Two transgender high school athletes in Connecticut both did really well on the track this season. Too well, say some detractors who are now trying to ban all transgender athletes from competing as their gender.
What has been a quiet murmur since the success last year of Andraya Yearwood now, with the added success of fellow trans sprinter Terry Miller, is quickly becoming a full-blown controversy in a state with some of the country’s most welcoming policies for trans athletes.
Recently, at the Connecticut state championships, Miller set Connecticut state open meet records in the girls 100-meter and 200-meter races en route to two state titles.
Miller, a sophomore, has added two New England regional championships to her trophy case, for both the 100-meter and 200-meter.
Yearwood, also a sophomore, finished second in the 100-meter at the state meet, losing only to Miller.
Now some parents and student-athletes are up in arms, starting petitions to ban trans athletes from competing.
“I think it’s unfair to the girls who work really hard to do well and qualify for Opens and New Englands [competitions],” Selina Soule, a sophomore who finished sixth in the 100-meter at the state meet, told the Hartford Courant. “These girls, they’re just coming in and beating everyone.”
Of course, none of this uproar about trans inclusion would be happening if Miller and Yearwood had finished 19th and 24th. As elite trans athlete Chris Mosier has pointed out to me before, it’s only an issue when trans girls or women earn gold medals.
When you look at the results, it might be easy to understand why some people, like Soule, are upset. On the face of the results, it looks like two trans athletes have suddenly come along and raced into state titles and decades-old records.
Yet when you look a little deeper, there’s more to the story.
First, Miller and Yearwood aren’t “beating everyone.”
Yearwood finished seventh in the 200-meter. Five girls, other than Miller, beat her in that race.
Miller, in addition to her two big wins, also ran the 400-meter and finished fourth.
Both of these trans girls were beaten by cisgender girls at the state meet.
The idea that they are unbeatable, or that any advantage they may experience as trans athletes is “unfair,” are undermined when you look beyond the headlines of state titles and records.
Then there’s the idea that Miller and Yearwood just showed up and won state championships while all of the other girls are working hard.
This is blatant transphobia. There is no evidence that these two trans athletes have worked any less hard than any other girl. In fact, given the deep mental toll being transgender takes on trans youth, the fact is they probably worked harder than their cisgender competitors.
Yet the assumption is they have just strolled onto the track, put on some spikes and set state meet records.
And people won’t have it. They see their precious wins and losses and just can’t let go of the fact that a transgender girl might have won something through hard work and determination.
With all of the disadvantages trans people face in every single facet of life, their detractors have to harp on the presence of testosterone and strip them of the right to simply participate in sports, let alone win something.
The inclusion of trans athletes is a new frontier for many people in sports, despite Renee Richards having earned the right to play tennis more than 40 years ago. I get it. This is hard for some people to comprehend. I understand that.
Yet too many people — including many petition-bearers in Connecticut — aren’t even trying to understand.
It’s hard to put aside our culture’s addiction to winning, placing so much — too much — value on a high school victory. I personally put too much value on winning for most of my life. It wasn’t until I was about 40 that I realized there are lots of things in life more important than winning. I wish I’d learned that lesson a little better years earlier.
It’s one of the opportunities trans athletes bring to all of us in sports, the recalibration of our priorities. In youth and high school sports, winning shouldn’t be the top priority. Participation, hard work and sportsmanship — These are the cornerstones of youth athletics.
To be clear, I’m not talking about policies governing the Olympics, the WNBA or even the NCAA. Once athletes graduate high school, a patchwork of scholarships, endorsement deals, salaries and the ability to provide for one’s family come into play.
Yet in youth and high school sports, the ability to participate and work your butt off are the essential values we must hold dear.
This is true for no one more than it is for trans athletes.
And at the high school level, no one is losing a scholarship or a coaching job because of the participation of a trans sprinter. So don’t even go there.
After he won his second straight Texas high school wrestling title to a chorus of both cheers and boos earlier this year, Mack Beggs took to Facebook and wrote this line that has stuck with me all year:
“Wrestling saved my life.”
The people now pushing to ban trans athletes from participating as their gender in high school sports are literally risking the lives of trans youth. 80% of trans people have thought about taking their own lives, and 40% of them have actually tried.
That’s a risk I am not willing to take.
When I was in high school I won multiple league titles in cross-country and track and field. If it meant saving some kid’s life, I’d give up every single one of them. To me, no medal is worth taking away the self-worth of a trans kid who, for all I know, could be hoarding pills in a plot to take their own life. Far too many of them are doing that as I type this column.
If running some races and winning a couple ribbons keeps trans youth alive, I’m all in.
In Connecticut, some people are making a different choice. They want their cisgender kid to get the trophy, and they don’t give a crap whose self-esteem they injure along the way. They don’t care that trans youth are at least 10 times more likely to attempt suicide than their kid. They want trans athletes banned from sports so their kid can win another medal.
It’s disheartening at best.
Some have suggested allowing trans athletes to compete but not allow them win a medal. That seems even worse to me than not competing at all. It would be a complete rejection of their gender identity and, it seems to me, downright dangerous for the health and well-being of the trans athlete.
What’s the perfect solution? It involves a complicated non-binary restructuring of sports that isn’t likely to happen in my lifetime.
Until then, Connecticut has it right. Let trans athletes like Miller and Yearwood compete as their gender. If done well, with the guidance and cooperation of some thoughtful adults and coaches, the life lessons learned by all athletes involved will make this world a better and safer place for all of us.
For the most comprehensive information on trans athletes, visit transathlete.com.
Also check out Katie Barnes’ fantastic profile of Yearwood and Beggs for ESPNW.