Dr. Rachel McKinnon
Dr. Rachel McKinnon, Trans athlete

Image via Twitter

Tuesday, Cathy Ruse of Family Research Council writes: Man Steals Gold Medal From Top Woman in World Cycling Race. Over the years I have noticed that nothing ever gets settled by, or with, the religious right. I do not believe that they want to settle anything. Persecution of Christians has been a reliable means of filling their coffers.

Getting back to Ms. Ruse, she writes:

On Sunday, a biological male won the women’s UCI Masters Track Cycling World Championship in Los Angeles in the 35-39 age category, taking the gold from the second-place finisher who is actually a woman (image below).

According to the sponsor of the event:

This event is open to men and women riders 35 years of age and older. The Championship will consist of three sprint events (match sprints, 500-750-1000m time trial, team sprint) and four endurance events (pursuit, scratch race, points race, and team pursuit). You are welcome to race as many of the events as you like.

They might call it a world championship but let’s be honest, This is not the Tour de France. Not that the prestige of the event necessarily matters but, all of a sudden, conservative Christians are aware of what is a relatively obscure race.

Claiming that a transgender woman is a man and then further claiming that she stole something is never going to resolve anything. Dr. Rachel McKinnon, the winner of the race, has been understandably offended by some of the continuing rhetoric. McKinnon worked just as hard, or harder, to compete as any of the other cyclists.

We can, and perhaps should, have a discussion about transgender women in sports. A good starting point for me, and, frankly, Cathy Ruse, would be to admit that we are ignorant. We do not have the necessary information to responsibly opine on the issue. A little humility goes a long way. I leave proper analysis of this issue to sports medicine professionals.

What I think I know is that some people claim that the hormones which trans women take reduce, or even eliminate, the male advantage. On the other hand Renée Richards (ophthalmologist and professional tennis player) has stated that she had a decisive advantage. That settles nothing because I do not know if trans women, today, are taking the same medications as Dr. Richards was. Nor do we know anything about Dr. Richards testosterone level. Even if she did have an advantage, would that extend beyond tennis?

The International Olympic Committee believes that it has settled the issue. It requires trans women athletes to declare their gender and not change that assertion for four years. They must demonstrate a testosterone level of less than 10 nanomoles/liter for at least one year prior to competition and throughout the period of eligibility.

Does Ms. Ruse feel that the IOC is reckless? If so, based on what? Was Ms. McKinnon evaluated on a similar basis? Should she have been and would that resolve the issue for Ruse and FRC?

Then I have to wonder about Cathy Ruse’s objective. After all, she does work for a notorious, agenda-driven anti-LGBT hate group (Family Research Council). Is FRC using this as an example to somehow denigrate transgender people or does she want to resolve what she sees as a problem? What is at issue is whether or not she is acting in good faith (in the nonreligious sense of that word).

If this about fairness in athletics then, well, as I said, Ruse and FRC need to decide if they want to settle the issue or complain about it to anger their constituency. On the other hand, if this is a faith-based objection, nothing is likely to address
Ruse’s concern. I can prove all day long that properly cooked pork is perfectly safe these days. However, nothing will convince an orthodox Jew to consume a slice of ham. He considers adherence to the dietary laws to be covenant with God.

I am assuming that, like her husband, Austin Ruse, Cathy is a conservative Catholic. The teachings of the Catholic Church preclude the recognition of transgender people. Which brings me to the second point. Aside from humility, moderation is usually required to settle a controversy. It is the willingness to accept a resolution that is not 100% in one’s favor. No moderation can usually exist when an issue is based on religious dogma. The Church is not going to change its teachings on sexuality anytime soon.

My suggestion for Ms. Ruse is to at least consider the effect that her rhetoric has. She can retain her supporters while not gratuitously alienating everyone else. Whether one approves of transgender people or not the disparagement is unnecessary.

Recognizing transgender people as people starts with correct pronouns. Ruse should also consider stating what she wants. In other words, what is the point of what reads like a tirade? What I want, while I am at it, is for transgender and gender nonconforming people to be treated with dignity and full acceptance. I doubt that anyone can question my personal support for the trans community.

Sometimes I wonder if religious conservatives think to themselves that transgender people go through a thought process: “Today I think that I will be a transgender woman, just to piss off religious people.” There are no volunteers. People are transgender in order to mitigate the suffering caused by gender dysphoria.

I don’t sit around dreaming this stuff up. I have press passes at the leading journals and I read the research. The benefits of gender affirmation are proved beyond dispute. Denying the medical science is a futile endeavor. Sometimes the science gets it wrong but the odds are that adherence to the known science is the most  sensible and least risky of options.

So when it comes to athletics, let’s be fair to all competitors and, at the same time, show some empathy for trans athletes. He or she is deeply invested in whatever sport they compete in. Being competitive is hard work.

Issues like this should be, and can be, addressed without the personal derision and anger. The very existence of trans people seems to anger others who vociferously display their displeasure. The rancor is unproductive.

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By David Cary Hart

Retired CEO. Formerly a W.E. Deming-trained quality-management consultant. Now just a cranky Jewish queer. Gay cis. He/Him/His.