Opinion | Trans women belong everywhere — especially in sports

By Talia Spillerman, Senior Staff Columnist

As a competitive runner for almost seven years, the victories aren’t what stand out in my memory. Rather, I’m grateful for the experiences and lessons the sport taught me — how to persevere through challenges, accomplish a common goal with other people and how to manage my time. 

With larger conversations going on about trans women in sports, I fear that many women won’t have access to the same critical experiences I had. Why should this experience be limited to just cisgender individuals? 

Preventing trans athletes from participating with the gender they identify as neglects the most important part of sports — building community.  

However, the debate surrounding trans women in sports often revolves around winning. Some people are concerned that someone assigned male at birth has advantages over a female when it comes to physical competition. Not only does this argument fail to consider the biological advantages many of the best athletes have — who are celebrated for their prosperity rather than ridiculed — but these ignorant arguments miss the whole point of sports and its culture.

Sports provide participants with a community. They connect individuals from all walks of life who have similar interests. They teach people how to collaborate with others to achieve a common goal and to persevere through tough circumstances.

In each game, match or competition, most of the athletes participating won’t win. Think about it — in a race, there is only one winner. In team sports, only half of the people will leave victorious. If winning was the only reason to play a sport, most athletes wouldn’t be successful. 

Sports movies, such as “The Longest Yard” and “Miracle,” celebrate a team, often of individuals from diverse backgrounds coming together to accomplish a common goal. Even our depictions of sports are not complete without portraying values other than winning. 

Ultimately, this debate is a product of a culture shock. For many people, it’s uncomfortable to think that gender is a spectrum rather than a binary. In the United States, the Pew Research Center reports that only 5% of young adults identify as trans or non-binary. And of this 5%, not every individual is interested in sports — or even the same sports. 

Trans individuals face higher rates of discrimination, suidide and poverty than the cis population. Their lives, existing out of the human-constructed gender binary, are not easy. We should at least allow this minority group who faces many other challenges to participate in sports so they can build community and find people who have common interests.

The debate around trans women in sports often surrounds the highest level of sports. But most athletes don’t participate collegiately or even professionally — they are kids in school. While growing up, sports help kids develop social skills, discipline, compromise and teamwork

These are skills they’ll use for the rest of their lives to connect to other people. In fact, in any activity, including sports, children develop these skills to a greater extent when they participate with people from a variety of  backgrounds. Collaborating with different people builds acceptance and nurtures ideas of empathy. Not only do trans women belong in sports, they enhance the values that sports instill in kids.

Building community is only accomplished when we include people from all backgrounds — and that includes trans individuals. So while rhetoric preventing trans women in sports is based on alleged “fairness,” there is nothing fair about preventing trans women from the same experiences many cis women treasure. 

In a world that encourages women to constantly compete against each other rather than realize the power of working together, this debate that separates women in sports based on their biology is doing the same. Sports shouldn’t be yet another area where women are made to feel less than men. 

Accepting trans individuals includes allowing them the same privileges to play sports and build community.

Talia Spillerman writes about anything and everything. Write to her at [email protected]