From Betsy DeVos’s Department of Education investigating a Title IX complaint to prevent transgender athletes from competing according to their gender identity to a Political Action Committee’s recent cartoonishly transphobic attack ad against Kentucky governor-elect Andy Beshear, it’s become clear that trans athletes are the latest topic in a seemingly endless culture war.
Of course, it’s not enough for bigots to simply assault the dignity of trans athletes in hopes of scoring political points by taking away their humanity. Because the thing about reducing human beings to garish stereotypes is that it kinda makes you look a like a jerk.
So to combat that perception, the forces opposed to anti-trans athlete inclusion have moved on to the next phase of their fight: a poll that appears to show the majority of Americans are on their side. Thus, the Rasmussen polling firm just released a recent national telephone and online poll that found 51% of Americans surveyed oppose trans athletes participating on teams matching their gender identity.
Even more upsetting, only 29% of respondents answered that they support trans athletes being allowed to do so. That’s got to feel like a win for DeVos and company and it seems like those of us supporting inclusion have quite an uphill climb ahead if we want to reverse those numbers.
Except there’s a good rule of thumb when assessing poll results such as these: always check the phrasing of the questions. And in the case of this Rasmussen poll, it turns out that’s vitally important to do before spouting off on banning trans athletes from competition. Here is what Rasmussen asked respondents:
“Do you favor or oppose allowing transgender students to participate on the sports teams of the gender they identify with, letting biological males, for example, play girls’ sports?
“Transgender athletes who are biological males are winning at all levels of girls’ and women’s sports these days. Is the addition of biological males to girls’ and women’s sports likely to change those sports for the better or the worse? Or will it have no impact?”
Is it a bad sign when a poll about the trans community has more references to “biological males” than questions asked? If Rasmussen had any more of an obvious anti-trans agenda, these questions would’ve been written by Dave Chappelle.
Not only that, Rasmussen leads respondents in its second question with the blatantly misleading and generalized statement that “Transgender athletes who are biological males are winning at all levels of girls’ and women’s sports these days.” Besides neglecting to cite their source of “everybody’s uncle, three scotches into Thanksgiving,” Rasmussen is also brazenly lying.
As journalist Parker Molloy, herself a trans woman, has pointed out in the Columbia Journalism Review, the idea of trans athletes “winning at all levels of girls’ and women’s sports these days” is simply untrue. It’s a false generalization based on cherry picking a few examples of victorious trans athletes, ignoring all the instances where cis athletes have defeated them, and mixing it all in with a narrative of spooky, scary trans people and their unreasonable demands to... you know... exist.
Outsports co-founder Cyd Ziegler recently wrote an editorial asserting that the debate surrounding this issue “should revolve around how we include these [trans] women in women’s sports, not whether we include them.” And in order to move the debate in that more inclusive direction, we need to educate the public on these kinds of biased euphemisms and anti-trans code words that transphobes use to sway public opinion.
As the Rasmussen poll demonstrates, a big part of that evolution will be emphasizing that phrases like “biological males” are indicators that this poll has a transphobic bias and wants your answer to reinforce it. Everybody has biology. The correct term is not “biological male” or “biological female,” it’s “transgender” or “cisgender.” This debate isn’t going to move forward until a majority of people recognize those phrases for the anti-trans code words that they are.
It’s our responsibility as advocates for inclusion to teach others what those words really mean. And to keep advocating for the humanity of trans athletes and trans people in general. This was how we helped sway public opinion in favor of marriage equality and it can work just as effectively on behalf of the trans community.
There’s also this: in the past few years, Rasmussen Reports has repeatedly been accused of exhibiting a pro-conservative bias in its polls. Nate Silver previously claimed in The New York Times that the firm “exhibited a considerable bias toward Republican candidates.” And The Hill has asserted that Rasmussen “uses research techniques that make its polls favor Republicans” while CNN’s Harry Enten has bestowed upon Rasmussen the title of Donald Trump’s “favorite pollster.”
Suffice it to say, Rasmussen pollsters probably aren’t going to be buying a Mack Beggs replica singlet anytime soon. And that bias is something that inclusion advocates also need to emphasize whenever anti-trans forces cite this poll as evidence that a majority of people agree with their views. Because we’re probably going to be hearing about these numbers a lot and we need to have an immediate rebuttal when we do.
This is going to be just the start of tactics like these being used against trans athletes, so we need to be ready to counter them at every turn. Because as has repeatedly been shown, the only game where bigots will allow trans athletes to participate is the one where they’re used as pawns.