Dude Looks Like a Lady – Ivy League Swimming Style
Rock group Aerosmith released a song in 1987 entitled, “Dude looks like a lady” about a man with an effeminate appearance who could be mistaken for a woman. Today the inverse is playing out in the athletic world, where a lady who looks like a dude -- a male who has transitioned to a female as much as basic biology permits -- is making a mockery of women’s sports.
I speak of Lia Thomas, a transgender University of Pennsylvania swimmer who, last week, “Dominates 200-yard freestyle at Ivy League swimming championships and sets a new tournament record.” But Lia wasn’t always a woman swimmer. In fact, not too long ago she was a dude; but she looks more like a lady these days, yet she still swims like a dude, and that is where the problem lies.
Lia Thomas wins the 200-yard freestyle Ivy League 2022 women's championship by a wide margin
This saga began last fall and, in brief, involves a University of Pennsylvania swimmer named Will Thomas, an unremarkable member of the men’s team whose life and swimming career went on hiatus due to COVID. During his year off, Will the dude became Lia the lady and is now a member of the Penn women’s swim team. While a mediocre men’s swimmer, Lea is anything but as a women’s swimmer. “UPenn trans swimmer, 22, sparks outrage by smashing women’s competition records after competing as a man for three seasons.”
As a female swimmer, Lia is the phenomenon she would not likely have been as a male swimmer. Sports Illustrated describes last week’s accomplishments,
Lia Thomas, a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, set an Ivy League record for fastest 200-yard freestyle Friday evening to earn her second victory at the Ivy League Swimming and Diving Championships.
Thomas completed the freestyle in a minute and 43.12 seconds, which was .66 seconds faster than the previous record set by Harvard’s Miki Dahlke in 2020. She won the 500-yard freestyle on Thursday, completing that event in four minutes and 37.32 seconds.
Thomas, a transgender woman, set a variety of school records this year, and is also preparing to participate in the NCAA championships in March
A transgender swimmer must do far more than just wear a women’s swimsuit. Testosterone levels play an important role in determining whether a dude can compete in college and other elite sports as a lady. The sporting regulatory authorities tied themselves into pretzels over this.
At issue are the Division 1 NCAA swim championships. Rather than taking a “follow the science” stand on the physiologic implications of biologic men competing as women, the NCAA punted to the individual national governing sporting authorities, letting them decide how to handle this novel and politically charged issue.
USA Swimming determined that trans athletes need testosterone levels below a certain threshold for 36 months. For Thomas, this was a problem as she started transitioning 33 months ago. Now, no one is interested in enforcing this policy or even deciding whether to keep it or revise it yet again. Are they following the science or the politics of the day?
300 current and former elite swimmers have weighed in on this issue, not taking a knee like their brethren in other sports, but through an open letter to the NCAA. Legitimately, they are against policy decisions changing mid-season and ambiguous rules and regulations. But they push the virtue signaling with, “No one should be denied the opportunity to have their life changed through swimming simply because of who they are.”
There is a not-so-subtle distinction between who one is, as in biology, and who one wants to be, as in gender fluidity. And what about the biologic female athletes, who they are, not winning league championships or setting records because they happen to be swimming next to a biologic male who through testosterone and biology is a faster swimmer?
Testosterone level is only one thing that separates the dudes from the ladies. The IOC correctly notes, “A number of scientific papers have recently shown people who have undergone male puberty retain significant advantages in power and strength even after taking medication to suppress their testosterone levels.”
Puberty is when boys differentiate from girls through muscle mass, strength, and power. Once the engine is built, adult testosterone levels matter comparatively little. This means that a trans female swimmer keeping her testosterone level below a certain number makes little difference at this point since she went through male puberty years earlier.
Rather than following the science, let us look at actual results; say, the women’s 200-meter freestyle swim event, the one where Thomas won the Ivy League championship and set a tournament record. Specifically in the Tokyo 2020 games, the women’s gold medal time was 1:53.50 for Ariane Titmus, an Australian swimmer.
The men’s gold medal time was 1:44.22, a full 9 seconds faster than the women’s gold medal time. In fact, all men’s final and semifinal times were faster than the women’s winning time. In the heats, only one male swimmer posted a slower time than Ariane Titmus. In other words, virtually any male Olympic swimmer competing as a female would have taken the women’s gold medal.
How is that fair? In this day and age, where life, especially at colleges and universities, revolves around equity, tolerance, and diversity, how does a biologic male competing as a female, regardless of testosterone levels or levels of wokeness, demonstrate equity?
If biological men can compete as women, it makes women’s sports irrelevant. And dismisses the years of early morning swim practices and sacrifices girls and their families made to have a chance to compete against other girls and women on an equal playing field, or in this case swimming pool.
There are several ways out of this mess. One is to make sports a free-for-all where any and all human beings compete in sport, regardless of age, size, weight class, gender, or any other characteristic which creates an uneven playing field. A second option is to set up a third sporting category or even sporting event for those whose genders do not conform to the previously acceptable men’s and women’s categories, mainly transgender athletes. This would be more inclusive and provide them with an equitable forum to compete against each other.
Or finally, leave competitive sports alone, with only two categories for competition, those with XX chromosomes and those with XY chromosomes, a binary option regardless of one’s identified gender or preference. This follows biologic science, not political science.
Otherwise sporting regulatory authorities will twist themselves into woke pretzels, trying to appease the “fairness mob,” and instead only hurt the athletes they claim to support and represent.
Photo credit: YouTube screengrab
Brian C Joondeph, MD, is a physician and writer. On Twitter as @retinaldoctor.