The Universal Notebook: Girls will be boys

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Rep. Beth O’Connor, R-Sanford, has submitted a bill to the state Legislature aimed at excluding transgender students from school athletics, a move as wrong-headed as the fear that trans people will prey on children if allowed to use the restroom of the gender with which they identify.

LD 926, “An Act to Ban Biological Males from Participating in Women’s Sports,” is part of a coordinated conservative attack on transgender citizens that has proposed such bans in at least 20 states. It states:

“Only a student of the female gender may join or participate in an interscholastic or intramural athletic team or sports activity that is sponsored by an elementary or secondary school or post-secondary institution and is designated for ‘females,’ ‘women’ or ‘girls.’” 

In a phony nod to due process, LD 926 allows that if a student is judged not to be female, the student may appeal by getting a letter from a doctor stating that “the student is female based upon: The student’s internal and external reproductive anatomy; The student’s naturally occurring level of testosterone; and an analysis of the student’s chromosomes.”

In the simple-minded world of social conservatives and religious fundamentalists, gender is a simple binary matter. As U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, put it in a sign she hung outside her congressional office, “There are two genders: male and female. Trust the science.”

Greene, one of the nastiest people ever elected to Congress, put up the sign to annoy Rep. Marie Newman, D-Illinois, whose daughter is transgender. 

In fact, science does not support the proposition that gender is a simple male/female either/or. Science describes gender identity as a fluid spectrum that, in addition to cisgender male and female, includes transgender, intersex, androgyny, hermaphrodite, and several other non-binary variants.

None of these gender identities is a matter of choice. If you are a religious fundamentalist you must accept that all human beings are as God made them. If you’re a reasonable person, you accept that gender identity is determined by a complex interplay of genetics, neurobiology, endocrinology, human cognition, and social norms. And if you are a reasonably religious person you accept that God blesses us one and all.

Those who argue that transgender athletes have an unfair advantage playing girls’ sports might as well argue that it’s unfair for some boys to be bigger and stronger than others. A trans athlete has no more of an unfair advantage than a high school basketball player who happens to be 6 feet 8 inches tall. Transgender athletes who transition before puberty do not go through male puberty and they lose their male testosterone levels within a year of transition. Then, too, I have a daughter who was faster than all but one or two boys in her class, so the physical superiority of all males over all females is clearly bunk. 

“It can be a challenge to understand what it means to be transgender, especially if you’ve never met a transgender person or do not have a transgender person in your life,” says Gia Drew, program director for Equality Maine. “While it’s not uncommon to have questions about fairness in relation to sports, I think we all can agree that transgender kids should be treated with dignity and respect, just like anyone else. Transgender people, including youth in Maine, have been participating for years, with little or no fanfare.”

LD 926 is a solution in search of a problem and a product of the ignorance and prejudice that taints so much of modern conservatism.

Edgar Allen Beem has been writing The Universal Notebook weekly since 2003, first for The Forecaster and now for the Phoenix. He also writes the Art Seen feature.