top of page
  • Jean Rafferty


Image by Emily Rose, pexels

The article you're about to read was not written for this website. It was originally written for a newspaper, the Dundee Courier. But this afternoon they took it down from the website because of pressure from someone I quoted in it. Anonymously.

You may be unsurprised to hear that the article was about trans women and sport. If there's something guaranteed to get newspapers running scared it's trans issues. The ridiculous thing about all this is that the person mentioned had said everything I quoted and was not mentioned by name. He'd actually suggested I write the article, which was supportive of him and of trans men in general.

For various reasons I hadn't shown it to him before publication. Actually I wouldn't have seen much need to because we agreed about everything in the article and it isn't, in any case, normal journalistic practice with this sort of opinion piece. But he went off the deep end. Although I have tried to support him emotionally for over thirty years, he has become increasingly volatile and has turned on me several times in the past. His need for control led him into complaining to the paper about his lack of privacy. Even Trans Media Watch - who he claims have put me on a black list now - told him there was nothing to link it to him..

But the Courier's editor was 'uncomfortable' with the personal nature of his complaint and withdrew it - in the week when the US Supreme Court overturned nearly fifty years of safe health provision for women by striking out Roe v Wade, and when Julie Bindel revealed she'd been prevented by Nottingham Council from speaking about male violence because her views on trans weren't politically correct enough.

I've fought for women's rights since I was a teenager and refuse to be silenced now. The sad thing is that I care very much about what happens to the complainant and every trans person, but he can't see that the article helped highlight the unfairness of his situation as a trans man.

Image by roxdicarlo at


In a recent cycling race in London the winners were two transgender women who kissed on the podium. Third place went to a biological woman, who brandished her baby instead. She wanted to cuddle her child after losing? Or maybe she was making a point?

Elite women’s sport is the crux of the toxic debate over trans women - FINA, swimming’s ruling body, has just ruled that trans women who’ve gone through any form of male puberty can’t compete in women’s competitions.

I say trans women advisedly because the one group we don’t hear from is trans men. They go through the anguish of body dysmorphia, they’re disadvantaged socially by being brought up as female, with all the inequalities of opportunity and income that entails, and now they’re ignored yet again in the inclusion debate - because the truth is they don’t matter a damn.

Their physicality may have been boosted by testosterone but were they to compete against biological men they wouldn’t have a hope of winning. Their enhanced strength just doesn’t stack up against the many years over which biological males build up greater muscle mass and strength.

And superior oxygen uptake. The castrati were the great stars of 17th and 18th century opera because their voices had the sweetness of women’s, but the lungpower of men’s – women’s lungs are 10 to 12 percent smaller and have smaller conducting airways.

I have a trans friend I’ve known since he was a teenager. He always looked like a little boy though I didn’t know till some years later that he’d always felt like one too. He had upper surgery and went on testosterone. But that wasn’t enough, and after years of torment (and battles with the transphobic people who lived in his area) he elected to have lower surgery too.

He's waited years for this, years of being tossed around the system, while watching trans men elsewhere fast tracked through gender reassignment, some of them regretting it later. He just wants to pass as a man, not muscle his way into acceptance. He reckons a small group of trans women activists are behaving in the entitled fashion of biological men. ‘I’m becoming a TERF,’ he jokes.

But the truth is that opposing trans women’s inclusion in competitive sport doesn’t make you a TERF or transphobic. It simply means you want to see a fair contest.

High level sport depends on small differences, sometimes hundredths of a second. Nobody would have wanted to watch Muhammed Ali pulverising a boxer like the tragic Johnny Owen, nicknamed the Merthyr Matchstick for his fragile appearance. He died at 24 after a knock-out punch by a fellow bantamweight, world champion Lupe Pintor.

He wouldn’t have lasted one round with Ali.

Image by Laura Bodensschatz,

World Rugby banned trans women from competing in women’s games last year after a study showed their presence in a team led to 20-30 percent more injuries to biological women.

In the early 1970s Billie Jean King mobilised women’s tennis players to fight for equality of pay and television screen time but most other women’s sports were invisible for years. In the 80’s I went to the ironically named Trani to interview Rose Reilly, a Scotswoman playing professionally in an Italian league – she was a novelty. The league itself was an anomaly. Italy then was so sexist I had a man hanging out his car shouting Puta (whore) when I was walking alone in the street.

I recently watched a most touching film called Dumplin’ about a fat girl whose mother is a former local beauty queen and now helps run the beauty pageant. Being fat and mouthy is just about the worst thing you can be at the pageant yet Dumplin’ decides to go for it anyway. She enlists the help of gay men performing at a local drag club and they teach her not how to fit in, but how to bend the institution to fit her. Figure out who you are and do it on purpose, says one.

A great deal of traditional gender is performance – girls with makeup and mini-skirts, boys strutting and talking loudly in front of them – and sport is enhanced performance. As Billie Jean said recently, All sportspeople are entertainers.

We no longer have an appetite for unfair entertainment, no longer want to see bulls killed by teams of men or foxes torn apart by packs of dogs. The sporting authorities have fought for years to keep sport clean yet trans women take anti-androgens to block their male hormones, and oestrogen and progestin (a synthetic form of progesterone) to soften their skin and create a rounder body shape. Trans men take testosterone.

If trans people are given their own category, which seems the fairest solution, I reckon it won’t be long before trans men and women will want separate competitions. They’ll want their events to be fair too.

115 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page