I was making a new recipe for chicken curry and threw the seeds and trimmings of a jalapeño pepper down the disposal, then made the mistake of turning it on and not immediately running to the other side of the kitchen. Been coughing ever since. Instant pepper spray! How many times have I learned this lesson? Too many times to count. Sometimes I feel like the world’s stupidest home cook.
The curry was…C+, I guess. Splendid Table recipe, used yogurt. I think I prefer coconut milk, but it was good enough for dinner and it’ll be fine for next-day lunch.
The carnage in Kentucky was awful, as was some of the social-media snark about Rand Paul strutting on the floor of the Senate in 2012, talking about how “other people’s money” was going for relief from Hurricane Sandy. The response to a 180 in a dim-bulb libertarian may well be jeering, but maybe we can point this out another time, eh? The response to a disaster in the United States is to relieve the suffering. Yes, Rand Paul is an hypocrite. Yes, the people of Kentucky elected him (and Mitch McConnell, oy). No, the response is not to tell them “sucks to be you” when tornados kill them and destroy their homes, businesses and towns.
However, we’re in a sucks-to-be-you moment right now. I read a little over the weekend about Lia Thomas, a transgender swimmer for the University of Pennsylvania. Lia swam for the men’s team for two years of her college career. She transitioned during the Covid-cancelled season, and is now swimming as a woman, and winning. “Breaking records,” in fact, but here is one place where I have to part with Sherri, to name one person in our readership, who has said that any advantage to being a biological male in sports disappears after a year of hormone treatment. I simply don’t believe that, at least in this case.
Thomas isn’t just breaking records, she’s obliterating them. Winning by 7 seconds in the 200 free, and 38 in the 1650-meter free, to name but two. These aren’t normal new-record margins. Swimming is a sport where records fall by fractions of seconds, not seven of them. (Unless she is Katie Ledecky. Lia Thomas is not Katie Ledecky.) There is an advantage here that comes from being taller, stronger, more broad-shouldered and from having trained and competed all your life as a man. The photos of her are crazy. She’s a hulk.
As you would expect, the right-wing media has picked up this story and is shaking it like a dog. I had to scroll down in the search results to find a source I thought could be fair — Swimming World magazine, which I am confident knows more about the sport than, say, the New York Post or Fox News.
And this piece is pretty evenhanded, explaining that while Thomas is swimming slower on female hormones than when she was a male, she suddenly catapulted from an Ivy League finalist to an Olympic-level contender, threatening records set by the greatest women in the sport, including Ledecky and Missy Franklin. Swimming World also had the decency to ask for decency, after getting the expected onslaught of reader abuse following their reporting. And they’ve also done sensitive reporting on F-to-M trans swimmers like Schuyler Bailar, so I feel like I can trust their editorial judgement.
But even SW editorialized against allowing Thomas to compete in the NCAA championships in March:
Athletes transitioning from male to female possess the inherent advantage of years of testosterone production and muscle-building. There is also the advantage (in many cases) of larger body frames, hands and feet. All of these traits are beneficial in the sport of swimming. In the case of Thomas, she had nearly 20 years of this testosterone-building advantage, something cisgender women could not attain. Although she took part in the testosterone-suppression process, a look at her performances clearly reflects that she is benefitting from the genetics of her birth sex.
“There’s absolutely no question in my mind that trans women will maintain strength advantages over cis women, even after hormone therapy,” said sports physicist Joanna Harper in an interview with WEBMD Health News. “That’s based on my clinical experience, rather than published data, but I would say there’s zero doubt in my mind.”
…Now, Thomas is stalking Ledecky’s 500 freestyle record, a chase that reveals the unfairness in her racing against cisgender women. A look at the all-time rankings in the 500 free shows that Leah Smith is the second-fastest female performer in the event. Yet, she is almost five seconds back of Ledecky. The fact that Thomas could break the record of such a once-in-a-generation athlete confirms the biological advantages she possesses, and their power.
The stories of Thomas’ meet performances are agonizing: She finishes first by a wide margin, and the crowd sits on their hands. When the cisgender female touches the wall second, they erupt in cheers. This may be a cruel reaction, but it is also honest. These are not fair competitions. The question is, what do we do about them?
The floor is open. I’m honestly interested in what some of you have to say.