Fiona was a panellist on a session titled “Trans wars in sport” at the Battle of Ideas Festival in London on 29 October. Each panellist had six minutes to make an opening statement. Here’s her short speech. You can listen to the whole session including the Q&A here.
I’m going to talk about:
Why females need our own category in sport.
Why we can’t make exceptions for male bodies, whatever their identity.
And how any argument for allowing males with a trans identity into female categories is an argument for unfairness and exclusion of women and girls.
Sport is physical, and it’s rules-based. It’s not about identity. It’s not about appearance or expression or feelings. It’s about bodies. Male and female bodies are so different that if men and women competed together the winners would always be male. But we’re so used to separate events for men and women that you can be forgiven for not realising how big the differences are. So let me illustrate that for you.
Every women’s world record in athletics – every discipline, from the 100m sprint to the marathon to the high jump to the javelin, everything – has been broken by teenage boys –boys who are not fully mature. Those women’s records are beaten every year by hundreds or even thousands of men and boys.
This is why we need a dedicated female category. That is how sport does inclusion.
Some people say, that’s because men are bigger. Let’s do it by size instead. Well yes, combat sports do that – like boxing, wrestling, judo. Would you really let a man box a woman of the same weight? Like for like, a male punch is more than twice as powerful as a female punch. Because male and female bodies are differently constructed. So weight classes are always within sex. In Olympic Weightlifting – 55kg men – the men who weigh 55kg, that’s less than me – lift the same weight as the women who weigh 87kg – and that’s one and a half of me, and more than most of you.
It’s separate female events that give women opportunities, achievements, careers in sport.
Some people argue that sex is not that simple, that sex is a spectrum. Look around. I can see men. I can see women. I can’t see any other sexes, or anywhere else on this imaginary spectrum. Can you?
There are other factors in sport which truly are a spectrum. Age is one. Junior sport is in age classes to give the younger kids a chance. It wouldn’t be fair on the 15 year olds to compete with the 16 year olds. Some people will benefit and some will be disadvantaged within an age class, because people are born every day of the year. Within a single year group, some will be older, maybe bigger, probably more experienced. But sex is not like that. There are not 365 possible sexes, there are only two. The BBC has said there are over 100 genders but there are only two sexes.
Oh but what about Caster Semenya? Yes there are a few babies born each year whose sex can’t be determined in the convenient way that works for 99.9% – a quick peek between their legs. After puberty, we don’t do that.
To be clear: Caster Semenya is male, with 46XY chromosomes, internal testes and a body that has responded to testosterone and developed into a typical adult male. Semenya doesn’t have hyperandrogenism, Semenya doesn’t have abnormally high testosterone, Semenya has perfectly normal testosterone levels because Semenya is male.
There are other very rare conditions where a male body doesn’t respond to testosterone but today we are talking about trans inclusion in female sport – and by that we mean male inclusion in female sport. We don’t talk about transmen – women with a transgender identity – because they are no threat to men in sport.
People say, “But there are so few transwomen. What does it cost you to let them in?” By the way that’s an acknowledgement that it isn’t fair but that women should just accept it. But there is a cost, and it’s paid by women. We hear all the time from women and girls who drop out, or lose their place, or have their record broken, because a male turns up and claims their place. It’s no longer fair, and in some sports it is not even safe.
Maybe some males feel they have fully transitioned – why can’t we accept them as women? Because it’s irrelevant in sport. This is about bodies, and we cannot ignore that they have male performance advantage. They may have lost some of it, but most of it is still there. The problem isn’t being trans, it’s male advantage.
Being male-free is how women’s sport exists. So let’s have trans inclusion in sport. But we can’t have male inclusion in female sport.