For those who aren’t aware, I’m a former competitive powerlifter and I’m married to a retired powerlifter. Both of us have taken records in our respective federations and neither of us has been able to wrap our heads around the outright hate against trans people, especially trans women, in sports. For those interested in Harvey’s (the other half) views on this topic you can watch it on our Facebook page.
A big sticking point for many people is that trans women have “male bodies” and therefore have an unfair advantage against cis women when it comes to sports. Many times people cite a trans woman’s “larger body” (or focus on heart, lungs, or hemoglobin levels) as a reason why she has an advantage over the supposed smaller body of a cis woman. While there might be a minuscule advantage from things such as the long bones in the legs, this advantage isn’t even statistically relevant as cis women can and do reach heights similar if not the same as trans women.
When it comes to weightlifting/powerlifting specifically, I want to point out that being larger in body only really works when it comes to width, not height. A taller person has to lift a longer distance than a shorter one. A skinny person has to bring the weight further down during bench press than a person with a bigger chest/stomach. This is why the top lifters in competitions such as the Arnold Strongman Classic and World’s Strongest Man are stocky and “fat” around the belly.
Cis women with large chests or stomachs have an advantage over skinny or small chested women in events such as bench press, as they don’t have to bring the weight down as far as the small chested/skinny cis woman. Yet we do not ban large breasted cis women from competing for their “unfair advantage” nor do we ban larger women (stomach/chest) from competing for their “unfair advantage” in weightlifting or in powerlifting. This would mean that unless the trans woman is super barrel chested or has large breasts, she is in fact at a disadvantage due to having to move the weight a larger distance than a cis woman if she is of a “larger frame” or has longer limbs. Yet we are not banning cis women for this “advantage” in competitions.
Same with height.
My husband is 6'3" and I’m 5'7" in height. We have similar length torsos, so most of the difference is in our legs. If we both were to deadlift say, 250lbs, I would be at an advantage over him due to my height as I have a much shorter distance to lift the weight than he does. Same goes with squatting. I don’t have to drop as low as he does (parallel) so it is in essence easier for me to lift the same weight, meaning I have an advantage over him.
Yet we do not ban short people from competing due to this advantage.
You could even break it down to how one does the lift. Let’s look at deadlifts again. There are multiple stances one can take, including one known as a sumo stance (the one I use). This stance gives me an even larger advantage due to how spread my legs are while maintaining functionality and balance due to it lowering the distance I have to lift the weight even more. Should we ban flexible people able to use the sumo stance from lifting for this advantage as well? My husband clearly is at a disadvantage against me due to his long legs, lower flexibility, and his “male” hips that limit his flexibility even more due to how narrow they are, so how do we even the playing field to make the competition “fair?”
The answer is really simple: The rules of the sport already take into consideration these “advantages” in how it is set up. It’s why things such as coefficients are brought into play when it comes to how they decide who wins the competition. It’s why they have the age and weight categories. Heck, in many federations if two lifters tie for the same amount lifted, the win goes to the lighter lifter. If the two lifters are of the same weight, the two are immediately weighed after the competition and the lighter lifter will be declared winner. These are all things that we already look into, but it’s just that now that people are having a field day over certain trans women winning competitions that they more often than not lose, that we’re claiming we need to “change the rules” to make it fair when it already is fair.
In fact, the vast majority of the outrage we see by people regarding transgender people in sports is only focused on trans women.
Trans men are often outright ignored in this discussion, even when they beat cis men in their competitions. You’d think that if people are claiming trans women have such a major advantage in sports, that they’d be cheering for the trans men who are winning against these supposedly herculean handicaps. We don’t even really pay attention when trans men are barred from even competing due to cis men’s past abuse of testosterone to gain an athletic advantage, causing some sports to ban all use of “steroids” including medically necessary testosterone from being used by a competitor. The rare times there is outcry about trans men in sports is when they’re forced to compete against cis women…because people believe that they’re actually a trans woman competing against cis women.
But let’s move on to one of the bigger “stories” that is out there that people are using to justify hatred against trans individuals in sports. As a former competitive lifter, who took two state records, I want to talk about Mary Gregory and her story to clear up some stuff, especially since she gets listed as having an “unfair advantage” due to her “male puberty” by multiple content creators, news sites, and people speaking out against trans people in sports.
Ok, so fact stuffs based on available information first:
1) Mary lifted in the federation known as 100% Raw Powerlifting Federation, which is one of the many federations that focus on raw lifting vs geared lifting.
2) Mary had been on HRT for at least 11 months (that I was able to track through new stories) and met the IOC guidelines which are used by many federations that don’t have individual rules set in place for transgender lifters. She lifted uncontested in her age and weight categories, meaning she did not beat anyone during the competition outside of records. There were no cis women beaten that day in her weight and age categories.
3) Mary competed in the USA Master Nationals on April 27th, listing her gender as female. Per the official statement of 100% Raw Powerfliting Federation, there were rumors that a lifter was transgender, but they chose to not question it as they felt the questioning was rude as the person had not disclosed they were transgender.
4) When Mary broke the various records (“exceeded the current female World Records”) it triggered an automatic Drug Testing Protocol which is done on all lifters who break records. During that time, someone stated that Mary had a penis, outing her as transgender. The official statement uses highly transphobic language to convey this, “The Drug Testing Coordinator for this event performed the drug test at which time it was revealed that this female lifter was actually a male in the process of becoming a Transgender female.”
5) Mary’s weight in at 179.3lbs/81.3kg which put her in a specific weight class and not in a weight class where there is no upper level (women’s weight classes top out at 98kg while men’s go up much higher). She lifted in the Master’s category for age range.
6) Mary’s lifts were as follows:
Squat: 130kg opener, 138kg (chipped*/barely broke VA state Masters record), 142.5kg/314.2lbs (chipped*/barely broke world masters record)
Bench: 100kg opener, 102.5kg second lift, 104.4kg/232.6lbs (chipped*/barely broke world masters record)
Deadlift: 177.5kg opener and World masters record, 185kg (again set new record), final lift 192.5kg/424.4lbs (final set of world masters record)
Lift numbers as they’ve been removed from the federation website: https://www.instagram.com/p/BwyyjfvgEAV/?utm_source=ig_embed
7) 100% Raw Powerlifting stripped her of all records, awards, and trophies upon the decision that she was a male, and in giving into the “outrage” of cis people who wouldn’t know what the term chipped was outside of what you do to your tooth when you hit it on something.
Ok, time to break all this down.
Powerlifting competitions are separated into various categories:
-Single category lift in either deadlift, squat, or bench (Sometimes a fourth event is added)
-Classic raw (all three events put together) with no gear outside of knee wraps and a belt
-Single ply (all three events put together with a certain type of gear worn)
-Double ply (same as singly ply but with again, different type of gear)
For more information, check out Barbend.com’s breakdown of the differences between raw and equipped lifting.
Most competitors focus on doing all three, as opposed to doing each one separately due to fees and not being able to take part in other categories. This however means that the records for single competition are often far lower than those that focus on all three. It was how I took two state records back when I was still identifying as a cis woman. There were literally no records in my weight and age categories for single event, so I set them.
If one focuses on single event only, they have a much higher chance of placing/taking records than someone who goes for classic/single/double. This means that while she broke SINGLE records, she didn’t break any of the overall records, and yet that was enough to cause a huge outcry among cis people.
You can see an example of how this is broken down on many of the federation sites, as seen in this image taken from 100% Raw Powerlifting Federation:
This is also not even taking into account that this is just one federation’s “world records” and not ALL world records (that would be the Olympics) as each federation has their own state/national/(and sometimes) world records. Since 100% Raw has world federations, Mary was able to take world records. If she’d been in a federation that only had state/national records, she would never have been able to take “world records” and thus the outcry at best would have been a dull roar instead of the world wide transphobic shit show we’re seeing where a woman who competed uncontested was stripped of her wins, trophies, and medals to appease the feelings of the ignorant.
Showing that not all categories have records already outside of presets:
While yes it can be frustrating that someone who looks more masculine than we expect wins a competition, we’re only looking at tiny spotlights and not the whole picture. We see story after story about singular events that ignore the larger picture, such as how many times Rachel McKinnon lost to the woman complaining about her one win. In many cases we don’t even see stories where the athlete in question is spoken to, only spoken about by others who often aren’t even in the same sport.
It’s sad that there are many trans athletes as well as educators who have repeatedly offered to help people understand this stuff or to even just be there so people can ask questions of them to better understand what is going on. Instead journalists and the public seem to just keep listening to cis athletes who either only complain when they lose or aren’t even in the same sport and just decide to cry foul because a trans woman won something.
Never mind that for many of the trans women powerlifters that I’ve worked with as well as followed in the news they’ve been trounced by cis people of the same category more times than not (again, only time it’s a problem is when they win).
Never mind that these people don’t seem to even give two shits about the fact that trans men often are outright prevented from competing due to cis men abusing testosterone and thus making it illegal to take and compete at the same time (sometimes even with medical notes).
Never mind that when trans men ARE able to compete there’s total crickets when they win.
We’ve got to worry about trans women who MIGHT have an advantage that in a cis woman would be considered a bonus to her ability to compete.
We must instead focus on a minuscule fraction of people who have decided that science doesn’t matter when it comes to sport, and instead just wish to push fear and hatred against people who just want to take part in a sport they love and enjoy.
*Chipped means that the increment change was less than 2.5kg, generally this is done when one is looking to break a record and so they put on just enough weight to go over the record without going the full 2.5kg increment that some federations require for record breaking. Usually between .226kg-.45kg.
“Transsexuals And Competitive Sports” pp.425–429 citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.525.9937&rep=rep1&type=pdf
Women, Social Change, and Activism: Then and Now
Chapter 4: Strong “for a girl”