As of Thursday, when she won the 500-yard freestyle event during the NCAA Women’s Division I Swimming and Diving Championships, University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas is officially a collegiate champion. She is also the first trans athlete to win a Division I NCAA title. And, over the weekend, she became the subject of outsized ridicule and moral panic amongst a deranged group of Republicans who continue to be singularly obsessed with the existence of trans women and girls.
Despite the support of fellow collegiate athletes and cisgender Olympic swimmers like Erica Sullivan, reactions from several adult men who should probably be focused on actual pressing matters like, say, the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, have gone viral. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, avid women’s sports fan and advocate???, tweeted about Thomas eight times over the weekend, which is far more attention than he gave (none) to Texas-born athlete Brittney Griner, who’s currently being held hostage in Russia. Cruz lumped Thomas in with geopolitical issues of the same gravity as... “China.”
Other GOP candidates and conservative public figures like Caitlyn Jenner have taken to “standing” with women beaten by Thomas, including Virginia Tech swimmer Reka Gyorgy, who said in a statement that trans athletes are taking spots from cis swimmers like her. Gyorgy placed 17th in the 500 race, which Thomas won, so she wasn’t exactly robbed of first place, and detractors were quick to obsess over Thomas’ perceived dominance, despite the fact that she tied for fifth and finished eighth in other races.
The argument at the center of the panic around trans athletes is that trans women supposedly have an “unfair advantage” due to “biological differences,’’ like naturally occurring hormones spurred by puberty (nevermind that most trans athletes have undergone years of hormone therapy!!!). Meanwhile, Twitter users are misidentifying cisgender swimmers like Katie Ledecky as trans swimmers, arguing that those with a “very male build” should compete with men. Many have conveniently forgotten that similar “biological differences” have allowed cisgender athletes like Michael Phelps and Simone Biles to lead the pack in their respective sports without the same kind of fuss.
The explosion of feigned concern about women’s sports—an arena many have previously loved to ignore, mock, and generally discredit—is clearly not about women’s sports at all, but about a hatred of trans people and a weaponized fight to control the bodies of women led by the town square idiots who feel threatened by people they do not understand. The same conservative politicians who have supported controversial and dangerous legislation like Florida’s anti-LGBTQ+ “Don’t Say Gay” bill are those pushing the fear-mongering agenda about trans women participating in women’s sports. And frankly, all of it is bullshit.
Lia Thomas isn’t an ongoing war or a national crisis, nor is she endangering the people of America. She’s a college-aged athlete. If anything, she’s increasing visibility for trans girls everywhere, making it safer for them to participate in women’s sports in the future. And there is absolutely no such thing as a man who just wakes up and decides to become a woman, risking all the harassment that entails, entirely for the purpose of winning at a sport. Lia Thomas is a woman who is a talented swimmer, and that’s that.
Still, Thomas has unwittingly become the poster child of the right’s war against trans women, and they are obsessing over her body and livelihood with more fervor than they’ve ever expressed in service of helping or protecting the citizens they govern. That’s pretty telling.