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Dear Editor: How can New Zealand’s transgender weight lifter compete but not Semenya?

“[…] New Zealander weight lifter Laurel Hubbard, formerly Gavin, has been granted permission to compete as a female weightlifter. Laurel, formerly Gavin, is transgender who used to compete as a male but has satisfied the following criteria.

“[…] The first opposition has come from ‘naturally-occurring females’. Quoting scientific research, they claim that ‘any male who has undergone puberty retains significant advantages in power and strength, even after taking medication to suppress their testosterone levels’…”

Photo: New Zealand transgender weight lifter Laurel Hubbard.

The following Letter to the Editor from Rae Samuel of Balmain looks at the inclusion of New Zealand transgender weight lifter Laurel Hubbard in the context of the supposed ‘unfair advantage’ of South Africa long distance runner Caster Semenya:

As if the debate over staging the Tokyo Olympics amidst such a deadly pandemic were not enough, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has introduced a new element of controversy, which will rage long after the Covid-19 virus has been brought under control.

New Zealander weight lifter Laurel Hubbard, formerly Gavin, has been granted permission to compete as a female weightlifter. Laurel, formerly Gavin, is transgender who used to compete as a male but has satisfied the following criteria.

Laurel has ‘for the past four years demonstrated that her testosterone level is below 10 nano-moles per litre for at least 12 months before competition as well as throughout the eligibility period’.

The first opposition has come from ‘naturally-occurring females’. Quoting scientific research, they claim that ‘any male who has undergone puberty retains significant advantages in power and strength, even after taking medication to suppress their testosterone levels’. 

Photo: Laurel Hubbard waves after securing her place at the Tokyo Olympics.
(Copyright Toronto Star)

Additionally, even when transgender women suppressed testosterone levels for 12 months, the loss of lean body mass, muscle area and strength was only 5%; transwomen retaining most of their strength.

What jumps out here is that we are not dealing with naturally-born females. Classification in sports is done by ‘sex and not by gender’.

The former is clearly observable and biologically determined while gender is/can be a variable social construct. Therefore, transitions have to be made by medical interventions or procedures. This is tantamount to legitimising substance abuse. An athlete who undergoes a medical process which modifies the naturally occurring anatomy and physiology gains an unfair advantage.

Sport, across the spectrum, has policed and sanctioned such practice heavily over the last four to five decades. This is how World Anti-Doping Agency, The Court of Arbitration for Sport and other such bodies came into being.

There is no need to remind how severe they have been on defaulters, going so far as to ban an entire nation, Russia, from some forms of competition. Now we see this.

Photo: New Zealand weight lifter Laurel Hubbard, a transgender athlete, lifts.

Now we turn to a part of the story that is going to have the real controversy, to use a kind word. South African Olympic and World champion long distance runner, Mokgadi Caster Semenya, was deemed to have an unfair advantage over other female competitors because of her natural levels of testosterone supposedly exceeded the threshold for females.

No one, as far as I have been able to discover, can state what is an acceptable natural level. This dives into the realm of heredity, culture, diet, environment, life style—matters which are as diverse as the human species biologically.

In its 163 page, 632-point ruling the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) noted that: ‘The IAAF should prioritise biology over gender identity… The sport of athletics is divided in a binary fashion and the division is not challenged’. 

Probably what is most revealing is its final ruling: ‘For reasons that are explained, the majority of the panel find that the Difference of Sexual Development/DSD rules are discriminatory but on the evidence currently before it, such discrimination is necessary, reasonable and proportionate, as a means of achieving the aim of what is described as the integrity of the female athletes and upholding of the protected class of female athletes’.

Photo: South Africa’s Caster Semenya competes in the semi-final of the women’s 800m athletics event at the 2017 IAAF World Championships at the London Stadium, London on 11 August 2017.
(Copyright AFP PHOTO / Glyn Kirk)

This seems to suggest that the IOC is standing in contradiction to CAS ruling, effectively exposing ‘the protected class’ of female athletes in certain events.

I have gone to such lengths to revisit the Caster Semenya issue because Hubbard has displaced 21-year-old born female Kuinini Manumua of Tonga, who would have been competing in her first Olympics. There were three spots available for weightlifters in the Oceania region and Laurel has bumped Ms Manumua out of a chance to represent Tonga in Tokyo. 

Whether we like it or not, this aspect of the matter will become part of the emerging furore.

Where does this leave Trinidad and Tobago? It is early times yet for us. Any transgender athlete seeking to represent us will have precedent on their side.

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  1. That is a man. We need to stop using the language/words/descriptions of those who want us to act as if this is normal and acceptable when we know that is can never be normal or and it is barely acceptable if even. Imagine a woman training so hard to be a weight lifter and then comes a faux femmes, a man with penis and testicles and he gets to participate and defraud a woman of her rightful place on the podium, or at the olympics etc. It is not fair and it is not right. We need to stop cuddling these people’s mental problems and tell them the truth. How can any sane person stand naked infront a mirror and see a penis they were born with an deduce from that that they must be female, and you know what some have already started saying they say that hetero men must date trans people as if they are real women or else it’s transphobic etc. These people have a real mental problem, they need professional help and not that the rest of society pretends that man in a dress and lipstick is a woman and that a woman who dresses like a man is man. Biology is not some political ideology, gender politics, socialism etc., biology is science. Women should boycott any competition where a man gets to participate as a fraudulent female, and their gov should support them diplomatocally. If enough people do this it will cause a massive debate. What’s next a fake woman in a boxing competition?