New rules are working to save women's sports – The Hill

Last June, biking champion Kate Weatherly, who identifies as a trans woman, lamented the new exclusion of trans-woman-identified athletes from certain women’s sports. The rules now applied to women’s swimming would ban Weatherly from women’s biking if they were applied there as well. These comments led the hashtag #savewomenssports to trend on Twitter, showing that many people welcome new rules that keep women’s sports open only to biological females. 
This idea is controversial, but it shouldn’t be. I’m glad that women’s leagues are starting to make the necessary corrections to serve their purpose: providing a space for female athletes to compete against one another, and not against males.
Why is it now considered controversial to insist that female sports be, well, female? There are three reasons.
First, a strand of once-academic gender theory that has moved into the mainstream says that sex – not just the gendered performance of sex, but actual sex itself – is purely a social construct.
From this perspective, having female genitalia is no more relevant to whether one is a woman than having red hair. Both men and women can have any genitalia, just like both men and women can have any hair color. While these debates may have originated as important conversations about how to understand medical anomalies like being born with ambiguous sexual organs, sex itself has now been reduced to mere stereotypes of gender performance. 
So, in a truly fascinating turn of events, leftist gender theorists have joined reactionary conservatives in the false idea that women are defined by dresses, high heels and lipstick.
Second, there is an increasingly prevalent idea that allowing individual feelings to substitute for objective facts affects only the individual in question. In fact, every denial of fact that perpetuates one individual’s self-conception comes at the expense of someone else.
Here’s an example. In high school, I was an unremarkable three-sport athlete. I was a third-rate field hockey player, an average softball player and a middling swimmer. Twenty years and three kids later, I am no longer near the height of even my modest abilities.
Imagine, though, if I embraced an age-queer identity. “Age queerness,” which rejects “linear time” and the “age binary” is like transgenderism in that it derives from queer theory. While there are rare medical conditions that can cause a person’s bones to be much older than the biological age of the rest of the body, for example, the concept of “age queerness” is about personal identification, not medical anomalies. 
Were I to claim an age-queer identity, and identify as, say, a 70-year-old woman (rather than with my biological age of half that), I might have a chance at setting some division records in the pool. I might also knock someone’s teeth out with a softball, given how comparatively fast I can still swing a bat and the aged reflexes of my fellow athletes.
Would anyone think that my participation in the senior citizens’ softball league was reasonable, or fair, even if I insisted, like many trans women athletes, that “I am as I identify”?
I would wager not. Most people would be perfectly happy to let me wear traditionally elderly attire and eat at early bird specials. Those are things anyone can do, and no one should discriminate against me if I choose to do them, nor should they discriminate against any biological male who performs traditional femininity in his attire or self-expression.
But when my self-identification bumps up against clear rules, as in the case of my participation in an athletic league specifically designed for a group of people of whom I am not one, my biology must take precedence over my identity. 
Neither the fact that some senior citizens might beat me across the pool, nor the fact that my age-queer self would fit in socially among senior citizens, changes this reality. Even if I don’t win, I still don’t belong in the race. And social camaraderie may be a positive externality of elderly (or women’s) sports, but it is not their raison d’être. There are lots of purely recreational spaces to socialize however one identifies.
Third and finally, as a society, we are generally not as invested in girls’ and women’s sports as we are in boys’ and men’s. That’s why we allow them to be a casualty of our unwillingness to speak newly controversial truths. Yes, sports are now an important part of many girls’ childhoods, as they were of mine. And yes, successful women’s teams get more attention today than they once did. But it remains boys’ and men’s sports that boast billion-dollar fandom. 
We would not allow anyone to wage an unfair advantage over our superstar male athletes, no matter what they believed about themselves. 
We do not allow steroids in baseball, for example, because players who use them will often throw harder, hit harder and recover faster than those who do not. Sure, a player who uses steroids will not perform better every day than a player who does not. But, on average and over time, he will accumulate an unfair advantage. If he identifies as someone who has not consumed what he in fact has (we’ve all been there, though for me it’s usually chocolate), we don’t consider that relevant. 
Or take the American military. President Biden confirmed recently that people born male but identifying as female must register for the draft. People born female but identifying as male do not have to. 
So, when we care about the matter in question – when it’s something of grave importance, like the military – we acknowledge reality. When we don’t, as in the case of female sports, we deny reality at the expense of girls and women. 
Factually speaking, no one can change sex by denying its biological existence, any more than one can change age or consumption by doing the same. Age isn’t just a number, and sex isn’t just about genitalia, hormones or self-presentation; it marks every aspect of the body
So, if what we mean by “woman” is “adult human female,” trans women are not women. If all we mean by “woman” is “feminine,” then we should probably just say that.
Regardless of how we identify trans women, they are not female athletes. We must save women’s sports, so that biological women can retain fair and competitive athletic spaces. 
Elizabeth Grace Matthew writes about culture, politics and religion for various publications, including America magazine and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Follow her on Twitter @ElizabethGMat.
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