In the last few years there has been quite a bit of discussion about transgender girls/women competing in girl’s/women’s sports. [[NB by this I mean someone who was born male (biological sex) who identifies as female (by gender)]]. A star Iowa track athlete, Ainsley Ernzen, recently wrote a guest column in the Des Moines Register urging the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union to prohibit transgender girls from competing in girls sports in Iowa. In the Iowa House, Republican Representatives Henry Stone and Skyler Wheeler introduced HF2309 to require high school sports to be declared boys, girls or mixed and to explicitly prohibit those born male from participating in sports designated for girls.
This is an issue that the NCAA and almost every national and international sports governing body has had to deal with. Most have decided to allow transgender women/girls to compete in women’s/girl’s sports, though often subject to certain complex conditions.
Believe it or not, I have first hand experience being a biological male playing on a girls high school athletic team. I played on a girl’s high school soccer team in 1976! I should probably clarify, I am a cis-gendered male. Meaning that:
My gender self-identity conforms with the gender that corresponds to my biological sex.
It’s even difficult to write that, perhaps I really am that old guy who doesn’t understand the modern world! In 1976, in Iowa soccer was a novelty, there were few teams and even fewer leagues neither the Iowa High School Athletic Association nor the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union recognized soccer as a varsity sport.
At the time, I was playing on a local boy’s soccer team that was made up primarily of junior high students … middle school had not been invented yet! Since we were in a university town, many of the guys on the team were the children of foreign born professors. My French friend Jean-Marc played and we had guys from Italy, Columbia, Cuba and a couple of other countries. I think our roster consisted of about 10 junior high students with 3 or 4 in elementary school and another 3-4 of us in high school.
In those days it was very hard to find other teams to play. We played college teams (our coaches would play with us then), adult city teams, elementary school teams .. pretty much anybody who could put 11 bodies on the field. Our team was pretty good. Many of my teammates had grown up playing soccer and were very good athletes. I was only an average athlete, but I had played a lot of soccer. I played mid-field, defender and goal keeper. I also practiced with the guys team from the local Christian high school. They barely had enough guys to make a team so I helped scrimmage with them.
My sophomore year, there was a notice at my high school about a soccer team. A couple of the guys from my team approached the coach and asked if boys could play. The team was really just a club and played a few other local schools. The coach was what would have been called in those days a woman’s libber. She said that there was nothing in the rules preventing it so we were welcome to play. I think there were three or four of us, my French friend, who was an amazing player, two other American guys who were very accomplished athletes and me. The girls welcomed us and we enjoyed practicing together.
The most important thing I learned about girls soccer is that girls are vicious! I remember an early scrimmage, I was the goal keeper for my side and I had just blocked a shot. I was lying on the ground cradling the ball under my body by my head. Meanwhile a friend of mine, normally a really good-natured girl, was kicking me repeatedly in the head, trying to get the ball! The guys on the team all had played much more soccer than the girls so in practice, our roles became more like player-coaches than anything.
Finally it was time for our first game. Even though we were from a Cedar Falls (a big town for Iowa) we were a small class I-A school. Our first game was against Dunkerton High School. Their team only had girls on it. I played mid-field, one of my friends played wing and my French friend played center. In the first 10 minutes of the game Jean Marc had scored 5 goals and I and the other guy on the team had assisted directly in 4 of them. At this point our coach wisely decided that this should probably be a girls only league. We stayed with the team as assistant coaches for the remainder of the season but never played in another game. Physically, Jean Marc was quite small, smaller than many of the girls on the team, but I am sure that he was dribbling a soccer ball as soon as he could walk. The three of us American guys on the team were a different story, while many of the girls were faster than me, soccer is a very physical game. At 5’10” 185lb I am sure that I was intimidating. As I remember it, none of the girls on the other team wanted to go up and fight with me over a header. The other two guys were both track athletes and not just fast but physically intimidating. It didn’t take long to figure out that none of us should have been out there with those girls.
I think that we are faced with two choices: either we limit participation in girls sports to athletes born as biological girls or we do away with boys and girls sports and open all sports to all athletes regardless of sex or gender.