Student Opinion: Sex and School Sports – Biden’s Anti-Discrimination Order Examined


By Jacob Derin

President Joe Biden recently signed an executive order, which reignited the debate over transgender athletes participating in school sports. It has broad language that denounces the possibility that students could “be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports” based on sex and gender identity.

The move has been interpreted as a signal that the federal government intends to enforce rules that would force schools to allow transgender athletes to compete on sports teams that match their gender identity.

The danger of executive actions, and all efforts to make broad, top-down policies, is that they can’t take the complexities of real-world scenarios into account. The issue of transgender students participating in school sports must be considered on a case by case basis, acknowledging that “transgender” is a broad, catch-all term that refers to a very diverse group of people. 

The term “transgender” has become part of the common parlance, but it might still seem obscure to some. It refers to people who have a subjective sense of their gender identity, which is different from their biological sex. This covers biological males who have a subjective sense of being female, the reverse and a broad range of people who feel as if their identity is best expressed as some mixture of the two. Many of these people undergo “sex reassignment surgery” or take sex hormones to “transition” and bring their bodies more into alignment with their subjective gender identity.

There are various body types and gender identities that could be covered by the term “transgender.” This move by the Biden Administration would ignore these complexities. Nominally, it seeks to make transgender students covered by federal anti-discrimination statutes and hold schools accountable for denying them “equal access” to resources like sports facilities, student organizations and so on. 

The problem is that the question of “equal access” is a very complex issue in the world of sports. Is the fact that sports are sex-segregated an issue affecting such “equal access?” It is a reality of human biology that, on average, men perform better in sports than women. (This statement, whenever it appears, warrants the clarification that “on average” means that there will be many exceptions, and no individual case says anything about what’s true overall.)

Therefore, it’s generally considered unfair to allow men to, for example, join an all-female basketball team and compete against people who are going to be at a significant height and strength disadvantage. We, as a society, have decided that this is reasonable for some sports. Should the athlete’s subjective gender identity override this consideration, and would it be fair to the other athletes to do so?

I think that the devil, as always, is in the details. 

There have already been legislative efforts to ban transgender athletes from participating in sports teams reserved for the opposite biological sex. In my view, this is just as potentially misguided a move as Biden’s executive order. 

Consider, as a case study, the high school wrestling career of Mack Beggs. Beggs is biologically female but has a male gender identity — he feels male. Beggs wrestled against girls, in accordance with Texas’ rules prohibiting athletes from joining teams reserved for the opposite sex, and won the championship title. The fact that Beggs, as part of his hormone therapy, had been taking testosterone caused significant controversy. Normally, this would be considered cheating, but in this case, it was a medically sanctioned treatment. Beggs, himself, had always wanted to wrestle against boys and not girls. Yet, Texas’ rules on this subject wouldn’t allow him to do so.

Of course, not all transgender people choose to transition in this way, and not all who want to do so can afford to. Under President Biden’s executive order, a transgender wrestler who is biologically male but has a female gender identity could request to wrestle against girls, even if she still had all the biological advantages that come with biological masculinity. If we think that it’s unfair to allow this in the case of a cisgendered athlete (one who is not transgender), then I think we should consider it unjust in this case as well.

In other words, the biological facts matter, and there are many ways, biologically speaking, to “be trans.” Like any group of people, transgender student-athletes are made up of diverse and varied individuals, many of whom might even disagree with each other about what’s fair on this issue. It would do them a disservice, especially in the pursuit of dignity and equal treatment, for the government to treat them all the same, irrespective of their complex individualities.

Whether a transgender athlete chooses to undergo specific medical treatments isn’t the State’s business or their school’s. Still, if those treatments give them advantages or disadvantages relative to their potential opponents, these facts must be considered.

Jacob Derin is a third-year English and Philosophy major at UC Davis.

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26 thoughts on “Student Opinion: Sex and School Sports – Biden’s Anti-Discrimination Order Examined”

  1. Alan Miller

    JD, I very much appreciate your articles and this writing.  I like the cut of your jib, in how you present facts and sides over opinions.  This article didn’t ‘solve’ the issue, but did bring up the complexities.  I’ve had two friends transition, and heard a lot about transgender issues from the two, who know each other but regardless have opposing opinions and attitudes on some of the transgender issues.  Despite that, I learned new things from your article.  I also appreciated that you explain terms that may not be familiar to many who may not be familiar with the terminology used within the communities.

        1. Bill Marshall

          Read it… interesting… thanks for posting it…

          Not trans-gender related, but pertinent to ‘sex and school sports’ … (think early 1970’s)… there was a gal who was interested in running X-country… school and league rules prohibited her from being on the team, but she often trained with the guys… damn good runner… if permitted, she would have been JV or Varsity, and we had a very competitive X-country team (no women X-country teams in the ’70’s)… then there was a guy on the X-country team, who got an erection while he was looking at all of us while doing the ‘group shower’ thing… weirded us all out… and, in HS, it was well known that a number of male and female athletes were ‘having sex’ together (off campus)…

          Yeah, even without the transgender focus, sex and sports have interesting connections and nuances…

  2. Don Shor

    I think this is a very well-written article and appreciate the discussion. This issue is usually presented as a kind of binary choice: they are allowed to participate, or they aren’t because it isn’t fair to girls and women in athletics. Unfortunately a lot of conservative commentators who address it also tend to not believe that being transgender is a real or valid condition, so they only see the impact on the girls and women who are seemingly disadvantaged.

    If I have to choose between just participating or not, I come down on the side of participation. If people object, let them come to the table, acknowledge that transgender folks are real, are here, and have equally valid rights to participate in things that our society places a high value on. And from that starting point, work to make a system that neither excludes nor disadvantages any young athlete. The Wired article Alan M linked shows how some options have been considered. It may be that sports as we know it will change. I’m not a sports fan, so I couldn’t care less about that. But if one does care, look at it from both sides (cis- and trans-) and consider how everyone can participate. 

    Imagine having a daughter who has transitioned and is being told she can’t participate in the sport of her choice. 

    1. Keith Olsen

      If people object, let them come to the table, acknowledge that transgender folks are real, are here, and have equally valid rights to participate in things that our society places a high value on. And from that starting point, work to make a system that neither excludes nor disadvantages any young athlete.

      So how would you go about doing that?  A transgender division for athletes?  If not, non transgender female athletes will always be disadvantaged.


      1. Don Shor

        So how would you go about doing that? A transgender division for athletes? If not, non transgender female athletes will always be disadvantaged.

        There are some interesting ideas in the Wired article Alan M linked. I expect it will vary by sport, depending on the perceived advantages derived from extra testosterone, body mass, etc.

        1. Ron Oertel

          I think they already “segregate” sports by body mass (within genders).

          Or more accurately, it’s segregated for you. A reason that most of us wouldn’t make it in the NFL or NBA, even if we had the “talent”.

          Also a reason that there’s different weight classes, in boxing.

          By age, as well – usually becoming pretty obvious at some point. 🙂

  3. Ron Oertel

    How about a “no-holds barred” category, where you can use whatever surgery, hormone-blocking, hormone-promoting, steroid-injecting chemical you want to use, without even defining your gender?

    I’d watch that sporting event. Some might say that we already have to some degree – regarding at least one of those categories. 🙂

    1. Richard_McCann

      Unfortunately leaving competition to be open to all hormonal aids leads to “a race to the bottom” where everyone has to use PEDs (performance enhancing drugs) which in turn leads to significant physical damage and risks for athletes who are not in good position in their teens and twenties to make informed judgements. We see the consequences of those choices in Eastern European athletes who were doped to the gills from the 1960s to 90s. Reduced NFL players’ life expectancy also reflect the steroid deluge. We cannot put our society in the position of subjecting our gladiators to personal risk just for our entertainment pleasure.


      1. Ron Oertel

        It was not an entirely serious comment.

        But, is anyone really all that upset about Lance Armstrong, etc.? (Other than those in that business/competition.)

        Certainly didn’t make any difference to me.

        And if you are going to start injecting your body with substances, then the issues brought up in the article will arise.

        Who is to say what substances “should” be allowed, vs. what “shouldn’t” (and for what purpose, regarding “validity”)?

        1. Tia Will


          Yes, I was appalled by the Lance Armstrong debacle and I do not follow the Tour de France. A cheat is not a win and should never be claimed as one. Not in academics, not in sports, not in business; and not in politics. Honesty & ethical behavior matter deeply and a loss in those areas is hugely detrimental to our society.

      2. Ron Oertel

        Also, since you mention those in their “teens and twenties” (regarding “informed judgements”), isn’t that similar to what some claim regarding those young people who believe that their bodies do not reflect their gender identity?

  4. Ron Oertel

    Though I’ve got to admit – I’ve never understood how someone could “feel” that they were born into the wrong gender – at least not without some underlying biological cause (which is sometimes the case).

    I’m not sure that our “souls” have genders.

    1. Jacob Derin

      The soul might not have gender, but the brain does. There are interesting MRI studies which indicate structural and functional similarities between the brains of biological males, transgender females and vice versa.

      1. Ron Oertel

        That would be a biological reason, of which I wasn’t aware of. (Thanks.)

        Regardless, I do realize that having a “valid reason” (in the eyes of me, or anyone else) is not a prerequisite for societal acceptance. (That’s where the real problem has been.)

        There do seem to be some people (probably most) who “know” at a very young age.

      1. Keith Olsen

        I didn’t know what cisgender meant either until recently after I read it in a Vanguard article and looked it up.  It’s a fairly new term.  I remember the article, cisgender privileged was mentioned, or as it was termed “cisprivileged”.  So really, a person who identifies with the sex of their birth is now considered privileged?

        So David, does that explain a lot…

      2. Alan Miller

        That explains a lot…

        Apparently, DG, you missed the part where someone already shamed RO for not knowing a relatively recent term used primarily among in a focused community.  I called them out on it and declared “Shame on Shaming!”, and DS removed the shameful post.  You, apparently not seeing that post before it was deleted, then shamed RO for the same reason.  This insider terminology shaming is elitist and shameful.  Shame on Shaming!  But seems The Blogstermeister can get away with what the general public cannot 😐

      3. Ron Oertel

        Thanks, Keith and Alan.

        I’m curious as to what David thinks it “explains”, other than the Vanguard not being a very open or friendly place to learn about and discuss issues regarding its articles.

  5. Richard_McCann

    This debate is much bigger as there are elite female athletes who are not entirely biologically female. The 3 medalists from the last track & field World Champs 800 meters have now been disqualified for having a genetic advantage. Castor Semenya is the most famous of them.

    I come down on restricting access to women with XX chromosomes only. That represents almost 50% of the global population–transgender and non gender people are a small percentage. We can’t design a comprehensive policy that benefits 1% of the population at the significant expense of the other 99%. This is a zero-sum situation.

    Instead, the men’s competition should just be relabeled as “open” competition for those with non-XX chromosomes. No one is entitled to be an elite athlete and elite athletes already start with a certain amount of a genetic advantage. That misgendered individuals might be at a disadvantage just means that they are in the same situation at the other 99.9% of the population.

    1. Ron Oertel

      I come down on restricting access to women with XX chromosomes only.

      That misgendered individuals might be at a disadvantage just means that they are in the same situation at the other 99.9% of the population.

      In other words, lacking privilege. 

      Now, I’m sure that David will chime in stating that this joke “explains a lot”. 🙂

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