Once again, the debate over whether trans athletes should be allowed to compete in women’s sports continues. However, a new report proves that trans women have no biomedical advantage in elite sport. We interviewed Paula Griffin to discuss what it is like being a trans footballer.
Florida to force Trans Student Athletes to prove they can Menstruate
In January 2023, the US state of Florida sought to introduce menstruation as proof for trans athletes at school. You read this correctly. Students may be forced to prove that they menstruate in order to compete in sports.
The Florida High School Athletics Association’s (FHSAA) sport medicine advisory committee has suggested high school student athletes submit personal information about their periods. They want this requirement to be necessary for each year the student registers to participate in sports.
If approved, the FHSAA’s sports medicine committee would require students to answer invasive questions about their menstrual cycle. This includes questions on if the athletes have ever had a period, when they first got their period and when they last had their period. According to the FHSAA, schools should have access to these answers.
Florida does not have the best track record regarding trans rights. Last year, the Florida Board of Medicine banned gender-affirming healthcare for trans minors. If the FHSAA’s recommendation moves forward, trans student athletes will need to provide private information about their menstrual history. What an incredible invasion of privacy.
Trans Athletes have no Advantage in Elite Sport
A new report has found that trans women do not have any biomedical advantage in elite sport. They have no advantage over any other women, such as cis women. However, social factors such as nutrition and training qualities can affect this result.
The report is an in-depth review of all existing scientific literature published between the years 2011 and 2021 in English regarding trans women in elite level sports. It clarified that biomedical factors do not pose any threat to cis athletes. Trans women do not have a biomedical advantage. This is the recurring myth transphobes continue to spread when debating the inclusion of trans people in sport.
There is little evidence that seeks to identify the advantage of male puberty in trans women. Existing research usually focuses on the suppression of testosterone for trans athletes. This report concludes that trans women who have undergone gender-affirming healthcare, suppressing their levels of testosterone, have no biological advantage.
The report found strong evidence that suggests ‘elite sport policy is made within transmisogynist, misogynoir, racist, geopolitical cultural norms’. These norms are the result of a long history of excluding all women, even cis women, in sports. This was especially the case for women whose bodies did not conform to the misogynistic standards of femininity.
Interview with Paula Griffin
We interviewed Paula Griffin, a trans female athlete. She spoke to us about what it is like to be a trans footballer. Talking to trans athletes can help us better understand their journey.
If you feel comfortable enough, can you describe your journey with your gender identity?
Paula: It all started back in my youth. I had the opportunity to come out 25 years ago. However, I was scared about what other people would think. My journey really started in 2019. Two years prior I was diagnosed with cancer. Fortunately, I had surgery to save it. I had an unhealthy lifestyle, I was drinking, smoking, taking other substances. I tried to stop, and I went back to back to work.
My online persona has been Paula for a long time. One day at work, I changed shifts so that I could get gender-affirming surgery. However, I hadn’t realised how bad the UK GICs [Gender Identity Clinics] actually were. I researched online and discovered that the NHS’ 18-week wait was completely untrue. That is when I contacted GenderGP. GenderGP really helped me start my life. My experience with you was incredible. All the help was there, and I was treated as more than just a patient. GenderGP really wants to help you.
How did your journey as a trans athlete start?
Paula: Once the COVID-19 pandemic struck, I was working from home. I then discovered the online trans community, and one of the people was a trans athlete. They had a profile as a footballer and through them I discovered the trans football club Goal Diggers.
As the pandemic permitted, I played football with them. I thought it was a good way to work out. At the first session, I collapsed. I was that unfit. Then, I decided to go more often. I had to get a letter from the Football Association (FA) which tells you that you can compete alongside other women. The Goal Diggers team, composed of many trans athletes, helped me with that.
At the same time, I was speaking to another trans athlete about joining a second football team: Truk. I played with them for the first ever game. It was a mixed game with both cis and trans players.
Shortly thereafter, I began playing for both football teams as a goalie. Around the same time, Peckham Town was looking for a goalkeeper. I had a session with them, and I was quite nervous as I was out meeting people as myself for the first time. The team welcomed me with open arms. So I was literally playing for three different football teams.
At the end of the season, I was voted Player of the Year. It was an amazing experience!
What inspired you to start playing football?
Paula: I had played football before, but I lost interest. I played as a young person and was involved in a lot of football clubs for many years. However, I didn’t feel comfortable, especially in changing rooms. It was something I enjoyed. It’s always been a part of me.
“Football is a sport for all, and you shouldn’t be excluded because of your sexuality or gender identity.”
Have you experienced any discrimination because you are a trans athlete?
Paula: I got trolled on social media. People were saying that I shouldn’t be playing football. But I can’t attend men’s football. I would get abused left, right and centre. The hate was coming from people who were passing by. A couple of times where I’ve played, I heard comments from others. It’s usually teenage boys and sometimes even adult men. I also hear a lot of criticism from men about women’s football.
The football players alongside me, [many of whom are trans athletes as well as cis athletes] they supported me. They gave me strength and self-confidence in myself. I am a different person because I’ve played football, because I’ve played alongside other women. It’s so life-affirming.
What do you enjoy most about playing football?
Paula: There is something about being a goalkeeper. It’s a bit of a showoff position. But I enjoy football as a whole. I get to play with players who did not have a place in football so it’s such an enjoyment. At the start, we kept losing, but we improved with every game. I would love to see more goalkeepers.
On Trans Day of Visibility 2022, the football team Truk arranged a game where an entire group of trans women played against a team of only cis women. We lost 7-0. But it was one of my favourite football matches. We had a crowd of about 400 people. The women I played with were incredibly supportive. It was also streamed live on the internet and filmed as part of a documentary. The documentary is called ‘Save Our Beautiful Game’ and you can watch it on Discovery Plus.
Do you have any trans athletes or trans footballers you look up to?
Paula: There aren’t many trans athletes who are around. I always hear comments saying that we are destroying women’s sports. Data shows that there are not many trans women in the UK playing sports in the first place. If we wanted to take over women’s sports, we would need a lot of work to ever achieve that.
I am aware of two other trans women who play in the women’s pyramids. We all have letters from the FA. We have to meet strict requirements on testosterone and oestrogen levels. As long as the same laws apply to everyone, I don’t worry about it too much.
We all come in different shapes and sizes. I’ve played with a lot of cis women who are taller and more muscular than me. It depends on the individual. The emphasis should be on skill, less on strength. Muscularity does not make a difference. Skill crosses genders.
The world of elite sports has unfairly targeted and banned trans women from competing. Despite the evidence that shows trans women have no biomedical advantage in sport, many associations still banned them from competitions.
We have to protect trans people in sport, especially trans women. They do not pose any threat to cis athletes in sport. There wouldn’t even be enough of them to do so in the first place. It is simply transphobic to exclude trans women from competing on the correct team in elite sports.