Puberty is a performance enhancing drug. When Male-to-Female trans athletes like collegiate swimmer Lia Thomas compete and win against biological females it is cheating and must end
On March 17, 2022, Male-to-Female (MTF) trans swimmer Lia Thomas won the 500-yard freestyle at the Women’s NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships. According to ESPN, this makes her the first openly trans athlete to win a Division I national title in any sport. She was greeted with with a smattering of boos and heckles from spectators, and as evidenced in the podium finish photo with her competitors—biological females who finished 2nd, 3rd, and 4th (1, 2, and 3 in a fair competition)—the ethical gap between them is even larger than the anatomical gap.
ATLANTA, GEORGIA - MARCH 17: Transgender woman Lia Thomas (L) of the University of Pennsylvania stands on the podium after winning the 500-yard freestyle as other medalists (L-R) Emma Weyant, Erica Sullivan and Brooke Forde pose for a photo at the NCAA Division I Women's Swimming & Diving Championship on March 17, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
After the race a reporter asked the 22-year old Penn swimmer to comment on the less-than-enthusiastic response to her victory. “I try to ignore it as much as I can. I try to focus on my swimming, what I need to do to get ready for my races. And just try to block out everything else.”
What can’t be blocked out is the unmistakeable undeniable unethical unfairness of what anyone with even a dollop of moral sensibility can see is nothing more than cheating to win. In an earlier Skeptic column I explained why even the NCAA-required one-year of cross sex hormone treatment to allegedly level the playing field between biological males and biological females does no such thing when implemented after puberty. Why?
Because of all the other differences that result from puberty, most notably a more productive cardiovascular system with larger hearts and lungs that delivers more oxygenated blood to muscles, significantly more upper and lower body muscle mass and corresponding strength in propelling arms and legs, the different leverage strengths from having longer and stronger limb bones and spine, and much else.
Compare these two photos and recall that for the first two years of her collegiate competitive swimming career Lia Thomas was on the men’s swim team. According to Swimming World Magazine, since she transitioned from male to female, and subsequently transitioned from the men’s division to the women’s division in swim meets, Thomas has been “crushing the school records” and “is even rising in the all-time rankings: her 200 free performance makes her the 17th-fastest performer in history, and she is less than three seconds off Missy Franklin’s American record. In the 500 free, she ranks 21st all time.” She’s #1 now among current collegiate swimmers.
This isn’t fair and it has to stop. Athletes who are busted for doping are punished, banned, and in some cases disgraced for life. Trans dopers deserve the same treatment. Not because they’re trans but because they’re dopers.
This is not a trans rights issue. Trans rights are human rights and as such trans people should also be protected from discrimination, and for the most part already are. But blocking a biological male from entering a biological female division in a sports competition isn’t discrimination. It is enforcing Title IX legal protections of discrimination against women, and if not enforced it becomes an assault on the hard-won rights of women in the name of social justice, equity, and inclusion, which in practice in this case is actually injustice, inequity, and exclusionary. As I concluded my prior analysis of this issue:
Given the centuries-long history of women fighting to be treated equally and to enjoy the same rights and privileges as men, including and especially the hard-won Title IX laws that protect women’s sports, it seems clear to me that we should and must continue to support the rights of biological women unless and until scientific research and athletic performance evaluations make it crystal clear that the two bell curves perfectly overlap, and/or until there are enough transgender athletes to comprise their own athletic divisions.
In a tweet responding to Thomas’s latest victory, I equated what she is doing to doping—calling it “Trans Doping”—adding that at least most athletes who dope know it’s wrong but do so anyway because they know (or at least suspect, usually with good reason) that almost everyone else is doping.
There is a certain game theoretic logic behind the use of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) in sports (for a full explanation see my Scientific American analysis on “The Doping Dilemma”). What I am arguing here is that being a post-pubescent male—even with the NCAA required one-year of hormone treatment—in a female sports division is a form of doping. Puberty is a Performance Enhancing Drug. The difference here is that when a post-pubescent MTF trans enters the women’s division in a sport, none of the other competitors has that same advantage of puberty as a PED. And short of allowing women to start doping in order to compete with biological men, the playing field is not—and never will be—level.
I understand that the costs of speaking out against this blatant unfairness are high in a culture itching to cancel anyone who isn’t properly woke, and that’s it’s easy for me—a former professional athlete who knows exactly how it must feel to confront such injustice at an un-level playing field—to propose a unified front among athletes, coaches, and especially sports’ governing body administrators to boycott any competition that allows trans doping, but this is precisely what must be done to put an end to this charade. Just refuse to compete and, if it comes to it, watch Lia Thomas swim in the pool alone and collect her unearned trophy at the end and stand alone on the podium as the only competitor in a rigged game.
For a deep dive into this and other trans issues see the latest issue of Skeptic devoted to the topic: https://www.skeptic.com/magazine/