Parenting A Transgender Child Through Sports Bans

Parenting A Transgender Child Through Sports Bans<br />
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Apr 2023

Parenting A Transgender Child Through Sports Bans
Ed. note
: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on motherhood in the legal profession, in partnership with our friends at MothersEsquire. Welcome Laura Altieri to our pages. Click here if you'd like to donate to MothersEsquire.

Tonight is my son's first sleepover. He's been excited about it for two weeks. And while he is thinking of a night of "no sleep," candy, and Pokemon card trading, I am hemming and hawing over whether to divulge to his buddy's parents that despite seeming entirely "boy," my child was born female. At 8 years old, my son -- let's call him Max -- is quite lucky that we live in a liberal enclave full of everything Ron DeSantis hates. At 4 years old, my kid told me and everyone at preschool that he wanted to be known as Max and as "he," and so it was. The amount of push back he has received is negligible. One way we avoid trouble is by "passing." He is a boy in all things. Uses the men's bathrooms, even in airports where it scares me, but that is consistent with who he feels to be and with how he presents.

I worry about many things still ahead: puberty, middle school, love and relationships, social media, and finding his way. One thing I have not lost sleep about is his chance at becoming an Olympian. Max loves soccer and he plays on a Boys U10 team. They are pretty good this year. No one would know he is different from the other boys on the team.

The day I write this reflection is also the day the World Athletics Council, the governing body of international track and field competitions, banned transgender women athletes from elite competition. The World Athletics Council declared this decision would affect "no one." As the parent of a transgender child, I promise you that is not true. There may be no athletes immediately affected at the elite professional level, but it is hard to overestimate the knock-on effect on college and younger kids.

Nineteen states have banned transgender athletes from playing on sports teams that do not align with the gender indicated on the student's birth certificate, and there are many more bills cruelly slashing their way through state houses. The first law passed, in Idaho in 2020, is currently being challenged in Hecox v. Little, Appeal No. 20-35813 (9th Cir. 2022) (appealing a preliminary injunction). Some state laws are not bans but require varying degrees of "sufficient" steps taken toward transition. Three states require evidence of gender-affirming surgery for an athlete to play on their chosen team, and several states require one year of gender-affirming medicine. Some state athletic policies allow a school principal (how many of them are doctors?) to declare the student's gender (Pennsylvania) and require several officials verify a student's "bona fide" gender identity (Virginia).

Millions of kids live under these rules. If you assume 5% of people are transgender, that is about a million kids who cannot play their chosen sport. Why? Why do all these kids -- many of whom have had to undergo bullying, unsupportive families, and a gamut of other trials to accept their own gender -- now have to out themselves or agree to play on a gendered team with which they do not identify? Sports are supposed to be fun while teaching teamwork, leadership, and dedication. We tell kids that winning and losing are not the point. So why on this issue do we run from the opportunity to learn about teamwork, dedication, getting along, and not focusing on winning? It is as if efforts to push this anti-trans policy throw away the teamwork script in favor of insisting that it's not fair for girls to have to play with noncisgender girls. If the mission of sport leagues is "to teach life lessons that build stronger individuals and communities" (Little League) and "to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit" (Olympics) -- there's no reason why these goals require the rigid separation of genital identity.

Why is it fairer to out these kids and tell them that if they want to play, they will do so as a member of a gender they do not believe they belong to, or have spent years garnering up the courage to disavow? Why would a child like mine -- who is accepted as boy in all other realms -- suddenly have to surrender his identity and play soccer on a girls' team?

Animating the push for the laws is a will to control -- and I suspect punish -- trans kids and adults. The rules rely on the sloppy and unfounded logic that transwomen must be superior athletes to cisgender women. There is no research showing transwomen have an advantage over ciswomen. Individual abilities vary immensely: height, muscle mass, financial ability to pay for extras, lung capacity, etc. So while there is very little research on the sports-improving effects of testosterone or testosterone suppression, states seemingly are making up support to prove their own desired points.

There's also a fear of boys in drag infiltrating the girls' locker room, which is how some politicians have couched this issue. But private dressing spaces can be provided. Most kids would prefer them! I will refrain from reciting the names or crimes of the many adult coaches and team doctors inappropriate touching of athletes we have seen in the news, but frankly I'm more scared of an assault from an adult in a position of authority than from another kid.

The idea of letting a school official "declare" my son's gender also makes me very nervous. No one should have to choose between identifying as who they are or masking in order and experience the many joys sports and teams bring. It's extremely insulting and potentially psychologically damaging to tell a person: "I believe that you are who you say you are in all respects except for this one. The sanctity of the baseball diamond (or track) outweighs your right to express who you are."

As a mom, I hold a lot of fears about what my son will face in the future. Being blocked from playing his beloved sports because some politicians want to use his identity as a political football should not be one of them.

Parenting A Transgender Child Through Sports Bans
Laura Altieri is the head of Legal for Clif Bar & Company, LLC, which she joined after stints in wine, cannabis and canned foods businesses. She is a double Bear graduate of UC Berkeley (BA, JD) and holds an MA from The Johns Hopkins University. She is the proud single mom of a dyslexic, transgender child and is grateful for the ways parenting has opened up new worlds and plucked her into new legal quandaries.