Transgender Sports: Men and Women Have Physical Differences That No Surgery or Hormone Treatment Can Change

By Heather Zeiger Published on June 16, 2017

Kate Hall won the 100m sprint at regionals her sophomore year. But a year later, Hall was beat by Andraya Yearwood, a high school freshman. Yearwood was born male but “identifies” as female. At the time of the race, he had not undergone hormone treatment or surgery to “transition from male to female.”

More Than Testosterone

Much of the debate about “transgender” athletes has focused on testosterone. Consider the NCAA policy for such transgender athletes focuses only on testosterone. According to the NCAA’s policy for men transitioning to women:

A trans female [male transitioning to a female] student-athlete being treated with testosterone suppression medication for Gender Identity Disorder or gender dysphoria and/or Transsexualism, for the purposes of NCAA competition may continue to compete on a men’s team but may not compete on a women’s team without changing it to a mixed team status until completing one calendar year of testosterone suppression treatment. (NCAA Inclusion of Transgender Student-Athletes, 2011)

Notably, a trans male (female identifying as male) does not have to wait a year before competing on a men’s team.

Testosterone plays a big role in athletic performance. But when we start talking about high-performance competition, especially in track and field, small variations make all the difference. These go well beyond testosterone.

Hip Structure and Center of Mass

Some differences can’t be changed, even with surgery and hormone treatments.

One of the major differences between male and female runners is the hip structure along with everything attached to hip movement. It’s not just a matter of having wide or narrow hips. A key difference is the ratio between hip width and femur length. Women tend to have a greater hip width-to-femur length ratio, which leads to greater hip adduction — that is, movement toward the center of the body. This difference has a domino effect that results in small differences in joint rotation and muscle recruitment.

In other words, men and women differ in how the lower parts of their bodies move as a coordinated wholes.

Other Differences

Men also tend to have more fast-twitch muscles than women. According to experts this isn’t something that can change with training. Fast-twitch muscles are what you want for sprinting because they help you explode off the starting line. They also help produce the kind of “anaerobic” energy you need for sprinting . Slow-twitch muscles are good for conserving energy. They’re the kind of muscles you want in a distance race.

Doctors can change some things about the body. But they can’t “reformat” the body to become something else completely.

Men also tend to have larger internal organs. This sounds like a disadvantage for sprinters, but larger lungs and heart result in more oxygen uptake. The more oxygen you can take in, the more that can be transported to your muscles. VO2max measures an athlete’s maximum oxygen uptake. It’s higher in men than it is in women, even for men and women that have the same body mass and equivalent lean muscle mass. Biologically, men have a higher VO2max, all other things being equal.

As a result, men also tend to have a higher concentration of hemoglobin in their blood than women do. For athletes, that’s an advantage. This is why doping with EPO, a protein that increases your oxygen-carrying hemoglobin, is illegal in sports. A runner who is born male, therefore, has an advantage over most female athletes wanting to run a clean race.

The Body Can’t Be Completely “Reformatted”

Even with surgery, doping, and hormone treatment, you can’t change every piece of your body. The body functions as a cohesive whole. The skeletal system, the size of major internal organs, and one’s center of mass are all fundamental components of the body. We see this in athletes who use steroids. They often sustain injuries because steroids change muscle mass without changing the ligaments and tendons connected to the muscle.

Doctors can change some things about the body. But they can’t “reformat” the body to become something else completely. A biological male is going to have the fundamental structures of a male body. That’s an inherent advantage in many sports.

Subordinating Athletes Who are “Born Female”

Separating men and women in sports has opened the door for many opportunities for women.

Separating men and women in sports has opened the door for many opportunities for women. Title IX has allowed women athletes to attend college on a scholarship and compete at a high level. Women athletes have also served as role models to other women.

Consider some of the great female runners. Joan Benoit Samuelson took gold the first year the women’s marathon was part of the Olympics. Paula Radcliff holds the women’s marathon world record. Jackie Joyner Kersee holds the best heptathlon score and the second farthest women’s long-jump. Florence Griffith Joyner, considered the fastest woman of all time, ran the women’s 100m in 10.49 and the 200m in 21.34.

All these female athletes have made huge contributions to running. Yet even Florence Joyner’s times would not have qualified her for the men’s semi-finals. In fact, the top twenty-five fastest men in 100m have times under 10 seconds, beating Joyner’s time of 10.49.

Of course elite athletes are by definition outside the norm. But there’s something wrong when half of the population has an inherent disadvantage. If biological males can compete against biological females, it won’t be long, especially in elite sports, before males win all the races and hold all the records. 

Women will, in effect, but pushed out of competition because they were born with female bodies. Does that make any sense? As Jeff Jacobs asks in his thoughtful article in the Hartford Courant, “What do we tell these girls? A transgender’s journey is more important than your journey?”

Kate Hall showed grace and maturity in the face of disappointment. But how many more young women will have to say what Hall said in response to her defeat, “It’s frustrating … but that’s just the way it is now”?

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  • JP

    We can blame this whole thing on liberal stupid-think. This kind of thinking started decades ago.

  • Gary

    This will continue as long as people are willing to put up with it.

    • JP

      It will continue so long as we have public schools.

  • GPS Daddy

    The real losers are women in this whole mess. I know many women that feel like the gains women have made are being iroaded at a consisyent pace. Yesterday’s feminists are now siding with the Heiritage Foundation against this current madeness. That should say something.

    • JP

      The winners are the fake women.

  • Joe

    The only solution is to let ‘people’ compete in whatever category that they want.

    Cis women will end up with a couple of medals in gymnastics.

    • Gary

      It is insanity to have categories if you allow those outside the category to compete. If you want no more women’s sports, then eliminate them. But you can’t have women’s sports and allow males to compete there.

      • kaththee

        And it really is that simple.

    • Clark Coleman

      Why is that the only solution? Are you assuming we are all cowards who won’t stand up to the Leftists?

      • Joe

        No, it’s the only way to defeat the Progs. If you fight them, you are a meanie.

    • kaththee

      Maybe girls born girl and identify as girls can go to the sports arena as team managers, to serve water, mascot etc. My daughter (born girl identified as girl) found her high school identity playing volleyball. That sport bought her so many gifts, but I am sure she would have been just as happy serving water to the transgender girls and watching them play. Go TEAM!
      All sports will be dominated by individuals born male again, as it was before Title 9. Girls born girl won’t even get to play much less make the team or win.

    • kaththee

      Cis women can be prescribed steroids so she can compete against her transgender sisters. So your cis gender daughter grows a beard, a tiny weanie and a few incurable brain tumors. It is all in the interest of fairness.

  • Kevin Carr

    The may have to have a “Trans” category.

    • Andrew Mason

      Logical, but requires the Left to accept that trans no longer fall into either male or female genders. While they promote gender fluidity amongst other things to children, I don’t see them tolerating the exclusion of trans from male and female categories.

      • Kevin Carr

        True, Romans 1 in effect.

  • Patmos

    Anyone see that commercial put out by the NCAA? It ends with, “Genders don’t play sports, athletes do.” The context for the commercial appears to be advocating women’s athletics, or something, it’s not really clear. Good propaganda has to be able to conceal it’s motives.

  • Corinne K

    There are absolutely significant questions that must be addressed when transgender athletes choose to compete, but ultimately it comes down to whether potential biological advantages the athlete might have fall outside the range of variation within the sexes. That is to say, there are ‘norms’ for sex-specific traits, but the extent to which they may or may not be present within a population depends greatly on the individual. So I really think transgender athletes need be evaluated on a case by case instance rather than as a group. You have some who transitioned in their teens and never went through puberty. You have some whose morphology might be naturally closer to that of the biological sex they identify with. And the onset of cross-sex hormone therapy coupled with its duration are extremely important. Many of the differences you outlined result from sex hormones – and at least half of them have been shown to reverse entirely in the absence of (usually) testosterone. Some elements like ones skeletal structure cannot be reversed so that could be a limiting factor for allowing an athlete to compete depending on the sport and individual. This is a very complicated and nuanced topic – which is part of why many large sport federations have tried to bandage the issue with ill-thought-out (and potentially arbitrary rules). I would like to see more discussion on this topic within governing sport bodies in the hopes they’ll come up with more defined and scientifically-driven parameters for how to handle these athletes.

    • kaththee

      So if a born male identifies as female is really sickly, clumsy and he transitions to a woman early, he can compete against women? Should they do the competition first and then decide if he is sufficiently handicapped by life, genetics and early transition to compete with females born female? It isn’t complicated and it isn’t nuanced either. It is straight forward and simple. Transgenders don’t belong at the top of all women’s sports. Transgenders shouldn’t be allowed to compete against girls and women. Anyone with any gender abnormality shouldn’t be allowed to compete either.

      • Corinne K

        Why shouldn’t they compete with the gender they transitioned to? It makes more sense in most cases to do that than otherwise. There was a transgender wrestler in Texas who was recently forced to compete with his biological sex (female) and completely wrecked the competition…as you would expect someone on testosterone to do! No questions asked, he should have been permitted to compete against the guys. Forced even. On the other side of the spectrum, I play rugby and one of my teammates is a transgender woman. I don’t know when she transitioned, but you couldn’t tell the difference between her and anyone else on the playing field. Would I force her to compete with the guys? Absolutely not. I’ve bowled her over enough times in practice to say she certainly doesn’t have any advantage over any of us – and she doesn’t remotely resemble a male in any way, shape, or form. She probably wouldn’t be allowed in even if she wanted to! So, to sum things up, unless there were an open league for trans and intersex people to compete in, I don’t believe we can be justified in making this a black and white issue.

        • GPS Daddy

          “No questions asked, he should have been permitted to compete against the guys.”

          ‘she should have been…”

          No amount of testosterone or surgeries changes that fact that she is a she.

        • a.Christian.for.Ron.Paul

          Because they haven’t transitioned to another gender. In the same way a human being that thinks they are a dog and acts like a dog, doesn’t make that person a dog. They are still a human being. Even if they take hormones, they are still a human being.

          You’ve bought into a delusion.

        • tearfang

          In the world of sports, it is real simple, open men’s divisions to everyone. Keep trans anything out of women’s divisions bc they have undue advantages.

  • David Tyler

    Thanks for this article – a helpful contribution to the Trans issue. The differences between male and female bodies are more profound than most people realise. The implication would appear to be that the discourse about transgender identification must take this on board if conclusions are to be based on realism rather than on ideology.

  • Great article – while I would like to say you can’t argue with science, the lefties have no need to argue and in fact studiously avoid it. They simply change the law, break the law or sue. They have great PR and the MSM is dedicated to their cause, and while this holds true, we cannot only use science alone to regain sanity in our society. We really are living in mad times! Isaiah 5:20

  • JoLinda Flanigan

    I think Dr.s are play Dr. Frankenstein with people and their lives. Hormones alone should concern many, the sex you were born with has the genetic code for you. Hormones compliment that code. I believe Dr’s are doing harm to patients and for money! Women are given hormones to help with Menopause, and that is a crap shoot most of the time with side effects that are real. Putting your faith in a Dr, that they can re assign your gender and you will be healthy and whole because of hormones, plastic surgery, and wearing the clothes of the gender you want to be the rest of your life, seems to be a fantasy driven by our own egos. That somehow we have arrived medically and can re-assign gender is the biggest lie the medical community has told itself.
    Egos and money, not people and the truth or safe medical practices.

  • Carl Spackler, Jr.

    The gash you can’t fix with cash.

  • glenbo

    I agree that transgendered people should not be allowed to compete against non-transgendered athletes. (Surprise from Mr. Glenbo, the famous
    pro-LGBT troll!)

    Let’s take for instance the “blade runner” in the Olympics. As
    a double amputee, he won medals running on metal springs that replaced his
    lower legs against non-amputees. However, he was using a system that was non-comportive to the other competitors.

    The same thing applies to transgendered athletes.

    Male physiology, bone structure, musculature is obviously
    different from females.

    Therefore, there is a dichotomy of fairness especially if
    hormones/steroids are used by the trans athlete which can be seen as “doping.”

    Transgendered athletes should only compete with other trans
    athletes of their matching gender and “doping” measure.

    But to use this as a tool create animus towards
    transgendered people is bigoted, immoral and hateful.

    Is that why you wrote this article Heather Zeiger?

    Is this really about fairness in sports? Or is this about
    religious bigotry towards non-procreators? (Probe (dot) org.)

    Shameful, Heather.

    Sheameful.

  • Stacy Sedgewood

    While I agree there is a gap, someone like myself, who is intersex, struggled to try and compete in high school and eventually left sports entirely. I wanted to wrestle, but because I was born with a genetic issue, I was more of a girl than a boy. Do you think that those who are born female and have higher levels of testosterone should be banned automatically?

  • Ghulam Mahomed

    Basically, there is such a thing as a biological male sex. It is undeniable fact of nature. The gender people choose to live under is a cultural construct. Biological males are different/distinct physiologically and genetically from biological females. That is what it is. Other considerations are not the primary considerations in sport.

  • Lauren Yee

    You do realize that hemoglobin levels for trans-women on horomon therapy are the same as that of cis-women, right? Meaning someone born male but taking testosterone blockers and estrogen has the same oxygen carrying capacity as someone born female. The fast and slow twitch muscle differences you mention ARE attributable to horomones, not training; losing testosterone causes muscle composition in male animals to become comparable to that of females. (There’s no reason it shouldn’t be the same in humans, but it’s challenging to get athletes to let you permenantly remove their muscles for examination). Additionally, trans-women typically have lower levels of testosterone than the women they compete against, making it harder for them to build and maintain muscle.

    It’s hormonal differences that allow male hearts and lungs to achieve higher VO2 maxes than female. Female horomone levels slow heart rate, slightly changes heart rhytm and reduces the lung’s ability to send oxygen to the muscles. Lung volumes increases with body size and alititude, not gender. There hasn’t been a head-to-head study on trans-women’s VO2 maxes compared to cis-women, but the elements that make male VO2 maxes (relative to body size) higher are accounted by hormones.

    Skeletal structure doesn’t change if horomones are started after puberty is finished (early-twenties) but bone density does decrease. Structural differences will help or hinder trans-women depending on the sport, but those same structural differences are often present in cis-women at the top of their sport. Does it matter if someone in the WNBA is tall because they went through male puberty or because they are genetically predisposed to be tall? And do you honestly believe that male athletes will go accept the expense, pain, stigma, hormonal disadvantage, and pay cut (female athletes make less than their male counterparts) of transition, just so that they might have the slight advantage of being taller than average for their gender?

    If your argument is that trans women who haven’t undergone HRT shouldn’t compete with cis-women, it’s a straw man argument. Nobody is saying that they should. But right now all the evidence suggests that trans-women who have been on long-term HRT don’t have a competitive advantage over cis-women. Your arguments have no medical basis.

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