US Tennis Association

Table of Content

In 1977 Dr. Renee Richards became sport’s “accidental transgender pioneer” when she won the right to play in the US Open as a woman. Successful in the sport before her transition, Dr. Renee Richards continued to play tennis as a woman after moving to California to start a new life after her reassignment surgery (Eccelshare).

Though soon after Richards was outed as trans by a journalist causing many colleagues to protest her recent acceptance into the US Open and petition for the US Tennis Association to institute chromosome testing (Herman). Chromosome testing would disqualify Richards by revealing the XY chromosomes that she was born with having been assigned male at birth. But Richards fought back. Taking the case to the New York state supreme court she fought the chromosome testing and ultimately won, arguing that she did not have an advantage because of her age, hormone therapy, and reassignment surgery (Wertheim).

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Decades later transgender and gender-variant athletes continue to struggle to compete in professional sports. Gender discrimination in sports has a very little scientific basis and is rooted in xenophobia and patriarchy. Gender variant athletes deserve a spot in the sports arena, this can be created by getting rid of gender-based sports.

While it is thought that trans identities are a new occurrence, gender-variant identities have existed much longer. Hijras of south Asia would today be considered any transgender or gender non conforming person and were well known for centuries until British colonialists made the identity illegal (Diavolo). Two-spirit people of North American indigenous tribes have had recognition among their communities for as long as they have existed, only recently coining the term two-spirit as a unifying identity (Diavolo).

Femminiell, men who dressed as women, in Naples were highly accepted and appreciated. And in ancient Rome, an emperor who identified more with the word empress often dressed as a woman (Diavolo). Gender variance has been around much longer than gender-segregated sports. But gender variant people have been absent from professional sports and continue to be. To understand why we need to know how sports became gender-segregated and how gender testing became mainstream.

Originally, sports were dominated by men in the western world, and after a certain age, women were highly discouraged from taking part in any physical activity for fear that it would damage them or make them too masculine (Heggie). This is why women’s sports were created separately from men’s, women were not suited for sports and not allowed to compete at the same level or pay grade. And because athleticism was thought to be masculine, a woman who excelled in sports would have her gender questioned. This logic was used to expose “gender frauds” who were used to scare the public.

Gender frauds were athletes (mostly women) who were accused of being men in disguise, often associated with eastern European communist countries. fear of gender frauds exploded during the cold war, closely tieing gender fraud fear with xenophobia (Heggie). Additionally, early gender testing maintained westernized ideals of feminity and the feminine physique. Gender testing was instituted in many sports associations including the International Olympics Association to eliminate women who were deemed too masculine. women in the Olympics had to undergo gender confirmation testing in which a panel of doctors decided if a woman was too masculine to compete fairly (Heggie).

This meant however that many women were barred from competing unjustly. One woman recounts her experience with her team having to show a panel of doctors their naked bodies to be judged. One woman who had a small frame and small breasts told her “Well, I failed, I didn’t have enough up top. They say I can’t run and I have to go home because I’m not ‘big’ enough” (qtd. in Heggie).

While these tests were used to judge the validity of women’s gender, no tests were done on male athletes. Gender and sex testing come from a place of xenophobia and fear and discrimination against women and gender-variant people. But these tests are a thing of the past. Now chromosome and testosterone testing are being used to weed out these “gender frauds”.

Many of the concerns about transgender women in sports have to do with the advantage that their larger physique may provide. Dr. Beth Jones suggests that sports categories shift from gendered categories to gender-inclusive size-based categories (Jones). If this were the case gender variance would no longer disrupt competitions.

This also opens professional competitive sports to gender nonconforming, nonbinary, and trans people who chose not to take hormones or have gender confirmation surgery. Going beyond genetics and hypothetical advantages, transgender athletes are athletes and deserve that same chances to compete at the same level as cisgender athletes. It is time for sports organizations, especially the IAAF and IOC to start critically rethinking the structure of competitive sports and create more gender-inclusive opportunities.

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US Tennis Association. (2021, Sep 29). Retrieved from

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