Do Transgender Women Have a Physical Advantage ?

There has been a controversy over whether it is appropriate to allow transgender women to compete in women’s divisions of sport. It is believed that women who were formally men still retain some physical advantages. This is not true once sex reassignment surgery is completed. There are several factors that have to be considered. If the surgery was done before puberty or after it does make a difference. Sex hormones are significant to  athletic performance. With the change that comes with hormone therapy, it should make performance more equal if testosterone is reduced. Transgender women would not have a major advantage athletically. Detractors claim that it is an unfair for women to compete with transgender women.Some believe they have no right to compete at all. These claims are baseless, due to physiological changes. There is limited concern when transgender men compete. This could be some form of gender bias, because it is assumed men would naturally be the better athletes. Examining this from a biological, physiological, and endocrinological perspective provides another answer. Transgender women would not retain the physical strength of their former sex.

Sexual reassignment surgery requires a number processes. The use of hormone replacement therapy is critical. For men transitioning into women estrogen needs to be increased to produce female secondary sex characteristics.Prior to surgery it is recommended that the transitioning individual live as their desired sex for a number of years. Estrogen is not induced at high dosages, but gradually increased over a period of time. Male to female transgender people will notice a change in body composition. Muscle and bone mass will decrease due to  hormonal changes. Another part of the transition requires orchietomy. The removal of the testicles allows for less production of androgens and testosterone. The process does not end with hormone treatments, but with vaginoplasty. The male genitals are reconstructed to form female anatomy. A transwoman does not have a uterus or ovaries. The hypothalamus will still release gonadtropin releasing hormone which produce the LH and FSH hormones. This is responsible for sex steroids and transwomen continue hormone therapy. GnHR analogues are used to prevent the reaction of testicular function. Antiandrogens are used as well in cross sex hormone therapy. At the end of the process a former male will have competed the process of feminization .

Transwomen would not after full transition have a strength advantage. One reason is that testosterone levels would not be at the same level before surgery. Testosterone has an anabolic effect on bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The reason men are on average stronger is due to endocrinology and total body mass composition. Estrogen produces more fat as compared to testosterone. A Transwoman would actually lose some muscle mass due to the hormonal transition. Hormones are only one factor in strength. A Transwoman could have some advantage if their body is naturally mesomorphic. Muscle mass would still be lost.

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This is Chris Tina Bruce. He is now a woman and still competes in bodybuilding. It is clear after the surgery a certain amount of muscle mass was lost.Therefore there would not be a physical advantage. 

Strength levels would be reduced to that of an average woman. Transathetes would have to train as hard as other women to see physical fitness progress. Muscle is not the only thing effected, but done density. Even if a transwoman stopped hormone therapy, testosterone would not reemerge. Small amounts could be produced by the adrenal glands, but not enough to enhance athletic performance. It is more difficult for women to build strength and transwomen will find it difficult also. The biggest gap is strength between men and women is in the upper body. After the completion of sexual reassignment surgery this would decrease as well.

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Fallon  Fox has generated much controversy entering MMA. Leading SRS surgeons agree that she would not have physical advantage. 

http://www.bloodyelbow.com/2013/3/8/4075434/leading-sex-reassignment-physicians-weigh-in-on-fallon-fox

Fallon Fox for example would not be able to compete with males as a female. If we were to take her previous male self and compete in a physical contest now, it is obvious her male self would win. Reducing the amount of testosterone radically alters athletic performance. Although there are exceptions, women who engage in the same exercise regimen as a man will not become stronger than that man. Testosterone allows for a greater extent of protein synthesis.

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Men and women who train the same would still result in men being stronger. The reason has to do with endocrinology. 

If reducing testosterone can have an effect adding it can change body composition as well.

     Female  to male  transexuals are rarely given considerations to how fair athletic competition is for them. A transman could have an athletic disadvantage to an extent. Having higher testosterone will not always make one stronger by default. A majority of testosterone is bound by sex hormone binding globulin or non-specific proteins. The level of free testosterone is critical, which men have more of. A transman might have difficulty competing with a male in sport. Being previously female, their body would not produce the same amount of testosterone. Hormone therapy could reverse this. Transmen do not have testicles producing the same amount of testosterone. The odd double standard is that the female to male transgender would not have a physical advantage. This is rooted in the idea that men are naturally superior and testosterone is the reason. This sexism still remains in sports and is the main reason why they obsessively focus on transwomen. It disrupts the traditional gender binary. Even though the science of endocrinology, medicine, and physiology prove there is no physical advantage there still are objections to transgender and transsexual participation in sports.

       There also remains the question of how sexual reassignment would effect athletes before or after puberty. The International Olympic Committee permits transsexuals to undergo hormone therapy before puberty. After puberty the IOC requires at least two years of hormone therapy. The reason is puberty is the point in which strength levels begin to differ.By age thirteen boys will see the development of muscle mass and greater strength. This is gradual, because at a period girls start their growth sooner. Although males body growth is slow soon they will surpass women in height and body mass. Testosterone levels will peak around age twenty and gradually decline.

                                                               image003 Doing the surgery after would be possibly more difficult. Doing the surgery before the development of puberty would not allow for physical advantage. The same would be correct even after puberty, when hormone therapy is done. There is the question of chromosomes. Seeing as SRS has not advanced to a point in which chromosomes can be changed, people wonder if the y chromosome adds physical advantage. Genetically it could be claimed that is the remaining male part of a transwoman. As far as it is known, this would not allow for added physical advantage.

        Ultimately there is a  conclusion that there are no physical advantages of a transwoman athlete. Based on endocrinology, estrogen would not allow them to retain the physical strength they once had. Hormone therapy would drastically alter the bone density and body composition. The decrease in body size  would effect oxygen consumption. This means a transwoman’s vo2 max would lower. So, it appears there are no significant advantages that would make competition unfair. Even with this information, intense prejudice remains. Many in the professional sports community want to ban transsexuals and transgender athletes from competition. Women athletes look at them as threats or repudiate them completely. Others have an irrational fear of competing with them. Their claim is that they still have physical strength retained from when they were male, which would put them at risk of serious harm. This argument lacks cogency when examining the physiological, biological, and hormonal evidence. Only when the medical evidence is presented can these myths be discredited.

Further Reading

“Transsexual Athletes OK for Athens.” CNN.com. N.p., 18 May 2004. Web. 7 July 2015.

Chee, Rosie. “Breaking The Myth – Women Who Lift Heavy Will Look Like Men!” Bodybuilding.com. N.p., 31 July 2014. Web. 12 July 2015.

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Do Transgender Women Have a Physical Advantage ?

One thought on “Do Transgender Women Have a Physical Advantage ?

  1. I can certainly confirm this. I am not transgender but I did lose both testicles due to cancer. Additionally, I reacted badly to testosterone replacement therapy and had to discontinue that treatment. So, I am for all intents and purposes a eunuch. I’m trying to keep myself fit and as masculine as possible through exercise, but I am finding it difficult to build muscle mass. There are definite negatives to (for a man) not having balls. I’ll keep on trying, though, as there are definite benefits regardless of the difficulty in building muscle. Good article; I learned a thing or two.

    Like

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