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Mack Beggs and Transphobia in Sport

A transgender teen boy has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons after he won the Class 6A girls’ wrestling state championship in Texas (where else?). Forced to compete with high school girls because the University Interscholastic League (UIL) has ruled that players must compete according to the gender determined on their birth certificate (and a change to this requires a court judge), Mack Beggs won decisively and faced boos along with cheers when he received his medal.

Mack Beggs is 17 and has stated that he would much prefer to be wrestling against other boys “because I’m a guy. It just makes more sense”. And it does make more sense. He has been supplementing his hormones with testosterone since he was 15 years old, as part of his transition, and some are blaming this for his superior performance in the competitions. And while testosterone may give him some slight physical advantage, he is not taking it for that reason; it is the accepted, widespread medical treatment for trans men. He is not taking it as a performance enhancing drug. His school took blood tests and reports that his testosterone levels are within acceptable levels, in any case.

Beggs is the first transgender participant to win a state championship in high school wrestling in Texas, and there is a sense that he is fighting an unfair fight. Parents of his opponents (who feel their daughters are getting an unnecessarily hard time in the ring), as well as common-or-garden transphobes, object to Beggs participating, winning and probably existing. Because what is he supposed to do? He would prefer to fight against the boys and it would make more sense for him to fight against the boys. But he is not allowed to fight against the boys.

The alternative

And what about the alternative? If common sense was to prevail, Beggs would be in the boys’ division. Sure, his impressive winning stats would probably go down, but he is happy for that to happen just to be in the correct category. And what else would happen? Well, trans girls would be able to compete against the cis girls in the championships. Would parents be happier with that?

It is an ongoing argument in many arenas, but I can’t help but feel that the parents who don’t want a trans boy to fight against their daughter would also object to a trans girl doing so, too.

What precisely are they supposed to do? I think the answer, according to far too many, is to go inside, stay inside, and never face the general public again. I mean, if we make it so impossibly difficult for trans people to even go to the bathroom, what other kind of consequence is it going to have? Can’t visit a loo? You might just have to remain indoors.

Then the bigots can happily spend the rest of their days not acknowledging it’s an issue.

These attitudes kill trans people, whose suicide risk is astronomically high.

What is Mack to do?

Mack Beggs was already a high-performing, successful wrestler before he started taking testosterone to supplement his own body’s supply of the hormone. He does not want to wrestle cis girls but he is forced to do so if he wants to continue to participate in the sport he loves. And the parents of some of his opponents are going to court to try and rule him out of the championships.

Of course – and somewhat ironically – a ruling in favour of those parents could also be in favour of Beggs’ own preferences in the sport. But only if the ruling body paid attention and changed the rules.

And that is reassuringly (though rarely) possible. At Harvard University, swimmer Schuyler Bailar was allowed to switch from the women’s swimming team to the men’s when he transitioned. He was given the choice between remaining on the women’s team and moving to the men’s, but he would only be allowed to stay on the women’s team on condition that he did not take testosterone therapy.

Bailar chose to switch to the men’s team, breaking his “record-breaking streak” in favour of being amongst his own gender. He was happy to lose some of the prestige that came with such impressive results, and the coaches and other team members were happy.

Ethics

For all the self-described moral purity of the populist anti-trans ideologues, they don’t seem to see the problem with booing a young man who is pursuing the sport that he loves in the best conditions he can manage. The lack of empathy and profound lack of ethics constitutes bullying of the worst kind. His strength of character thus far is impressive, but to stand up against so much hatred is not something anybody can do indefinitely.

If parents object to Beggs’ strength, testosterone levels or gender, the place to object is with the Texas University Interscholastic League, not with the lad himself. He, too, wants to be able to be placed with his own gender, so fight the rules that put him in this position, not the boy who’s trying his best.

Photo: Ted Eytan/Creative Commons

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Philippa Willitts

Philippa Willitts is a British freelance writer who specialises in writing about disability, women’s issues, social media and tech. She also enjoys covering politics and LGBT-related topics. She has written for the Guardian, the Independent, New Statesman, Channel 4 News, Access Magazine, xoJane and many more publications. She can be found on Twitter @PhilippaWrites.