In the news over the weekend: Mack Beggs, a 17-year-old junior, biologically a girl but taking testosterone for the past two years, was classified as “girl” and competed in the girls’ wrestling classification, being crowned Texas state champion. (See Slate and the Washington Post.)
No one seems to dispute that Beggs had an unfair advantage due to the effect of the testosterone on a female body. But Beggs’ supporters are almost gleeful with schadenfreude because they say that this situation was entirely the fault of conservative legislators requiring that students compete in the division based on the sex that they’re born as.
Now, to begin with, I’d understood that it’s become increasingly common to administer the so-called “puberty blocker” hormones to pre-teens to prevent them from undergoing the physical changes associated with the sex that they don’t wish to be, but I hadn’t realized that a 15 or 16 year old girl would be given testosterone in addition. How far this administration of hormones goes, I don’t know — whether there’s a fixed quantity that’s administered, or if it’s all a matter of reaching a desired state of (male) muscle mass.
But Beggs’ supporters say that all that would have been needed would have been for the supervisory body to have provided for a transitioning student to compete as the “new” gender. Beggs would have competed with the boys, everything would have been fair, end of story. But would that really have been possible? After all, the objective of the “birth certificate” rule was presumably to keep competitions fair for girls, that is, to prevent boys who had already had experienced the height and muscle mass development from “becoming” girls and competing against them. And I’m not sure that it would be an acceptable solution to say that transitioning girls can compete in boys’ competitions but not the reverse, or, more generally, that boy’s competitions are open to anyone who can make the cut, and girls’ competitions are a sort of girls-only “b team.”
The question that’s not being raised at all is this: should Beggs have been competing at all? In any other circumstance, for a girl to be taking testosterone would have been forbidden; only because it was doctor-prescribed was that not so. But in a typical case where a doctor’s prescription permits taking what would otherwise be a banned substance, there’s some logic to it, that is, the underlying medical condition means that what would otherwise be an unfair advantage, is instead the remedying of a disorder/deficiency. This was clearly not the case here; it was the testosterone that gave Beggs the victory, and from all reports, Beggs had such overwhelmingly greater muscle development that Beggs’ competition had no chance.
It was not a fair fight.
Beggs’ supporters defend the student by saying that Mack had wanted to compete against the boys but was unable to. (And wrestling is based on weight classes, so perhaps it would have been no great disadvantage to wrestle against boys despite Beggs’ small size.) But the honorable action was, at that point, not to compete with the girls, but to recognize that the consequence of being transgendered is that there is simply no appropriate competition class, and thus no means of competing. The trophy does not represent a real victory, and the desire to prove a point isn’t a good enough reason to take away the opportunity for a fair competition from the female wrestlers, many of whom forfeited out of fear, not of losing, but of suffering significant injury.
Life isn’t fair. But even though Beggs and Beggs’ supporters felt mistreated by the decision that Mack couldn’t compete with the boys, it’s still wrong to prove a point by wrestling with girls with such an advantage, even if the law and its “medical treatment” loophole permits it. It’s a matter of integrity, and treating others with fairness and decency.
Image: not Mack Beggs. A wrestler from Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AWrestling_falconfrenzy158.jpg; By Dreier Carr from USA (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0) or CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons