Entertainment

Transgender Cyclist Should Ask Herself: Is This Fair Play?

As Jillian Bearden competes this week, debate rages about the ethics of athletic competition under these circumstances

Gender dysphoria is a complicated issue that seems to cause much unhappiness. In various walks of life, it is causing great controversy, from discussions about the use of public bathrooms to who can compete in various athletic fields.

Pro cyclist Jillian Bearden, a Colorado Springs native, is now the latest subject of controversy and debate.

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Bearden was born a man and christened Jonathan. Bearden is now the first female transgender cyclist to ride in a pro U.S. peloton. Bearden will be riding in the Colorado Classic bike race this Thursday — which some see as a major step for transgender athletes to take part in sports based on their identified, chosen gender — rather than the gender assigned to them at birth.

But what makes Jillian Bearden’s story so eyebrow-raising is that her gender reassignment process included hormone treatments — and going from testosterone to estrogen significantly impacted her athletic performance ability.

She said of her transition’s effect on her performance, according to The Denver Post, “I went from 16 minutes to 26, 27, 28 minutes … Testosterone gives you this drive, this oomph, and I didn’t have that push. My muscles looked fairly big, but I did not have that push to drive that extra energy.”

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Transgender athletes like Bearden are only going to become more controversial and more public — we’re going to see the same thing take place at the next Olympic Games. Why? Because the International Olympic Committee has changed its rules now to allow transgender athletes to compete based on their identified gender, rather than the one assigned to them at birth. It’s even more complex than that: Female-to-male athletes can compete without restriction, but male-to-female athletes must be on hormone therapy to be allowed to compete.

How are the athletic community and sports fans reacting to this? Not always so great.

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Amanda Prestigiacomo in the Daily Wire pointed out that Bearden won her latest race, the El Tour de Tucson, against thousands of other women and had a serious advantage not fully acknowledged by the sport.

Said Prestigiacomo, “This is utter madness and wildly unfair to biological females,” adding that “women lose, both figuratively and literally,” in the situation.

Writing in The Federalist, Brandon Morse stated, “If men can claim to be women and invade a sport that only women are allowed to compete in, then it’s a safe bet men will win.”

Related: Equality for Non-Transgender Athletes?

And El Tour de Tucson third-place finisher Suzanne Sonye shared her thoughts with the pro-cycling publication CyclingTips.com, saying that Bearden’s “story at El Tour de Tucson does take something away from the other women in the peloton.”

There are many, of course, who are fully toeing the PC line and supporting transgender athletes in their sport, at least publicly. Michelle Henry, a pro cyclist who has been training with Bearden for weeks, told The Denver Post, “As much as her [Bearden’s] mission is to help others who might be struggling through that really low spot she was in, for many of us, we want to help those people understand there is a lot of acceptance out there and we support them.”

When Bearden suits up for the Colorado Classic on Thursday, the athlete will only further fuel the fiery debate about the advantages and disadvantages that transgender athletes bring to sports — especially if Bearden walks away with a victory.

Dave Taylor, based in Boulder, Colorado, has been writing about consumer electronics, technology, and pop culture for many years and runs the popular site AskDaveTaylor.com.

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