Tennis World USA

It would be highly irresponsible for me to write about Martina Navratilova without noting that she is a pro-LGBT champion. Navratilova has been a powerful LGBT presence in sports and a relentless advocate. She bravely came out quite early in her career, at a time when she put her very existence in professional tennis at risk. She is now making an effort to make amends for a transphobic essay.

On Feb. 17 Navratilova wrote an Op-Ed in the Times of London titled The rules on trans athletes reward cheats and punish the innocent. What immediately struck me from the title was the notion that there are guilty and innocent people involved in who can compete in athletic competitions. Her subtitle reads:

Letting men compete as women simply if they change their name and take hormones is unfair — no matter how those athletes may throw their weight around.

At the time I thought that her essay revealed some anger on her part. In an undated post on her personal blog, Navratilova now explains:

What I really wanted to do was try to open up the debate about equality and fairness in relation to transgender participation in women’s sport. There were too many voices that were silenced and shamed into submission and that is not right. My aim was to encourage a more scientific, rather than emotional, conversation and to search for a solution that would work better than current arrangements.

I wish that she expressed this without the victimology (voices silenced).

Contrition in part:

I know that my use of the word ‘cheat’ caused particular offence among the transgender community. I’m sorry for that because I certainly was not suggesting that transgender athletes in general are cheats. I attached the label to a notional case in which someone cynically changes gender, perhaps temporarily, to gain a competitive advantage. We should not be blind to the possibility and some of these rules are making that possible and legal. The context may be different, but the case of Lance Armstrong, and the harm he did to his sport, is surely instructive.

That is not going to satisfy transgender people (or me for that matter). There is a certain obtuseness to claiming that someone might temporarily change their gender for a competitive advantage. Being transgender is a very difficult way to go through life. There is no legitimate comparison to Lance Armstrong.

There is a legitimate question about trans women competing in sports. Navratilova acknowledges that the IOC has made an effort to objectively address the issue. That should be the starting point for a conversation. It would eliminate her concern for someone gratuitously changing their gender for an advantage (as ridiculous as that sounds to me):

I am told the Olympic rule of allowing 10nmol/L of testosterone for trans people (from November 2015) was decided with no input from scientists and took all of 30 minutes of consideration to create and put into statute. That level has been changed to 5nmol/L (as of April 2018) and, one must ask, on what basis?

The rhetorical question reads like an accusation. Yet, she is on the right track here:

I know I don’t have all the answers. I don’t think there is a definitive answer here. That is why I want a debate, a conversation that includes everyone and is based, as I have said, not on feeling or emotion but science, objectivity and the best interests of women’s sport as a whole.

Again, I cannot understate the importance of Navratilova’s LGBT advocacy. I think that she could handle this issue with more diplomacy and more positivity.

Note: This is effectively an update to a prior post.

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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.