Whenever he thought about it, he felt terrible. And so, at last, he came to a fateful decision. He decided not to think about it. ~John-Roger and Peter McWilliams
Question #93513 posted on 03/16/2021 12:42 p.m.

Dear 100 Hour Board,

Since the House of Representatives approved the Equality Act, the issue of biological males competing in women's sports has resurfaced. In response to Board Question #93447, one writer asserted that "transwomen are women."

I'm curious: what exact criteria does someone have to meet in order to be considered a woman? Are you saying that there's no difference in terms of skeletal structure, body composition, hormones, genitalia, etc. between transwomen and ciswomen? Is sole criterion for womanhood simply wanting to be female? In other words, someone who is biologically male can just say "I identify as female" and we have to let him compete against girls because putting him on a team with other biological males will hurt his feelings?

I understand the need to show compassion for society's most vulnerable and marginalized, but don't we also have to embrace science?


Coily the Spring Sprite


Dearly Trolly,

What does it truly mean to be a woman? What does it truly mean to be a man? To what extent do we owe identity to something transcendental, often referred to as a soul or spirit, and to what extent is it determined by physical biology? 

These are questions that no one has hard, provable answers to. Yes, we can scientifically say certain things about biology, but that doesn't explain everything. A very important part of science is saying "we don't understand this thing." To embrace science means to accept we have incomplete understanding and knowledge, and then strive to fill in those gaps with the truth--not just keep a death grip on old hypotheses on how stuff works (that's actually the opposite of science).

My point about trans-women being women isn't that they are biologically equivalent to cis-women. The point is that womanhood is defined by more than our bodies. This distinction is why culturally we are drawing lines between biological sex and gender. 

While it's true that you don't have to actually identify as a woman to say that you identify as a woman, the human ability to lie isn't exactly a logical slam dunk that therefore trans women can't be women. It just means, like for pretty much everything else in life, precautions will have to be taken to minimize people lying to game a system.

Have fun clinging to your prejudice "science."



Dear spring pixie,

I understand the need to show compassion for society's most vulnerable and marginalized...

If I may be so blunt, your question doesn't exactly show it. Perhaps that's a failure of textual communication and a lack of tonal cues, but the way you frame this issue doesn't exactly come off as sympathetic to people who really do struggle with gender dysphoria and questions of gender and/or sexual identity. 

In other words, someone who is biologically male can just say "I identify as female" and we have to let him compete against girls because putting him on a team with other biological males will hurt his feelings?

I would be interested to see if this actually plays out to any meaningful degree. (I'm not being sarcastic, I mean that genuinely.) A lot of conservative voices have rallied against the growing divide between sex and gender, but this particular argument does not convince me. Furthermore, while potential abuse of a system with trans-friendly spaces is always possible, it seems reductive, not to mention uncharitable, to frame this as merely something that would "hurt feelings" of a boy who may or may not be gaming the system. Where is the concern about the vulnerable and marginalized who don't know how they fit into these spaces? Surely that's at least as important as potential opportunism and sexual harassment?

Furthermore, on the topic of abuse: I could be wrong, but I don't think most people generally leap at the opportunity to present as the opposite gender for fun and merriment in real-life, long-term venues. Any craven opportunists who spy new avenues for sexual harassment, quite frankly, already have more than enough opportunity to try and take advantage of vulnerable people (usually women) without going to the effort of pretending to be non-cis. Suppose a boy does claim to identify as female just to get on the team--now he's obligated to actually present as female, both on and off the team, any time he's in a public position. Short of a conspiratorial coverup by team management, I can't imagine that a farce like that would last beyond the first ogling look or unsavory comment in the locker room.

That being the case, I think it's clear (or at least it should be) that more goes into the process of competing as a transgender athlete than a halfhearted, unquestionable claim of experiencing dysphoria. It seems remarkably insensitive to sum it up as merely a question of not wanting to hurt someone's feelings.

Now, with all that said, I think there is real discussion to be had as to the future of gendered sports, and about the ramifications of allowing cis- and transgender athletes to compete against one another. Insofar as I've looked at the issue (which, admittedly, could use more work), I'm actually inclined to disagree with the other writers, to be honest. I think there are a lot of potential problems with the idea, and I'm not currently persuaded by arguments in favor of it.

However, as seems to be a repeating pattern with questions submitted by this particular reader, that's precisely why I find insensitive framings like the one used here to be quite frustrating. If we are going to "embrace science," which is not how I would describe it, the least we can do is be a little less inflammatory about it and a little more sensitive to the fact that yes, there really are marginalized and vulnerable people who will continue to feel marginalized by a stance that doesn't support them competing in the sports of their choice. Even if you feel completely and totally secure in the notion that it's not fair for MtF athletes to compete against cis female athletes, that ought to be all the more reason to show compassion for those vulnerable people that you are inevitably impacting. It's a little like the bizarre conflict some people seem to feel between showing love for their LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters in the gospel on one hand and upholding church doctrine on the other, as if reminding the lost sheep that they're still a valued part of God's fold somehow jeopardizes our moral convictions.

As politely as I can, I'd suggest putting empathy before political point-scoring.