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U. Washington professor: ‘no scientific answer as to what is fair’ re: trans-female athletes

The University of Washington Medical Center’s chief of medicine recently said that “science alone can’t solve the fairness debate on transgender athletes.”

According to The Spokesman-Review, endocrinologist Bradley Anawat claimed “there can be no scientific answer to what is fair […] there is never going to be a perfect answer and there is always going to be some level of controversy” regarding trans-female athletes.

Anawat noted sex-related athletic differences come about during puberty when those who experience “testosterone-based puberty” (aka boys) gain advantages over those who go through “estrogen-based puberty” (aka girls).

Anawat said there are a “limited number of studies” regarding how long “differences in strength and power disappear” via hormone replacement.

He pointed to a 2021 “metastudy” which notes it may take 1-3 years for hormone therapy to bring trans-female athletes’ testosterone levels down to that of their cisgender counterparts.

“Much remains unknown,” he said, adding that testosterone-based advantages could be eliminated if “testosterone-based puberties” are prevented outright.

The article claims puberty blockers are “fully reversible” and “pause puberty development to give the transgender youth more time and maturity to make a more permanent decision.”

The Washington State Interscholastic Activities Association’s “Gender Diverse Youth Sport Inclusivity Toolkit” states that the participation of “transfeminine” athletes “has not been shown to diminish opportunities for others.”

However, just last week a trans-female high school athlete won the 400-meter race at the state (girls) track and field championships. The WIAA claimed the winner was the first transgender athlete to win a Washington state final.

MORE: Med school professors deny biological sex to avoid being called transphobic: report

From the Spokesman-Review story:

Dr. Kellan Baker, who leads a national organization providing health care to the LGBTQ+ community, disagreed in part. A testosterone-based puberty does not automatically make a better athlete than someone who went through an estrogen-based puberty, he said.

“The factors that influence athletic performance are incredibly varied and incredibly widely distributed. Just because some forms of athletic ability are correlated with gender – like men on average being taller than women, does not mean any one specific athlete has any particular advantage in any given sport.”

“Not all men are better than all women. Not all boys are better at all sports than all girls. There is no way to point to a particular hormone or a particular experience of puberty and say this gives you unambiguous dominance in this sport. It simply doesn’t work like that,” he said.

Baker is among those who believe athletics should focus on “life lessons like teamwork, leadership, and sportsmanship” instead of potential competitive careers.

For his part, while noting both sides of the trans issue have to decide “what kind of society we all want” even if trans-athlete research “showed crystal-clear results” of competitive advantages, Anawat is cognizant of the opportunities awaiting athletes even at the middle and high school level.

“This question of fairness is still important,” he said. “If you have one person that does well, they may get scholarships, they may get into a certain school when someone else does not.”

Anawat’s employer, the Division 1 University of Washington, offered a transgender female athlete a volleyball scholarship late last year.

MORE: Scholars: Conservative politics, biases behind transgender sports bans, not fairness issues

IMAGE: minusequalsplus/Flickr.com

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