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Transgender women in sports

A quick look at transgender athletes over the years

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Tiffany Abreu spikes the ball during a Brazilian volleyball league match in Bauru, Brazil, Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017.

Bauru’s volleyball player Tiffany Abreu spikes the ball during a Brazilian volleyball league match in Bauru, Brazil, Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017. Abreu is Brazil’s first transgender person to play in the top volleyball league for women.

Andre Penner, Associated Press

A few years ago, the presence of a male-to-female (MTF) transgender athlete in women’s sport competitions would have alarmed athletes, coaches and fans, but they might have been consoled by the extreme rarity of such cases. That is no longer the case. More and more male-to-female athletes are showing up in women’s competitions, creating a dilemma for all involved, including those who advocate both women’s rights and LGBTQ inclusion.

Just recently at the Tokyo Summer Games, Laurel Hubbard became the first openly transgender woman to compete in the Olympics.

Examples of other male-to-female transgender athletes

• Craig Telfer represented Franklin Pierce University on the men’s track and field team in 2016 and 2017. Telfer’s best times, according to the Track and Field Results Reporting System website, were so slow they wouldn’t qualify for a boys state high school competition and would have left him far behind many female high school athletes. In 2016, Telfer ranked No. 200 in NCAA Division II for the 400 hurdles with a time of 57.34; in 2017, he was ranked 390th with a time of 1:02.00. Following a year of hormone therapy, Telfer competed for the women’s team in 2019 as CeCe Telfer and easily won the NCAA Division II championships in the women’s 400-meter hurdles. Telfer’s best time as a man (a pedestrian 57.34) is only slightly faster than Telfer’s best time as a woman (57.53), even though the men’s hurdles are 6 inches taller than the women’s hurdles. Telfer tried to enter the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials, but was denied because she failed to meet eligibility requirements established by World Athletics, which include testosterone levels below 5 nanomoles per liter (nmol/L) for a span of 12 months. 

• In 2017, two male-to-female transgender athletes — Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood — finished first and second in the 55-meter dash in Connecticut’s prep indoor state track and field championships, with Miller setting a state record. Three of their rivals filed a federal discrimination lawsuit, claiming the state’s transgender policy cost them places in the race and potential college scholarships. Connecticut, among other states, allows transgender individuals to compete in high school competition with the sex with which they identify and are not required to undergo hormone therapy, testing or surgery.

• In Brazil, 6-foot-4 Tiffany Abreu became the first male-to-female transgender athlete to play in the Brazilian Women’s Volleyball Superliga in 2017, five years after she retired from an international volleyball career as a male.

Rachel McKinnon, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound biological male, won a gold medal at the 2018 Masters World Track Cycling World Championship in Los Angeles. 

Nattaphon Wangyot, a biological male, placed fifth and third in the 100- and 200-meter dashes, respectively, in the 2016 Alaska state high school track championships, outraging athletes and parents. Since the Alaska School Activities Association had no transgender sports policy, Wangyot was allowed to compete against the girls without undergoing hormone therapy. 

Fallon Fox, another male-to-female transgender athlete, competes in women’s mixed martial arts fights. During a bout in 2014, she left her opponent with a broken eye socket and a concussion two minutes into the fight. Her injured opponent, Tamikka Brents, said afterward, “I’ve fought a lot of women and have never felt the strength that I felt in a fight as I did that night. I can’t answer whether it’s because (Fox) was born a man or not, because I’m not a doctor. I can only say, I’ve never felt so overpowered in my life, and I am an abnormally strong female in my own right.”

Mary Gregory, a male-to-female transgender athlete, set multiple world records while winning weightlifting titles in the women’s squat, bench press and deadlift at the 100% Raw Competition in 2016. The 100% Raw Powerlifting Federation says it learned that Gregory was “actually a male in the process of becoming a transgender female” only after seeing the results of a routine post-competition urine test. She was stripped of her titles and banned from women’s competition.

“Our rules, and the basis of separating genders for competition, are based on physiological classification rather than identification,” the federation said in a statement.

JayCee Cooper, another male-to-female transgender athlete, set a Minnesota state powerlifting record by bench-pressing 214 pounds after taking up the sport only a year earlier. USA Powerlifting has barred her from competition; the federation subsequently banned all male-to-female transgender athletes from its events because they have “a direct competitive advantage.”

Hannah Mouncey, who was a member of the Australian men’s handball team before transitioning to a woman, played in the women’s competition of Australian Rules Football, specifically the Victorian Football League. Mouncey is 6-foot-2, 220 pounds. She was nominated for the Australian Football League Women’s draft, the top professional league and the sport’s governing body, but the AFL prohibited her inclusion.

The AFL has mandated limits on testosterone levels for male-to-female transgender athletes who wish to play in the AFLW, and Mouncey withdrew from competition. According to The Australian, “The AFL’s principal reason for excluding Ms. Mouncey from (the draft) is the residual strength and physical size she has from her previous life as a male athlete. Before transitioning to female two years ago, Ms. Mouncey represented Australia in men’s handball. Although her testosterone levels are below the International Olympic Committee limit for transgender athletes, she is muscular (6-foot-2, 220 pounds).”

Kelly Morgan, a 6-foot male-to-female transgender athlete nicknamed “Beast” by teammates, plays rugby for the Porth Harlequins Ladies in Wales. According to the BBC, one teammate recalled that Morgan once “folded an opponent ‘like a deckchair.’” Morgan told the paper, “I do feel guilty, but what can you do? I don’t go out to hurt anybody.”

The Sunday Times reported that rugby referees in the United Kingdom were quitting because they fear “being sued as more men claim to be women join the women’s leagues and end up hurting natural-born female contestants with their strength and speed.” According to PJ Media, referees “have been warned not to question even bearded MTF (women) for fear of being seen as noninclusive.” The Times noted that women’s rugby does have a testosterone limit, but does not test for it and accepts the word of transgender athletes.