In 2019, I attended USA Powerlifting’s National Governing Board meeting (from here on, NGB). A major topic of that meeting had been a proposal to essentially allow male-to-female transgender lifters to compete in the women’s division, complete with permitting the use of hormone therapy.
A few months prior to the NGB, USAPL had released its Transgender Participation Policy, that effectively barred men from competing in the women’s division. The reasons for this included the use of “testosterone and other androgens, commonly used to transition from female to male,” which are banned from the federation, regardless of reasons. The secondary reason was, of course, the physiological differences between men and women, and the competitive advantage the former would have over the latter.
The keynote, for lack of a better term, of the NGB was delivered by the chairman of USAPL’s Therapeutic Use Exemption Committee, Dr. Kristopher Hunt. In roughly an hour (which was posted online alongside a Q&A that we will get to later), Dr. Hunt laid out the reasons for preventing men from compete in the women’s division, much of which was mentioned above. His presentation was followed by two people who had brought the transgender proposal to the NGB, JayCee Cooper and Rebecca Fox. Cooper and Fox, both powerlifters, took questions from the attendees and, frankly, made more than a few barely-veiled legal threats.
Since then, Cooper has sued USAPL in court in Minnesota, various states have decided to try their own laws to protect women’s sport, and a Presidential administration has taken office that has a decidedly dim view of keeping transgender men out of women’s sport.
It is in this context that Midnight Iron launches its coverage of transgender participation in the sport of powerlifting, and by association women’s sport in general.
Tonight will be the first in the series, laying out my own views on the subject. After this, we will quickly recap the timeline of USA Powerlifting’s Transgender Participation Policy.
1a.) The Opener. It is worth stating, explicitly, what my views are, and where I intend to come from on this story.
Put bluntly, I have been quite bitter about the events of the NGB since they concluded. To my mind, the proposal was written in such a way that it was intended to fail, thus opening USAPL up to pages and pages of breathless criticism from Outsports and other organizations. Dr. Hunt’s well thought-out, science-based approach was derided as “anti-trans rhetoric,” among other, more colorful language.
The concept that men and women have always had physiological differences, has never been in question. The difference in muscle mass, bone density, and other physical attributes were just taken as read. Indeed, if one looks at the results of virtually any powerlifting meet, and compares those in similar weight classes, the differences are obvious.
But that does not seem to matter to activists. Shortly after the NGB, VICE News aired a piece on Cooper and the USAPL “trans ban.” The piece suggests that there is no clear link between “testosterone and sports performance.”
That, particularly in a strength sport, is bogus. If there were no link between testosterone and sports performance, there would be no reason to ban testosterone therapy from the sport wholesale.
But even leaving the science aside for a bit (to the extent that we can), allowing men to compete in women’s sport essentially makes the latter co-ed and dominated by people who are not biological females. This has massive impact across the sporting world, from professional competition, down to the high school level.
I have no interest in entertaining the idea that allowing men to compete in women’s sport will not devastate the latter, even those who support the idea don’t want to deny that simple fact.
1b.) “Share The Platform.” In powerlifting, the slogan from trans advocates has been to “share the platform,” implying that USAPL’s prevention of biological males competing in the women’s division is somehow blocking people from the platform entirely. However, “sharing” implies an equal ground, and the idea of men competing in women’s sport is anything but. It is true that the hormones used in transition therapy are banned, and that they have never been exempted. Powerlifting is a strength sport, and hormone therapy has a direct impact on strength.
In a drug-tested organization, athletes are better served when they compete against others of the same biological sex. The playing field is as level as it can be.
Powerlifting is a unique sport, and anybody who has worked backstage can see that. People from various teams working through warmups together, platform managers working to keep everyone on time and ready for their attempts, and a blend of competition and teamwork that is unlike any other sport.
The simple fact is that we, as powerlifters, do share the platform. I personally have managed a platform backstage with all types of people. But, perhaps more important than sharing the platform, is defending the right of competitors to a fair game.
In a drug-tested federation, men have next-to-nothing to fear about women competing in the men’s division. The physical differences, and the physiological advantages that have been known for years aren’t surmountable without testosterone therapy. The concept of combining sexes has not and never will be referred to as “the end of men’s sport.”
But for women? The reverse is not true. Those physiological differences that make the men’s division a non-issue will devastate the women’s division.
We must, and we do share the platform. However, we owe it to each other as competitors, and frankly to women in particular, to defend its integrity.
It is with that goal in mind that this series will cover the transgender case. Male athletes will be largely unaffected by women entering the men’s division (indeed, next to nobody is even entertaining such a thing out of sheer futility). The position entertained, therefore, is the definition of the term “privileged.” Men are not impacted by the transgender case in any significant way.
However, since the reverse is not true, there is an obligation to ensure that the same fair play that occurs in the men’s division also occurs in the women’s division. It is that mission from which this series will take its name. Share the platform, certainly; and Defend Their Platform.