This week, the Texas House Committee on Public Education dealt what might be a fatal blow to a bill that would have mandated trans athletes compete only in sports that corresponded to the gender they were assigned at birth. The bill was voted down by the committee, leaving it unlikely that it will be passed in the brief time left in the 87th Legislative Session.
“We thank the members of the House Public Education committee for their votes today against SB 29, but still do not understand why some in the legislature would go out of their way to hurt anyone’s kids?” said Zeph Capo, president of the Texas branch of the American Federation of Teachers, in a statement. “We did the right thing today for all the children of Texas by standing up for trans kids.”
The bill, written by Sen. Charles Perry, was the latest in a conservative culture war that has obsessed both the State Senate and our own Senator Ted Cruz. To understand the sudden obsession with trans athletes, you have to break down what is going on in the conservative mindset.
First, this is a backlash against same-sex marriage. Republicans were only mildly focused on trans people before Obergefell v. Hodges made same-sex marriage legal across the nation. Indeed, many conservatives used to view being trans under the umbrella of personal freedom. There was never widespread societal support, but they weren’t the laser focus of that side of the political spectrum either.
That changed after Obergefell took the gas out of a prime outrage machine. Conservatism in America since the 1970s has been a long history of milking social issues dry as a power grab. Once segregated schools became a non-starter, abortion was taken up as the red banner. Same-sex marriage was a handy second banana, but now there needs to be a new class of perceived deviants to demonize and fearmonger about. Trans people, and specifically trans kids, are now a convenient other, particularly since a number of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals are happy to throw trans people under the bus now that they got theirs.
However, the trans athlete fight has its roots in conservatives’ other favorite go-to: misogyny. When the argument that trans athletes in locker rooms are a danger fails, the next mini-boss in the level is that trans women have an inherent advantage in sports.
It should go without saying at this point that this is simply a myth that has been repeatedly tested over and over in multiple settings. The Olympics began allowing trans people to compete as their legal gender in 2004, and since then there has been no domination by trans athletes in women’s sports. The NCAA has let trans people compete without gender re-assignment surgery since 2011, and the same has happened there. Between the two, hundreds of thousands of people have been involved in a natural experiment on the issue, and the result is clear: being trans does not bestow an unfair natural advantage.
I don’t expect that fact to do much to change minds, though, because this argument isn’t about facts. It’s about the myth of male domination. There’s a reason one in eight men think they can take a point off of Serena Williams (spoilers: they cannot). I wish I had a nickel for every dude who tried to explain to me that men are just naturally stronger than women, often using lions as an example for some reason. At least it gives me a reason to post videos from YouTube of lionesses kicking the shit out of male lions that bother them.
Yes, men tend to be stronger than women, but the word tend is really important there. It’s like how tall people tend to be better at basketball. That said, Michael Jordan is an inch shorter than the average American basketball player, as was Kobe Bryant. No, there isn’t an example of a woman at the top of her game beating a man at the top of his game in the same sport in a direct confrontation between the two, but there is still a lot of space in the world of athletics between that extreme and your average high school volleyball team.
The ban against trans athletes competing is yet another attempt to assert male dominance in all areas. If trans women (trans men tend to be secondary or forgotten in these conversations) crush all other women in the local college basketball league, it’s further proof that men just have something that makes them better than women. It’s the old jar-opening trope taken to a ridiculous extreme.
That hasn’t happened, and it’s clear from the evidence it’s not going to happen. Trans women perform no differently than any other woman. Denying them the camaraderie of a team and the comfort of a physical passion is not worth bolstering the egos of dudes that still need high school sports performance to shore up their fragile masculinity. What the House Committee did is not only a win for trans rights, but also a superkick to the jaw of outdated ideas about what women can and cannot do.
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