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Open Letter to the National Women’s Law Center

    from the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group
    January 2, 2024

    In response to your recent blog post — Once and For All: This Is Why We Support Trans Women and Girls in Sports [i] — first, we suspect the “once and for all” headline implies that the NWLC is rightly being challenged on your stance in favor of male athletes[ii] over female athletes. The public position is shifting, with 69 percent now agreeing that, to be fair to women and girls, trans athletes (like all other athletes) should compete only on teams that align with their sex. Increasingly, female athletes are speaking out, as are trans-identified males who decline to compete against women or enter women’s private spaces. All of us are engaging in respectful, fact-based conversations, as is our intent here.

    National Women’s Law Center says:

    “Lie #1: Trans women have an unfair advantage in sports. First off, the small number of trans and intersex girls and women athletes have NOT demonstrated any categorical “dominance” or overwhelming advantage. Years of data negate this dominance argument.”

    WSPWG responds:

    Truth #1: Everyone knows that men are, on average, bigger and stronger than women. This is an obvious fact of life. And we have proof: more than one hundred years of records show that male athletes outperform female athletes in virtually every sport at every age group. [iii] [iv] [v] [vi] [vii] Men have greater strength, size, speed, and muscle mass. Men have larger hearts, lungs, hands, feet, and skulls. Women have greater body fat. These sex differences result in performance advantages for male athletes in almost every sport. [viii]

    This is why the female category exists: to give girls and women athletic opportunities.

    We can extrapolate from male performance data to deduce that trans-identified males possess that exact same advantage. Why?

    1) Almost 70 percent of “transwomen” (biological males) have not undergone any hormone treatments or surgeries. In other words, gender identity is a belief, idea, or feeling that, in most cases, has zero effect on a male body.[ix]

    2) Male performance advantages are not erased via testosterone suppression or surgery.[x] [xi]

    National Women’s Law Center says:

    “Second, this notion that trans girls have an overall competitive advantage in sports also implies that every single cisgender woman is physically inferior, which feeds into sexist stereotypes and pits women against women. It also risks opening the door to questioning every woman’s femininity.”

    WSPWG responds:

    This is a disingenuous argument. No one is implying that all male athletes are better than all female athletes. This is like saying we need not ban drugs unless all people who take performance-enhancing drugs perform better than all those who don’t. As a group, men possess an undeniable performance advantage. If this were not true, we would not need two primary categories: female and male. These are facts. If anyone’s “femininity” is questioned (we assume you mean femaleness), that can be resolved with a simple, non-invasive cheek swab. School physicals – already required to play school sports – already provide an official record of children’s biological sex.

    National Women’s Law Center says:

    Finally, this notion overlooks the fact that class and money are often responsible for competitive advantages in sports (i.e., access to private coaching, better facilities, better sports equipment, and specialized training). 

    WSPWG responds:

    This is a diversion tactic. The most relevant and persistent of all competitive advantages is sex. Which is why the female sports category exists – across all ages, disability categories, and levels of competition.

    National Women’s Law Center says:

    “Lie #2: Trans women will take opportunities away from cis women. First, there are actually very few trans people in competitive sports—and the success of those trans people has, for the most part, been exaggerated to perpetuate transphobia.”

    WSPWG responds:

    Truth #2: Check out our partial list of hundreds of trans-identified male victories in female sports, from cricket to volleyball, encompassing 42 sports at every competitive level. And each trans victory has a ripple effect on female athletes. For instance: When two male athletes who identified as transgender ran track against girls in Connecticut from 2017 to 2020, girls on their team and other teams were denied opportunities to advance – and denied championships, honors, meet records, and team participation – 235 times. An appeals court recently agreed that four of those disadvantaged female athletes have standing to sue.

    And why should even one girl relinquish her athletic dreams to make way for individuals with male bodies and male advantages? No one is asking male athletes to make similar sacrifices.

    National Women’s Law Center says:

    “Lie #3: Cisgender girls shouldn’t have to share locker rooms or bathrooms with trans girls. First, it’s important to note that nondiscrimination laws protecting trans people in these kinds of facilities have been around for a long time, with no increase in safety risks in public restrooms and other gender-segregated facilities, according to a UCLA study.”

    WSPWG responds:

    Truth #3: Separating women and men in restrooms and changing rooms is a nearly universal phenomenon, a custom that girls and women worldwide have come to rely upon. Fears of locker-room assaults are not unfounded. According to a recent investigation of complaints of sexual assaults, voyeurism, and harassment at public fitness centers and swimming pools in London, almost 90 percent of sexual offenses against females took place in unisex changing rooms.[xii]

    Sex-segregated changing spaces, with clear boundaries to keep all men out, provide girls and women with protection from:

    • undressing and showering in front of males;
    • fears of sexual assault by naked men while dressing or showering – and the presence of naked or near-naked men can feel particularly threatening and traumatic to women who have been harassed or sexually assaulted;
    • revealing such intimate details as when they are menstruating;
    • seeing or risking seeing naked male bodies, including masturbation, erections, indecent exposure, and flashing.[xiii];
    • violating religious restrictions on how women spend time with men; and
    • hearing male commentary about their own naked bodies.

    Opening women’s restrooms, locker rooms, changing spaces, and other female spaces to men who identify as women also risks another harm to women: granting access to all men, including those who are not trans and want to take advantage of the situation by ogling or assaulting girls and women. If men have a legal right to enter a women’s public restroom or changing area, girls and women will have no recourse when any man, dressed in any fashion, with any or no gender identity, strides through the door.[xiv]

    National Women’s Law Center says:

    “Lie #4: Excluding trans athletes “protects” women and girls. First off, this statement erases the fact that trans women and girls are women and girls.”

    WSPWG responds:

    Truth #4: Can a man become a woman simply by believing it? No. This is common sense, and many transgender people admit it: All people born male remain male throughout their lifetimes, regardless of gender identity, gender nonconformity, and gender stereotypes. All males retain XY chromosomes in every cell — and, in almost 70 percent of the cases, as noted above, they do not modify their testosterone, secondary sex characteristics, or genitalia either.

    National Women’s Law Center says:

    Anti-trans sports bans subject all women and girls to accusations of being “too masculine” or “too good” at their sport to be a “real” woman or girl. Some require women and girls to verify their gender through sex testing, even proposing invasive and traumatic medical examinations. And these tests especially harm women and girls who fall outside stereotypical notions of womanhood, who are intersex, or Black and brown, because they don’t conform to white standards of femininity.

    WSPWG responds:

    These are scare tactics and diversions. We are mystified as to why the National Women’s Law Center is not defending the rights of girls and women to play sports with – and shower and change clothes with – females. It’s demoralizing and infuriating for girls and women to be forced to compete against boys and men. And at the very least, it’s an invasion of privacy to ask teenage girls, for example, to get naked in front of teenage boys, including their own brothers. Why not train male coaches and athletes to accept “feminine” boys and men on their teams and in their locker rooms so trans-identifying males, no matter their attire or pronouns, would feel welcome and comfortable competing against and showering with other males? No one is banned. There’s a place for everyone in sports. That’s why sports offer categories based on immutable characteristics including sex, age, weight, and disability: to create fair and inclusive playing fields for all.

    [i] The NWLC’s full blog post, excerpted here for the sake of brevity, is available at this link:

    [ii] We use the word male to denote a person’s biological sex, regardless of their gender identity. We mean no disrespect to trans people who prefer different terms. Our goal is to be clear: Sex is immutable. Males cannot transform into females – via intention, belief, medication, surgery, outfits, hairstyles, etc. When people read about “transwomen” insisting on playing women’s sports, they should understand that these people are men. Usually (in almost 70 percent of the cases), they have “transitioned” into “transwomen” only by virtue of their attire or “identity,” with zero modifications to their bodies or their abilities. No wonder female athletes are crying, “Unfair!”

    [iii] Carole Hooven, T: The Story of Testosterone, the Hormone That Dominates and Divides Us. New York: Henry Holt, 2021.

    [iv] Mark J Catley and Grant R Tomkinson, “Normative health-related fitness values for children: analysis of 85,347 test results on 9–17-year-old Australians since 1985,” British Journal of Sports Medicine, Vol. 47, Issue 2 (January 2013).

    [v] Tambalis, KD, Panagiotakos, DB, Psarra, G, et al., “Physical fitness normative values for 6–18-year-old Greek boys and girls, using the empirical distribution and the lambda, mu, and sigma statistical method,” Eur J Sport Sci. 2016;16(6):736–46, cited in Hilton EN, Lundberg TR, “Transgender Women in The Female Category of Sport: Perspectives on testosterone suppression and performance advantage,” Sports Medicine. 2021;51: (PMID 33289906 and doi: 10.1007/s40279-020-01389-3).

    [vi] Eiberg S, Hasselstrom H, Grønfeldt V, et al., “Maximum oxygen uptake and objectively measured physical activity in Danish children 6–7 years of age: the Copenhagen school child intervention study,” Br J Sports Med. 2005;39(10):725–30, cited in Hilton EN, Lundberg TR., “Transgender Women in The Female Category of Sport: Perspectives on testosterone suppression and performance advantage,” Sports Medicine. 2021;51: (PMID 33289906 and doi: 10.1007/s40279-020-01389-3).

    [vii] Jerry Giordano, “The Boy-Girl Difference in Swimming Records,” Ricochet, June 25, 2022.

    [vii] Greg Brown, “Are There Sex-Based Differences in Athletic Performance Before Puberty?” Reality’s Last Stand, August 31, 2023; Mira A. Atkinson et. al., “Sex Differences in Track and Field Youth,” Sport Rxiv, August 8, 2023.

    [viii] Some equestrian, auto-racing, sailing, and marathon swimming events offer rare exceptions to the rule.

    [ix] According to recent research by the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation, just 31 percent have used hormone treatments, HRT, or puberty-blocking hormones, and only 16 percent have undergone “gender-affirming” surgery or another surgical treatment to change their physical appearance. This survey was conducted on adults; one can reasonably assume that schoolchildren and college students are even less likely to have used medication or undergone surgery. Therefore, most trans-identified adults (at least 84 percent) have not had surgery, and at least 69 percent have not taken any medications. Annys Sinn, “6 key takeaways from the Post-KFF survey of transgender Americans,” Washington Post, March 23, 2023.

    [x] Hilton EN, Lundberg TR, “Transgender Women in The Female Category of Sport: Perspectives on testosterone suppression and performance advantage,” Sports Medicine. 2021;51: (PMID 33289906 and doi: 10.1007/s40279-020-01389-3); Handelsman DJ, Hirschberg AL, Bermon S., “Circulating Testosterone as the Hormonal Basis of Sex Differences in Athletic Performance,” Endocr Rev. 2018;39(5):803-29. Epub 2018/07/17; Clark RV, Wald JA, Swerdloff RS, Wang C, Wu FCW, Bowers LD, Matsumoto AM 2019, “Large divergence in testosterone concentrations between men and women: Frame of reference for elite athletes in sex- specific competition in sports, a narrative review,” Clin Endocrinol (Oxf) 90:15-22.

    [xi] Transwomen maintain physiological, sex-linked (legacy) advantages even after multiple years on gender-affirming hormone treatment such as testosterone-suppression drugs. For example, hormone treatments do not affect height, heart or lung or airway size, and more. Also, women are not weakened men. We have unique female bodies that are simply different from male bodies and deserve to be appreciated on their own terms.

    [xii] Andrew Gilligan, The Sunday Times, “Unisex Changing Rooms Put Women in Danger,” September 2, 2018, available at: 8lwbp8kgk

    [xiii] Most trans-identified males do not undergo surgery to remove their penis and testicles. According to two recent studies, only between four and sixteen percent of transgender people undergo genital surgery. Annys Sinn, 6 key takeaways from the Post-KFF survey of transgender Americans, Washington Post, March 23, 2023; Ian T. Nolan, Christopher J. Kuhner and Geolani W. Dy, “Demographic and Temporal Trends in Transgender Identities and Gender Affirming Surgery,” Translational Andrology and Urology, June 2019, pp. 184-190.

    [xiv] See also Women’s Sports Policy Working Group, “Access to Female Athletes’ Locker Rooms Should Be Restricted to Female Athletes,” (January 28, 2023).