Tennis legend Martina Navratilova, who is openly lesbian, has been ousted from the board of Athlete Ally, a nonprofit that promotes LGBT inclusion in sports. Navratilova published an op-ed in the U.K. Sunday Times on February 17 in which she said it was “unfair” to allow trans women—biological males who had changed their gender identity to female—to compete athletically against biological women.
“Letting men compete as women simply if they change their name and take hormones is unfair — no matter how those athletes may throw their weight around,” the 62-year-old Navratilova wrote. “[T]he rules on trans athletes reward cheats and punish the innocent.” She added: “It’s insane and it’s cheating. I am happy to address a transgender woman in whatever form she prefers, but I would not be happy to compete against her.
Athlete Ally’s response was swift and certain:
Martina Navratilova’s recent comments on trans athletes are transphobic, based on a false understanding of science and data, and perpetuate dangerous myths that lead to the ongoing targeting of trans people through discriminatory laws, hateful stereotypes and disproportionate violence.
“First of all, trans women are women, period,” the organization’s statement continued. “They did not decide their gender identity any more than someone decides to be gay, or to have blue eyes. There is no evidence at all that the average trans woman is any bigger, stronger, or faster than the average cisgender woman, but there is evidence that often when athletes lower testosterone through hormone replacement therapy, performance goes down.” And that was the end of Navratilova’s eight-year stint as an outreach LGBT “ambassador” to the sports world—a strange fate for a woman who came out as gay in 1981, a time when public declarations of homosexual identity were still socially perilous, even for celebrities.
Readers need not approve of Navratilova’s lesbian lifestyle or her promotion of lesbian causes to recognize the absurdities of Athlete Ally’s assertion and the transgender ideology it is seeking to defend. There is one small problem with Athlete Ally’s declaration that “there is no evidence at all that the average trans woman is bigger, stronger, or faster than the average cisgender woman”—the mounting heap of exactly that evidence. On February 16, the day before Navratilova published her op-ed, high school juniors Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood, biological males who identify as trans girls, won first and second place in the 55-meter dash at Connecticut’s open indoor track championships. Second-placer Yearwood was nearly a full quarter of a second faster than third-place finisher Chelsea Mitchell, a biological female. A video of the sprint shows a Miller and Yearwood who both look noticeably taller, bigger-boned, and fuller-muscled than their “cisgender” competitors. High school junior Selina Soule complained to the Associated Press: “We all know the outcome of the race before it even starts; it’s demoralizing.” Parents of other girls complained even louder, but to no avail. Connecticut is one of seventeen states (along with the District of Columbia) that allow transgender athletes to compete without such restrictions as actually having undergone sex-reassignment surgery or even taking female hormones that might reduce their muscle mass.
Nor were Miller and Yearwood anomalies. In 2016 another male-to-female transgender sprinter, Nattaphon Wangyot, took home all-state honors in Alaska’s girls’ track-and-field competition. In 2018, Rachel McKinnon, a transgender philosophy professor at the College of Charleston, won first place in the women’s cycling sprint 35-39 age bracket at the Union Cycliste Internationale’s Masters Track Cycling Championship. A photo of the event shows a hulky McKinnon in bicycle shorts towering over the second- and third-place winners. Transgender mixed-martial-arts fighter Fallon Fox cracked the skull of her opponent, Tamikka Brents, in a 2014 match, culminating a brief career of five wins to one loss. In 2012 trans woman Gabrielle Ludwig, 50 years old, 6’8” in height and 220 pounds in weight, joined the women’s varsity basketball team after enrolling at Santa Clara's Mission College in California. She had fought in Operation Desert Storm as a man and had been married and divorced twice before changing her birth certificate to reflect her new female identity. Ludwig’s coach predicted to the Mercury News that she would be “the most dangerous player in the state”—a not unsurprising assessment since Ludwig was about a foot taller on average than any other woman college player at the time.
Male-to-female transgender athletes are vanishingly few in number (like male-to-female trans people in general), but as the above examples indicate, when they compete, they pose a crushing existential threat to women’s sports. That is because the very existence of women’s sports is predicated, as Martina Navratilova recognized, on the now-highly politically incorrect observation that the two sexes are radically different physically. Women on average are not only smaller than the average man, but they cannot punch as hard, lift as much weight, or run as fast, owing to the enhanced bone density and muscle mass that testosterone affords (healthy young men’s testosterone is about ten times the level of women’s, and even when male-to-female trans people take testosterone-suppressing hormones, their bone and much of their muscle structure remains). No woman, for example, has ever run a four-minute mile; the first man to do so, Roger Bannister, broke that barrier in 1954. When biological males and biological females compete with each other on the playing fields, the biological females almost always lose.
Nonetheless, current ideology demands that gender identity be regarded as utterly fluid and a matter of subjective feeling, not physiology. “Trans women are women, period” is the reigning ethos. It is an ethos heavily promoted by trans people themselves, several of whom hold prominent leadership positions in LGBT organizations (a trans woman, Barnard professor Jennifer Finney Boylan, is current co-chair of GLAAD, another leading LGBT organization). One current project is to stigmatize heterosexual men—and lesbians—who refuse to date or have sexual relations with trans women. Lesbians and other progressive women who dissent are branded TERFs—“Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists.”
One of the chief instigators of Navratilova’s expulsion from Athlete Ally's board was Rachel McKinnon. In December 2018 Navratilova had tweeted: “You can’t just proclaim yourself a female and be able to compete against women. There must be some standards, and having a penis and competing as a woman would not fit that standard.” McKinnon unleashed a barrage of Twitter invectives about Navratilova’s “transphobic” rhetoric that she redoubled after the Sunday Times op-ed. There is something ironic about a lifelong lesbian advocate being pushed out of her own movement by a biological male.
What is truly troubling, however, is the willingness of heterosexual feminists to go along with all of this. A typical sentiment is: “When those that govern sports maintain anachronistic conceptions of gender, we as society do not win and we as a society have to push back,” from Emma Tumilty of the International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics. If women complain that trans women are beating them in track or cycling or mixed martial arts, the standard response is: Try harder next time. Vice magazine,the wreckage wrought by Fallon Fox on Tamikka Brents’s body, called Brents a “sore loser” who needed to “get over it.”
On January 31 brand-new Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar sent a letter to USA Powerlifting on behalf of a transgender constituent (with a copy to Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison for enforcement under state anti-discrimination laws) demanding that it quit barring biological males who identify as women from women’s events. Omar called the idea that trans women athletes have a “direct competitive advantage” over biological females a “myth” unsupported by “medical science.”
For decades feminists have castigated heterosexual men for trying to “erase” women—from history, from society, from political life. But the real erasure of women these days is coming from their fellow progressives. They are being denied their distinctive female sports, their distinctive female bodies, and, ultimately, their distinctive female identities.
Charlotte Allen is a writer living in Washington, D.C.