girls +

Can the Best Policy for Gender-Bending Athletes Be Found In a Connecticut High School?

Athletics Semenya Gender Test

Does a local Connecticut high school have a more nuanced policy about transgender athletes than the International Association of Athletic Federations? For all the talk about treating gender-nonconforming sports stars like Caster Semenya fairly, we’ve yet to hear a real solution about how to avoid discriminating against trans athletes while still letting them compete. Did this gay marriage-friendly New England state found a solution?

To understand the debate, we must first know the premise: that boys and girls (and men and women) are physically different based on biology, giving men the upper hand in most athletics because they are larger and have more muscle mass. Of course, that’s a generalization for all generalizations and enters the spiral of “What does it mean to be a man o a woman?”, but when it comes to sport, long ago separating the sexes appeared the most fair way to do things. (That, and when many sports created professional women’s leagues, like the WNBA and LPGA, the existing leagues were male-only. Not exactly “fair.”)

All that changes when a biological man becomes a woman, and vice versa. If a man takes hormones to grow breasts, raise his voice, and has his penis turned into a vagina, is he suddenly on par with other female athletes?

The Board of Education in Middletown, Conn., thinks they know the answer: It all depends. Mostly, on puberty and surgery.

New rules for the district’s student-athletes, adopted from the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, say players will compete on teams based on the sex given on his or her birth certificate. The only way to change teams? Gender reassignment surgery. Moreover, if the student-athlete underwent reassignment, it must have taken place before puberty in order to swap teams; if it took place after puberty, the person will have to wait to compete again until two years after the surgery is complete.

It’s a decisive policy, but it doesn’t answer all the questions. What if a biological female athlete begins a hormone regimen after puberty, giving her more muscle mass, but doesn’t undergo surgery. That means she will still compete with other women, although she will, by all accounts have an advantage. Is it an unfair advantage?

If these rules were applied to Semenya — who is intersex, not transgender — there would be no debate. As we understand it, Semenya was born a girl, and it says so on her birth certificate. There’s been no surgery; her absent ovaries is how she was born. Thus, she competes with other women. As she has been.

Of course, there’s a difference between being transgender and intersex, but there are some similarities between the gender-blurring situations when it comes to how athletic organizations could operate. As in: If you’re a girl at birth, do you “stay a girl” while sprinting or shooting hoops or whipping around a puck?

While Semenya has been allowed to keep her gold medal, it’s unclear whether she’ll be allowed to compete with women moving forward. Based on the Connecticut school’s rules, of course she would.

As Ariel Levy notes in a lengthy New Yorker profile of Semenya, “the I.A.A.F. has behaved erratically on the issue” as it tried deciding Semenya’s gender for her, and whether she qualified to compete with women.

It’s a thankless task, but ultimately, one that must be taken up. One Connecticut school finally decided to do it, albeit with imperfect results. But in all honestly, will there ever be a perfect policy?

Get Queerty Daily

Subscribe to Queerty for a daily dose of #athletics #castersemenya #connecticut stories and more


  • Kian

    This article is all sorts of wrong. Caster is intersexed not transgendered. And your descriptions of how people transition from sex to another are crude and insensitive (i.e. “turning a penis into a vagina”). Ugh. I almost didn’t even care to write this comment since this is often par for the course for Queerty. I would say I expect more from a gay website, but I can’t bring myself to hope for a second that trans people get taken seriously.

  • me

    I’m gay…not a tranny, and didn’t find this to be insensitive at all. Is there a that you can go to for all of your fluff blog need Kian? If not you should make it and quit bitching.

  • me

    I’m gay…not a tranny, and didn’t find this to be insensitive at all. Is there a that you can go to for all of your fluff blog needs Kian? If not you should make it and quit bitching.

  • Kian

    I’m gay too asswipe.

  • Tina

    1) Hormones cannot raise one’s voice, only lower it,
    2) What if we can’t change our birth certificates? I was born in Idaho, lived there for four WEEKS, then moved around to texas for a couple months then South Dakota where i spent 18 years. Idaho’s policy? Never change gender on the certificate. Ever. Whats a girl to do?
    3) What about the thousands of trans men who, for surgical options, are honestly abysmal? Hundreds of thousands of dollars for something that might fall off? What ‘surgeries’ count? Can a trans man get a breast reduction and have that qualify, or does he need a hysterectomy, or full phalloplasty? What about a middle ground like metoidioplasty? (could be wrong on the spelling there, apologies.)

    Kian: Look up The Transadvocate, Spectrum Cafe, ENDAblog, or Feministe or Feministing…some are better than others. Maybe someday we can change Queerty.


    Just the fact that you used the term “gender-bending” makes this teh epic fail.


  • Liz Church

    I suggest looking at boxing for an answer and putting athletes into divisions so that people of similar ability compete against each other. Take their averages times over the course of a year and split them up that way.

  • Arthur

    There is no perfect policy. The challenge is now to be fair to someone like Caster Semenya while being far to other athletes as well – how do you define “unfair” advantage? Michael Phelps isn’t a textbook case of Marfan syndrome, but he’s close enough for his doctors to have checked him out and he has annual testing done on his heart. Is this – huge hands and feet, hypermobile joints – an unfair advantage for Phelps in the pool? The compromise described, while imperfect, sounds better than what the IAAF has so far.

  • Kian

    Tina – I do frequent the blogs you mentioned and usually try to ignore Queerty but I guess I’m a glutton for punishment. Plus, I like to see what I’m up against.

  • AbbeyJane

    This is a most difficult subject to speak about, but does anybosy actully go and chat with Trans and Intersexed people about what they think, or is this case by the High School yet another example where non-Trans/ Intersexed people are making choices for Us and imposing their will upon Us? It seems so. As a keen Archer I stopped shooting for awhile and guess what, I lost ,y fitness fast and then I put hormones ontop of that and guess what, even within a few months my fitness plummeted even more. I have lost all my male muscle tone and its very difficult to get it back again. So 2 years is a stupid excuse to keen on excluding T and I people from sport.

    Once again its the flesh that people are using to judge Us on, not own brains and abilities, when will you get that through your heads that the flesh is but a machine and the brain is where the person really is, the body just does what the brain says, not vice versa.

    You want a better compromise, then gather T and I persons together and chat to Us, listen to Us and work with Us to help make a fair system for sporting situations.

  • Walter Thompson III

    This is off the subject a little here. But From what I’ve studied, sexual reassignment is considerable easier the earlier a person transitions in life due to in part the effects hormones have on the body, especially in cases of male to female transition. I believe a lot of misery for individuals could be avoided if sexual reassignment were more easily available and or free for Americans up to their 21st birthday. This would indeed help so many people to have more normal and productive lives who face this great life and medical challenge.

  • diamondstyles

    Im trans but i think it unfair to the natal born female athletes. Just my feelings

  • Missanthrope

    This policy is uninformed a ridiculous, you can be on hormones and get nearly the same rate of feminizing or masculinzing (depending on mtf/ftm) effects as if you had any surgery. It makes no sense to make people compete as their birth sex when they’re gained or loss massive amounts of muscle mass and would effectively make it unfair for FTM’s to compete in women’s sports and MTF’s compete in men’s sports (MTF’s couldn’t do it, they’d basically be non-competitive and FTM’s would have a massive advantage against women).

    This “policy” is basically a non-policy that makes it impossible for most trans people to compete at all.

  • fuzzypony

    Why can’t we lump everybody together and then sort them out by weight, body mass, age, height, speed, time, etc? Then everybody will be competing against *people* of their own ability, rather than against a gender. At higher levels of competition, there could be divisions based on some sort of fixed ratio of these factors that ensures that everybody, or every gender label, gets a fair shot at competition.

  • Zoe Brain

    Since under the medical standards of care, surgery is forbidden to anyone under age 18 in the USA, this would mean that only High School Students over age 20 could compete.

    Yeah, right.

    Even if they’ve been on hormones so never had the wrong puberty, and in all physical respects except genitally, are identical to others of their gender.

  • Zelane

    Then according to that policy. Caster would have to compete with MEN because her puberty gave her a MALE body.

  • juoking81

    I found a HOTTEST interracial club for black Women and white Men, or black Men and white Women, to interact with each other. Interracial is not a problem here, but a great merit to cherish!

  • McShane

    @No. 16 · Zelane: yes; male bodies compete with male bodies. It may not seem ideal but it is the only thing that’s fair. There is no way to factor the influence into a competative weighting system.

Comments are closed.