But what about transgender or transsexual athletes? Those born in an apparently ordinary male body, who legitimately transition to the female sex? What happens to them?
Richards took the US Tennis Association to court, alleging discrimination by gender in violation of her human rights. She won her case, and was allowed to play in the 1977 US Open tournament.
Richards' tennis career was quite short-lived, and she retired from professional tennis in 1981, just 4 years later, and returned to medical practice in ophthalmology.
Richards' case provoked considerable discussion. Official sports governing bodies were very uncomfortable. According to Wikipedia, the US Olympic Committee stated:
there is competitive advantage for a male who has undergone a sex change surgery as a result of physical training and development as a maleAnd indeed, it's hard to argue with that viewpoint. But in addition to official perplexity, Richards faced consternation from the general public too. My correspondent Rhonda wrote "I recall it being said that Renee had an advantage because she competed in a new category, unique to her: 'Mixed Singles'." And even her own fellow athletes were unhappy: when Richards was allowed to play as a woman, 25 of 32 competitors promptly withdrew in protest from the Tennis Week Open.
In this article describing her life and career, written by Emily Bazelon, Richards herself comments on her status as a transsexual athlete. I quote the final paragraph in its entirety:
The science of distinguishing men from women in sports remains unsettled. And Richards has come to believe that her past as a man did provide her advantages over competitors. “Having lived for the past 30 years, I know if I’d had surgery at the age of 22, and then at 24 went on the tour, no genetic woman in the world would have been able to come close to me. And so I’ve reconsidered my opinion.” She adds, “There is one thing that a transsexual woman unfortunately cannot expect to be allowed to do, and that is to play professional sports in her chosen field. She can get married, live as woman, do all of those other things, and no one should ever be allowed to take them away from her. But this limitation—that’s just life. I know because I lived it.”
In 2003, the International Olympic Committee drew up regulations to cover transsexual athletes. To me, at first glance, they seem pretty reasonable:
- The athlete must have undergone sexual reassignment surgery, including changes to the external genitalia and gonads.
- The athlete must be legally recognised in their desired sex.
- The athlete must undergo hormone therapy for at least two years.
The first transgendered sportsperson I recall ever hearing about was Mianne Bagger, a professional golfer from Denmark. According to Wikipedia, Bagger was only the second high-profile transgendered athlete who won recognition from sports' governing bodies to compete in their desired sex, after Renee Richards. A 2004 article from the Guardian newspaper reports that Bagger experienced a slightly warmer welcome from her fellow professionals than Richards did. Subsequently, Lana Lawless sued the Ladies' Professional Golf Association in 2010, which at that time was clinging to a rule that women golfers were required to have been born female. In 2014 another doctor, Bobbi Lancaster, was permitted to play in an LPGA tournament, and this article describes her as the first transgender woman golfer to compete in such a tournament.
So much for the professional athletes. What about those lower down? Una over at TransasCity has produced a couple of relevant articles, and you can read them here and here.
Everybody "knows" girls aren't as good at chess as boys. Even FIDE, the world chess governing body, awards separate women's titles. The Woman Grandmaster (WGM) title is easier to attain than the Grandmaster (GM) title. But try telling that to the Polgar sisters. They refused to compete in woman-only tournaments, from the beginning, bringing them into some conflict with the Hungarian Chess Federation. However, the Polgars persisted. Laszlo wrote:
Women are able to achieve results similar, in fields of intellectual activities, to that of men. Chess is a form of intellectual activity, so this applies to chess. Accordingly, we reject any kind of discrimination in this respect.And his daughters went on to prove him right. Judit achieved an astonishing series of accomplishments: she achieved the rank of full Grandmaster (not WGM) at the age of 15, then the youngest person ever to have done so. She was ranked 55th best player in the world at age 12. She is the first ever (and so far, only) woman to achieve an Elo rating of greater than 2700, and she peaked at number 8 in the world in 2005. Now, of course, FIDE allows players of both sexes to compete in tournaments, but of 1441 GMs in the world, only 31 are currently women, so the women do have some catching up to do. And I bet nobody even bothers about their testosterone levels.
I wonder how much chess is like golf. In most Olympic sports, muscle mass, lung capacity and other physical measures of fitness really matter. In that circumstance, one could say that the extra physical size of someone born male could offer an advantage if they transitioned. However, in golf, this is less obvious, and Mianne Bagger has insisted that she has no physical advantage from being born male.
In chess, of course, physical fitness is irrelevant, provided you can deal with the stress of the games and tournaments. I believe that the low number of female grandmasters is not a reflection of women's ability to play chess, but a reflection of how few women take up chess seriously. I did a quick Google search for transgender chess players, but didn't turn anything up. As always, comments are welcome. Meanwhile, whether it's golf, chess, cycling or whatever, keep doing your thing.