Op-Ed: The Miami Marathon’s recognition of transgender athletes could not have come at a better time

Kris Berg is a senior majoring in English literature and journalism. After graduating, Kris plans to pursue a career in investigative journalism and work on art and music projects. Photo credit: Kris Berg

Kris Berg is a senior majoring in English literature and journalism. Kris graduated in 2019 from Pleasantville High School in Pleasantville, New York. He has written for Pleasantville’s local newspaper The Examiner, and is currently a contributing writer and reporter for the news and opinion sections of TMH. After graduating, Kris plans to pursue a career in investigative journalism and work on art and music projects.

This year’s 20th annual Miami Marathon and Half Marathon, held Sunday Feb. 6, marked the first time in which runners competed in a category for those who do not identify as male or female. Although only three participants registered as non-binary, the decision by the marathon sends an important message of support and acceptance to transgender athletes at a time when their right to compete on equal footing is in danger.

In recent years, mainstream visibility for transgender athletes has skyrocketed, with a record number of transgender and non-binary individuals competing in the 2022 Olympics in Beijing. However, increased advocacy for these athletes has been met by significant backlash from people who falsely believe that transitioning gives them an unfair advantage over their cisgender counterparts.

At all levels of competition, from elementary school baseball to collegiate swimming, the idea that transgender individuals would want to compete on a sports team that aligns with their gender identity has sparked intense controversy.

Athletes as young as ten have faced transphobic vitriol not only from fellow competitors and sports fans, but from government officials. Last year, for instance, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a bill preventing public school students who were assigned male at birth from playing girls’ sports. One especially controversial section of the law enables parents of cisgender-female student athletes to sue schools that allow their children to have transgender teammates.

Opponents of allowing transgender individuals to compete as the gender they identify with are adamant that their position is one not of hatred, but of a dedication to fairness. They claim that female athletes who were assigned male at birth have an inherent advantage over their cisgender counterparts due to differences in bone and muscle structure and, most importantly, testosterone levels .

As such, transgender male athletes are usually left out of this conversation, as they are perceived as being physically disadvantaged against cisgender males for being “born female.”

However, recent research and the lived experiences of transgender women refute these transparently bigoted claims.

A recent study carried out by researchers at the University of Missouri-Kansas City indicates that after completing at least a year of hormone replacement therapy, transgender women lose most of whatever physical advantage their elevated testosterone levels gave them. In addition, testosterone levels are far from the only factor in athletic performance: flexibility, height, and dedication to training are just some of the characteristics that affect sports scores.

The hypocrisy inherent to the anti-transgender athlete crowd is also made evident by how cisgender athletes, specifically cisgender male athletes, are treated by the public.

Michael Phelps is arguably considered to be one of the greatest swimmers of all time, but his athletic performance is supported by a variety of genetic conditions that optimize his swimming ability, including double joints and lower lactic acid production. Based on the logic that is used to deny equal opportunities in sports to transgender women and girls, Phelps should be ordered to take measures to mitigate these conditions for the sake of fairness. However, he is treated as a biological miracle for winning the “genetic lottery”, while transgender athletes are shamed and endangered for their physical differences.

This widespread obsession with female athletes’ testosterone levels has begun to affect cisgender female athletes who naturally have elevated testosterone and “masculine” muscle and bone structure.

World record-holding South African runner Caster Semenya was barred from competing in the Tokyo Summer Olympics last year, despite being assigned female at birth, because she is intersex and therefore has elevated testosterone levels. By excluding transgender athletes, sports organizations set a dangerous precedent that reduces womanhood to a rigid set of biological factors, even for women who are not transgender.

There is also one obvious fact that opponents of transgender athletes conveniently neglect to mention: if transgender women really did have an unfair biological advantage over their cisgender teammates and competitors, they would win every sporting event they competed in. This is not the case. The fact of the matter is that citizens and lawmakers who oppose the inclusion of transgender individuals on sports teams are co-opting the language of gender equality to disguise their bigotry.

Given the difficulties that transgender athletes are currently facing, it is refreshing to see the Miami Marathon publicly indicate their support for this community. Hopefully, other sporting events will follow suit in order to make athletics a safer and more inclusive community.