Here’s a better way to talk about Lia Thomas and transgender athletes
This article originally appeared on March 24, 2022 at Baptist News Global.
When Lia Thomas touched the wall during the 500-yard freestyle swim and became the first NCAA Division I national champion who self-identifies as a transgender athlete, many people quietly wondered whether her victory was something to celebrate or lament.
On one hand, historic victories from underdogs tend to be lionized because so many people identify as underdogs themselves. And transgender people are certainly on the underside of power in the United States. However, others wonder if Thomas had an advantage due to being born biologically male, making her competitors the underdogs.
Conservative author and commentator Allie Beth Stuckey shared an interview of an NCAA track and field athlete talking about Thomas and added: “Love this courageous girl and her refusal to use female pronouns for the male athlete … .”
Greg Price, who is a digital strategist and a former editor for The Daily Caller, tweeted an image from a South Parkepisode where a cowboy-hat-wearing, beard-sporting male power lifter wins a Strong Woman Competition, while joking, “Make South Park satire again.”
After Thomas won, conservative author and podcaster Matt Walsh tweeted that the second-place swimmer, not Thomas, was actually “the real first place winner and should be congratulated for her victory.” He went on to call Thomas’ victory a “ridiculous charade” and doubled down, saying: “I’ve been fighting gender ideology for years. Since before the Jenner ‘woman of the year’ magazine cover. For a long time many conservatives told me it was a sideshow, a fad, nothing to worry about. I said it would become the central cultural battlefield, and now it is. … Fighting this scourge means attacking it at its roots. We’re not just concerned about women’s sports or bathrooms or whatever. Gender ideology itself is the cancer at the core of this. We have to go after that, the very idea of it.”
According to Walsh, “If you’re trying to find some middle-of-the-road position that opposes men in women’s sports but supports the idea of transgenderism generally, it doesn’t exist. You must either attack left-wing gender ideology at its foundation or ultimately affirm it. There is no middle ground. A male who identifies as a woman either is a woman or is not. If he is not, then transgenderism is false to its core.”
If you listen to these conservative pundits, you would think Lebron James was calling himself a woman and participating in the WNBA. Or you might wonder if perhaps Tom Brady was taking inspiration from his fashion model wife Gisele Bundchen and joining the Lingerie Football League to rack up even more championships.
Is that all there is?
But is that really what is going on with transgender athletes?
Many Americans may not consider themselves to be culture warriors fighting “scourges” on battlefields. Many of us want to be kind, whether we understand the experiences of transgender people or not. Most often, the driving factor behind our opinions about transgender athletes is not a knowledge of real data, but a feeling that we are using our common sense.
“Most often, the driving factor behind our opinions about transgender athletes is not a knowledge of real data, but a feeling that we are using our common sense.”
But what if what seems to be common sense on the surface doesn’t match with what the data are telling us about transgender athletes? And where does our common humanity and the dignity of transgender athletes fit into all this?
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