Every week in her Good Form column, Natalie Weiner explores the ways in which the sports world’s structural inequalities and injustices illuminate those outside it — and the ways in which they’re inextricably connected. You can read previous columns here.
“This is the inevitable — INEVITABLE — outcome of anti-trans policies in girls’ sports,” tweeted journalist Jessica Luther earlier this week. “Everyone claiming anti-trans policies are necessary to ‘protect’ girls’ sports has set up every. single. girl. (cis or trans) as a possible suspect.”
She was responding to a news story out of Utah, one of 18 states that ban students from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity. In the wake of the ban, apparently parents of girls who came in second and third in a still-unnamed sport then “lodged a complaint with the Utah High School Activities Association calling into question the winner’s gender,” according to a report from the Deseret News. The association then investigated the winner, concluding that she had been registered in school as a female going back to kindergarten.
It’s hard to know where to begin with a story of such deep cruelty, ignorance and hatred. The trans athlete ban itself, a step towards legislating trans people out of existence, whose only function is to fuel the hatred and paranoia required to line Republican party election coffers with cash. There’s the pointed exclusion of and undue examination of trans people and specifically trans kids, who are not hurting anyone at all by simply being themselves — aiming the wrath of irrational bigots towards an already-marginalized and often vulnerable group of people who are minding their own business.
Then there’s the painful hypocrisy of the anti-trans party line: that they are “protecting women’s sports.” I have written about how harmful and patronizing this argument is in the past, but this case makes its internal contradictions feel that much more acute. As Luther points out, now every girl is a “suspect” — no longer is simply saying you’re a girl enough to be perceived as one. You have to prove it, either via humiliating sex testing or in this case, by going back through your own documentation to respond to complaints like “that female athlete doesn’t look feminine enough,” as parents in Utah alleged. Despicable is not strong enough of a word.
Those who seek to legislate violence against and exclusion of trans people aren’t “protecting women” or their sports; they are guarding the impossible white, Christian, straight, Western, cisgendered standards that for so long defined womanhood — fighting for the kind of mythical, backwards femininity that has driven women mad for centuries. Sports have always been a place where women had a better shot at shaking off those impossible standards, at least for a moment — where they could win, literally and figuratively, without abiding by them. As a result, it has always been a place where women have been criticized for not being feminine enough; has been rejected and marginalized precisely because it allowed women to challenge that status quo.
For a girl to win something, and then to have her win undercut by people who say she could not possibly have won so easily without actually being a boy, cuts to the core of why women’s sports in general have faced so much so much vitriol — especially when they aren’t paired with a white, thin, smiling, feminine face. Sports should require no performance except an athletic one, and personhood should require no performance except that which is chosen. Forget protecting women, let’s protect each other.