On the Science of Changing Sex

It’s Just Not Fair!

Posted in Transsexual Theory by Kay Brown on June 4, 2017

female_scientist“Life just isn’t fair.”

That’s what I heard as a child and I learned deep down that it’s true.  Life just isn’t fair.

For years now, I’ve seen news articles, blog posts, and internet fora discussions around the issue of transfolk and of course intersex folk and athletics.  The word that keeps coming up, especially from those who oppose allowing them to participate in sports, is that it isn’t fair to women.  But as I hope to convince my reader, sports and athletics have never been about what’s fair.  And its not really about transfolk per se.

First, lets talk about “fair” and how life isn’t.  When I was nine years old, my mother, a serious jock herself, decided to enroll my brothers and I in competitive swimming.  We joined the Mountain View Dolphins coached by Mr. Tom Bottom.  If that sounds familiar, it’s because you may have read that Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs were also on the Dolphins.  But I mostly hung out with Patti Jobs, also on the team.  I tried for months to get faster.  But no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t swim fast.  Heck, I couldn’t even keep up with the others during regular practice, much less a race!  Eventually, Coach Bottom told my mother that it was useless and I was asked to leave the team.  I never even entered an actual competition race.  I would never be an athlete.  My heart was in it, but my heart wasn’t.  Life just isn’t fair.

Yes, I know that sounds odd, but one has to understand, that my cardio-pulmonary system just couldn’t deliver.  I had severe exercise induced asthma and poor heart-lung capacity.  I also lacked overall muscle strength.  I was poor at every sport.  I was a short, skinny slip of a thing that couldn’t run, couldn’t throw, couldn’t bat.  At school, I knew instantly which team I would be on the moment that they started to pick teams, since I would be picked dead last, after all of the girls (though two of the girls were near the top of the pick list many weren’t good at sports either, but all were better than me).  No one wanted me on their team and they made it very obvious, derisively so.  Children can be cruel and some adults aren’t much better.  Life just isn’t fair.

To make it even more cruel, my three siblings as well as my mother were good athletes.  My father had been keen on sports as well, active until a heart condition forced him to cut back.  My memories of family dinner table conversations are dominated with discussions of times and scores for swimming, volleyball and softball (our mother), gymnastics (my sister), water polo, and diving.  While I sat silent, not participating, as I was just not an athlete.  Life just isn’t fair.

The younger of my two brothers was an elite athlete.  He was winning races since he was four years old.  Eventually, he would compete in the Universiade and if Carter hadn’t insisted that we boycott the Olympics in Moscow, he would have competed there as well.  That had been his burning ambition for years.  He even had the number ’80 in big characters on his bedroom wall growing up.  But… Life just isn’t fair.

handSo what was going on?  Perhaps my family just won the genetics lottery and I lost.  Or it may have been a more complicated story… and interestingly, there are hints that it might have a deep connection with why I am transsexual.  It turns out there is a very strong connection between cardio-pulmonary capacity, 2d:4d digit ratios, and athletic ability, all influenced by testosterone exposure in utero.  Those with high testosterone exposure in utero later develop larger and stronger hearts and lungs (as well as generally being stronger overall).  There is a statistical correlation between having a low 2d:4d ratio and athletic performance, especially for speed at running and swimming.

finger vs sexMy 2d:4d ratio is very high, 1.06 which is quite literally “off the chart”, so one would predict that I would be a very poor athlete.  While the verdict isn’t quite in yet, there is also tentative evidence that high 2d:4d ratios are correlated with male androphilia and gender atypicality, including being an MTF transkid.  Life just isn’t fair.

Regardless of whether the above is true, opponents of transfolk, especially of MTF transwomen, competing in athletic events and sports, are right about one key fact.  Men, on average, do have greater physical strength and cardio-pulmonary capacity ON AVERAGE.  That is to say, that both men and women, boys and girls, vary in their natural athleticism on Gaussian curves that largely overlap but are offset from one another.  I don’t have the data handy so I can’t list the effect sizes.  But my point is that because of this offset, the elite men will beat the elite women, nearly every time, unless something about being female is privileged in a given event (e.g. figure skating advantages shorter, lighter women with a lower center of mass).  One never hears complaints about transkids like me who lose at every event to all of the girls.  We only hear complaints about transkids and adults who win at the elite level.  And yes, statistically, we do expect that, especially for “late transitioners”, that at the elite level, transwomen will have the advantage of having a long history of higher testosterone exposure that begins to privilege males begining in utero.  While HRT and SRS will reduce current levels of androgens and result in decreased muscle mass, it will not erase the advantage of earlier exposure, most especially upon cardio-pulmonary capacity.  Life just isn’t fair.

Here is where I change the subject a bit and introduce a conjecture that I have long been exploring.  I can’t really call it an hypothesis, since I don’t really know how to test it.  I don’t believe that athletics and sports in general are about “fair” in the ethical sense because if it was, we wouldn’t be so freaked out about “doping”.  I know, you think that makes no sense, but bear with me.

First, consider professional sports.  At the deepest level, these are entertainment businesses, first and last.  One would think that anything that increased the entertainment value would be encouraged.  After all, action movies aren’t anything like real life, they are pure entertainment.  So why does the fact that Barry
Bonds using medical advances to improve his performance on the field bother his fans, and thus his employers?  This can’t be about “fairness” because the value of the entertainment is improved by his increase in the ability to hit home runs.  It can’t be about “fairness” because all of the other players could also have access to this technology which would further improve the entertainment value of their performances.  Yet, the public and thus the businesses collectively ban their use.  We actually do want Barry Bonds to have lots of testosterone fueled muscle.  But we want that testosterone to come from his testicles, not a test tube.

It always struck me as odd that in all sports and athletic events, the participants can use any and all crazy training and health regimes to improve their performance except for those that actually work.  We ban steroids.  We ban stimulants.  We ban blood oxygen carrying capacity enhancers.  Again, everyone could use them, so this isn’t about “fairness”.

No, something deeper is going on.  I believe that something is related to peacock feathers and deer antlers.  It is related to the deep-time evolutionary need to compete for mates and to evaluate the genetic fitness of potential mates.  We don’t want amazing athletic performance for its own sake.  We want the ability to stack rank potential mates on their genetically endowed performance.  In ancient times, the young people of a community would have had events which allowed comparisons with each other.  And it would be obvious who was the healthiest, who was most likely to sire or bear the healthiest and strongest children.  We evolved to have such contests and to observe such contests, to be rewarded for such participation and observation.  This explains why we don’t like ‘doping’ or transfolk and intersex folk winning these contests (again, no one complains about them losing).  On some deep level, we feel anger and disgust at anything that interferes with our ability to rate potential mates or allow others to so rate us, because our children will only carry 50% of our own genes, and we want those 50% to have the best genetic partners as we can find.  At this deep level, athletics is about having sex.

Since deep down, this is about sex, competing for mates, and evaluating mates, intersex and transsex people need not apply.  If this was truly about fairness, we would say, well… that MTF transkid did win the genetic lottery… if in an unusual path.   But because we know that she can’t actually bear children, we feel disgust, revulsion, and tell everyone “it isn’t fair”.

Life just isn’t fair… and we instinctively want our children to have the best chance at success.  We don’t want our athletics and sports to be truly “fair”… no we want them to be as cruel as possible… to weed out the weak and inferior and reward only the strong, healthy genetic stock who will give us strong healthy children and grandchildren.  Life just isn’t fair.

Life just isn’t fair.

But life can bring surprising twists.  Less than a decade after I was kicked off the Dolphins by Coach Bottom, I would again see him nearly every day.   Mr. Bottom taught history at my second high school, he coached that school’s swimming and water polo teams.  He was also one of my saviors, as he approached me during my Senior year with an opportunity I sorely needed.  I had been diagnosed as transsexual at the Stanford Clinic.  I was coming out to friends, classmates, and a select few of my teachers.  I was getting ready to refuse to participate in boys’ P.E., stealing up my strength to face down officialdom about being trans… when Coach Bottom offered to let me teach the one and only student who didn’t know how to swim, instead.  Coach Bottom knew that I spent summers teaching little kids to swim.  He knew I knew how to be a strong and fast swimmer… but that I just couldn’t swim fast myself.  So, I spent the last term of my highschool years, as a swimming instructor, a P.E. teacher in effect, with one student.  Life may not always be fair, but it can sometimes be, in the end.

Further Reading:

Essay on 2d:4d digit ratio

“Reading the Body: Finger Length Ratio Predicts Athletic Ability” by Martijn van Mensvoort

“As We Rightfully Applaud Yearwood, We Must Acknowledge Many Questions Remain” by Jeff Jacobs

“Male Athletes with Higher World Rankings are Better Looking” by Sam Wong

“How Steve Jobs swimming failure became unlikely source of inspiration” by David Pierini

References:

Deaner, et Al., “A Sex Difference in the Predisposition for Physical Competition: Males Play Sports Much More than Females Even in the Contemporary U.S” https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0049168

 


 

Fun Reading:

All the Stars are Suns ebook completeSincerity Espinoza didn’t go looking for trouble, it found her. All she wants out of life is the chance to go to the stars but she is caught in a web of misunderstandings, political & legal maneuvering, and the growing threat of terrorist plots by religious fanatics. She has a secret that if found out too soon could mean not only her own death but the ruin of the hope for humanity ever going to the stars. But even amidst momentous events, life is still about the small moments of love, laughter, and sadness.   Available as an ebook at Amazon and Kindle Unlimited.

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