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Transgender athletes are having a moment. These recent performances are inherently praiseworthy—shining examples of what humans can accomplish with training and effort. But as more transgender athletes rise to the top of their fields, some vocal opponents are also expressing outrage at what they see as transgender athletes ruining sports for cisgendered girls and women.
These issues have come to a head in Connecticut, where a conservative Christian group called Alliance Defending Freedom has filed a legal complaint on behalf of three high school athletes who are seeking to bar transgender girls from competing in the girls category. In Connecticut, as in more than a dozen other states, high school athletes are allowed to compete in the category that matches their gender identity.
Nowhere are the debates around transgender rights as stark as they are in sports, where the temptation to draw a hard biological line has run up against the limits of what science can offer.
The outcome, at least so far, is an inconsistent mix of rules that leaves almost nothing resolved. Cisgender men typically have testosterone levels of 7. So which approach is most fair? But not every male advantage dissipates when testosterone drops. Some advantages, such as their bigger bone structure, greater lung capacity, and larger heart size remain, says Alison Heather, a physiologist at the University of Otago in New Zealand.
So transgender women have a heightened ability to build strength even after they transition , Heather says. One way to address these issues, Heather and her colleagues wrote in an essay published in the Journal of Medical Ethics , would be to create a handicap system that uses an algorithm to account for physiological parameters such as testosterone, hemoglobin levels, height, and endurance capacity, as well as social factors like gender identity and socioeconomic status.