Volume 18

Accommodating Transgender Athletes

by Chris W. Surprenant

The challenges of trying to accommodate transgender athletes appropriately in competitive sports come from living in a society that places a high value on athletic achievement, as well as on the competing virtues of equality, individual freedom, and fairness. On an individual level, a person’s participation in competitive sports confers benefits to that individual, with those benefits increasing dramatically as the person becomes more skillful and successful—that is, when they win more. On a societal level, the meritocratic nature of competitive sports, combined with our collective desire to win and to associate the winner with who is the best, has led sports to play a central role in advancing social change in the US, particularly in the areas of race and sex. This paper starts from the assumption that it is a matter of justice generally to regard a trans man as a man and a trans woman as a woman. Even given this assumption, it is not obvious that this general position should be extended to competitive sports in any and all cases, and, in particular, to the participation in women’s sports by trans women or trans men.

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