an actual overall inequity; and even if there is, it would apply only to some activities. (The bigots focus on the one competition that Lia Thomas won, but fail to mention the ones she lost.) And there are ways to regulate divisions of competition that do not entail simply banning trans competitiors.

The reactionaries, however, have had a feeding frenzy in the wake of Thomas’ one victory. It was all over Fox “News” and other right-wing chatterboxes. Our old friends at PragerU couldn’t get enough of it, with dozens of tweets a day asking things like “what is a woman, anyway”? The fascist governor of Florida, who very well might be the next fascist president of the United States, honored the now-established Republican tradition of declaring victory no matter how badly you lose, by issuing a proclamation that the runner-up in the race was actually the winner rather than Lia Thomas. Even Caitlin Jenner dumped on her. Go ahead, just try to wrap your head around that one.

At least a dozen states (as of this writing) have enacted some sort of ban on transgenders participating in high school sports, and such legislation has been proposed in at least 25 states. (They have been proposed and enacted, of course, by Republicans, who love to accuse others of being part of a “cancel culture” and then the next minute — sometimes literally the next minute — call for “cancelling” the people they hate.) Among those passing a law is Utah, which has a grand total of one such athlete within its borders, comprising an almost infinitesimal percentage. Another now-established standard procedure for the GOP, by the way, is to use a steamroller to flatten a pimple. They’ll take the most extreme steps to persecute even the smallest minority. But just try to get them to do anything to protect a minority, no matter how big, and chances are you’ll hear something like “well, it’s only 25 percent of the population — why should we bother?”

Now you may notice another interesting pattern in all of this. Pretty much all of the transgenders that fascists become alarmed about are transgender females, though they clearly have disdain for transgenders in general. Why is this? One likely reason is that fascist culture is very male dominant, to the point of being misogynist. Accordingly, the transformation of a male into a female must seem for them a supreme kick in the balls for macho males everywhere.

You also may have noticed that I’ve used the word fascist quite a bit here. That doesn’t mean I’m just throwing it around willy-nilly, as many people do. Sometimes you really need to call a spade a spade. There’s a difference between conservative, right-wing and fascist (though admittedly the distinctions are becoming much more blurred in real time). It’s high time we dropped the undue politeness and started calling out these people for what they are.

(Photo: Georgia. Justin Casterline/Getty Images)


  1. Your argument falls apart from the start when you recognize multiple genders. Using your Native American tribes analogy of 5 genders, you acknowledge that each gender by its characteristics is distinct, therefore, should not be compared and forced into another category. Males should compete with males, women should compete with women, two spirit males should compete with two spirit males, two spirit females should compete with two spirit females and transgender should compete against transgender. It seems that you have clearly proven that just as females should not compete against males, transgender should not compete against females.

    • What “argument” exactly do you think I’m making? Who is trying to “force” one gender into “another category”? What does the existence of more than two genders have to do with the possibility that some individuals are assigned the wrong gender at birth? “Transgender” is not a separate gender.

  2. I know that after hormone therapy, transgender men will not have tons of testosterone which might give them an advantage, but I didn’t know that transgender women have even a slight advantage via muscular strength. However, the whole idea which you describe so wonderfully is the unfounded belief that Transgender people choose to change their sex just because they want to? My God! The surgeries and therapies they undergo are fraught with risks and hardships, meaning it is not exactly a walk in the park to undergo gender change therapy. A previous famous Gay Congressman who “came out,” remarked that in the Jersey neighborhood he grew up in, admitting one was gay was like purchasing a one way ticket to be buried in the local garbage dump and/or to be attacked unmercifully, “so” he asked, “why would anyone want to make such a decision and just “decide to be gay?”

    The frequent attacks made on Liberals or those who accept Trangenders are built on a mountain of misinformation and disinformation, as you say, so why do they refuse to accept science if science affirms that their arguments are wrong? It’s always been true that changes that unsettle certain false beliefs die hard, and that the arc of justice takes very long to turn. Thus it’s not just hating gays or transgender people, it’s also a wholesale rejection of any inconvenient truth that Trumpers hide behind. Many fundamentalist Christians decide they must declare war on anything that bolsters ANY facts that frighten them–(much in the same way as Trumpian strategists decided to refuse accepting ANY real provable truth they disagree with, even if the truth contradicts even the looniest beliefs they are spreading–such as the conspiracy theory known as QAnon, and the beliefs that many conservatives spread in order to discredit liberals and anyone open minded enough to reject their misinformation and disinformation–This kind of knee jerk condemnation is now endemic in the realm of politics, and so Trumpers double down on ANY lies that might help them elect Trump conservatives!

    It’s also really hard for those who have already drunk the Kool-Aid to be convinced by facts, since their minds have been conditioned to be suspicious of any arguments that liberals might offer, (as being automatically false). Many other people and I, both religious and/or believers in science are thus automatically rejected if our thoughts and understandings rain on the MAGA parade! Darker times are coming if deniers of facts are able to create any facts that they claim to be true! Everyone should be encouraged to engage in critical thinking and taught to seek rational proofs!

  3. I found this in a recent article in the New York Times:

    “Reasoned arguments are made on both sides. Going through puberty as a male provides physical advantages that persist even after testosterone levels are suppressed, such as broader shoulders, bigger hands, longer torsos, denser muscles and greater heart and lung capacity.”

    So if this is true, then after puberty transgender women do have an advantage because all of these changes happen during puberty, and can therefore perhaps represent a physical advantage for transgender athletes.

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