Fifteen-year-old Cromwell High School freshman Andraya Yearwood won the girls’ 100-meter and 200-meter races at the Connecticut Class M track meet. In middle school, Yearwood competed as a boy. The transgender athlete intends to pursue hormonal treatment and sex reassignment surgery, but was able to compete without suppression of testosterone, in accordance with Connecticut’s high school rules.
“As her father, I never think about it as competition,” Rahsaan Yearwood told the Hartford Courant. “This is not about winning and losing races. This is about the health of my teenage daughter. In terms of the fairness aspect, I don’t think about that as a father. I only think about, is my daughter happy, healthy and able to participate in what she wants to do?”
Last year, I argued that a 10 nmol/L limit on testosterone was the fairest method of determining who could compete in women’s track and field. Joanna Harper, a transgender medical physicist and marathon runner, agreed. Harper knows of what she speaks, from both a personal and scientific perspective. She has authored the only study on transgender athletic performance, and advises the IOC on gender topics.
Harper’s marathon performance dropped by 10 percent when she started taking testosterone-suppressing and estrogen-boosting drugs. Since the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s 2015 erasure of any testosterone limits for women, intersex athletes, like Caster Semenya, and transgender athletes can compete as women without pharmaceutical or surgical suppression of their testosterone. Harper wrote:
While human rights advocates are deliriously happy over the CAS ruling, those who love women’s sport are mortified. Those Intersex athletes who previously used medications to reduce their T are now off of those medications, and are running faster. Allowing these athletes to compete in women’s sport with their serious testosterone-based advantage threatens the very fabric of women’s sport.
I would further suggest that, while it might not be a right, success in sports is one of the greatest advancements in women’s lives. If we value women’s equality, it is imperative that we protect the ability of all women to succeed in sports.
Harper wrote of a scenario in which elite transgender athletes might be tempted by financial gain to use their natural testosterone advantage to win. Though no money and no malice was involved, Yearwood’s win at the state high school meet had the same consequences. The thing to understand is that testosterone is the single best performance enhancing drug there is. Both men and women benefit from higher levels of testosterone.
In 2011, the International Association of Athletics Federations abandoned crude attempts to determine gender, and instead set an upper limit on the testosterone levels of women who were allowed to compete. The 10 nmol/L limit was set three-fold above the testosterone levels observed in 99 percent of women, and is in the low-to-normal range for men. It was reasoned that the very few women who naturally produce T levels higher than that would have an unfair advantage, and would therefore be required to either surgically or chemically suppress their testosterone levels, or not compete.
This solution, while far from perfect, was as fair and inclusive as any method devised thus far. It was in place from 2011 through 2015, until Indian sprinter Dutee Chand brought her case before the CAS, saying she wanted to compete without suppressing her naturally high testosterone. The CAS decided in her favor, eliminating any limit on naturally produced testosterone. To use a wrestling analogy, there are still weight classes, but there’s nothing to stop a 170-pound wrestler from competing in the 126-pound class.
Harper hopes that when the issue comes up for review by the CAS in August 2017, the testosterone limit will be reinstated. “I believe that billions of potential female athletes deserve the right to compete with some semblance of a level playing field, and that requiring all women to compete within a given testosterone range is the best way we currently have to create such a playing field,” she wrote.
With no clear definition of women’s sports at the highest level, college and high school sports lack clear definition too. Andraya Yearwood was simply playing by the rules as they exist in Connecticut. Unfortunately, refusing to define women’s sports does not solve the problem.