Alex Massie Alex Massie

What the cancelling of JK Rowling is really about

JK Rowling (photo: Getty)

Shall we start with an easy question? As a general rule, would it be appropriate for a 15-year-old boy to enter athletic or sporting competitions restricted to children under the age of 12? I fancy that, like most people, you think the answer to this is ‘No’ – just as you accept that it would be wrong to match a heavyweight boxer with a welterweight. A mismatch is all but guaranteed. It is a question of fairness.

So let’s ask another, slightly more challenging, question. As a general rule, is it appropriate for people born male to enter women’s sporting competitions? Some people think so, even when those contests are in sports in which men, by virtue of their greater strength, enjoy a significant advantage. Thus under current regulations Laurel Hubbard, formerly known as Gavin, and in her youth a champion weightlifter in New Zealand before she changed gender around seven years ago, is eligible to compete in women’s competitions. She has since twice won her class in the Oceania weightlifting competition.

And good luck to her, you may feel like saying. Her testosterone levels are low enough to make her eligible to compete and that’s all that need be said on the subject. Except that, unfortunately, it is not. Some of Hubbard’s rivals object to competing against someone who has lived – and trained – as a man for most of their life.

Nor is Laurel Hubbard just a one-off. It may be rare for natal males to be competing in women’s sports, but it is becoming less and less rare. You may, again, feel this is only fair. Transgender athletes must be given the opportunity to compete. But then some of you may also feel that this is unfair. You may feel that, especially in sports that rely on strength and explosiveness, natal males have an unfair advantage over their female-born rivals.

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