Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

Trans Woman Sues LPGA

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | October 14, 2010 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Transgender & Intersex

The New York Times reported on a lawsuit by a transgender woman, Lana Lawless, against the Ladies Professional Golf Association, which banned her from participating in the sport after she won the women's world championship in long-drive golf.

This move went against the trend among other sports organizations to create rules specifically regulating competition by trans competitors.

According to the Times, in 2004, the International Olympic Committee began allowing transgender people to compete if they have undergone reassignment surgery and at least two years of postoperative hormone-replacement therapy. Several other sports organizations followed suit, including the United States Golf Association, the Ladies Golf Union in Britain and the Ladies European Golf Tour.

The transwoman involved, Ms. Lawless, said that the move stemmed from prejudice. Renee Richards, who won her lawsuit against the US Tennis Association 25 years ago, weighed in with a contradictory message, saying that allowing transgender people to compete is problematic, but that Lawless should be allowed to compete.

The issue doesn't seem to affect transgender men, and my assumption is that is because transgender men are assumed to be weaker than other men, whereas transgender women are assumed to be stronger than other women. And yet, we haven't seen trans women sweeping the field in the Olympics or the other organizations that permit them to compete. I agree with Ms. Lawless that the issue is one of prejudice.

The LPGA changed its requirements to allow only competitors "female at birth."

Lawless, however, makes the point that, according to her birth certificate, she is a woman. "It doesn't say 'female-ish,' " Lawless said. "There is no such thing as born female. Either you're female, or you're not."

This points up the fact that the law is not consistent regarding change of sex. It can be recognized by one jurisdiction or governmental authority, and not by another. It can also be recognized differently for different purposes within the same jurisdiction or governmental authority.

The law in this area is a confusing mess.

But putting aside the issue of what the law is, the question remains what the law should be.

Are the "Ladies" of the Ladies Professional Golf Association a little out of step with reality? Or is it Ms. Lawless (and me, I might add).

Ultimately, the question is whether Ms. Lawless is a proper "lady." And that's less a legal or a medical question than it is a social question. Is the question here one of sex, or of gender?

As I have consistently argued, sex is not a stable construct, and it has both biological and gendered components. I believe that, given the specific facts I have gleaned about Ms. Lawless, she is female, and it doesn't matter whether she is a "lady," which is a gendered concept that has no place in the determination of sex segregation, in the few places it remains.

Or is the important thing, as a Sports Illustrated's Hot Clicks writer suggested, whether she looks enough like Lucy Lawless?

What do you think?

Full story from the New York Times here.

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This one really stumps me. Is it permissible in professional sports for women to take testosterone? If a woman ingested testosterone for a few decades and then ceased using it but it was on record would she be allowed to compete?

Oh my god! If a woman INGESTED testosterone for a few decades I can only imagine the liver damage would be horrific! Every doctor I've talked with has said that absorption of testosterone through the digestive system is the most dangerous way to do it. Your hypothetical woman might be in too poor health to compete.

But in any case, if a woman in professional sports had previously had high testosterone levels for a legal and legitimate reason -- perhaps a reason beyond her control -- but had since managed to lower it within normal female range and keep it there for several years, well, I imagine that's a part of her private medical history and wouldn't be something others in her sport would have to know about.

My understanding about performance enhancing drug tests is that it's about current use. The tests don't check out what your levels were a decade ago. And the whole issue is complicated when the "performance enhancing drug" is something that exists in all women but is out of balance due to an overactive organ, such as a tumor, PCOS, or a teste or two.

And finally, it's a big assumption (and a sexist one) that testosterone - past or present - automatically gives someone an unfair advantage regardless of the sport. In some sports it might even be a disadvantage. But as pointed out in the article, there is never any fretting over trans men competing in a men's division or concern about cis men taking performance enhancing estrogen.

So the worries and concerns I have read about MTF transsexuals in their teens and twenties regarding the skeletal and muscular development is all simply myth? Did you click on the link to the original article and see the picture? This is no Michelle Wie.

What studies? I can't respond to them if you don't cite or at least describe them. Are you talking about the studies showing how HRT drastically increases trans women's risk of osteoporosis? Anecdotally, I have a friend who's jaw snapped at age 20 due to osteoporosis. Because that certainly doesn't seem like an unfair advantage.

Beyond that, however, you can't judge someone based on their picture. Are you really saying that because she has large shoulders she shouldn't be able to compete? Would you be just as upset about a cis woman with large shoulders? I know plenty of trans women with small shoulders and small body frames as well, yet presumably you're taking a stance to have them banned too.

But beyond that, the simple fact is that biology impacts athletic performance, in many cases in ways we don't fully understand. Star athletes have always been biological anomalies. If it turns out that their body naturally produces a different hormone balance or has some other biological abnormality that gives them an edge, is that something we should start testing for?

Ultimately, it leads us down a path toward defining biological "normality" and implementing a series of tests which excludes anyone outside of that norm from competing. I could see that quickly excluding the majority of athletes. Of course, if we keep up policies of excluding trans people without having a similarly in-depth examination of the biological factors contributing to non-trans athletes' performance abilities, then that's simply and clearly anti-trans prejudice.

Wherever did you come up with the idea of studies? I referenced nothing of the sort. Now ask yourself one simple question. How many 57 year old women can even come close to qualifying for a long ball championship in golf? Answer = zero.

Oh, so the things that you read about skeletal development and muscles were not actually studies. I would suggest, then, not to put so much weight into them.

But you keep focusing on this one individual while you defend a policy that effects all trans athletes. From championship winners all the way down to amateurs in roller derby leagues or on the local women's softball team.

How many 57 year old women can even come close to qualifying for a long ball championship in golf? Answer = zero.

That's only true if you don't consider Lana Lawless to be a woman. Because if you do there is at least one. But how many other 57 year old trans women can do the same? She's an anomaly for her athletic ability when compared with trans peers a well.

Ultimately, though, what would you suggest doing about this -- other than making off comments calling her womanhood into question. Would you really prefer it if trans women competed with men and then eventually a trans man wins a women's championship? Or do you just think that trans people should have to sit out any and all sporting competitions?

Or perhaps it could be based on size. Women over a certain height/weight/arm width would be banned from competing regardless of whether they are trans or cis, while women below that would be allowed. Of course, that seems kinda counter-intuitive to the idea of an athletic competition, but it's a lot better than assuming all trans women are large and simply excluding people based on trans status.

No, she looks like long-driver Laura Davies, when it comes to frame, actually... she won a Major (The DuMaurier) a few blocks from my home at the time in Edmonton, 1997 I believe.

Long game or short game, they work at cross-purposes, Deena.

"The New York Times reported on a lawsuit by a transgender woman, Lana Lawless, against the Ladies Professional Golf Association, which banned her from participating in the sport after she won the women's world championship in long-drive golf."

Well, perhaps technically this is a true statement but it's misleading. She was ruled "ineligible" "because Long Drivers of America, which oversees the competition, changed its rules to match the policy of the L.P.G.A."

The implication of your sentence is that she was banned because she won the competition and did so because she was transgender. Perhaps that's true, but there is nothing in the article that suggests the reason Long Drivers of America chose to change their rules to match LPGA policy was specifically to eliminate Ms. Lawless because she is transgender. I suppose one could choose to believe that is the case and set themselves up to be the beaten nail of the world's proverbial hammer if they wanted to.

The question should be if she has the same competitive advantage of a male who trains the same amount of time over other women. From my understanding, she doesn't, so there really shouldn't be a problem.

The flip-side is if they'd allow a trans man who's been on T for 10 years and trains at golf every day to compete, not because he ID's as a woman but just because he wants some prize money and some fame (he's a jerk that way). I'm guessing they wouldn't, so maybe they should be consistent.

My understanding is that golf is very difficult and not all about size and strength. Lana would probably not even make it past the qualifying rounds but the LPGA is certainly concerned about precedent. What happens if someone like Tiger Woods decides to get surgery, throw on a dress, wait 2 years and file? Of course the other side of all this is revenue and publicity. Controversy can sure hype attendance. Maybe the LPGA is missing a good thing and should consider provisional status.

Okay, I'm going to take a step back from my argument because I'm really confused what you are saying here. It sounds like you are saying she doesn't have the skill or ability to be compete, which she obviously does if she was a winner the previous year. But then you go on to say that she would have an unfair advantage? And are you seriously concerned that someone would get vaginoplasty on a whim so that they might compete in an easier league?Even if Tiger did do that, the resulting shifts in weight and musculature, and difficulty finding a proper hormone balance, would likely drastically impact his ability to the point he might be competitively better off staying where he is.

I agree Tobi. I'll step back too. I guess my basic point was that this whole situation has no "correct" solution. Annika was allowed to compete in a couple of men's tournaments and did poorly though she was ,at the time, at the height of her career. To my knowledge no male pro has ever been allowed in an LPGA event. I really don't see a good solution that would be fair to Lana, the LPGA and all current as well as future aspiring professional female golfers. Perhaps that is why an inclusive ENDA is also stalled.

Renee Thomas | October 15, 2010 6:28 AM

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The issue doesn't seem to affect transgender men, and my assumption is that is because transgender men are assumed to be weaker than other men, whereas transgender women are assumed to be stronger than other women.

That's possible, or even probable.

But I wonder what's going to happen when a trans competitor tests positive for anabolic steroids because of his HRT? Personally, I think part of it is that we just haven't crossed that bridge yet.

I wondered the same thing, Mercedes.

Yes, but it doesn't impact trans men because of how strong they are or aren't, it's because society isn't freaked out by them the way it is about trans women. It's sexual and fetishistic, not strength-related. That's the real point.

That's where a lot of the prejudice against trans people comes from, yes, but I'd caution against assuming that ours is going to be the only issue, or thinking that this is the only thing we should be addressing with regards to trans people in professional sports.

And as a matter of fact, testosterone shots *will* give a strength and energy boost. So that one gets a bit more difficult to navigate, and it's worth taking a good look at now, so we can be ready when something does arise.

This is a curious thread. I come from a family of golfers. My uncle was a pro, another uncle was state amateur champion. I have a cousin who was a pro who played with Brad Faxon at Furman on a scholarship. My father was state junior champion and there are many others in the family who are very good players. My mother was pretty good, herself. I always hated the game. I had trouble with that social world, for many reasons that are ever more complicated because of my nature and the way I was brought up.

I don't know what Renee Richards' point is. What problems have there been in women's tennis since she was allowed to play? She didn't do all that well. There was a fuss over Sarah Gronert last year. I think she was actually raised female, same as Caster Semenya. I don't think Gronert ever took over the world of women's tennis. She was ranked around 195 last I checked.

How many people are familiar with Stella Walsh? She was raised female but her situation was complicated because of her intersex characteristics. Ever see the famous picture of her shaking hands with Helen Stevens?


That's Walsh on the right. Stevens was her chief rival. The irony is that Walsh accused Stevens of being a man and years later Stevens felt vindicated because so many sportswriters were characterizing Walsh as a "man" after she was found dead in a holdup and was examined by the coroner. People are so cruel. Neither was a "man".

My father was a powerful golfer. He used to win the long ball contest in many tournaments. He didn't win that many tournaments, though. There is much more to golf than sheer power. Chipping and putting take enormous practice and skills that can be mastered without strength playing a role. The first shot is only one of four on most holes.

What has changed in women's tennis since Renee Richards? What has changed in women's track and field since Stella Walsh? It doesn't seem much has changed to me. Are we to expect men like my relatives are going to change sex so they can win tournaments? I doubt it very, very much.

Angela Brightfeather | October 15, 2010 1:18 PM

I have a few things to say about this because I first heard Ms Lawless earlier this year on the popular Golf Channel show the 19th Hole.

It seemed that one announcer made the comment about Ms. Lawless and the second commentator (who has a big problem with his penis because he is always trying to show what a macho guy he is), reponded by almost throwing up on camera. The look in his eyes is something that I still remember when he said "It" should not be aloowed to complete in the Women's Long Ball Chanpionships in the first place.

I was on the phone to my local PGA representative voicing my disdain for how it was handled on the show and any connection that the PGA has with it. I was on the commputer right after that writing the Golf Channel and asking them if they also think that lesbian and gay golf leagues across the country should be stopped from playing the game? I was demanding a public apology on their next program, that was never made.

I have never accepted the fact that people are just going to accept Transgender people. What I have always objected to is the fact that people "unqualify" Transgender people and that in our society, people have never provided a place for them to be, just everyplace they can't be, like where you work, play, are within sight of children, teach in schools, public venues and private ones, just about everywhere.

Perhaps one of the most signifigant problems we have as a community is that there are so few Trans role models outside of the area of politics. We have a few, yes, but history should have noted many more.