Martina Navratilova may be an out and proud tennis legend with a long history of human rights advocacy, but she can still go out of bounds on social media.
Take the 18-time Grand Slam champ’s recent take on trans athletes, which she tweeted on December 19:
“You can’t just proclaim yourself a female and be able to compete against women. There must be some standards, and having a penis and competing as a woman would not fit that standard…”
The backlash came fast and furious. “Welp, guess Navratilova is transphobic,” tweeted trans world champion cyclist Dr. Rachel McKinnon.
“People: genitals are IRRELEVANT to sports performance,” McKinnon added. “Totally irrelevant. The difference between a trans woman (especially on testosterone blockers) with a penis…and a trans woman without a penis is NOTHING. So focusing on the genitals IS transphobic … Also, no sport involves the genitals. You don’t hit a tennis ball with your penis or vagina. If you do, you’re doing it wrong. (Hey, who am I to judge!) The focus on the penis, in that penis = male = performance advantage is sexist and transphobic/transmisogynistic.”
Navratilova later deleted her post and apologized to some users, including one who cited research showing trans female runners have no advantage over their cisgender peers.
I am sorry if I said anything anywhere near transphobic- certainly I meant no harm – I will educate myself better on this issue but meantime I will be quiet about it. Thank you
— Martina Navratilova (@Martina) December 21, 2018
As Outsports points out, multiple sports governing bodies have made policies to be inclusive of trans athletes. The NCAA welcomed trans athletes under certain conditions in 2011, for example, and the International Olympic Committee adopted a similar stance in 2016.
For her part, McKinnon also addressed transphobia in the sports world in an interview with VeloNews this October:
“People who oppose transgender inclusion in sport put us in the double bind. It’s the ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ scenario. If I win, they attribute it to me being trans and having an unfair advantage. If I lose, the same people think I must not be good anyway. People will never attribute my winning to hard work which is what I think I deserve.”