Guest Commentary: Recommendations and Revisions For USA Swimming’s Transgender Policy; Lower Testosterone Levels Needed

lia-thomas-

Guest Commentary: Recommendations and Revisions For USA Swimming’s Transgender Policy

Guest Commentary – By Ethan Li

When USA Swimming released its new transgender policy in February, it was clearly a response to the recent controversies surrounding Lia Thomas. Thomas began making headlines late last year when she posted the top times in the nation for the 200-yard freestyle and the 500 freestyle as a transgender woman (man to woman) for the University of Pennsylvania.

Many considered her times illegitimate as she had the advantage of being a man before transitioning to a woman, and men are typically much faster swimmers than women. USA Swimming admitted as much in the press release for its transgender policy: “The top-ranked female in 2021, on average, would be ranked 536th across all short course yards (25 yards) male events in the country.” Indeed, Lia Thomas’ winning time of 4:33.24 in the 500 freestyle at the NCAA Women’s Championship would have been just 629th among men this season (2021-2022).

With this knowledge, USA Swimming attempted to create a new policy to level the playing field between transgender women and cisgender women. It ended up inadequate and flawed. The two major guidelines established were that a transgender woman had to prove she had no advantage due to previous physical development and a testosterone level under 5 nmol/L in the past 36 months.

First, 5 nmol/L is simply too high. A typical man has testosterone ranging from 10 nmol/L to 35 nmol/L. Meanwhile, a typical woman has testosterone between 0.5 nmol/L to 2.4 nmol/L. Why are transgender women allowed twice the amount of testosterone as women at the high end? USA Swimming should require transgender women to have a testosterone level under 2.4 nmol/L.

In addition to changing the required testosterone level, the duration of proof should also be changed. USA Swimming has set a goal to ensure that athletes “will have the opportunity to participate in swimming in a manner that is consistent with their gender identity and expression,” yet they require 36 months of hormone therapy. Not only would transgender women need to be on therapy to reach the current policy’s threshold of 5 nmol/L, but they would also need to spend three years at that level before they can compete.

This is an excessive length of time for transgender women and undermines USA Swimming’s very goal of allowing transgender athletes to compete. The requirement should be changed to three years of consecutive hormone therapy with at least one year below 2.4 nmol/L. Three years of total hormone therapy would be sufficient since a study by the British Medical Journal found that most differences in physical performance between transgender and cisgender women disappear after two years of hormone therapy. It would be logical to extrapolate that three years of total therapy would eliminate almost all of the differences in physical performance that relate to testosterone levels.

The second part of USA Swimming’s policy, where a transgender woman must prove she had no advantage due to previous physical development, is simply too vague. It leaves a lot up to interpretation and controversial discussion. Instead, USA Swimming should try to make concrete guidelines, especially since many of the advantages from previous physical development are very hard to mitigate, unlike testosterone levels. Men have developmental advantages such as more muscle mass, hemoglobin, lung capacity, and are taller – all beneficial in swimming. While there is surgery to reduce height and muscle, these are invasive procedures and have possible complications. Due to the few viable ways to reduce advantages from previous physical development, USA Swimming should set clear guidelines that help level the playing field instead of focusing on an evaluation.

To be clear, this is not an argument against evaluating the complexities of transitioning on a case-by-case basis. The evaluation panel for additional evidence that proves no advantage should be maintained, but set rules should also be made to mitigate advantages due to past development.

To be clear, this is not an argument against evaluating the complexities of transitioning on a case-by-case basis. The evaluation panel examining each case should be maintained, but should set rules to reduce advantages due to past development.

A possibility is to prohibit transgender women from wearing technical suits. If transgender women were not allowed to race in technical suits, it would mitigate advantages from previous development as a male by giving cisgender women an advantage. Transgender women would, at best, only be able to compete in the racing suits that are allowed for 12 & under swimmers (these are not technical suits as defined by USA Swimming). While certainly a downgrade, it is unclear if it is a significant balancing factor. Regardless, it would do more to help mitigate the physical advantages that transgender women have than the current policy. Adding this novel idea into the discussion of including transgender athletes in competition can only help balance the playing field, the whole goal of this policy.

When Lia Thomas swam and fired up controversies, USA Swimming had a knee-jerk reaction to create a new transgender policy. While they certainly went in the right direction, lowering the testosterone levels, the policy is flawed. More measures to balance fairness need to be taken: Further lowering testosterone levels; changing the years required for testosterone therapy; and a new idea, banning technical suits for transgender women.

I suggest these changes because I believe the inclusion of transgender athletes is crucial, but so is fair competition. Both should be honored at the same time. One does not need to solely support one side. One does not need to see things as solely white or black.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

Subscribe
Notify of
avatar
9 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
avatar
Ken
1 month ago

All this jiggery-pokery simply because males do not belong in female sport.

avatar
Gray
1 month ago

Men are not physically women .. period .. it is not a debate !
How one chooses to identify is a personal choice and can be respected , but that does not give them a right to use clear male physical attributes to intentionally disadvantage women in competitive sport, by competing as a women with obvious significant unfair advantage.
You cannot balance this equitably as the author has tried .. it is quite straight forward .
Ken is right !!

avatar
Ethan
30 days ago
Reply to  Gray

I wholeheartedly agree that men are not the same biologically as women. However, I doubt that transgender women are purposefully using their development as a male to get an advantage.
Why don’t you believe that this issue can be balanced? What other ideas do you have for a solution?

avatar
Sid Frisco
29 days ago
Reply to  Ethan

Just No.

avatar
Fairness is dumb
30 days ago

We’ve already had one biological female sacrificed to the Testosterone Rule Makers.

All this rhetoric is just “woke” in disguise. “Fairness”? Hormone levels? It’s all just beating around the bush. Just admit we want support Discrimination on the Basis of Sex in sports and move on.

avatar
Ethan
30 days ago

Who is the “one biological female”?
What do you mean by “woke”? What is the issue with trying to ensure fairness and equal hormone levels?

avatar
Fairness is dumb
28 days ago
Reply to  Ethan

Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi

avatar
Bill Price
29 days ago

The only real solution to this issue is simply not to allow ‘switching sides’ in sport. Anything else such as lowering T levels even more or for longer times, or (and I can’t believe I’m writing this) banning technical suits for trans women is nonsense. There is no way to physically change a man into a woman when it comes to sport. The sooner sport leaders come to their senses the sooner this problem will go away. It won’t be the ‘woke’ solution but it will be the right one.

avatar
Joe
20 days ago

Here’s a novel idea for a policy… you either transgender yourself before 12 years old or you don’t swim against women.

9
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x