It was 1952. Alan Turing, a gifted man who influenced the development of theoretical computer science and had a major influence on the conclusion of the Second World War, was prosecuted and convicted for homosexuality. He was forced to undergo so-called “organo-therapy”—chemical castration. Two years later, he killed himself with cyanide, aged just 41.
Things have hardly changed in all these years given the ‘certification’, ‘assurance’ and ‘reversal’ which we look for from the LGBTQ community.
Until 2015, transgender athletes looking to participate in Olympics were required to undergo a Sex Reassignment Surgery or Bottom Surgery in addition to being on Hormone Replacement Therapy. Per the new rules, Female-to-male athletes can compete ‘without restriction’, while male-to-female athletes must undergo hormone therapy as they need to demonstrate that their testosterone level has been below a certain cutoff point for at least one year before their first competition.
We hardly have athletes from LGBTQ community competing at an International level and whoever we have, is put through a phase of ‘assurance’ to be given to the authority that the player isn’t at an ‘unfair advantage’.
This ‘unfair advantage’ is attributed to a hormone called ‘Testosterone’ which has prevented many athletes to compete.
Indian runner Dutee Chand was suspended by the IAAF in 2014 after she failed the controversial ‘gender test’ due to hyperandrogenism, or presence of high levels of testosterone in female athletes. Later, she was cleared to compete as Dutee challenged the suspension in Court for Arbitration for Sport (CAS) where IAFF failed to prove that women with naturally high levels of testosterone had a competitive edge.
There was pressure on Dutee from coaches, as quoted in her New York Times interview, to undergo treatment to change the testosterone levels in her body.
“I feel it is wrong to change your body for sport participation. I’m not changing for anyone. It is like in some societies where they used to cut off the hand of people caught stealing. I feel like this is the same kind of primitive, unethical rule. It goes too far.”
“I cried for three straight days after reading what people were saying about me [online]. They were saying, ‘Dutee: Boy or girl?’ and I thought, how can you say those things? I have always been a girl.”
Trans athlete CeCe Telfer wasn’t allowed to compete in Women’s 400m hurdles at US Olympic trials as she didn’t meet the guidelines that closed off international women’s events of between 400 meters and a mile to athletes whose testosterone levels were at 5 nonomoles per liter (nmol/L) or more.
New Zealand’s Laurel Hubbard recently became the first ever transgender athlete selected to compete at an Olympics started with the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. While her testosterone levels are below the threshold set for selection, critics say her participation in the Olympics is still unfair for female-born athletes. They have pointed to the biological advantages of those who have gone through puberty as males, such as increased bone and muscle density.
When trans-women engage in sports, it is sometimes seen as being unfair to others but the problem lies somewhere else.
The real question is the mindset in accepting transgenders in sports rather than a question of equality. There will always be a gifted player due to his/her biological ancestry (Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt) so total equality is more of an illusion which can hardly be achieved and it is a never ending discussion.
Rather, what should be changed is the mindset of people. In a Europe-wide Outsport study, 95% of respondents from the LGBTQ said that sports had a problem with transphobia. Even worse, 40% of trans athletes active in sports in the 12 months prior to the study, experienced verbal abuse, discrimination, threats or physical violence.
If testosterone or bone-density are an issue then shouldn’t there be a different sports meet for them like we have for Para-athletes in where trans-people can find their skill in various sports and not just have to convince an authority of their testosterone levels? Or have to go through medications to be ‘like them’ but still always vie for acceptance? Why transgender athletes should be denied the opportunity to play and compete internationally because the ‘science’ can’t be satisfied or ‘data’ can’t be gathered in their favor.
How humane or different is this medication, which IOC recommends, from the one which Alan Turing went through before he was considered acceptable by the society?
India’s First Transgender Sports meet, which was organised by the Kerala State Sports Council at Thiruvananthapuram in 2017 where over a hundred transgender persons from 14 districts participated in the day-long event. It included events in 100, 200 and 400 metre sprints, the 4×100 relay race, shot put, and long jump.
May be it is time we think as a society if we need a medication for mindset.