Roy Exum: Trans Swimmers Duel

Tuesday, January 11, 2022
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Lia Thomas, a male-to-female transgender athlete, has attracted great waves of criticism as a very successful member of the women’s swim team at the University of Pennsylvania. During her first three years at UPenn Thomas was on the men’s team but then, after she discovered she was a female, she has set pool and team records this season and turned collegiate women’s sports on its collective ear.

This weekend Lia was finally beaten in a meet with Yale by Iszac “Izzi” Henig, also a transgender athlete, who swims with the Yale women despite his female-to-male transition. Izzi has reportedly had his breasts surgically removed and says he is not taking testosterone, hormones, or any other performance drugs.

Thomas, on the other hand, has been taking hormone suppressants for over a year and, while she has dominated the water in Philadelphia, there has been a huge outcry in women’s athletics because, bluntly, there is no way this is fair.

The NCAA has ruled a MTF transgender can compete after a year of drug therapy, but such logic has now been proven as wrong.

Henig wrote a guest column in the New York Times in June where he stated, “As a student-athlete, coming out as a trans guy put me in a weird position. I could start hormones to align more with myself, or wait, transition socially, and keep competing on the women’s team. I chose the latter.

“I value my contributions on the team and recognize my boyhood doesn’t hinge on whether there is more or less testosterone running through my veins. At least, that’s what I’ll try to remember when I put on the women’s swimsuit for the competition and am reminded of a self I am no longer attached to,” Henig added.

Henig defeated Thomas in the 100-meter freestyle and in the last leg of the 400 relay. Thomas won the 200- and 500-meter races, saying afterwards she had “an up and down” sort of day. Both swimmers have qualified for the NCAA Championships. Parents of other female athletes are angry. “I wasn’t prepared for this. Everything is messed up,” one said. “The NCAA needs to do something about this. They need to put science into the decision and discussion.”

Zachary Thomas of Philadelphia’s Channel 12 news, writes, “An editorial written by the New York Post titled "Dominating in women’s sports as a trans athlete is fundamentally selfish" focuses on Thomas, saying she's "not a hero."

"Most of the women are too afraid to speak out against this. But they must." said American journalist and political commentator Megyn Kelly in a tweet featuring an article concerning Thomas.

“A veteran USA swimming official recently resigned in protest of Thomas' inclusion in the sport, saying Thomas is negatively impacting women's swimming and her competing in meets is unfair.

“The fact is that swimming is a sport in which bodies compete against bodies. Identities do not compete against identities," Cynthia Millen said on The National Desk. "Men are different from women, men swimmers are different from women, and they will always be faster than women.

Despite all the backlash, UPenn and the Ivy League stand behind Thomas competing as a woman. In a recent statement, UPenn says it is committed to being "welcoming" and "inclusive" for all its student-athletes. Joining the university in support of Thomas, the Ivy League says in its own statement it "welcomes" Thomas' inclusion in women's swimming and "looks forward to celebrate the success of all of our student-athletes throughout the season."

The Ivy League echoed UPenn's commitment to being welcoming and inclusive, but added it seeks to condemn "transphobia" and "discrimination."

John Lohn, Editor-in-Chief of Swimming World magazine, likens Thomas’ presence in competitive women’s swimming to doping. “Despite the hormone suppressants she has taken, in accordance with NCAA guidelines, Thomas’ male-puberty advantage has not been rolled back an adequate amount.

“The fact is, for nearly 20 years, she built muscle and benefited from the testosterone naturally produced by her body. That strength does not disappear overnight, nor with a year’s worth of suppressants. Consequently, Thomas dives into the water with an inherent advantage over those on the surrounding blocks.”

Lohn also wrote, “Let’s get this out of the way, because some readers will argue we are calling Lia Thomas a doper – regardless of the information presented and the selected verbiage. That is not the case. There is no intent. What we are stating is this: The effects of being born a biological male, as they relate to the sport of swimming, offer Thomas a clear-cut edge over the biological females against whom she is competing.

“Last spring, Virginia’s Paige Madden, who represented Team USA at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, won the NCAA title in the 500-yard freestyle with a time of 4:33.61. Thomas owns a best time of sub-4:20 and recently went 4:34 during a midseason invitational. Even if Thomas does not get near her best time, she seems likely to go faster later in this season and easily win the NCAA title in the 500 free. How is that scenario – in the slightest way – considered legitimate?

“She is stronger. It is that simple. And this strength is beneficial to her stroke, on turns and to her endurance. Doping has the same effect.

“According to NCAA rules, Thomas has met expectations for participation. But for Thomas to suggest she does not have a significant advantage, as she did in one interview, is preposterous at best, and denial at worst. Sure, it is on the NCAA to adjust its bylaws in the name of fair competition for the thousands of swimmers who compete at the collegiate level. It is also on Thomas to acknowledge her edge,” Lohn argues, “The suppressants she has taken account for an approximate two to three percent change. The time difference between male and female swimming records is roughly 11 percent.”

The editor surmises, “Through anonymous means, due to fear of retribution, members of the Penn women’s team and their parents have spoken out against the participation of Thomas in women’s competition. Good for them. Good for speaking out against an injustice. Now, the NCAA needs to act, and it needs to act quickly. This scenario – with the effects of doping – cannot linger. For the good of the sport, and for fairness to those competing as biological women, a ruling must come down soon.

“If it doesn’t, the NCAA just doesn’t care.”

royexum@aol.com


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