Transgender cyclist Emily Bridges doesn’t ‘want special treatment from anyone’. In an ITV interview, Bridges said:
‘I just want the same opportunities as my fellow female athletes’.
As someone who transitioned a few years before Emily, I’d say Bridges is right: transgender people should not need special treatment. We are human beings, just like everyone else. In the UK, at least, trans people have specific and additional protections against discrimination and harassment. But these only become relevant if someone treats us less favourably because we are transgender. That has happened to me very rarely.
Yet in the debate about whether Bridges should be allowed to compete in women’s cycling races, one thing needs to be said: Bridges is not a female athlete. Female-ness is not a feeling in our heads; human beings are female if they are members of the sex that is characterised by ovaries and the production of ova. This shouldn’t be controversial to say; it is true of every sexually dimorphic species that has existed for the last billion years or so.
Sport is segregated by sex in disciplines where women – people with female bodies – would not win very much in open competition with men. In cycling, for example, Chris Hoy holds the world record for the Flying 500 metre time trial. He rode it in 24.758 seconds. The fastest any woman has managed is 28.970 seconds. That is a 17 per cent difference in a discipline where times are measured to a thousandth of a second.
Testosterone has an impact, of course, but history cannot be unpicked. Bridges retains the advantage of male puberty, which can mean a person has bigger lungs and stronger bones.
‘The muscular advantage enjoyed by transgender women is only minimally reduced when testosterone is suppressed,’ according to Emma Hilton and Tommy Lundberg in