Bad Takes: Texas' bill banning trans students from sports teams solves nothing but hurts many

Some 300 Texans turned out to oppose HB 25 over the weekend. - Twitter / @EqualityTexas
Twitter / @EqualityTexas
Some 300 Texans turned out to oppose HB 25 over the weekend.
Bad Takes is a periodic column of opinion and political analysis.

“Babies born XX can have male reproductive organs; those born XY can have female reproductive organs. And others can be born with an unusual number of sex chromosomes like X, XXY, XYY, XXYY, XXXX. Some might never know there’s anything unusual in their chromosomes at all." Sarah Zhang, 2020

You can typically spot a witch hunt by the conspicuous lack of actual witches.

According to Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, the body he oversees finally has the votes to complete the exorcism of transgender students from interscholastic sports. I write "finally" because this will be the fourth time the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature has tried, only to watch the various bills flounder in committee. So, Phelan wised up and formed a select committee over the summer by the name of "Constitutional Rights and Remedies."

Late last Wednesday, that new creation sent House Bill 25 to the floor on a strict party-line vote. As a feather in San Antonio's cap, our city council voted 10-to-1 last month to denounce this "attack on the safety of trans children." Sadly, though, denunciations don’t carry the protection of law.

Since it's already settled University Interscholastic League policy that a student may only play on a team corresponding to the sex listed on their birth certificate, you may ask why this isn’t the proverbial solution in search of a problem. Alas, Texas politicians discovered long ago that it’s much easier and safer to solve problems that don’t exist, and if one can do so by disparaging a sufficiently small minority of voters, then, to quote Adam Serwer, "the cruelty is the point." With only 1.4 million transgender adults in the United States, they're apparently more valuable to demagogues than Muslims.

Stated outright, the allegation of HB 25's proponents is that cisgender male students, presumably dismayed at losing to competitors of their own gender, will go through the arduous process of finding a sympathetic judge and paying hundreds of dollars for a certified court order to legally change the sex on their birth certificates. Then, brushing off any attendant ostracism, they will invade girls' sports teams in droves, running away with all the trophies.

Much like flying broomsticks propelled by magic, there is "zero evidence of a single case" of that hypothetical scenario ever occurring, as Holt Lackey of Equality Texas has persistently reminded both chambers this year.

Nevertheless, Republican legislators want to proactively codify the use of birth certificates in which "the biological sex [was] entered at or near the time of the student's birth." Just in case.

Every nonwhite athlete takes a spot from a white athlete, every left-handed athlete takes a spot from a right-handed athlete — that's true by tautology. To accuse someone of "stealing" or "cheating” players out of those spots, however, begs the question of whether they should be allowed to compete in the first place. Trans girls aren’t “faking it” to deduct from the bountiful advantages our patriarchal society lavishes upon pampered women.

Trans girls are girls. A loud and paranoid subset of Christians simply can’t stomach that sentence. And although the politicians out front on this non-issue are usually clever enough to not explicitly deny the existence of trans girls, they hide behind offensive euphemisms like "biological males," which imply that being transgender is a psychological malady — at best, a "lifestyle choice" or "belief system" — instead of a physiological reality.

Among the 347 speakers who addressed the select committee on Oct. 6, 291 registered in opposition to HB 25. Then there were also those to whom Republicans are not-so-subtly pandering. Among their actual quotes from the public commentary: "Men work out in the fields, women stay at home," "God created chromosomes of XX and XY," "We don't need genetically-modified humans" and "What if I identify as a horse?”

Contrast this unvarnished bigotry with the hip-by-comparison coauthors of the legislation itself.

When confronted about the skyrocketing calls to suicide prevention hotlines as Texas fired off its anti-trans salvos, State Sen. Charles Perry said, "I know as a 12th grader and under, I wasn't listening to legislative testimony. I don't know how these kids are getting the message that they need to be paying attention to a Senate hearing." 

Perhaps because, Senator, back in your day, there weren't bills publicly denying your basic humanity? 

State Rep. Valoree Swanson, when asked whether responding to UIL gender challenges might force trans girls to out themselves to their classmates, offered a similarly vapid defense. "No one would be outed," because "7th through 12th graders are a lot smarter than you give them credit for," she said, suggesting middle- and high-school students are equipped with impeccable "trans-dar."

Eeriest of all is that proponents imagine themselves to be defenders of science and protectors of women's equality. We're nearing 50 years since Renée Richards won her right to play in the US Open. Yet, in all that time, the sport has yet to be taken over by transgender tennis players.

“There is no epidemic of transgender girls dominating female sports,” Scientific American recently pointed out. “The vast majority of female athletes are cisgender, as are the vast majority of winners."

And although one in ten women have polycystic ovary syndrome, resulting in higher testosterone levels, I have yet to hear anyone suggest we need to level the playing field by kicking those with the condition off sports teams.

Or how about Mack Beggs? The transgender boy, assigned female at birth, wanted to compete against other boys but wasn’t allowed to thanks to UIL birtherism? Beggs went on to win back-to-back wrestling titles. What of the lost scholarships that may have gone to young women if not for the transgender young men who are rule-bound to compete against them?

A common refrain from allies is, “if you only met a trans child, you wouldn’t be attacking them.” Most Americans who know someone who's transgender agree that trans girls should be allowed to play sports as themselves. It's our unfamiliarity with one another, our insularity, that makes weaponized ignorance like this possible.

When Temple High School students heard that officials had prohibited a transgender girl from using the girls locker room, as she'd been doing for years without incident, hundreds walked out in protest. That's the example we adults should be setting.

"This is a very vulnerable population that we need to take care of, that needs to be in athletics,” James McSwain, recently retired after a decades-long career as principal of Lamar High School in Houston, said in opposition to the Texas bill. “It's beneath us as a state to do things that we know would be harmful to any of our kids, especially the most vulnerable." 

Finding solace in sports can save lives. More than 330,000 girls participate in UIL sports, and though some of them are undoubtably trans, we have quite a ways to go before all children are able, in the words of an executive order President Joe Biden issued on his first day in office, "to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room or school sports."

It sucks that the best we can hope for today is something akin to “don't ask, don't tell.” But as with prejudices of the past, temporarily expedient ugliness will eventually lose the race. It's the transition that's difficult.

A House vote on HB25 is expected soon. Please contact your representative.

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