Doctor Confirms Transgender Swimmer Lia Thomas Does Have A Biological Advantage

A doctor at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota has insisted that transgender swimmer Lia Thomas has an unfair advantage over women born with female anatomy despite taking testosterone-suppressing drugs. Michael J. Joyner studies the physiology of male and female athletes and tells the New York Times that there’s no way Thomas’s participation in women’s swimming isn’t unfair.

  1. Girls have the advantage before puberty. Girls go through puberty before boys, but once boys reach that stage, the female advantage is quickly wiped out. “You see the divergence immediately as the testosterone surges into the boys,” Dr. Joyner explained. “There are dramatic differences in performances.”
  2. The advantage male swimmers have is apparent. According to records, adult male swimmers at the elite level are on average 10 to 12 percent faster than elite women. This has been true for decades, and it make sense given that high testosterone levels give men “broader shoulders, bigger hands and longer torsos, and greater lung and heart capacity.” In addition, their muscles are denser.
  3. It’s testosterone that is the key. As Dr. Joyner described it, testosterone is the “800-pound gorilla” that determines athletic advantage. “There are social aspects to sport, but physiology and biology underpin it,” he said.
  4. To be clear, Thomas has followed all official rules to participate in women’s swimming. The National College Athletic Association requires transgender athletes to take hormone-suppressing therapy for at least a year in an attempt to undo any biological advantage by those born with male anatomy. However, peer-reviewed studies say that’s not enough and that trans women still have a major edge over biological females.
  5. Thomas’s records in women’s swimming speak for themselves. When competing with men, she ranked 32nd in the 1,6500-yard freestyle, the New York Times notes. Among women, she ranked eighth in the same event and won a race by 38 seconds. In the 200-yard freestyle, she was 554th in men’s swimming; in the women’s, she tied for fifth. She’s a champion in the women’s 500-yard freestyle but was only 65th when competing with men.
  6. Testosterone reduction did not remove Thomas’s advantage. This is according to sports physiologist Dr. Ross Tucker. “Lia Thomas is the manifestation of the scientific evidence. The reduction in testosterone did not remove her biological advantage.”
  7. What the right answer is to this issue is unclear. Thomas identifies as a woman, so it would be unfair to make her compete with men. However, it’s becoming more and more clear that being born with male anatomy has given her an advantage, making it an unfair playing field when she’s able to compete with women. What the right answer is for Thomas and other trans athletes is still up in the air and it’s not an issue likely to be solved anytime soon.
Jennifer Still is a writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience. The managing editor of Bolde, she has bylines in Vanity Fair, Business Insider, The New York Times, Glamour, Bon Appetit, and many more. You can follow her on Twitter @jenniferlstill