Because a large percentage of social conservatives only feign interest in women’s sports when trans women compete in them, CeCe Telfer is the most famous NCAA Division II track athlete in the country. Telfer, a senior at Franklin Pierce University, has drawn anger and outrage from all the usual grifters this year—including noted women’s D-II track and field enthusiast Donald Trump Jr.—because the 2019 season was her first competing against women, after two years competing with men and 12 months spent undergoing hormone therapy (per NCAA guidelines). As such, her image is apparently saved on the phones of maybe hundreds of anxious creeps, ready to be deployed whenever any prominent person dares say something about the need for trans equality.
As Parker Molloy noted in a thread responding to the tweet above, there exists a bundle of right-wing websites whose only interaction with D-II track and field comes when Telfer succeeds. In fact, there’s a whole subgenre of conservative writing that demonizes trans athletes in any random sport when they’re about to compete against cis women and turns them into pariahs if they win. But if they lose? Silence, because the narrative no longer fits.
Relative to her competition, Telfer is quite good. In the race pictured above—a 60-meter hurdles preliminary at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships back in March—she finished third (behind the two women flanking her). In the finals, she finished sixth. In her other event, the 200 meters, Telfer finished 12th in the preliminaries, keeping her out of the final. At the Outdoor Track and Field Championships over Memorial Day weekend, Telfer came in fifth in the 100-meter hurdles, and she won the D-II national title with a 57.53 in the 400-meter hurdles.
Given those strong but not unprecedented results, and keeping in mind that this is Division II, there’s no good faith argument to be made that Telfer is “breaking” her sport or “dominating” her competition. But the fun thing about being a trans woman is that nobody trying to oppress you is actually acting in good faith; they’re just trying to recapture some of that old “God Hates Fags” magic. Predictably, after Telfer took home that title, uninformed losers from the dumbest and most racist corners of the internet pushed and shoved to be the first to strip her win of its legitimacy.
The Daily Mail got a random Australian former runner, whose fastest time in the 400m hurdles was 1.26 seconds better than Telfer’s, to call Telfer’s D-II title win “concerning” with no actual scientific pushback. Breitbart and its even more inbred cousins erroneously referred to Telfer as a man in their headlines. The Daily Caller linked to their antagonistic coverage of the Equality Act, a bill meant to extend anti-discrimination protections to include LGBT people, in their writing about Telfer’s victory.
Hilariously, a lot of this anger was punctuated by a call for feminists to, I guess, waste their energy snarling and yelling at a black trans woman for running a race well? This tweet on Sunday from scammy right-wing freeloader Candace Owens, with its scare-capitalization and its brave disregard for coherence even in its lies—what the fuck is “the NCAA track and field division?”—might have been the nadir.
As fun as it would be to simply watch Owens squirm by asking her to name just one of the “biological” women Telfer usurped, one part of that Owens tweet—the “390th” part—is worth addressing, because a lot of websites picked up on it without any solid context. In 2016, Telfer ranked 200th among all D-II men in the 400-meter hurdles, and in 2017, she ranked 390th. Speaking as someone who made some pretty destructive, self-harmful choices in the years leading up to her coming out, there are a lot of obvious, logical reasons why a closeted or pre-transition trans athlete wouldn’t compete to her full potential before getting that mental and emotional weight off her shoulders, and her coach, Zach Emerson, said as much:
“She’s been been incredibly motivated this year and I think the transition one million percent had something to do with that. It’s like night and day as far as what she was willing to do as an athlete and how committed she was,” said Emerson, who indicated that while Telfer always had a large presence on the team, she often only showed up to practice a couple of times a week until this year.
Of course, none of these power-hungry assholes give a shit about the well-being of trans people, so it gets more and more exhausting defending Telfer’s victory—and other trans athletes—from the hordes of people who want full control over bodies like hers and mine.
And that’s the point. It’s clear as day to anyone who reads these stories about Telfer and sees them nonsensically jump from her win to the victories of a few trans high school athletes, then a trans cyclist, then a trans handball player. For privileged people in power, there is a concerted interest in spotlighting trans female athletes in niche sports only when they find a modicum of success, and ignoring them if they lose. By threading together distorted stories of trans female “domination,” and avoiding stories of trans male athletes like Chris Mosier, Patricio Manuel, or Schuyler Bailar, they can manufacture an argument for trans oppression and fight much-needed legislation like the Equality Act.
As the current presidential administration has shown, false narratives have just as much power as true ones when they go unchallenged, and because so many marks believe trans women are on the verge of “stealing” women’s sports, actual trans athletes find themselves in a lose-lose situation. They can either lose their competition and avoid most of the immediate wrath of the entrenched hierarchy, or they can win and then lose their rights down the line by providing ammo to people who don’t want them to exist. Trans cyclist Rachel McKinnon explained it perfectly after she beat a competitor who typically got the better of her, and then saw that woman call McKinnon’s win “definitely NOT fair.”
Because “trans women in sports, oooooooh!” is seemingly the one front in the fight for LGBT rights where scared bigots have decided they might have a chance to win, it is crucial to keep these facts in mind when sensationalized stories of trans wins spread through the media. As trans people become more and more accepted in sports, there’s going to continue to be some very good trans athletes making headlines, and then some average ones, and then some bad ones. We can’t let the success of the best be used as a weapon against everybody else.