It’s time to dispell some lies and give you the facts!
LIE #1: Lia is DOMINATING in the women’s category, “shattering records.”
Lia won the 500 Freestyle at Women’s Swimming & Diving NCAA Championships, becoming the first known transgender athlete to win an NCAA Championship title.
Many reports have claimed that Lia is “dominating” and “destroying” women’s sports as a result. But this is inaccurate.
While Lia’s performance was incredible, it was not “dominating.”
Here are some more facts:
27 records were broken at NCAA Champs this year. Lia did not break a single one. Not an American, US Open, NCAA, Meet, or even a pool record.
Lia’s time in the 500 free was 4:33.24. As of March 21st, 2022, this time is not even top 50 in the country of all-time fastest swims. (59th is not too shabby, of course, but it is by no means “dominating.”)
4:33.24 would not have won in this meet for six out of the nine years prior. And, in some of those years, Lia’s swim of
4:33.24 wouldn’t have even placed second.
If Lia’s competitor Brooke Forde (who got 4th behind Lia) had gone her best time of 4:31.34, Brooke Forde would have beat Lia by nearly 2 seconds – more than Lia won by. (Lia won by 1.75 seconds, Brooke would have beat Lia by 1.9 seconds.)
Lia also got 5th in the 200 free, and 8th in the 100 free.
The facts speak for themselves.
LIE #2: Lia changed from 462nd on the men’s team to 1st on the women’s team and is therefore “unfair.”
There have been many claims that Lia was “never in the category of standout athlete” before she transitioned. Many people are using this as “proof” that Lia maintains some sort of biological advantage over cis women athletes, asserting that because she was not a standout athlete in the men’s category, she has come out of nowhere to be a standout athlete in the women’s category. A few powerful, well-known people (beginning with Nancy Hogshead Makar) have contrasted a supposed ranking of 462nd in the 200 freestyle from competing on the men’s team with a 1st-place ranking on the women’s team. They are using this as “evidence” that Lia was not a standout athlete before and now is.
There are a few things wrong with this: First, and most simply, neither I nor my teammates could find this 462nd ranking anywhere, so I’m not sure where it is from. Second, even if it is a real ranking, it is could only be based on a practice time at an in-season dual meet because Lia never rested for the 200 free before transition. For any non-athletes or non-swimmers: this means that the 462nd ranking swim was a throw-away practice time that Nancy is comparing to a rested, suited in-season invite. A meet she prepared to do her best at. Not a practice meet.
Lastly, and most importantly: saying Lia was not a standout athlete prior is an outright lie intended to deceive you. Lia was absolutely a standout athlete when she was competing on the men’s team before she transitioned. Her highest ranking before transitioning was 11th. In the entire country. It is far from abnormal or unlikely for an athlete to go from being ranked 11th to 1st in the span of a few years.
Here is proof:
Lia was ranked 12th in the 1000-yd Freestyle in 2018 and 12th in the same event in 2019. She was also ranked 38th in the 1650-yd Freestyle in 2019. Lia was absolutely a standout athlete prior to transitioning.
MORE BACKGROUND INFORMATION AND RESPONSES TO COMMON ARGUMENTS:
WHO IS LIA THOMAS?
Lia is a 22-year-old woman who swims for the University of Pennsylvania’s Women’s Swim Team. She is also transgender. Lia has satisfied all of the NCAA regulations required to compete in the women’s category: she has taken testosterone suppressants and estrogen supplements to reduce her testosterone levels to average (cis) female levels, and has done so for at least one year, per the regulations. (In fact, she completed nearly 3 years of HRT – hormone replacement therapy – before begining competing.)
Though Lia has the support of her coaches and many of her teammates, she has received immense hatred and backlash from the media and world at large.
I encourage you to consider the following points as you digest the topic:
LIA IS AN EXCELLENT SWIMMER.
Many accusations insinuate Lia’s success in the pool is purely because she was assigned male at birth. Some even claim that she is taking what other girls have “worked their entire lives for.”
This dismisses several truths, namely:
1) Lia has also worked her whole life to be good at swimming! She began swimming at just five years old and has put thousands of hours into this.
2) Lia is not a great athlete because she was AMAB*. Lia is a great athlete because she is a great athlete and has worked hard for 17 years to be great at something she loves. The belief that all AMAB folks are better at sports is rooted in the sexist belief that boys are, by default, better at sports than girls, which is false.
*Assigned Male At Birth. Read more terminology here.
BIOLOGICAL DIVERISTY EXISTS ACROSS ALL DEMOGRAPHICS!
…and that’s how sports work! If all bodies were exactly the same, everyone would perform the same, and competitive, elite sports would not exist.
Elite sports depend on biodiversity. When this exists within cis men, people usually praise and celebrate the diversity. But those who defy white, cis, heteronormative standards are often accused of being “unfair.” Let’s look at an example: Michael Phelps, the winningest Olympian of all time, has several biological features that provide unique advantages in swimming. His torso is abnormally long and his legs short, his wingspan is four inches longer than his height, his lung capacity is TWICE the average, and his body produces HALF the levels of lactic acid the average athlete does. When tested, Phelps was praised as genetically superior. But when women athletes, especially women of color and/or trans women, exhibit biological diversity, it’s called unfair. This, in reality, is based in transphobia, sexism, racism, and bigotry, not advocating for fairness.
BIOLOGICAL DIFFERENCES CAN PROVIDE ADVANTAGES, BUT THAT DOES NOT MEAN THEY ARE UNFAIR OR GROUNDS FOR DISQUALIFICATION.
Most people attempt to use biology to reject Lia’s (and any other trans woman’s) eligibility in sport, forgetting that cis people, specifically cis women, also exhibit biological differences that can provide advantages – or disadvantages!
Please remember that being tall, fast, or even strong does not mean you’ll automatically be great at sports! Plenty of people are tall, strong, or fast and BAD at sports!
Even IF (and that’s a big IF) Lia’s assigned gender provides her with an advantage, why is that any different from Michael Phelps’s clear biological advantages of lower lactic acid levels, larger lung capacity, and so on? It’s not.
TRANS WOMEN ARE NOT “BIOLOGICAL MEN.”
Trans women are women. Trans girls are girls.
Many of the news reports call Lia a “biological man,” and this is not only transphobic, but also imprecise. Biological sex is not binary; there is no such thing as a “biological man” or “biological woman.” If you need to differentiate trans and cis women, say that: trans and cis women. If you need to talk about folks with higher levels of testosterone, say that. If you need to talk about reproductive biology, say that.
Here are a few other terminology suggestions:
TRANS WOMEN HAVE NOT “DOMINATED” WOMEN’S SPORT.
I’ll bet that you cannot name five (5) trans women who have won international or national competitions in athletics. If you can name one, I’ll be impressed. There are about 10 that I know of. And still, 10 is statistically insignificant. Despite the fact that trans women have been allowed to compete in the women’s Olympic category since 2004 and in many other arenas for decades, trans women are still vastly underrepresented in sports. Consider that in the nearly 20 years of inclusive policies for the Olympics, we have seen exactly ONE transgender woman compete in the Olympic women’s category, and she didn’t even medal.
Trans people are far from “dominating” sports. Cis people dominate sports.
Here are some more numbers: in 2016, 5,059 women competed in the Olympics. Given that trans people are approximately 1% of the population, about 50 trans women should have competed. There were zero. Trans girls have competed in school sports for decades and there has been no trans girl domination. The number of trans women in elite sports who have medaled, much less won or dominated is few and far between.
THERE WILL ALWAYS BE GREAT, OUTLIER ATHLETES WHO SEEM IMPOSSIBLE TO BEAT!
You might have heard of Michael Phelps or Shaquille O’Neal or Lebron James and many others who crushed competition around them. In each of these athlete’s situations, people have said they are unbeatable–that they even ‘dominated’ their sports and events.
You might also consider that all of these athletes did have unique physical characteristics that allowed them advantages in sport that no one considered unfair. You might also know of Katie Ledecky, who has been regarded as the greatest woman swimmer of all time. Though Katie is not transgender, Ryan Lochte, a fellow Olympic swimmer says, “She swims like a man. […] I feel bad for anyone who has to race her.” That is to say, plenty of cis women athletes are also terrifying to compete against because they are that good. Does that mean it’s unfair? No.If you have seen the following statements or memes, YOU ARE BEING LIED TO.
Nancy Hogshead Makar (and others) are using deception and lies to manipulate you into thinking Lia should not compete.Using her platfor mand manipulative tactics, Nancy is garnering trust on the basis of being an Olympian & lawyer:
Though being an Olympic champion and a civil rights lawyer both require intensive commitment and are impressive accomplishments, neither qualify a person to be an expert in discerning the fairness of a transgender woman competing in women’s sports. Neither being an Olympic champion nor being a civil rights lawyer are the same thing as being a biologist, a physiologist, an endocrinologist, or an expert in sports physiology.
Nancy’s attempt to qualify herself as an expert is manipulative and wrong. It is akin to saying “because I’m a world-renowned surgeon, I am also clearly qualified to be a lawyer.” This is clearly false. Nancy is not uniquely qualified and she is actively trying to trick you into thinking she is.
The claim that Lia was terrible on the men’s team but is now winning everything in the women’s category is a very common attack we’ve seen against Lia, as outlined the letter that Nancy penned on behalf of “16 of Lia’s anonymous” teammates. Here, Nancy, and now others, are attempting to paint Lia as someone who was a nobody on the men’s team and is now winning everything on the women’s team. Not only is this false, but it is also not “evidence” that Lia hold unfair advantages. Evidence is peer-reviewed research with a substantial sample population (n=1 is not a study, nor can it be considered evidence).
Additionally, consider that if a cis woman went from a lower ranking to 1st, no one would call this unfair. Yes, I have proof: Here are Katie Ledecky and Missy Franklin’s rankings in the few years before ranking first in the world:
Nancy fails to provide said “evidence” as to how exactly Lia has an unfair advantage except to claim that she is fast. Essentially, this says: “When cis women are fast, it’s okay; when trans women are fast, it’s unfair.” So, this is not about fairness. This is transphobia incarnate.
Nancy conveniently left out Lia’s other significantly higher rankings. Nancy’s claim that Lia was not a standout athlete prior to transition is a flat-out lie, intended to deceive you and convince you that Lia shouldn’t play.
Nancy is depending on the fact that most of you know nothing about swimming and/or will not look up Lia’s rankings. The swim that resulted in that 462nd ranking in the 200 free could only have been a random dual meet in-season swim, because that’s the only time Lia saw it. Unshaved, untapered (not rested) and not in a racing suit. Nancy and others are now comparing this to a time Lia swam at a rested invite, where she wore a racing suit and was prepared to do her best at. Nancy knows this. She has deceptively left this information out, knowing you will trust her because she is an Olympian.
HERE ARE MORE LIES:
Nancy tweeted the following message in late February, right before Lia swam at Ivy Championships:
For any non-swimmers, here is a little context: Caeleb Dressel is an Olympic swimmer who specializes in sprint events (the 50 and 100 free are his best events.) Nancy is attempting to say that athletes cannot swim events outside of their specialities; that distance swimmers like Lia shouldn’t be able to excel at sprint events and sprinters like Caeleb Dressel should not excel at distance. And, while most people do stay within their specialties, there are many athletes who are more versatile. Including cis women, like Katie Ledecky. (In addition, Nancy is lying again: Lia did not swim the 100 fly at championships.)
Every news outlet is claiming that Lia is “shattering” records. I was in the stands. Some records she broke by mere FRACTIONS of a second. This is not shattering. In fact, she did not even win by significantly large margins with respect to her peers. (Note that if a cis woman were to “shatter” a record, it would be praised. But when a trans woman does the same, it’s immediately called unfair.)
Don’t believe me? Ok, let’s do a little case study. Which of these is of Lia “dominating” the competition?
Video 1 was Lia in the 200 free, winning by 1.75 seconds. Video 2 was Felicia Pasadyn, a cis woman on Harvard’s team, who won the 200 back by 3.81 seconds.
No one has said that Felicia’s performance unfair – because it wasn’t! And neither was Lia’s.
This is not about “fairness.”
This is about transphobia.
If you are still struggling with this topic, that is okay. We have all grown up in a racist, transphobic, patriarchal, sexist, misogynist society. You are allowed to have feelings and knee-jerk reactions. AND I challenge you to remember that your feelings are valid, but not all actions that arise from them are valid. That is, just because you FEEL it is unfair for Lia and other trans women to compete does not mean it IS unfair. It means you – and all of us – have bias to unpack. And that’s okay.
Your feelings are valid, but they are not always facts.
I encourage you to read more about this at pinkmantaray.com/transathlete. There are more sources and further thoughts are there.
Lastly, if you are worried about a cis man pretending to be a woman in order to compete and win in women’s sports, recognize that you are afraid of cis men, NOT trans women! Video about this here.
If you’re wondering more about my personal feelings and thoughts, check out this profile by the Philadelphia Inquirer. This follows me as I watch Lia compete at my home pool at Harvard.