Outdated Transgender Policies Overshadow Wrestling Champ

Outdated Transgender Policies Overshadow Wrestling Champ

Mack Beggs, a junior at Trinity High School in Texas, has become the unexpected focus of international media and discussion. Beggs, 17, won his final match in the 110lb weight class to capture the wrestling championship- in the girls’ category.

Beggs completed an undefeated season by winning the controversial title last Saturday. Instead of wallowing the debate and controversy of the event, Beggs was a gracious and humble victor.

“I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for my teammates,” he said. “That’s honestly what the spotlight should have been on is my teammates.The hard work that I put in in the practice room with them, because me--we trained hard every, single day. Every, single day and that’s where the spotlight should have been on. Not me. All these guys. Because I would not be where without them.”

It’s a wonderful sentiment. Unfortunately, Beggs won the state wrestling title in a category he didn’t even want to be in. Beggs is currently transitioning from female to male, and he, his family, and his opponents wanted him to wrestle against the boys. But athletics in Texas are overseen by the University Interscholastic League (UIL). Back on Aug 1, the UIL enacted the birth certificate policy, which states that, “Gender shall be determined based on a student’s birth certificate. In cases where a student’s birth certificate is unavailable, other similar government documents used for the purpose of identification may be substituted.” This amendment was supported by 95% of Texas school superintendents back in February 2016 during the vote.

Ironically, the UIL agreed to the birth certificate policy to keep boys transitioning to girls from competing on opposite-sex teams in an attempt to eliminate physical advantages. It was fought unsuccessfully by PFLAG and other LGBTQ activists. The UIL states that people can amend their birth certificates and that they will recognize that change, but that process requires a court order, which can cost thousands of dollars and still could ultimately get rejected. Beggs’ family sought to have him wrestle as a boy, and some of his opponents have said that he has an unfair advantage among girls because of the testosterone he is taking as a part of his transition. However, the UIL allows for the use of a banned drug (such as steroids) if it “is prescribed by a medical practitioner for a valid medical purpose.” According to the CNN, Beggs has been taking testosterone since October 2015.

It’s become increasingly common for a person under 18 to undergo hormone treatment, according to Diane Ehrensaft, a clinical and developmental psychologist. As a founding member of the Child and Adolescent Gender Centre in California, she acknowledges that a person could have a competitive advantage during a transition based on the hormones that are taken (female to male) or not suppressed (male to female), but it’s not always the case because of the natural differences in strength and speed among people of the same gender.

“Not every kid I’ve seen who has gone on testosterone has added muscle mass,” Ehrensaft stated.

Jim Baudhuin, attorney and wrestling parent, disagrees. He filed a lawsuit against the UIL urging the governing body to suspend Beggs because of the use of testosterone. The suit claims that allowing Beggs to compete while using testosterone exposes other athletes to “imminent threat of bodily harm.” Baudhuin says he is “bringing the case forward on behalf of his minor daughter and other similarly situated female wrestlers in the state.” Baudhuin’s daughter is not in Beggs weight class, and so the two would not be competing against each other. Baudhuin says his suit has nothing to do with Mack Beggs being a transgendered male.

“I respect that completely, and I think the coaches do,” he said. “All we’re saying is she is taking something that gives her an unfair advantage. It’s documented. It’s universal that it’s an unfair advantage.”

 In a separate statement to the Associated Press, Baudhuin says that he doesn’t blame Beggs for the situation, but faults the UIL and bad policy.

“The more I learn about this, the more I realize that she’s just trying to live her life and her family is, too. She’s being forced into a position. Who knows, through discovery we may find out that’s not the case. But every indication is, the way the winds are going now, the blame rests with the UIL and the superintendents.” Clearly, Baudhuin respects Beggs, but not enough to use his preferred pronouns.

Begg’s victory was announced amidst this controversy. His first-round opponent in regionals, Lewisville’s Fatima Vaquerano, forfeited. Beggs went on to compete against Kailyn Clay earlier Saturday after beating Taylor Latham and Mya Engert to reach the final, but won the weekend tournament after Madeline Rocha forfeited the final match. Beggs and Rocha, who have never wrestled each other before, shared a hug after the forfeit, with Rocha visibly emotional. The coaches of the girls who forfeited had long indicated they would do so, but have declined to further comment on the situation.

So let’s get commenting here.

The current UIL guidelines put Beggs in a tricky and rather unfair situation. It’s not a matter of the testosterone use in my opinion. As Michelle Forcier, M.D., faculty member of the Physicians for Reproductive Health, and the Adolescent Reproductive and Sexual Health Education Program (ARSHEP), points out, all teenagers are going through hormonal changes.

“It [testosterone] would do what it does with all the other boys--changes muscles and increase body hair, as his body matures to a male body as opposed to a female body,” Forcier says. The main problem is that Beggs is being forced to wrestle as a girl when he identifies as a male. “That identity is important,” Forcier states, “When that’s rejected, kids and adults have higher risks for suicide, substance abuse, depression, and anxiety...If he identifies as male, it’s not medically recommended or psychiatrically recommended that he would be forced to wrestle with girls. It’s a harmful thing that is being done.”

Hudson Taylor agrees. Taylor is the executive director of Athlete Ally, a nonprofit dedicated to eradicating homophobia and transphobia in sports. “The dynamic playing out in Texas is forcing Mack to choose between two undesirable choices: he either gives up the sport he loves, or he is forced to wrestle against girls,” Taylor said, “The only way to ensure that every athlete has equal access to sport and an equitable experience is to allow transgender athletes to compete with the gender with which they identify.”

Whether Beggs has a physical advantage over the girls he’s being forced to compete against isn’t the point. Testosterone affects individuals differently. It depends on his baseline strength, how he’s responding to his testosterone therapy, and the training he’s completing. Forcing Beggs to wrestle with girls is not only uncomfortable for the female wrestlers, but for Beggs as well.

Sports is about competition, about improving, about pushing yourself to be better. Not only better than you were yesterday, but better than your opponents. It’s about proving yourself against competitors, about pushing your body and mind to places where you might not think they can go at all. What the Texas UIL is doing to Beggs- and by extension, other transgender students- is not promoting sports and competition. It’s a rule designed and addressed by people who don’t know what the hell to do with a transgendered person because the thought of it makes them uncomfortable.

I get it. Transgenders can make a lot of people uncomfortable because they don’t get it. I don’t truly get it either, but I don’t get a lot of things- like the Kardashians, how the Boston Bruins have fans, or why people are tasting Nintendo Switch cartridges. Just because you don’t “get” something doesn’t make it wrong. I’m lucky enough to identify with the gender that matches my genitalia, but this isn’t the case for everyone.

If you want to focus on the sports angle, then why did no one file a lawsuit against, or publicly complain, when Paschal female student Reilly Fox played for the football team and lined up as a kicker? She was born a girl and is competing against males. The TCU women’s basketball team, and countless others all over the country, routinely play against men’s players in practice. The concept is simple: competition makes the women’s players better. Ask many female athletes, and they’ll tell you that they learned to play against their brothers and male friends growing up.

There were some complaints when LPGA golfer Annika Sorenstam played in the 2003 Colonial in Fort Worth, but not because of any advantage. She was, at the time, the best female golfer, and wanted to see how she would do against the PGA players. Spoiler: she didn’t make the cut and finished near the bottom. Watching Rickie Fowler test his skills in the LPGA isn’t necessarily that different, is it? And we’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about Caster Semanya, the South African runner who has testosterone levels three times that of a woman, and has no ovaries or womb. She has protested to competing as a female, but gender testing says she passes the test for female. Watching her blow away her female opponents in the Olympics was awkward and kind of sad.

That’s just it though. Dominance in a fair sense is admirable and enviable; dominance in this fashion looks like cheating, even if it doesn’t fit into the classically outlined definition. At a minimum, Semanya is playing down. Beggs wanted to compete as a male, and was willing to assume the risk of having his ass kicked- or pinned down, as the case may be- by a superior competitor. Because that’s sports.

The NCAA says a trans male athlete who is receiving testosterone treatment must compete on a men’s team. That was put in place in 2011. The Olympic Committee for the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro allowed transgender athletes who are transitioning to compete in the gender category they identify with. There are stipulations, of course, but if it’s good enough for the Olympics, why is Texas still forcing transgender students and the competing student body into these terrible situations?

Because it’s not really about sports and competition. Beggs being forced to wrestle female opponents comes a crucial point in time, with the Trump administration announcing an end to federal protections that allow transgender students to use bathrooms based on their gender identity. Gender fluidity is front and center in both public and political debates. And Texas currently has a proposed bill that would require citizens to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender assigned at birth.

It sounds eerily familiar to North Carolina last March, who passed the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, or HB2, which mandates the same. I find it pretty funny that the NFL, NBA, and NCAA are the organizations standing up to this blatantly prejudiced legislation. These associations are all about making money and pushing their own agendas to continue to make more profit, yet they are now the unlikely activists working against the promotion of intolerance across the country by moving their events elsewhere.

Everyone deserves to have equal access, opportunity and experiences- whether it be in a wrestling match, or using a public bathroom in a restaurant. Now is the time for institutions and leagues across the country to adopt policies that are inclusive of transgender athletes and individuals. Promoting equality, inclusion, and respect for each and every person shouldn’t just be about good sportsmanship, but about being a good citizen and person.