The Sports Arena Has Become Conservatives’ Favorite Anti-Trans Battleground

The ‘debate’ over trans student-athletes relies on ancient — and false — ideas about women’s weakness

Jude Ellison S. Doyle
GEN
Published in
6 min readFeb 17, 2021

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Photo: David Waldorf/Getty Images

In the early 2000s, I used to debate feminism with straight men. It’s a losing game, and I don’t advise you to try it, but I was in college, so chalk it up to youthful experimentation. The men I spoke to did not have the most advanced grasp on the matter, and tended to stall out at the “women aren’t worse than men” portion. By saying women were equal to men, they’d ask, wasn’t I really saying women were the same as men? Weren’t there some things men were just better at? I’d ask what they meant, and they’d sputter, and finally, inevitably, each man would produce the same example: sports. Men were better at sports. They were stronger, and faster, and that was just nature, so clearly, this whole “gender equality” thing was a lost cause.

Flash forward to 2021, where trans-exclusionary radical feminists (better known as TERFs) are focused with messianic zeal on trying to exclude trans women and girls from female sports teams. This has been framed, by proponents, as a feminist mission. An op-ed by the New York Post argues that trans girls’ “physical advantages” will lead to cis girls “losing out on prestigious sports victories (and maybe scholarships that go with them).” Transphobic thought leader Abigail Shrier calls trans inclusion on sports teams “a new glass ceiling… placed over girls.” Thanks to coordinated efforts from conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the Alliance Defending Freedom, states have been flooded with bills intended to prevent trans student-athletes from joining the correct teams; already, there have been 25 pieces of legislation this year. That legislation is likely unconstitutional, thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling last summer in Bostock v. Clayton County, which held that Title VII protections apply for gender and sexual orientation — a determination that was bolstered by President Biden’s executive order stating that schools will lose their federal funding if they enforce transphobic discrimination. Yet the bills keep coming, perhaps as an attempt to overturn Bostock, and certainly as an attempt to foment culture war and whip up a conservative base.

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Jude Ellison S. Doyle
GEN
Writer for

Author of “Trainwreck” (Melville House, ‘16) and “Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers” (Melville House, ‘19). Columns published far and wide across the Internet.