‘What about non-binary skaters?’ Skating bosses face immediate questions after releasing new rules for transgender competitors

16 Aug, 2021 09:13 / Updated 3 years ago

Women who transition to men can compete without restriction and men becoming women will be required to take hormone level tests, according to new figure skating rules which have drawn a mixed reaction.

Bosses at the International Skating Union (ISU) have produced eligibility criteria for transgender athletes aiming to compete under its lead, offering an emphasis on respect for the dignity of individuals and the prohibition of "abuse" or "harassment".

The document states that women who transition will be allowed to continue to compete in women's events until they begin hormone treatment, receiving a certificate to compete as a 'Man in the Competition' in the men's category once they have a signed declaration of their new gender identity. 

The situation is more complex for men transitioning to women, as was the case in perhaps the most controversial story of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, when super-heavyweight weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, who was born a man and went through puberty, briefly competed as a transgender athlete in the women's category.

In skating, transgender women must show their total serum testosterone level has been below five nanomoles per liter continuously for at least 12 months prior to a competition – half the level currently required in weightlifting.

When that criteria is met, the ISU will confirm the skater as a 'Woman in the Competition' with written confirmation. The declaration cannot be changed for sporting purposes for at least four years.

Skaters who are not eligible for the women's competition will be allowed to compete in men's competition "to avoid discrimination", the union said, adding: "The eligibility conditions established in these Regulations are driven solely by the desire to guarantee fairness and safety within the sport.

"In no way are they intended as any kind of judgement on or questioning of the gender identity or the dignity of any transgender skater."

Some of the first fans to react to the news on social media offered praise and voiced worries over the announcement. "One of my concerns is that the ISU is choosing to leave restrictions up to federations," said one.

"Some federations may choose to be unduly strict and impose restrictions that would work against the dignity of the individuals.

"I am also concerned with the testosterone testing that will now be seemingly enforceable. We've seen in other sports that testosterone testing has been unevenly applied and excluded women from competing."

Another asked: "What about non-binary skaters? What about natural variation in testosterone levels?

"What is your proof that higher testosterone confers an athletic advantage in figure skating?

"This policy will have harmful effects on both cis and trans women who don’t match gender norms or who look too masculine. Judging from other sports, it will almost certainly harm women of color more.

"Policing the boundary of womanhood hurts all women – and will traumatize even the women who can prove they meet the arbitrary hormone level. This is not what inclusion or feminism looks like."

A reader with fewer misgivings responded: "I think it seems fair. But I am very curious to hear what our transgender athletes feel. If they are happy, I’m in full support."

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