Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
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Are transgender athletes unfairly competing against cisgender women?

If you want something quick and simple, I don’t think this post is for you. Just remember you don’t get to theorize, assume simplicity, or pretend you know what this is all about until you have gained more knowledge. My short conclusion you may hopefully find toward the end of this post.

I don’t blame the cis-athlete in the above clip complaining. She’s angry but I understand her. I feel much more reserve for the ‘interviewer’ from an institution that routinely pushes right-wing ideas rather than the facts.

I have posted many blog posts protesting the oppression of transgender people, especially transwomen, and each of these stories stands.

However, could it be that athletes in male/female segregated sports should be divided along DNA/sex lines rather than brain/gender lines?

And how about DNA-intersex and bi-gender athletes?

Sports like handball are mixed and should have no problem here. Neither should sports that makes you win on condition, elegance, and quickness, like in diving. Besides, bigger and taller don’t always mean stronger and better. I’m not so short but terrible at basketball because guys much shorter than me run between my legs with the ball, simply being faster.

There are two seemingly conflicting interests. 1. Trans athletes being able to compete fairly. 2. Cis athletes not being competed against unfairly.

My hunch is that the truth lies exactly where it lies with abortion: both parties are right. And the most right are those who are willing to support women who are pregnant against their will or wish. Positions improve when people can understand their opponents’ positions and include them.


Let’s first agree there always have been very ‘masculine’ women (genitals and DNA of women but with naturally the body type of an average man — you know what I mean: big bones, lots of muscle) and very feminine men (genitals and DNA of men but body type of an average woman).

I don’t mean effeminate and emasculated behavior. Yet, we know that it makes a difference if you’re told all the time that you’re weak and should not even try, for being a woman, thanks to widespread sexism. That’s then something to overcome. However, many transgirls often have gotten the same oppressive message because bullies pick up on gender, not just sex. And transgirls may have a harder time shedding this discouragement because friends and family frequently do not recognize their gender and then don’t give the same anti-sexism message that cisgirls hopefully get.

Muscle power is not the only average difference between the sexes. Bone angles can also make a difference. The elbow of men, on average, is straighter than the elbow of women. Makes a difference on the bars.

But, genitals, biological or surgical in origin, are clearly not the thing that should decide anything. They simply don’t matter. So, thankfully, the Olympic Games decided five years ago, to stop checking genitals.

I also don’t think that we could say that transmen have an advantage in sports for never having a period. The physical and emotional turmoil of growing up transgender and having any kind of coming out or biological change is so much harder than any menstrual story I ever heard.

Two other things do matter. 1. Current sex hormone levels in the blood. 2. DNA before adulthood, often determining lengths and proportions.

On the first point, there are those who claim that it’s not fair when a female-to-male athlete is allowed to take testosterone doping. That is nonsense. The testosterone they take is only meant to try to keep up with the natural testosterone levels in cisgender men. Complaint dismissed.

On the second point, is it just me who sees so many male-to-female transgenders who are by far the tallest of their siblings and so many female-to-male transgenders who are by far the shortest of their siblings? And when they then transition, they are in their gender group even more outliers than they already were in their sex group. The exceptional height might not be just from their sex but also from their transgenderism.

It can’t be that every time a cisgender athlete loses from a transgender athlete, accusations are made that it’s not fair. Only bigots complain every time they lose from someone they have no respect for and see as alien.

But if there is real obvious unfairness, that should not be buried by political correctness. So, let’s go look for facts beyond the anecdotal story.


Let’s now listen to some transgender sportspersons. These arguments I found that made sense to me:

“In the Olympic Games, since 2004, there have been over 52,000 Olympians and not a single trans person has ever qualified, let alone won a medal. [Therefore, t]he very idea that we must ‘protect’ cis women’s—or ‘female’—sport from trans women, is an irrational fear of trans women, which is the dictionary definition of transphobia.”

However, it should be taken into account what percentage of transathletes participated in the Olympics. It could be that they hardly ever make it to the top but on a lower level, still unfairly compete.

“[H]ormone therapy for male-to-female transition suppresses testosterone and decreases muscle mass and bone density.”

That’s all fine but what about height differences? And It surely makes a difference how long a person is on testosterone suppression. Skeletal changes may take half a decade or more to materialize and stabilize.

“[I]f you go through puberty as a man it’s something that you can’t really reverse.”

It would not be fair to have her combat against men. It would not be fair to bar her from competing. Of course, there is always the Gay Olympics, where all athletes are more open to gender diversity.

But, since there are very tall ciswomen too, I think that it is immaterial if a girl grew tall from testosterone or tallness genes. When it would be always transwomen who win and begin to dominate a certain sport, maybe that sport can introduce a trans competition. But when 99% of all marathon winners are African, Caucasians also don’t say that it’s unfair to them. Let it be clear that no one transitions male-to-female in order to win at sports.

“I didn’t win. So much for my “overwhelming advantage” as a transwoman” (Paraphrased).

“I was forced to compete against girls because state law has sex at birth as norm. I won but of course, I didn’t win fairly. It was terrible. Now my birth sex is changed, thankfully, I compete against other dudes” (Paraphrased).

“I have experienced no advantage as a result of my transitioning from male. Taking estrogen and suppressing testosterone take away your muscle mass, your explosiveness. Your ratios from type-one to type-two fast-twitch fibers change. Your body completely changes. I don’t think they realize how much of a change hormone therapy makes” (Paraphrased).


I conclude that when a male-to-female athlete long enough has the female blood hormone balance, she can compete fairly with ciswomen.

Just like you don’t complain about losing from a Black person or a Jew, you don’t lament losing from a transperson. It’s not a decent thing to do.

If you think you’re unlucky because you have this unbeatable person in your school, city, state, and you must win, move. We’ll talk again if, in your sport, transwomen are dominating many schools, cities, states. Then something is unfair. But as of now, that’s not the case at all in general.

Being a good sport and a decent human being goes a long way.


The 2016 Olympics’ Guidelines say it beautifully:

It is necessary to ensure insofar as possible that trans athletes are not excluded from the opportunity to participate in sporting competition.

To require surgical anatomical changes as a pre-condition to participation is not necessary to preserve fair competition and may be inconsistent with developing legislation and notions of human rights.

Those who transition from female to male are eligible to compete in the male category without restriction.

Those who transition from male to female are eligible to compete in the female category under the following conditions:

  1. The athlete has declared that her gender identity is female. The declaration cannot be changed, for sporting purposes, for a minimum of four years.
  2. The athlete must demonstrate that her total testosterone level in serum has been below 10 nmol/L for at least 12 months prior to her first competition (with the requirement for any longer period to be based on a confidential case-by-case evaluation, considering whether or not 12 months is a sufficient length of time to minimize any advantage in women’s competition).
  3. The athlete’s total testosterone level in serum must remain below 10 nmol/L throughout the period of desired eligibility to compete in the female category.
  4. Compliance with these conditions may be monitored by testing. In the event of non-compliance, the athlete’s eligibility for female competition will be suspended for 12 months.

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About the Author
MM is a prolific and creative writer and thinker, a daily blog contributor to the TOI. He is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (, born in 1953 to two Dutch survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork, and holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam). He taught Re-evaluation Co-counseling, became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids. He wrote an unpublished tome about Jewish Free Will. He's a strict vegan since 2008. He's an Orthodox Jew but not a rabbi. * His most influential teachers (chronologically) are: his parents, Nico (natan) van Zuiden and Betty (beisye) Nieweg, Wim Kan, Mozart, Harvey Jackins, Marshal Rosenberg, Reb Shlomo Carlebach, and, lehavdil bein chayim lechayim: Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo, Rav Zev Leff, and Rav Meir Lubin. * Previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. For a couple of years, he wrote hasbara for the Dutch public. His fields of attention now are varied: Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science (statistics), Politics (Israel, the US and the Netherlands, Activism - more than leftwing or rightwing, he hopes to highlight Truth), Oppression and Liberation (intersectionally, for young people, the elderly, non-Whites, women, workers, Jews, LGBTQIA, foreigners and anyone else who's dehumanized or exploited), Integrity, Philosophy, Jews (Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust and Jewish Liberation), Ecology and Veganism. Sometimes he's misunderstood because he has such a wide vision that never fits any specialist's box. But that's exactly what many love about him. Many of his posts relate to affairs from the news or the Torah Portion of the Week or are new insights that suddenly befell him. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, reassure the doubters but make the self-assured doubt more. He strives to bring a fresh perspective rather than bore you with the obvious. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds must be disputed. In short, his main political positions are: anti-Trumpism, for Zionism, Intersectionality, non-violence, democracy, anti the fake peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, Science, Free Will, anti blaming-the-victim and for down-to-earth optimism. Read his blog how he attempts to bridge any discrepancies. He admits sometimes exaggerating to make a point, which could have him come across as nasty, while in actuality, he's quite a lovely person to interact with. He holds - how Dutch - that a strong opinion doesn't imply intolerance of other views. * His writing has been made possible by an allowance for second-generation Holocaust survivors from the Netherlands. It has been his dream since he was 38 to try to make a difference by teaching through writing. He had three times 9-out-of-10 for Dutch at his high school finals but is spending his days communicating in English and Hebrew - how ironic. G-d must have a fine sense of humor. In case you wonder - yes, he is a bit dyslectic. November 13, 2018, he published his 500th blog post with the ToI. If you're a native English speaker and wonder why you should read from people whose English is only their second language, consider the advantage of having a peek outside of your cultural bubble. * To find his earlier blog posts on a certain subject XXX among the over 1200 ones, go to the right-top corner of the Times of Israel page, click on the search icon and search . His second active blog is here: * To send any personal reaction to him, scroll to the top of the blog post and click Contact Me.
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