The Soul Surfer’s Transphobia Hurts All Women

Anti-trans policies don’t protect cisgender women. Rather, they do more harm than good.

Valentine Wiggin

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Bethany Hamilton (a White woman with an amputated arm) wearing blue surfing gear while surfing in the ocean
Bethany Hamilton surfing. Source: Troy Williams on Wikimedia Commons

Bethany Hamilton, the famous amputee surfer, has recently announced that she will not compete against transgender women and, as such, is boycotting World Surf League-hosted events. The World Surf League now allows trans women to compete in its competitions. Calling them “male-bodied individuals”, Hamilton went on to say that “male-bodied dominance” has been seen in sports like swimming and running. After that, Hamilton failed to provide any examples of this alleged dominance.

Before the advent of more flexible guidelines and efforts to include transgender and intersex athletes, various measures were put in place to ensure that they were, indeed, female. Physical exams, genetic testing, and hormonal testing as a form of gender verification have been put in place for nearly a century. However, these tests ended up hurting cisgender women by subjecting them to invasive examinations of their genitalia and medical history. Some are even coerced into taking medication and receiving surgeries.

It also is worth mentioning that sports are as a whole not a monolith and that any supposedly advantageous characteristics that trans women may retain after hormone therapy are actually disadvantageous in some sports. For example, cisgender women tend to do better when it comes to endurance or flexibility than cisgender men. However, these advantages aren’t discussed nearly as often in conversations about trans athletes on the elite level.

Regardless of the nature of the sport, efforts to exclude trans women from sports tend to open a can of worms for their cisgender counterparts. This even plays out on the amateur level, such as when Utah parents requested sex verification of a girl who beat their daughter in a high school sporting event. Anti-trans policies have, time and time again, endangered all female athletes by subjecting them to scrutiny if they fail to live up to femininity standards of the time.

As a cisgender woman myself and former admirer of Bethany Hamilton, I can honestly say that attempts to hurt trans women end up hurting all women. At best, sex verification subjects female athletes to invasive and costly examinations. At worst, it alienates women who don’t meet the standards set by regulatory bodies and sets them up to be attacked and discriminated against.

Hamilton proposed having a third division for trans competitors, but this would not be feasible. Even if it were, it would encourage harassment and discrimination against these athletes. It also sends the message that anyone who doesn’t strictly fit a set male or female standard isn’t really a man or a woman. This mindset is one that hurts us all whether cis or trans. I can only hope that Hamilton has a change of heart so that she doesn’t end up dragging her teammates through the sand.

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Valentine Wiggin

Death-positive, sex-positive, and LGBTQ-affirming Christian. Gen Z. I hate onions. She/her