Guest writer: Journey Ebels
I’m usually not one to follow sports. I’m not the athletic type, and there’s plenty of other interesting content to consume for me. But I saw a sports story recently that hit a little closer to home, so I thought it’d be important enough to talk about.
There was a post shared by one of my relatives on Facebook the other day about Lia Thomas, a recently-famous trans woman swimmer who won a 500-yard race at a Division I tournament, and how the second place swimmer, Emma Weyent, is the “real winner,” and that “second is the new first. #savewomenssports.” There’s a lot of controversy around Thomas and her victory in this race, and it really boils down to one thing: transphobes opposing Thomas don’t think of her as a real woman.
This isn’t the first instance of controversy in sports around women. According to an article from NPR, there was an Olympic track runner named Caster Semenya who faced similar discrimination during the Olympics last year for having “unnaturally high levels of testosterone.” Semenya, as well as several other women who won medals in the 2016 Olympics, have faced a lot of backlash for existing. They have faced countless cries of them “not really being women,” and while these women are technically intersex, by all other definitions they are women. So which definition is the important one? Should it matter?
This issue extends beyond sports— beyond issues of chromosomes or testosterone—into the lives of women everywhere. There’s a societal expectation around existing, as almost every woman has experienced. How you dress, how much makeup you wear, how you act, the interests you have and the job you hold are items on an endless list of female expectations, and if they aren’t followed, you are “less of a woman.” Don’t know how to cook? Less of a woman. Dress masculine? Less of a woman. Didn’t wear makeup to work? Less of a woman. There’s a lot of pressure to be a “real woman,” and consequences for being less than range from social ostracism, to lower pay and physical assault because being “less of a woman” ends up translating to “less of a person.”
All these lines and standards are used to justify a lot of injustices and abuse directed towards women across the globe, but even more so for members of the LGBTQ community. I’ve read story after story about the abuse and assault trans people face across the globe for standing up and saying who they are. There are even countries where it’s legal for them to exist. Even still, we are bombarded by people telling us we’re “not trans enough,” even if they “respect” trans people for not getting surgery, or not starting hormones, or not presenting publicly, or not sounding “right” or a whole laundry list of items we need to check to truly be considered “trans,” let alone a woman, man or person.
So many people work to gatekeep the trans community, drawing lines and making regulations that make it really hard to be recognized for who we are. It’s tough! And the lines they draw very rarely make sense. Not trans unless you have surgery? Now only the rich can be “really” trans. Not trans unless you present correctly? Now only people from countries where it’s legal to be trans can be “really” trans, or people who have families that won’t immediately disown them. And what even is presenting “correctly”? We’ve already gone through the issues of defining what a woman is.
Being a woman is tough, and being a trans woman is even tougher, from the societal vitriol toward Thomas trying to do her best to swim, to the number of women killed for the audacity to be trans. And that’s on top of the lines and regulations that women have placed on them by society.
With Women’s History Month coming to a close, it’s important to acknowledge the struggle, the abuse, the discrimination and the systems that women have had to deal with and fight through in order to earn the rights that men gave freely to themselves. Women have accomplished amazing things despite the adversity, and those achievements should be celebrated! But imagine the things we could do without having to break down a thousand walls to accomplish them.
I promise you that trans women are not the enemy, despite the hatred and lies said about us. We’re in this struggle together. So whenever you see a story in the news about a trans woman like Thomas winning a swim race, remember that we’re not trying to invade or take away anything from other women. We’re just people trying our best to be ourselves, even when it feels the world is against us. Just like everyone else.