By calling Navratilova a bigot the trans lobby loses the game
The tennis star has been vilified for asking legitimate questions about trans women in sport - but she's done a service
Martina Navratilova is one of the last people you’d expect to be accused of intolerance. Arguably still the world’s most famous lesbian, the tennis player neither concealed nor apologised for her sexuality at a time when many gay people were afraid to come out to family, never mind a global sporting audience. She also gave a coaching job to Renée Richards, a player on the women’s circuit who was born Richard Raskind.
Last week, Navratilova was sacked by Athlete Ally, a US campaign for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in sport. The group has accused her of “transphobia” for questioning whether a transgender woman, born and raised male and retaining a full male body, should be allowed to compete in women’s sport simply because they have taken drugs to reduce their testosterone levels.
That meets the criteria of many sporting authorities, but troubles a lot of people, including Navratilova.
They note that underlying male biology means transgender women build up muscle mass, height and reach, giving them advantages that cannot be erased by changing their hormones.
Is it transphobic to think there are essential physical differences between someone born male and someone born female? Saying so was enough to have Navratilova branded a bigot and worse: one trans rights advocate has suggested she should be “executed”.
This is trans-rights orthodoxy in its purest form, a worldview that insists “trans women are women” and allows no dissent or any questioning of its implications. But as well as demonstrating again the intolerance of a movement that demands tolerance, the Navratilova story reveals other things about the transgender debate.
The first is that LGB and T don’t fit together for everyone. Though many gay-rights campaign groups have embraced the trans agenda, many gay people have doubts. Much of the resistance to reforms to gender laws in the UK has been driven by lesbians, some of whom fear allowing “self-defined” women to access women’s spaces and legal rights will erode those rights. It is worth noting that many trans women retain full male anatomy.
The term transsexual – which could be used for people like Richards who have had full reassignment surgery – has now largely been replaced with transgender. The difference matters: you can be transgender without changing your body, and only a minority of transgender people today have had full reassignment surgery.
Increasingly, gay men are voicing concern too. Last in 2018, Jonny Best, the former director of the Queer Up North festival, organised a petition criticising gay-rights group Stonewall for enforcing trans orthodoxy aggressively. These issues have been debated on the fringes of public consciousness for years, but rarely in mainstream conversation. Trans orthodoxy has thus made huge advances within public bodies, charities and academia, largely unnoticed by the wider public. When the issue does come to wider attention, however, intolerance and weak arguments are exposed.
Until Navratilova’s intervention, most people won’t have given the issue of trans women in sport much thought. Now they’re starting to see what “trans women are women” really means in a sporting context. Likewise, until 2018 few people had spent much time pondering the issue of transgender prisoners. The lack of attention allowed a small group of trans-rights advocates to persuade prison officials to allow trans people to serve their sentence in a prison that matches their chosen gender. A handful of feminist campaigners raised concerns, but were generally dismissed as transphobes.
Then it emerged that Karen White, transgender and a rapist, had been sent to a prison full of vulnerable women where White assaulted other inmates. This showed the public what “trans women are women” means for prisons, and the policy that made this possible is now being revised.
Trans rights and their implications for others need to be debated calmly and openly. Navratilova has done a service by opening up this issue to the public. She has put the ball deep into the court of those who aggressively lobby for the trans agenda. By trying to hit back so hard, they’ve lost this game. Sticking with the same intolerant tactics could well cost them set and match too.
– © The Daily Telegraph