Don’t let the evidence scare the drive policy for trans athletes
Changes start within three months and a small study shows they are after three years continuing. Exactly how long these changes will last is unknown.
In particular, muscle mass does not exactly correlate with strength or power and depends on height and other factors. No long-term research with adequate comparison groups (adjusted for height) has examined the effects of hormone therapy on strength, fitness or endurance. It’s possible that taller stature can be an advantage in some sports. It’s also possible that someone with a larger stature but less muscle mass could be disadvantaged. I use the analogy of a four-wheel drive with a hatchback engine. It may look powerful, but the performance doesn’t match the looks.
Media reports of Lia Thomas “dominating” US college swimming appear to be implicitly biased. What isn’t reported is that she followed all testosterone-lowering guidelines for three years, and her most recent 500-yard freestyle winning time of 4:33.24 was slower than the National Collegiate Athletics Association record of 4:24 ,06 and theDefending champion Brooke Forde scored 4:31.34,who has said that she has no problem competing against Thomas. For comparison, men’s finishing times ranged from 4:06.61 for first place to 4:14.30 for eighth.
Much remains scientifically unknown. Should there be different testosterone thresholds and treatment durations that would ensure a level playing field for different sports? Currently, no data suggests that safety in women’s sport is compromised by the inclusion of trans women. Various codes already have rules on how to deal with security (e.g. weight classes or rough playing guidelines).
As a doctor, I find it an enormous challenge to motivate people to exercise. Trans people don’t exercise or play sports. A foundation for human rights campaigns to learn in 2017 found that 68 percent of high school students play sports, 28 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual students, but only 12 percent of trans girls, often for fear of discrimination.
Still, trans people need exercise for its physical and mental health benefits. Trans women are at higher risk Heart attack than the general population have 73 percent depressionand an alarming 43 percent have tried Suicide . Exercise has profound benefits for physical and mental health, community and belonging.
We need to break down barriers to encourage trans people to exercise and participate.
So is the recent debate a storm in a teacup? The Gender Discrimination Act already allows for discrimination in sport where relevant. No sports organization has called for an overhaul. Sport Australia existed with the Australian Human Rights Commission guidelines for the inclusion of trans people in sport. Of the last 71,000 Olympians, only two have been trans women. One came last, the other 37 of 42.
More research is coming. My research group at the University of Melbourne, in collaboration with the Institute for Health and Sport at Victoria University, developed the GAME Research study examining how feminizing hormones affect fitness, endurance, physique and genetic changes in muscle over time in comparison groups. With funding and volunteer participants (both trans and non-trans) we can provide better evidence-based guidelines for sport policy.
Meanwhile the relentlessDebate uses an already marginalized and traumatized trans community with significant psychological vulnerabilities as political soccer balls. LGBTQ mental health services tell me they’re seeing their highest demand in nearly 20 years. Our leaders and legislators must avoid fear-driven politics and make balanced, evidence-based decisions for the benefit of all in the communities they serve.
Associate Professor Ada Cheung is an endocrinologist at Austin Health and leads the Trans Health Research Group at the University of Melbourne. Support is available: Lifeline 13 11 14; QLife 1800184527
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