As a mother of a transgender woman living in Utah, I am dismayed at the passing of House Bill 302 in the Utah House of Representatives, which effectively bans transgender high school females from participating in K-12 athletics.
Sponsor Rep. Kiera Birkeland, R-Morgan, says that she is fighting for “fairness for women” Utah. Yet what stands out as a glaring misunderstanding on her part, and others, is that trans-women are women of Utah.
Science has shown that we can no longer hold on to gender definition as being determined solely on the basis of the sex organ one is born with.
Adam Rogers, former Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT, puts it this way in an article he wrote for Wired:
“The X chromosome has genes for making sperm! A gene called SRY triggers a complex developmental pathway that usually leads to a person being male, but not always! All sorts of nominal sex differences work on average and fall apart upon closer statistical investigation. Basically no scientist who knows anything about this stuff subscribes to the idea of the strict ‘gender binary’ anymore.”
Gender is extremely complex and not determined on the existence of a penis or vagina.
As a mother of a transgender female, I have witnessed first-hand the agony of gender dysphoria and the hard decisions that a human being faces when deciding how to address the physiological and psychological misalignment as well as the scrutiny of a public that at best is ignorant and misinformed and at worst, influenced by a malignant prejudice that seeks to de-legitimize this population.
No trans-gendered individual undergoes the hormone therapies, et al., that it takes to legitimize their identity on a whim or to gain advantages in sporting activities as Birkeland and others seem to either fear or be insinuating.
All this bill is doing is hurting an entire group of girls and women who are already heaped with oppression.
I have considered concerns over perceived “advantages” that a human born with a penis and the ensuing hormones entails. Currently we are seeing this controversy play out on the collegiate level. But the fact is, less than 50 trans women compete in that arena of around 200,000 nationwide. Of those 50, only a few have risen to the top. If there were huge advantages across the board, we would see this on a more consistent scale.
Eric Vilian, Ph.D., director of the Center for Genetic Medicine Research at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, is quoted in a recent news article stating: “Even if transgender athletes retain some competitive advantages, it does not necessarily mean that the advantages are unfair, because all top athletes possess some edge over their peers. It’s like saying Usain Bolt’s abilities are unfair because he wins by so much each time.”
If Birkeland truly wants to fight for “fairness for women in sports” I suggest she that she truly champion all women of Utah in sports, both trans and cis-gender. United we can stand, divided we just fall.
To this end, I am calling for all women of Utah, and the good men who support them, to stand up against this sort of fear-based and deeply biased gate keeping.
Jennifer Smith, Orem, is a 22-year resident of Utah County and mother of two daughters, one cis born and one transgender. She is a certified yoga and trauma informed yoga instructor, owner and operator of an art-based business.