We can support FINA’s decision and show compassion

I’ve decided to dive into the conversation surrounding FINA’s decision on gender. I’m not jumping in because of some ‘culture war’, but I’m a dad with 3 children who each play sport. They have all played sport at a high level, including my daughter, and speaking up for girls in sport is the right thing to do.

I want to begin by saying what should be obvious, transgender people deserve our compassion. While many ideologues and activists require critique and even our condemnation. Learning to distinguish between these two groups isn’t always straightforward but is important.

FINA’s decision to ban biological men from competing in international swimming has caused a wave of criticism in some circles. One can get the impression that the divide is spread evenly across the lanes; I however suspect that is not the case, but as with many issues it is often the case that vociferous voices give the impression of greater numbers.

 It wasn’t so long ago that everyone knew men were men and women were women. It didn’t require a university degree or a catalogue of carefully asked questions. Seeing and knowing the differences between men and women formed part of basic human knowledge. Apart from  approximately 0.018%of people who are intersex (a properly defined medical condition), everyone falls neatly into either male or female. But of course, as the sexual revolution shifted from arguing for gender equality to removing distinctions between the genders, it  is becoming near impossible to define what is a man and a woman. Indeed, school children are berated for suggesting this natural binary and one can find themselves hauled before the HR Department at at work for believing so.

Dr Carl Trueman is correct when he writes, “The expressive individual is now the sexually expressive individual. And education and socialization are to be marked not by the cultivation of traditional sexual interdicts and taboos but rather by the abolition of such and the enabling of pansexual expression even among children.”

Chip Le Grand has written what I think is a very interesting piece for Saturday’s The Age. 

“FINA has also answered a thornier question that all sports bodies, in one way or another, must grapple with; can the biological advantage that comes from going through male puberty be entirely surrendered by someone who no longer identifies as male? The FINA position is that, in swimming, it can’t.”

Rugby League has quickly followed FINA and other sporting authorities may well follow. While the decisions are pretty definitive, they are unlikely to be the final and forever position. For anyone engaged in reading gender theory and watching their HR department and school curriculum, it’s pretty obvious that FINA’s decision will be overturned at some point. We are regularly reminded by gender theorists and political activists that they are rarely satisfied with the status quo . The pursuit to obliterate social structures and gender norms is their incessant agenda.  It’s obvious by the fact that even the pedestrian Aussie is either unable or too scared to define men and women any longer.  There is now an inbuilt nervousness and fear of backlash should we say what a woman is.

Stephen McAlpine is correct when he notes, 

“Just give it time. With the explosion of gender identity issues, and the railroading of our culture towards affirm and celebrate “or else” there’s going to be a storm in a World Cup not just a tea cup at some stage. Someone’s rights are going to trump someone’s rights. That’s what you get in this zero-sum game Sexular Age.”

I wish to make a few comments here in light of Chip Le Grand’s article and some conversations I’ve had over the past week.

First,  FINA’s decision is fair for women. 

Le Grand explains how “the FINA guidelines are based on the cumulative research and wisdom of some of the world’s leading authorities on physiology, sports law and anti-discrimination.”

He cites Doriane Coleman, professor of law at Duke University, 

“replacing biological sex with the more subjective, social construct of gender – something the Obama administration had already done in anti-discrimination law – would have potentially dire, unintended consequences for women’s sport…It doesn’t take a sea of them to obliterate the females’ competitive chances at every level of competition,” she warned. “If only a very small subset turn out to identify as women, we will be overwhelmed.””

Le Grand goes on to point out, 

“There is no longer any serious argument about the sporting advantage derived from testosterone, which biological males produce from the onset of puberty at about 15 times the rate of women. As Joyner explained to the FINA extraordinary congress in Budapest, it is the reason that the current US national records for 50m, 100m and 200m freestyle events for 13 and 14-year-old boys are faster than the women’s open world records for the same events.

Hunter told the congress: “As a result of testosterone and possessing the Y chromosome, males build larger, stronger and faster muscles, they have larger lungs and airways, they have bigger hearts to pump more blood, and they have more oxygen carrying capacity within that blood. Males are taller. They have longer limbs – arms and legs – they have bigger feet to kick water, they have bigger hands to pull that water.”

While attention this week is focusing on elite sport, the disparity between boys and girls is apparent in community sport and even clear at junior sporting levels. 

I think of a netball competition where a talented boy outshone even the best female players. I think of a football (AFL) competition where a boy was allowed to play in a girls competition and girls feared for their safety. They didn’t want to play against this muscular dude who is significantly stronger and more powerful than any girl playing the game. I think of my daughter who plays at a high level of cricket. While she enjoys playing in both girls and boys cricket, in the higher grades of boys cricket the fast bowlers are discouraged from sending down thunder claps at her. Both players and coaches and parents understand the obvious. This isn’t a case of boys needing to change the way they view girls, but rather one where boys are rightly observing reality.

As a dad who with three children who all plays sport at a fairly high level and as a parent to what is a lot of community sport and knows numerous coaches and clubs and how they are trying to navigate these issues, The answer is not as simple as those who identify with the other gender let them play. That inevitably means girls missing out on team selection or winning competitions and it often puts them in a place where they are in physical danger. Now I have heard some non-sporty types tried to argue against this but I tell you this is simply reality. Go stick your head out of your iPhone and go down to local footy games and watch what actually happens. 

I’m not arguing against boys and girls playing competitive sport with each other. There are some sports where this is workable and at some levels, but there is a difference between mix gendered competition and a girls/women’s competition. 

 Second, women’s sport forces transgender women to undergo changes.

While this isn’t Le Grand’s argument, his evaluation of the issues show us how transgender athletes are disadvantaged. Transgender women are are forced to medically alter their testosterone levels and therefore reduce their physical strength and biological character in order to compete.

Third, be concerned for young children.

One concern coming further from FINA’s ruling is that it doesn’t rule out children who transition before the age of 12.  This may lead to increased pressure upon pre-pubescent boys and girls to medically altar their hormones and bodies at an even younger age. 

Fourth, men ought to be speaking up.

Susan and I have raised our boys to show respect to girls and to protect them. Any time they fall short they know dad and mum will be having a conversation with them.  I find it quite extraordinary that on this issue, too often it is women who are left to defend women’s sport, while the men cower behind the ifs and buts and I don’t knows. 

This isn’t hard. Allowing biological men to compete in women’s sport will mean women missing out on team selection and missing out on competition medals, and in some sports this is dangerous to their physical well-being. If you don’t believe me, just watch a 15 year old boy tackle a girl in AFL. The argument, ‘but this isn’t happening very often’ is simply naive. It is true that it’s not happening everywhere, but examples are not hard to find, and as we continue to the smoke from the pot of expressive individualism and gender theory we will likely see the exceptions become a new norm. 

Annabelle Bennett is a member of the FINA legal and human rights panel who framed its eligibility guidelines. She admits,

 “this case involves a collision of scientific, ethical and legal conundrums. It also involves incompatible, competing rights.”

Bennet has hit the issue on the head. What do we do when science disagrees with an ethical position? What do we do when reality clashes with personal preference? Too often, our culture will choose against science. Instead of creating fairness and equity, it will create a bigger splash and eventually wash out women’s sport altogether.

For those who are smart enough and bold enough to know that ignoring biology isn’t the way forward and yet also have empathy for those who struggle to fit with their sex, how should we think about FINA’s decision? First of all, they made the right decision, and believing so is good for women. Supporting FINA is advocating for women. Second, FINA is now considering a transgender class-action for elite swimming meets. I have reservations about this move, but I nonetheless recognise that it is a possible way forward. Third, we ought to show compassion on men and women who are either struggling with their gender identity or who simply cannot reconcile sex and gender. Compassion doesn’t require us to agree with or support every feeling or every decision made. That’s the misstep some people make in their understanding of compassion; they assume kindness must lead to agreement and compromise. If that were the case, God’s compassion toward us in Jesus Christ would be shallow and ineffectual. In following His example, we are not required to ignore male and female distinctiveness, but as Jesus did, we honour these as an anthropological good. As a Christian I also mustn’t lose sight of how Jesus welcomes and loves those who sit outside and who experience marginalisation.

PS. Apologies for any typos. I’ve written this while watching my children at sport this morning