Running into the gender revolution: Transgenderism and the Boston Marathon

April 13, 2018

April kicks off marathon season. I’m in the middle of training for the Nashville Marathon on April 28. It isn’t often that my love for long-distance running intersects with the topic I have written a book on—like transgenderism.

But with the world’s most prestigious marathon happening next Monday in Boston, and with news that the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) is allowing transgender athletes to compete in its famed marathon, it raises questions about whether basic fairness in athletic competition can coexist alongside the gender revolution and political correctness. The answer appears to be no.

According to the Boston Herald, five transgender women are participating in the 2018 Boston Marathon. For those unclear on the terminology, a transgender woman is a biological male who self-identifies as female. This is not the first time that transgender athletes have participated in Boston, but this year, the Boston Athletic Association is clarifying its position on the matter. “We take people at their word. We register people as they specify themselves to be,” Tom Grilk of the Boston Athletic Association is reported saying to the Boston Herald.

The article quotes a scientist who fully acknowledges the tilted imbalance in favor of male athletes who are competing against women due to physiological factors. The article also cites a counterview by another scientist, alleging that “there’s no physiologic advantage to being assigned male at birth.”

How a reputable scientist can make such a claim against all lived experience, commonsense, and scientific data is astounding and demonstrates the ideological falsehoods made to bolster the legitimacy of transgender women (biological males) competing against women.

Here’s the dilemma: If biological males are allowed to compete as women under the philosophically problematic category of “gender identity,” how can competition be considered fair to women?

Statistically speaking, males have physiological advantages over females when it comes to sports performance. To make this observation is not to denigrate female athletics or demean female design. It is to make an objective observation, an observation that explains why athletics have traditionally remained segregated by sex. This acknowledgement protects the integrity of the sexes, the integrity of athletic competition, and allows men and women to play on level ground.

Christians ought to proudly defend the equality of the sexes in God’s eyes, because he made them in his image.

Sex segregation in athletic competition results from recognizing the differences in male and female biology. Sex differentiation is a biological reality that follows from God making humanity male and female. The differences in males and females are stark: Different chromosomes, different reproductive designs, different bodily structures, and more.

Christians ought to proudly defend the equality of the sexes in God’s eyes, because he made them in his image. At the same time, males and females are not the same, biologically speaking. Their bodily organization produces different bodily design, and this design manifests physiological differences that produce clear-cut disparities in athletic performance. Males, as a general population, are faster and stronger than females. This is especially true in distance running, where men, as a whole, produce faster times compared to women.

A host of differences contribute to increased male performance in running. According to a 2005 Sports Medicine journal article, “Running Performance Differences in Men and Women,” men have greater aerobic capacity, which makes them faster. This basic difference in men and women is the increased oxygenation rate of men over women. This is due to an increased heart size and greater ability to pump blood, the ability to create more red blood cells, and capability to produce hemoglobin from the production of testosterone. Men also have lower body fat percentages.

How should we respond?

So, what should we make of the decision to allow transgender women to compete with females?

First, it should be stated upfront that transgender women are not women. They are biological males who may or may not experience gender dysphoria that lead them to want to identity and live as women. This is not to be harsh or condemning, but truthful (Eph. 4:15). Christians should have no part in demeaning individuals who struggle with their own internal sense of gender. However, no amount of self-assertion and self-identity can override the objective biological reality of maleness. So we should be abundantly clear on what the Boston Athletic Association is allowing: They are allowing men to compete against women.

Second, by allowing men to compete in the same division as women, the Boston Athletic Association is violating a basic principle of fairness. Fairness is based on treating similar things the same way. It is unjust, for example, to use skin color as a basis for denying a black person a hotel room while at the same time allowing a white person to access one. Skin color is irrelevant to a person’s need for housing. But treating men and women differently is appropriate since, well, men and women are different when it comes to bodily distinctions and athletic performance. Treating transgender women as though they are real women is not treating women fairly, since males have a physiological advantage over women.

Third, this ought to show how far the transgender movement has reached into American culture and the level of success it has attained, despite the consequences and inconsistencies that occur from blurring sex and gender.

Fourth, this event demonstrates the fundamental hypocrisy of a culture that esteems fairness and equality, but undermines both to serve the cause of political correctness.

Fifth, the confusion that stems from blurring gender and denying the authority of biological sex is a grievous departure from God’s authority over creation. God’s lordship over creation is manifest in how he has designed men and women as distinct phenotypes. Our design as men and women is a revelation of God’s will for creation. In this, Christians declare that Christian and non-Christian alike can understand the difference between men and women. Our design reflects God’s providential governance over the world. When culture suppresses this truth, it robs God of his glory and lordship over creation, and subverts human action in society.

The Boston Athletic Association is serving its own interests by wanting to avoid controversy in allowing transgender women to compete as women. It is doing a disservice to culture by groveling to falsehood and violating the integrity of athletics. In a culture that is wanting to esteem and value women and womanhood, the BAA is undercutting both.

Andrew T. Walker

Andrew T. Walker is Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Fellow with The Ethics and Public Policy Center. Read More