Joanne O’Riordan: Worley a brave pioneer in the campaign for transgender rights

New Zealand weightlifter, Laurel Hubbard, aims to be the first transwoman to compete at the Olympics

 

Everyone knows it’s hard to be the first. The first to stand up and speak, the first to stand up and be different, the first to stand up and ask to be included in basic things everyone takes for granted.

Take Kristen Worley. Officially, she was the first athlete to take on the IOC on their stance on participating in women’s cycling at the Olympic level for Canada. Worley had one huge difference. She is an XY female.

She is also the first athlete to participate in “gender verification” tests from the IOC.

In her book, Woman Enough, she tells how she undertook an exam officiated by four men: two sport administrators, one lawyer and one emergency doctor. This followed a meeting with an endocrinologist who asked about her sexuality.

Worley decided to speak out as she felt nobody on planet Earth should have to go through a humiliating and embarrassing series of events, which eventually left her so dehumanised and upset, she decided not to get back on a bike for a long time, let alone at a high-performance level.

In her book, she writes: “At best, I was trying to cheat; at worse, I was a freak. They felt utterly entitled to ask me embarrassing, intimate questions about the details of my surgeries and talk openly about my body in front of me as if I wasn’t there.”

In 2003, known as the Stockholm consensus, the IOC agreed on allowing transgender athletes to compete. This rule stated trans athletes can compete as long as they had “surgical anatomical changes” (including having their testes or ovaries removed), must have legal recognition of their assigned sex, and underwent hormone therapy for sufficient time to “minimise gender-related advantages”.

Worley, and now many others on both sides of the debate, can only agree on one thing. This ruling wasn’t made solely based on science.

Now, New Zealand weightlifter, Laurel Hubbard, aims to be the first transwoman to compete at the Olympics. However, her Olympic dream has been so controversial that 21,000 have signed a petition seeking her removal, and fellow competitors have deemed her participation a bad joke.

The publicity-shy athlete has only ever released one statement on the issue, merely thanking supporters and fans for their kindness and support. Distant memories of KWorley continue to surface, with Kristen herself saying nobody can ever forget something like that, you just cope with it.

She brought the case against the IOC and Canadian sporting bodies to Ontario’s Human Rights Tribunal in 2015, arguing the enforcing the 2003 Olympic policy constituted a violation of human rights. Her case was settled in 2017, with Ontario Cycling Association and Cycling Canada committing to revising their policies.

Surgical requirements

The IOC was undergoing a review on its own policies and, in 2015, agreed on new guidelines that removed surgical requirements. Transgender women could compete in the female category, but they must have had declared their gender identity as female for over four years and could prove their testosterone level was below 10 nanomoles per litre for over a year.

In Hubbards situation, she’s not even seen as a strong medal hope. Her highest weightlift is 285 kilograms, quite a distance from top-ranked Li Wenwen’s 335 kilograms. According to the International Weightlifting Federation, the New Zealander is ranked 15th in the world in the super heavyweight 87 kilogram-plus category.

Many on each side of their fence have reasons, scientific and ignorant, over why women’s sports must be protected. Renowned fan of women, former president of the United States, Donald Trump, believes trans’ participation in sport is a threat to women’s sport. I’ll let you pause.

Other people in the LGBTQ+ community believe that with years of transphobia, tensions were going to reach fear-based propaganda. The science, like everything to do with women’s health, is particularly slack.

According to Dick Swaab, Professor of Neurobiology, University of Amsterdam, just because you are a trans athlete does not automatically make you an Olympic gold medallist. Many women, both cis and trans, can have varied responses to testosterone. People have varying sensitivity levels, meaning some people have too much testosterone and don’t know how to use it.

And yet, while testosterone has become an enormous subject matter, with Caster Semenya, Namibian 18-year-old sprinters Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi not being allowed to compete in the women’s 400 metres at the Tokyo Olympics due to having naturally high testosterone levels, testosterone mightn’t exactly be the main picture; it’s clearly only part of it.

Some people within the trans community believe the subtext, and the main point of the argument, is society’s ruling on what is a woman, and we believe to be a ‘normal woman’. One thing is sure, if the continued fear-mongering is maintained, we will get nowhere. What we all need is to take a proper scientific approach.

Inclusion or not, Olympic medals, income and livelihoods are on the line.

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