jasonbwatson

July 28, 2014

Fair to All

In this post I would like to address some of the ways in which the “rights” being sought through the transgender movement both interfere with the rights of other individuals and violate long-standing rules and policies in various organizations.

Perhaps the first place to look should be at the impact the transgender movement is having, and will continue to have, in schools. The South Dakota High School Activities Association’s transgender policy references in an earlier post includes this statement at the end of the introductory paragraph: “This policy creates a framework in which this participation may occur in a safe and healthy manner that is fair to all competitors.” Really? Fair to all competitors? How is it fair to the females in high school sports for a male who identifies as a female to be allowed to play on a girls sports team? (Or vice versa).

There are numerous ways in which such participation is inherently unfair to everyone involved. It is unfair to the transgender individual because it allows him or her to assume an identity other than that which he or she actually possesses. I could elaborate on that one, but transgender individuals and activists would deny that one so there is not much point in belaboring it; after all, the assumption of that identity is exactly what they are trying to accomplish.

The participation of the transgender individual is unfair to the other competitors. Regardless of how much we may want to deny it or pretend it does not matter, males and females are not physically identical. Males tend to be taller and stronger than females. Therefore, there are inherent problems in allowing males to compete as females or females to compete as males in sports where physical fitness is relevant (and, frankly, there are very few high school sports where it is not). The matter of transgender athletes competing has been an issue in arenas far beyond high school sports and will no doubt continue to be an issue.

The Olympics has long dealt with the issue of athletes trying to complete in events other than those for which they would qualify according to their gender. The IOC has long used gender testing in order to prevent such individuals from competing in the Olympics. In 2004, however, the IOC did adopt “the Stockholm Consensus” which would allow transgender athletes to compete according to their gender identity so long as three conditions were met: the individual must have had gender reassignment surgery, must have obtained legal recognition of their newly assumed gender, and must have had at least two years of hormone treatments/therapy. While even allowing these individuals to compete warrants legitimate debate, at least these guidelines establish very specific parameters that both prevent someone from competing based purely on the gender with which they identify and also require some efforts to diminish the advantages that are inherent based on gender differences. The SDHSAA policy allows students to participate based on their gender identity. It does require documentation of “consistent gender identification and expression” and does state that once a student is identified as transgender that student must compete in that gender category for the remainder of his or her high school years. That will, presumably, eliminate any possibility of someone claiming a certain gender identity for one sport and then switching to another identity for the next sport, trying to gain some kind of competitive advantage. Rest assured, however, that the ability of athletes to compete based solely on the gender identity they claim on any given day will be on the transgender agenda before long. After all, if the idea is that gender is fluid and based on how one feels and identifies rather than on how one was born it will not be possible to insist that one can really be a gender other than the one they were born but that once that decision is made it is permanent.

A few months ago CrossFit was in the news because its governing body told a transgender female athlete that she could not compete as a woman. Why? An article on HuffingtonPost described the following as “the most disturbing part” of the letter sent to individual in question:

We have simply ruled that based upon [Chloie] being born as a male, she will need to compete in the Men’s Division. … The fundamental, ineluctable fact is that a male competitor who has a sex reassignment procedure still has a genetic makeup that confers a physical and physiological advantage over women. … Our decision has nothing to do with “ignorance” or being bigots — it has to do with a very real understanding of the human genome, of fundamental biology, that you are either intentionally ignoring or missed in high school.

Was the CrossFit response rude? I suppose you could argue that it was. The main points of their explanation are entirely accurate, however; no matter how you slice it, a male who identifies as a female–even a male who has gender reassignment surgery–does and will always have a physical advantage. One could debate the physiological advantage but I think it is safe to assume that the fact that the woman on the court/track/field used to be a man will be in the mind of the other women involved in the competition.

There is plenty more that could be said on this matter but the issue goes well beyond athletics. I believe it should be sufficient for this particular aspect of the issue to say that it simply is not possible to both allow transgender individuals to compete according to their gender identity and to, as the SDHSAA policy asserts, be “fair to all competitors.” It certainly interferes with the right of a female to compete solely against other females in her sport of choice when men who decide to become females are also allowed to compete.

Another area in which the transgender movement is trampling the rights of others is the insistence that everyone else refer to transgender individuals by the gender pronouns aligned with their gender identity. The SDHSAA policy includes a statement that schools must “[u]se correct names/pronouns according to the student’s self–identification.” I see no recognition of the rights of an individual who is uncomfortable referring to a “he” as a “she” in that wording. Public schools in Vancouver, Canada have gone even further. Last month the school board approved a policy that will require teachers to use transgender pronouns when referring to transgender individuals. What are transgender pronouns? They are made-up words, no doubt created by some person or group of people within the transgender movement so that they can have their own pronouns and not have to use those that belong to males and females. The Vancouver policy instructs teachers to use “xe, xem and xyr” instead of “he, him and his.” Never mind the rights of teachers and others to refer to individuals as what they are rather than what they feel like, apparently the transgender movement is also entitled to create its own words now, too.

Perhaps most disconcerting is the movement for transgender individuals to be permitted to use restrooms based on their gender identity. California approved a bill last year that allows school children to select which bathroom they will use based on their gender identity. What about the rights of the boys not to have a girl who says she feels like a boy come into their bathroom, or the girls to have a boy who feels like a girl come into theirs? Again, the rights of the vast majority of individuals are being trampled on in order to accommodate the preferences of a very small few. The SDHSAA policy includes “locker room accessibility” as one of the things that schools must accommodate when there is a transgender athlete. What if there is no locker room available? Not many schools have extra locker rooms sitting around, meaning either the transgender athlete will have to be permitted to use the locker room of the gender he/she claims, will have to use the locker room on his/her own when the rest of the team is out of the room, or will have to be given a separate room somewhere to change, etc. Mark my words, if we continue down this path it will not be long before any newly-constructed public building will have to include gender-neutral restrooms. The transgender movement will insist that this is a civil rights issue, they will demand equality of facilities, and they will obtain a transgender version of the Americans with Disabilities Act that requires handicapped accessibility in public buildings. No doubt most of them will be used rarely if ever, given that less than half of one percent of the population identifies as transgender, but at least they’ll be there should the need arise.

That is, of course, because we must be “fair to all.”

July 30, 2012

Let’s Be Fair

Like millions of others, I have been watching a lot of Olympic events since Friday’s opening ceremony. And last night, like many others, I empathized with US gymnast Jordyn Wieber as she realized that she will not be going to the All Around competition because of a bizarre rule which restricts qualifiers for the finals to not more than two per country.

Wieber is the reigning world champion, and was a favorite for medal contention at these Olympic games. Yet, due to the strength of the US women’s gymnastics team, she was edged out by teammates Alexandra Raisman and Gabby Douglas for one of the two finalist positions from the US.

(Completely as an aside, I watched all of the floor routines by the US gymnasts last night, and, though certainly not a qualified or trained observer of gymnastics competition, I fail to see how, in a sport where tenths and hundredths of points really matter, Raisman’s floor exercises earned a score of .659 points higher than Weiber’s… But like I said, that’s not the point).

In reality, what the IOC rule does is attempt to create a level of “fairness” that pure competition may not–and last night, did not–create on its own. Apparently the powers that be feel that it is important to ensure that as many countries as possible are represented in the finals. The relevant portion of the rule reads, “The best 24 individual gymnasts (maximum two from each country) go through to the Individual All-Around final, where gymnasts compete on all apparatus.” Shortly thereafter, it continues, “Each apparatus is judged for difficulty and execution, with the highest scoring athlete the winner.”

The problem is–or should be–clearly evident in the very wording of this rule. First, it contradicts itself by saying that the “best 24 individual gymnasts” will go on to the AA finals, but then clarifies that by restricting it to not more than two per country. Therefore, it is inaccurate to say that the best 24 will go on, as last night’s competition clearly revealed. The rule then contradicts itself again by saying that the highest scoring athlete is the winner, because Jordyn Wieber scored higher than all but three other athletes in the qualifying round, but I am quite certain she does not feel like she won…because she did not. Though her scores qualified her for the AA finals, the bizarre attempt at leveling the playing field will deny her that opportunity.

According to the Olympics web site (london2012.com) there were 60 competitors in the All Around Individual qualifying round. Jordyn Wieber scored higher than 56 of them. Not only that, she was one of only four gymnasts to achieve a total score higher than 60. Yet, because two of the other three that scored above 60 are Wieber’s teammates from USA, Wieber will not advance to the finals.

I need to point out, as well, that Wieber is not the only gymnast who will suffer from this two-per-county limit. The combination of that facts that she is from the USA, is the reigning world champion, and scored so high will mean that she gets the majority of the attention, but Russia’s Anastasia Grishina (12th overall), Great Britain’s Jennifer Pinches (21st overall) and China’s Jinnan Yao (22nd overall) also scored in the top 24 but will not make the finals because they were the third-highest finishers from their respective countries. Perhaps adding insult to injury, Wieber is not even one of the four reserves for final competition because of the two-per-country rule.

Now, I certainly have no grudge or ill-will toward France’s Aurelie Malaussena, Poland’s Marta Pihan-Kulesza, Japan’s Rie Tanaka, or Australia’s Ashleigh Brennan, but these gymnasts–at least in last night’s competition–were not among “the best 24 individual gymnasts.” Yet they will be in the AA finals.

I think I have sufficiently set the stage and established that I think this particular IOC rule is absurd. However, this entire scenario serves only to highlight the impact of any attempts to create artificial “fairness.” Every attempt to force fairness at the expense of the outcomes of real competition results in some level of unfairness, whether in athletics, academics or economics.

There are plenty of people who argue for forced fairness in economics, through higher levels of taxation on higher earners in order to redistribute the wealth “more fairly.” There are those who argue that there should be only a certain percentage of students in any class who receive A’s, a certain percentage who receive B’s, the highest percentage who receive C’s, and so on. Such “forced fairness” is anything but. Competition–unfettered, uninterrupted, unadjusted, and completely clean and legal–will, by itself, produce the fairest results every time. No assistance or interference is needed. The problem is, those who aren’t among the “winners” start to cry about it not being fair, and then someone gets the brilliant idea to try to make it fair artificially.

I am a baseball fan, and an Orioles fan specifically. Thus, I am just about required to dislike the Yankees and Red Sox. However, I would never think of suggesting that the Yankees and Red Sox have won the division, the pennant, and/or the World Series enough recently and the Orioles deserve their turn to win. That would be ridiculous! The Orioles only deserve to win if and when they can field the best team and thereby earn the title(s). No true competitor would want a title that came to them just because it was their turn. Such victory would seem hollow…fake. And that’s because that is exactly what it would be.

The fact is, though, the limitation of qualifiers to only two per country is but the beginning of a slide down a slippery slope of forced “fairness.” See, if–to be fair–we have to make sure that no country has more than two competitors in the final 24, it is only a matter of time before someone decides that still is not fair. What if, even with that restriction, there are still countries that do not make it into the finals year after year? After all, if my quick perusal of the competitor’s national flags is correct, Greece, Brazil, Croatia, Chile, Israel and others will not have a competitor in the AA finals. How many years can that be allowed to happen before we need to restrict the finals to one competitor per country so that more countries get to be included? But wait, that might not be far enough either, eventually. After all, there are some countries that have never won an Olympic medal in any event, ever. Surely we cannot allow such inequality. Perhaps there should be a rule created that will allow for medals to be more evenly distributed.

I hope you can see where I am going. Interference of any kind with competition serves only to destroy competition. Attempts at creating equality of opportunity (i.e., no more than two finalists per country) eventually leads to attempts to create equality of results. And while Jordyn Wieber and the Olympic gymnastics competition has served as a prime example of the problem, it is a problem that is much more prevalent, much more far-reaching, and, indeed, much more serious than Olympic competition. So, let’s be fair, and stop meddling with the outcomes.

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