I was able to spend time with my friend Jen Orr recently and enjoyed talking with her and her husband about books and life and the world in general. She has a new book out–We’re Gonna Keep on Talking: How to Lead Meaningful Race Conversations in the Elementary Classroom–that will probably be banned in Florida so that means we must all read it. I suspect her and coauthor Matthew Kay’s ideas for leading racism discussions will be beneficial for all of us.
Jen has been my blogging inspiration and cheerleader. I have been working on this blog post related to transgender rights since I saw her and am determined to press publish today. Jen, this one’s for you:
When it comes to transgender issues, we live in a noisy, messy world where activists lob social media grenades at each other and finding unsensationalized reporting is challenging. I do understand that cis women of a certain age struggle with opening their hard-won spaces to trans women, especially in sports. I get it: I was 10 when Title IX, banning discrimination in sports, was passed. While not an athlete myself (I earned my varsity letter for marching band), I loved cheering on my girl friends as they raced around the track or scored a goal on the hockey field. We thought we had a clear understanding of the differences between boys and girls in my rural conservative, evangelical community where the slide decks for our segregated sex-ed classes were edited so severely that we were left to imagine how it all worked until we either got married or, in my case, could get our hands on The Joy of Sex or the Kama Sutra, both of which I purchased at Rizzoli’s in Merchant Square in Williamsburg after arriving at William and Mary in 1980.
But despite understanding the concerns around sports, if, in your zeal to take a stand, you attack young people who are discovering identities beyond the baked-in binary biases that controlled our lives, you need to spend some time learning and reflecting. I’m looking at you, Caitlyn Jenner. Jenner, arguably the most famous trans woman in the world, is anti-transgender when it comes to sports, suggesting that it is clear that these athletes have a built in advantage and claiming that transgender athletes are the pawns of radical activists, seemingly ignoring her own use of them as means to her ends. Recently, she turned her ire on a high school junior. We are all on journeys, informed by our biases and life experiences, and Jenner is welcome to share her ideas on this topic, of which as she points out, she has some knowledge. But, making a young woman feel less, and, even worse, opening her to the horrors of the social media crowd, is simply wrong.
What I have learned as part of my own reflections is that, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the jury on the supposed advantage of men over women is very much still out in terms of research, especially related to elite athletes. Yet, various governing bodies from state legislatures to international committees are rushing to severely limit or outright ban transgender athletes from competition. The federal government is updating Title IX in support of transgender inclusion in sports while allowing some wiggle room for schools to discriminate when appropriate, particularly if fairness is at stake.
The goal, then, is a balance between fairness and inclusivity, with the current trend of banning athletes described as supporting fairness as that concept aligns with what we’ve always been told about men and women. But, until there is some definitive research that supports these baked-in biases, I would lean towards inclusivity. After all, in the areas where trans athletes have competed, they have notably not swept the field. And, if all we do is create bans, we lose the opportunity to expand the research that will help support informed decisions. The New York Times, in an article related to swimming’s 2022 transgender ban that occured after a trans swimmer won one race (while losing several others in the same meet, something that was not part of the headlines), discusses the issues related to finding this balance, concluding that it will be impossible to make everyone happy. Compromise rarely does, in my experience, that’s what makes it a compromise.
Perhaps Jen and Matthew might consider a follow up volume that explores how to have meaningful discussion around gender in the elementary classroom. I know we grownups could certainly use it!