Collegiate swimmer Lia Thomas caused an international stir this year regarding the rules that should govern competitive swimming. A biological male who thinks he is a woman (even though he still maintains male anatomy), Thomas was allowed this past year to compete in college swimming as a female. While just a mediocre swimmer when competing against men, Thomas dominated the female swimming field, setting several “women’s” records and ultimately winning the 2022 NCAA Women’s 500-yard freestyle race.
Many sane people thought this was outright unfair; allowing biological males, who are stronger, bigger, and faster than biological females, to compete against women just didn’t seem right. Indeed, if the fastest biological female had been allowed to compete against men in the 100-meter freestyle event at the Tokyo Olympics, she would have placed 56th.
FINA, the international governing body of swimming whose decisions the NCAA follows, has adopted guidelines this past weekend that it hopes will provide more clarity on this issue. The guidelines do two things. First, they ban biological males from competing against women if they “transitioned” to a female (i.e., took puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones) after the age of 12. As the guidelines state:
“Male-to-female transgender athletes (transgender women) …are eligible to compete in the women’s category in FINA competitions and to set FINA World Records in the women’s category in FINA competitions and in other events recognised by FINA if they can establish to FINA’s comfortable satisfaction that they have not experienced any part of male puberty beyond Tanner Stage 2 (pre-puberty period) or before age 12, whichever is later.”
Second, they propose the possible creation of an “open category” where biological males identifying as women but who transitioned after age 12 could compete. The guidelines provide:
“Athletes who do not meet the applicable criteria for the men’s category or the women’s category may compete in any open events that FINA may develop in the future. FINA will begin work following the final promulgation of this Policy to determine the feasibility of establishing an open category in Aquatics sport disciplines, in which an athlete who meets the eligibility criteria for that event would be able to compete without regard to their sex, their legal gender, or their gender identity.”
Why were these rules adopted? As the guidelines state:
“Because of the performance gap that emerges at puberty between biological males as a group and biological females as a group, separate sex competition is necessary for the attainment of these objectives. Without eligibility standards based on biological sex or sex-linked traits, we are very unlikely to see biological females in finals, on podiums, or in championship positions; and in sports and events involving collisions and projectiles, biological female athletes would be at greater risk of injury.”
At first glance, these new guidelines seem to be a big victory for biology and common sense, right? But is it really such a victory? Consider two things. First, FINA and the guidelines still recognize that a biological male can actually become a woman. It is just puberty that determines “femaleness,” nothing else. Indeed, other than puberty, FINA believes there is really nothing special about a woman.
Second, the guidelines could actually push parents and doctors to “gender transition” children before the age of 12. Since studies have shown that up to 95% of children that believe they are the opposite sex will reidentify as their biological sex by late adolescence, such early transitioning most likely would do irreparable harm to the overwhelming majority of children and could push them to continue to identify as the opposite sex even when lose the desire to do so. FINA was very well aware of this danger; indeed, the spokesman for FINA president Husain Al-Musallam specifically brought it up:
“This is not saying that people are encouraged to transition by the age of 12. It’s what the scientists are saying, that if you transition after the start of puberty, you have an advantage, which is unfair. They’re not saying everyone should transition by age 11, that’s ridiculous. You can’t transition by that age in most countries and hopefully you wouldn’t be encouraged to. Basically, what they’re saying is that it is not feasible for people who have transitioned to compete without having an advantage.”
But will the radical gender lobby and its allies in the medical field, especially in the West, really see it that way? Or will they more likely push athletic boys who identify as girls to transition earlier? If other sports governing boards follow FINA’s lead, the pressure to transition boys before age 12 could be too much to withstand.
So there you have it. The new guidelines of the governing body of international swimming bans biological males who think they are women from competing against women if they have not “transitioned” before age 12 and considers creating an open category for biological men who do not meet the criteria. However, the guidelines fail to protect the concept of womanhood and very well could end up pushing the medical transitioning of boys before age 12 despite the great harm this could bring. Thus, while the guidelines bring some clarity to the issue of biological men being able to compete against women in swimming, they leave other issues in limbo. Let’s hope that the next international sporting body will finally state the obvious—a biological male can never become a woman and thus cannot compete against women.