The British Parliament of late has been considering the Gender Recognition Bill whose primary purpose is to allow transsexual individuals to formally re-register their gender to their newly reassigned gender, replacing for most legal purpose the gender of their birth. And, of course, this immediately created a debate about the most important related topic — the issue of transsexuals competing in sports competitions.
As originally drafted, the Gender Recognition Bill appeared to require both domestic and international sporting events to allow transsexuals to compete in their re-assigned genders. So a person born male who later decided to register his gender as female would have been allowed to compete in sporting events as a woman.
This caused great furor, in large part because reactions to this possibility cut to the very core of whether or not gender can genuinely be reassigned. As Kevin Myers wrote in an op-ed for The Telegraph,
We can pretend that we are able to turn men into women and vice versa, but that is not true. We merely give the appearance of doing so to help those unfortunates who feel that they have been born into the wrong sex; and maybe they genuinely have been. Or maybe they have got other psychological problems which become manifest in a gender-identity crisis. Either way, rightly or wrongly, medical science has taken the surgical and endocrinal route of rough-hewing a reasonable facsimile of the desired sex out of the raw material of the undesired sex. The result is usually unconvincing, but it nonetheless brings some peace to troubled people’s minds.
Neither law nor science can transform the physical substance of a woman into a man, or vice versa. And we are doing no justice to ourselves or trans-sexuals by pretending that an authentic bodily consecration can [sic] occurred, and that one sex can be transubstantiated into the other. This cannot happen.
Following the debate, the sponsors of the bill largely acquiesced to Myers’ view, announcing that there would, of course, be special exemptions to the bill where sports are concerned. According to The Guardian,
Under the government’s new gender recognition bill, which comes into force next year, transsexuals will legally be recognized as members of their new gender. However, sport is to be a given special exemption from certain elements of the bill because it is felt that some transsexual athletes might have an unfair advantage in some sports, particularly physical ones.
The medical panels will examine areas such as testosterone levels, physique and an athlete’s mental state before making their decision. If it is felt that a transsexual athlete has an unfair advantage then the panel will be allowed to prevent them from competing.
So which is it, then? Is a male-born female really a woman, or simply a man with slight cosmetic changes to the outward physical appearance? And if the answer is no when it comes to sports, why should it be yes for other areas?
What next? Martin Johnson to be Martina? Kevin Meyers, Telegraph (UK), December 21, 2003.
Sport panel to rule on transsexuals. Vivek Chaudhary, The Guardian, December 20, 2003.