Out of Bounds: The Incompatibility of Transgenderism and Sports

September 30, 2016

I love watching my sons play baseball in our backyard. The competition is lively, and sometimes leads to heated disagreements about rules between an eight-year old, a six-year old, and a four-year old. Typically, when such disagreements surface, I, the father, am called in for consultation. And, more often than not, the disagreement is rooted in a misunderstanding or violation of the rules. Rules, the predetermined, absolute, objective standards that govern the play of a particular sport, are essential to the game. Without objectivity, there is no sport; only exercise or chaos.

The objectivism that is foundational to the concept of sports, however, is being undermined by the emotivism of the transgender movement. “Emotivism,” as defined by ethicist Louis P. Pojman, “holds that moral judgments do not have truth value but are expressions of one’s attitude.” The result, as Pojman notes, is that these “judgments express one’s feelings and help them to persuade others to act as they desire.” The reality described by Pojman is precisely what is happening as transgender people move from an argument for personal definition of gender to an argument for public validation in the world of sports. Emotivism’s move from “one’s attitude” to “persuasion” is clear in the case of transgenderism and sports. The goal is no longer self-determination, but rather, societal affirmation.

To one degree, utilizing sports to validate one’s self-defined gender makes sense, given the fact that athletic competition clearly demonstrates the physiological differences between the male and female. If a biological male identifies as a female, then one of the ways to “prove” he is a female is to put himself in scenarios that allow comparison. (This also shows up in the recent gender-specific bathroom controversies.) The argument is not really about one’s self-definition. It is about that self-definition being forced upon others for acceptance. If a man who identifies as a woman prefers to tee off from the red tees at the golf course or use an undersized basketball at his house, no one is really all that concerned. Yet, when recreation becomes competition, the acceptance of objective norms and standards are necessary. When the transgender movement attempts to commandeer athletics as a mechanism of public persuasion, the narrative of the individual athlete’s self-identification necessarily dies. Sports are not about self-expression, but instead, communal, competitive activity governed by predetermined, objective rules. Thus, wielding sports as a tool for public validation is a self-defeating proposition. The subjective self-identification of transgenderism cannot co-exist with the concepts of objectivism, integrity, and justice, which are fundamental to sports.

As a Christian who believes that God created male and female in His image and revealed how the matters of gender are to be understood biologically, psychologically, and sociologically, I perceive significant problems with transgenderism. Yet, even an unbeliever should be able to judge the implications of the transgenderism worldview as untenable. The loser of this debate is not just the woman who is forced to accept as true her male competitor’s self- identity as a female, it not simply the women who for decades have been helped by Title IX provisions, but also and most importantly, the foundation of truth itself. It is the height of moral insanity to believe that athletic participants can determine their own gender, force others to acknowledge that gender, and then participate in a sport as if objectivity existed. Or to put it in the form of question, if something as fundamental as gender can be self-determined in sports, why can’t the very rules and standards of those sports be “self-determined” as well? Who has the authority to draw such lines? Ultimately, the transgender movement cannot answer such questions with any degree of ideological consistency. Its worldview is fundamentally opposed to an objective reality that transcends personal expression. Make no mistake, this is an “either/or” decision. It is impossible to embrace the worldview of transgenderism without undermining the foundational principles that govern sports.

Casey B. Hough
Casey B. Hough is pastor of First Baptist Church of Camden, Arkansas, and a PhD student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.