Before I start this article in earnest, I’d like to make one, unequivocal statement: trans women are women. Feminism, and the fight for queer people’s rights, are incomplete and one-dimensional without the inclusion of trans women, and if you disagree with this then we are fundamentally opposed, and this article may not be for you.
Whether trans women and girls should be included in women’s and girls’ rugby, and how unconditionally they should be allowed to play, is a debate that keeps returning. Most recently, it has been fuelled by France’s landmark decision to officially allow trans women to play at all levels, as long as their hormone levels are within their rules.
As well as lots of support, this decision has unearthed vitriolic transphobia that I will not link here. Over the next few paragraphs I will discuss some of the recent anti-trans arguments I have seen, and then some of the ways I believe we can help.
Many people are vehemently opposed to allowing children and teens to transition in any way. This is despite the fact that the hormones are completely reversible, and also entirely non-surgical. Basically, childhood transition just delays usual puberty until trans kids are older.
Often those who are opposed to kids transitioning at a young age are the same people who, despite how many hormones a trans woman may be taking, despite how far through her physical transition she may be, believe she cannot play women’s rugby because she has gone through ‘male’ puberty. The double standard is absurd and shows what transphobic people really want: trans people to be unable to participate in communities. Trans women, like everyone else, deserve to be a part of teams, and part of the sport we all love, and which so often claims to be inclusive to all.
It’s not just puberty that is the issue for anti-trans activists. I saw a woman state that newborn baby boys are stronger than newborn baby girls, which is simply untrue. Babies — all babies — are just adorable floppy idiots. ‘There is more variation amongst girls and boys than there is between them.’
There also seems to be a fear that trans women are going to overtake women’s rugby, that men will ‘pretend to be women’ to get to a high level, that the top of the game will be dominated by trans women, that there will be 23 in England’s match day squad. This is so unfounded it’s almost not worth mentioning.
Firstly, even the highest level of women’s rugby is poorly rewarded, and the contracts are not long. Why would a man pretend to be a woman, go through hormone treatments, work extremely hard, pretend to be someone they aren’t, and face the abuse that trans women so often do, just to get paid a wage they could earn elsewhere without all the hassle? It’s just absurd if you think about it in any depth whatsoever.
Moving on from that, it is just statistically untrue that trans women will dominate rugby. The government equalities office estimates that there are only 200,000-500,000 trans people (people, not just women) in the UK. Assuming the highest end of these numbers, that means 0.73% of the population is trans, a tiny figure.
The concerns are fearful, many of them ignorant, sexist, transphobic. Allow trans women to play without condition, then come back in 1 year, 3 years, 5, and reassess.
As pride month approaches, and as a bisexual woman myself, it is also important to note that the LGBT+ community are not welcome until we are ALL welcome. Most women’s rugby teams have lesbians and bisexual women, but without trans women, we wouldn’t have the rights we do today. Trans women are a vital part of the community and should be welcomed everywhere that other queer women are.
You may have played with or against a trans woman. You may know one who is terrified to come out. There is no way to know, and she may be a vulnerable woman who needs a community, a team of girls or women who support her like a family. That’s what rugby purports to be all about, and we can all do our bit to make it kinder and more inclusive for the trans women among us.
Pride month is coming! Donate to Stonewall UK, Mermaids, or the Albert Kennedy Trust.
Read about what’s happening in Palestine, and donate to Palestinians in need.
On 6th of May, refugees got to vote for the first time in Scotland. Weep with me about following days: the evilness of the attempted eviction in Glasgow, and the response that defines community. Read, too, about the No Evictions Network.