A transgender golfer was excluded from competition when organizers changed the rules to allow only athletes who were "female at birth." Now she's suing.
According to Katie Thomas of the Times, fifty-seven-year-old Lana Lawless won the women's world championship in long-drive in 2008. But this year, championship overseers the Long Drivers of America changed their rules to exclude transwoman, a policy in line with that of the LPGA. Lawless lost one of her sponsorships because of her exclusion, and says, "It was devastating to me. How can they say that rule was not changed specifically directed at me if you have a rule that allows me to play and you come back and you change it?" She's now suing the Long Drivers, the LPGA, and several of their sponsors.
Other golf organizations, like the United States Golf Association, do allow transgender players to compete, and the International Olympic Committee allows transgender athletes if they have gender reassignment surgery and two years of hormone therapy (Lawless would meet these requirements). On the Team, a report on recommended policies for young trans athletes, argues that the surgery requirement is misguided, and that for transfemale athletes, one year of hormone therapy should be sufficient to cancel out any advantage of being born male.
Transgender tennis player Renee Richards disagrees, telling Thomas that transfemale players might have an edge. But ultimately, lots of players have an advantage for some reason or another — why should an athlete's gender identity be somehow a less valid or real attribute than, say, her height or strength? If we exclude women who were born male, why don't we also exclude those who were born predisposed to be tall? It's possible that, as Richards says, as trans athlete is "going to come along who's strong in sprints or weight throwing or whatever and streak the field" — but is that possibility really enough to deny all trans athletes the right to compete with their identified gender? Transgender identity is just as fundamental as cisgender identity, and when we develop policies for trans athletes, we need to be careful not to treat them as less "real."
Image via NYT