Debunking Veronica Ivy's False Claims About Trans Women in Female Sports
On July 1, Canadian male athlete and trans rights activist Veronica Ivy (formerly Rachel McKinnon) sat down with Trevor Noah on The Daily Show to discuss the debate surrounding the inclusion of trans women in female sports. Ivy, a trans woman, became the first male athlete to win the UCI Women’s Masters Track World Championship in the 35–44 age bracket, and has been a leading voice arguing for including trans women in female sports.
In all honesty, I was fully prepared to witness Noah be a doormat and capitulate to every one of Ivy’s talking points, but was pleasantly surprised at some his honest, common sense pushback. To be clear, it was obvious that Noah was walking a very narrow tightrope littered with eggshells over a field of landmines. He could not simply ask a straightforward question, but was forced to place considerable distance between himself and the questions he was asking by framing them as “SOME people might argue that X, and what would you say to THOSE people?”
What stood out in this discussion was the amount of transparent dishonesty involved in Ivy’s responses, but perhaps this shouldn’t have been very surprising given that the title of Ivy’s PhD dissertation is “Reasonable Assertions: On Norms of Assertion and Why You Don't Need to Know What You're Talking About.” If anything is clear in this interview it’s that Ivy is either truly clueless, or entirely dishonest.
Below is a transcript of Noah’s questions and Ivy’s responses, followed by my rebuttals in bold text. It is my hope that I will be able to shed some light on the common rhetorical tactics and logical fallacies used by gender activists to “win” the debate.
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TREVOR NOAH: Welcome to the show.
VERONICA IVY: Thank you.
TREVOR NOAH: I’m gonna say from the top, because I’ve noticed this happens in every conversation. Every time you bring up trans rights, or if you have a discussion and you say “trans,” people tense up. I understand why. We live in a world where, now, there are people who are so transphobic that it makes it almost impossible for people who aren’t to ask any questions, to have any conversations, to have any discourse that doesn’t lump them in with transphobia. And so I’m really glad that you’re joining us on the show to talk about this, because it feels like one of the biggest issues in America, and yet no one can seem to talk about it.
So, let’s start with your journey. You’ve competed at some of the highest levels in sport. And, you know, as your hoodie says, “sport is a human right.” That is what you believe in.
Talk me through just a little bit of why you believe fighting for transgender athletes to compete in the categories they’d like to in sport is so important.
VERONICA IVY: So, it’s a fundamental tenet of the Olympic movement that sport is a human right. In their Olympic charter, in their fourth Fundamental Principle of Olympism, they say participation in sport is a human right, and they mean that at the competitive level. So, this issue, people like to say that it’s a complicated issue, and I don’t actually think it is. I think it’s very simple. It all boils down to do you actually think that trans women and intersex women are real women, and are really female, or not? And, if you do, it’s very simple—just stop policing who counts as a real woman, because this has had a history of racism built into it over the years.
It’s not an accident that the intersex athletes who get singled out are women of color from the global south. Because who gets singled out for scrutiny is based on white women’s conceptions of femininity, and that’s being weaponized against trans people too. So it’s a fear of “protecting” the fragile, weak, cis white woman from the rest of us.
There is a lot to unpack here. First, Ivy is conflating two things when it comes to her claim that “sport is a human right.” While it may be true that this is a Fundamental Principle of Olympism, it needs to be clearly pointed out that nobody is trying to prevent anyone—including trans people—from playing sports. There is a big difference between banning people from a certain sports category they don’t qualify for (e.g. banning men from the “women’s” category), and banning people from sports entirely. Nobody is trying to do the latter. All that’s being asked of male athletes is that they compete with other male athletes, regardless of how they identify. While everyone has a right to compete in sports, it does not follow that they have the right to compete in any category they choose. Males don’t have a right to compete in the female category any more than heavyweight boxers have a right to compete in the featherweight category.
Second, there is some major sleight-of-hand going on when Ivy attempts to lump in intersex women with trans women regarding the question of whether they count as “real women” and “really female.” This is a common tactic used by trans activists in order to argue for the inclusion of males in female sports. But the policies governing athletes with intersex conditions, or differences of sexual development (DSD), and those relating to trans women, address completely different groups of people for completely different reasons.
People with intersex conditions by definition have some degree of sexual ambiguity, and DSD policies are therefore designed to determine reasonable criteria for deciding which individuals and what types of DSDs are allowed to compete in the protected female category. But trans women are not sexually ambiguous at all—they are unambiguously male—and so it makes no sense to lump them in with intersex people. Ivy is attempting to use the existence of people who have some degree of sexual ambiguity as a wedge for including sexually unambiguous males in female sports. But the conclusion simply does not logically follow from the premise.
Thirdly and lastly, Ivy pulls the race card, saying that “policing who counts as a real woman…has had a history of racism built into it over the years,” and says that it is not surprising that the intersex athletes who get singled out are often “women of color.” Ivy says this is because our society is basing womanhood on “white women’s conceptions of femininity.” But the idea that racism is playing a role here is completely absurd, because the reason more “women of color from the global south” are singled out is due to less rigorous screening of intersex conditions at birth in these locations. And Ivy’s notion that “women of color” are innately more masculine looking—and similar to trans women!—is both false and offensive.
TREVOR NOAH: There are many who would argue—who are not transphobes—many who are born biologically women who’ll say, “But you have an unnatural advantage over me, and that makes the sport unfair.” How do you respond to that?
VERONICA IVY: There’s lots of ways you can respond to that. So, the first is the very language of you were born and I’m not biological somehow? Like, I don’t think I’m a cyborg. So, like, this idea that, like, “Oh, you’re not a biological woman”—well, I am a woman. That’s a fact. I am female. So all my identity records, my racing license, my medical records, all say female. Right? And I’m pretty sure I’m made of biological stuff. So I’m a biological female as well.
So this question of do trans women have an advantage over cis women? We don’t know. In fact, there’s basically no published research on this question. However, there’s good reason to think that there isn’t. But, I think it’s irrelevant, because we allow all kinds of competitive advantages within women’s sport.
So one example I like to talk about is the 2016 Rio Olympic women’s high jump final. First place was over 6-foot 3-inches. Tenth place was 5-foot 5-inches. So 1.5 inch height difference between first and tenth at the Olympics in high jump. And we call that fair. So the range of body types within the female category is way, way bigger than anything that could be attributed to trans women.
So if there’s an advantage—and I’m not saying that there is—for trans women in women’s sport, it’s not an unfair advantage. But also, we’ve been trying to compete at the highest levels for decades. We’ve been allowed to compete for decades, and no one has won an elite world championship. No one has won an Olympic gold medal. This Tokyo Olympics was the first time a trans women even qualified for the Olympics. So this idea that trans women are suddenly going to take over women’s sport is an irrational fear of trans women, which is the dictionary definition of transphobia.
There is some weapons grade obfuscation occurring in this response. Noah correctly refers to people “who are born biologically women” as being separate from trans women. But Ivy attempts to rebut this claim by asserting to be not only a “biological woman” but also “a female.” Because Ivy believes that a woman is an identity, and because she is not “a cyborg,” Ivy takes that to mean she’s a biological woman. But this is a total evasion of what any thinking person means when they refer to a “biological woman,” which is an adult human female.
Ivy also claims to be “a female” because “all my identity records, my racing license, my medical records, all say female.” But there is a world of difference between a document saying you are female and actually being a female. Ivy appears to not understand the concept of a legal fiction, which is where people may be treated legally as being something without literally being that thing. An example of this is in child adoption where biological parents are deemed “legal strangers” and adoptive parents legally become the child’s new parents despite no biological relation.
To highlight the absurdity of Ivy’s statement, we could theoretically create a law whereby someone could be legally considered a squirrel on paper, but to call that individual a “biological squirrel” because they are not “a cyborg” and a piece of paper lists them as a “squirrel” is highly misleading and, frankly, insane.
Ivy then discusses whether trans women have an athletic advantage over female athletes, and claims “We don’t know. In fact, there’s basically no published research on this question. However, there’s good reason to think that there isn’t.” This is just flatly false, as there are two large review papers in the top two sports medicine journals in the world—Sports Medicine, and the British Journal of Sports Medicine—and each of them found that all current evidence demonstrates that the male athletic advantage is only minimally reduced after even three years of testosterone suppression.
The review in Sports Medicine is the most viewed paper in the history of the journal, and it concludes that “current evidence shows the biological advantage, most notably in terms of muscle mass and strength, conferred by male puberty and thus enjoyed by most transgender women is only minimally reduced when testosterone is suppressed as per current sporting guidelines for trans athletes.” The review in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, whose lead author happens to be a trans woman, concludes that “values for strength, LBM [lean body mass] and muscle area in transwomen remain above those of cisgender women, even after 36 months of hormone therapy” and that “These findings suggest that strength may be well preserved in transwomen during the first 36 months of hormone therapy.”
There is simply no excuse for Ivy’s ignorance on this question. Ivy’s claim that there is “basically no published research” on the question of whether trans women have an advantage over female athletes and that “there’s good reason to think that there isn’t,” is simply false at every conceivable scale of resolution. Not only is there good data on this in the best journals, the data unequivocally demonstrates that trans women have a substantial advantage over female athletes.
Lastly, Ivy used the tired argument that because there is substantial trait variation between female athletes, and that sometimes this variation is larger than the variation between some males and some females, then it is not unfair to have trans women compete against females. But this argument ignores the fact that female sports is specifically designed to control for the presence of individuals who went through male puberty. Even though some females are taller or stronger than others, this is considered fair because it is variation within a designated category. Not all boxers within a certain weight class are the same height or have the same wingspan, but it’s considered fair enough for the sake of sport because the single biggest predictor of winning a fight—body weight—is controlled for.
Keep in mind that the exact same arguments Ivy is using to justify including males in female sports can also be used to justify including adults in children’s sports. Plenty of children could school me on the basketball court, but this overlap in ability between children and adults doesn’t mean it’s fair for me to compete against children.
TREVOR NOAH: It’s interesting that you say that, because I think if I were to push back or, even, you know, even—not even playing Devil’s advocate—there are a few things that could be argued. Number one, you could argue that although the trans women who competed in the Olympics didn’t dominate, she did beat a field of women who might have qualified for that position. Right?
Secondly, when you talk about the height differences—I agree with this completely—but there are many who would argue that we exist in a state where a lot of the surgeries are new. A lot of the technology, just the technology, is new. Transgenderism is not new. We know it throughout time, we’ve seen it throughout history. But there are many who would say “How do we ensure that we are creating some sort of standard?” And the reason we talk to this is it’s the reason they have to regulate performance-enhancing drugs, for instance. What is fair? What can you drink? What can you not drink? What can you consume? What can you not consume? Some would say if you are born that way that’s how sport has determined who goes where. And then some would say no, regardless of who you are you should be able to compete.
My question then comes in from a really, honestly, a different place. I look at somebody like Oscar Pistorius from South Africa, right? He was the double amputee. And Oscar Pistorius actually went, “Well, I want to compete in the able-bodies race.” Right? And people were like, “Well, do you have an advantage? Do you not?” etc., etc., because of the prosthetics. But then could there not be an argument if there is no advantage in that, that then trans women should be able to compete but in the men’s races, then? Because they’d still be able to compete in the sport.
VERONICA IVY: But they’re women, and they’re female. So, like I said, this boils down to are trans women really women? Are they really female? Because if you think yes, then we belong competing with other women. So it’s an extreme indignity to say, “I believe you’re a woman, except for sport.” Right? So you can’t single out one of the most important facets of our society. We are obsessed with sport. Athletes are some of the most highly praised, highly paid people on the planet. So you can’t say that, like, “I believe you, and I support you, but not for this one really big thing that society really cares about.”
Here Noah made a significant point—that even if a trans woman doesn’t place first, it is still unfair because she “beat a field of women who might have qualified for that position.” The same could be said of athletes who dope. Is it OK for some athletes to dope if they aren’t placing first? No, because they are performing better than they would have done otherwise. The same goes for trans women, because even if they don’t always win gold, the fact that they went through male puberty means they are performing better than they would have otherwise, and it is unfair because the women’s category is specifically set aside to control for that particular advantage.
Noah also raises the point I mentioned in the introduction—that trans women could still play sports, but in the men’s category.
Ivy’s response is to essentially recite the Central Dogma of Gender Ideology—trans women are women. Ivy says that when somebody suggests a trans woman play in the men’s category, they’re questioning whether trans women are really women and really female. Ivy is essentially daring Noah to refute this claim, which she knows Noah can’t do in front of his progressive audience.
But the simply truth that Noah can’t say publicly is this: trans women are not really women, and they’re not female. And this is why trans women should not be allowed to compete in female sports.
TREVOR NOAH: Right. And I’m saying I get confused by why we distill it down into just two things. I’ll tell you why. As we learn about gender being a spectrum, as we learn that people can identify in a multitude of ways, we accept the fact that we don’t have to put people into categories of man or woman. You know? That’s why they say “protect trans women,” it’s like, otherwise, which women are you protecting? It’s an argument that doesn’t separate or diminish anybody but gives more specificity to what people are saying.
And so when we talk about these things, I sometimes get confused by why we’re trying to force the people into two again when we’ve been taught that there isn’t a two. Whereas, a sport like—let’s say boxing, for instance, people fight across all weight categories. They don’t just go men’s boxing, women’s boxing. They go men—heavyweight, super heavyweight, and then they’ll be like, middleweight, bantamweight, flyweight, featherweight. There’s like guys who weigh nothing punching each other. And I mean this genuinely, because I’ve always thought to myself it’s interesting how in boxing they went, “Well, we don’t just want to see guys fighting, we want to see guys fighting at different weights. The UFC does the same thing. They go, “You’re gonna fight in your weight class.” Which seems crazy. How can you break it down? And yet it’s worked.
And so I wonder if you’ve ever considered, and I’m not saying it’s your job by the way, but if you’ve ever considered a world where it becomes more specific then? You know? The same thing they did in the Paralympics. They had to find a way where they classified how a single amputee could run against somebody who’s partially blind, or a double amputee, and how do we grade that? So, do you not think that we’re limiting ourselves by saying, “Men’s sports, women’s sports,” when we now know that there are so many more genders?
VERONICA IVY: So I’m really gonna dissatisfy you right now.
TREVOR NOAH: Well, you don’t know what I’m looking for though, so you can’t.
VERONICA IVY: I do. I know you’re looking for something other than what I’m gonna say. And that is a very important question and a very difficult question, but it’s a separate question. The question we’re talking about is, given how sport is currently structured, should we include trans women and intersex women in women’s sport? And my answer to that is a clear yes. If you want to say, “Should we revisit how we structure all of sport?” I would say yeah, we should do that. But, if your only reason for doing that is because you can’t just accept trans women are women, that’s a problem I got with you.
Here Noah raises another common misperception about sports, suggesting that we could include males and females together in sports if we just created more categories, such as weight categories. But while this often seems like an enticing solution on its face, in practice it is impossible. This is because for any matched weight class, males are still faster, stronger, and more explosive than female athletes.
Females are not just little men. If you were to create weight classes, what you’d end up seeing is that males would dominate in every weight class, except for possibly the very lightest weights where males become increasingly scarce. Essentially, the only successful female athletes would probably weigh under 80 pounds.
Ivy’s response is to, again, dare Noah to disagree with the Central Dogma that trans women are women. “If your only reason for doing that is because you can’t just accept trans women are women,” says Ivy, “that’s a problem I got with you.”
TREVOR NOAH: I understand. So, let me ask you this then. You know, again, eliminating fringes, because everything on the internet becomes fringe. Everything becomes a fight and an argument. If somebody comes to you in good faith, and I mean genuinely good faith, and they say to you, “You know, Veronica, I was born a woman, raised a woman. I’ve suffered or lived and experienced life as a woman. This is where I am, this is where my body has gotten me to. I’ve grown as a woman. My body’s had the testosterone or estrogen that it had to get me to this point, and that’s why I am here. And I feel like you may or may not have the advantage, but we don’t know yet, so why can’t we wait to know these things before you compete against me?”
How would you respond to that?
VERONICA IVY: Because that’s not how human rights work. So the way human rights work is that the default is inclusion, and the burden of proof is on the people seeking to exclude, not the people seeking to include.
So, I want to share something shocking with everybody. It wasn’t until five years ago that we actually studied the relationship between natural testosterone and performance. And we found that there’s no relationship whatsoever between unaltered, natural, endogenous testosterone and sport performance. About 0.5 percent of elite male track and field athletes at the world championship level, are below the women’s average of testosterone, competing with men with 80 to 100 times as much testosterone, at no competitive disadvantage. And that fact has not been picked up by the broader media landscape.
So, when you say I’m a woman, and I have this much testosterone, well first there’s a huge range within women, into the “male” range. And there is no relationship between her having a competitive advantage over women with lower testosterone. So there are elite cis men with low testosterone, lower than a given woman, who’s outcompeting her. So our bodies and biology is not this simple. We thought it was, and it isn’t.
So we know that when you add testosterone to your natural levels, like doping, you tend to get bigger, stronger, faster. We also know that when you drop your testosterone levels, like trans women tend to do, you tend to get slower. But what your natural level is has no relationship to your sport performance. And we’ve been singling out that factor—testosterone—against the scientific evidence.
First, Ivy’s claim that “the default is inclusion, and the burden of proof is on the people seeking to exclude, not the people seeking to include” is false. We know with certainty that males have a substantial athletic advantage over females. That is our prior background knowledge, and there is no reason whatsoever to believe that males, by simply identifying as female, eliminates this advantage. And we also know that male puberty is irreversible—many of the most significant changes that occur during male puberty do not change either at all or to any significant degree when testosterone is suppressed.
In reality, the default position is therefore to exclude males from female sports, and the burden of proof is on those who claim that there is no advantage to demonstrate it. But we don’t even need to go there, because, as I’ve shown above, those of us seeking to exclude male athletes from female sports went ahead and shouldered a burden of proof that wasn’t even ours to begin with and provided clear evidence that trans women have a significant advantage over female athletes, even after several years of testosterone suppression.
Ivy also claims that “there’s no relationship whatsoever between unaltered, natural, endogenous testosterone and sport performance.” This is also extremely misleading, as Ivy fails to mention that this is only true when looking at only males or only females. But if you compare males and females together there is an enormous effect of testosterone on performance. The reason no difference shows up within male and female athlete populations is because the range of values has been artificially restricted.
For a different example of this, height gives people a clear advantage in basketball generally, though there is no correlation between performance and height in the NBA, even though the average NBA player is around 6-foot 8-inches. How can this be true? This is because restricting the range to people who were good enough to make it to the NBA already includes this general height advantage in addition to individuals who were exceptional enough to make it to the NBA despite not being tall.
In short, Ivy can only make the claim that “there’s no relationship whatsoever between unaltered, natural, endogenous testosterone and sport performance” either through statistical ignorance or conscious dishonesty. My guess is the latter.
TREVOR NOAH: But I’m a little confused, and forgive me if I’m slow to understand this. You just said the natural level doesn’t give you an advantage or disadvantage, but you said that if people do have an addition or a subtraction of it, then it does give you a disadvantage or an advantage.
VERONICA IVY: Well, it effects things. So, for example, like, my body doesn’t produce testosterone, and it hasn’t for a decade, but I switched sports from a road cycling event to a track power event, and I switched training. And I put on 25 pounds of muscle, and I went from being able to squat 170 to 375. So, I don’t produce any testosterone, and I squat a lot. And that’s just because I changed training. So it’s not so simple as, “Okay, if you drop your testosterone, you will get weaker.” Because if you change your training, your diet, your rest and recovery, your sport, your performance can change.
Ivy is suggesting that because testosterone isn’t the only thing that matters for performance, then it can be ignored. Putting aside the statistical ignorance I highlighted above, Ivy’s simple error is a failure to recognize that when an elite female athlete is paired with a similarly elite male athlete in the same sport, the male athlete’s body will respond to similar changes in diet and exercise to a much higher degree than the female athlete. While some females are better athletes than some males, when we look at males and females ranked similarly for their sex category, the male will always outperform the female.
TREVOR NOAH: Your body will change. It seems like we’re always going to end up in a cul-de-sac, because many people use it as a cudgel, I’ve realized, to scare people. “Oh, the transgenders are coming for you. Your bathrooms, your sports.”
VERONICA IVY: Oh we are.
TREVOR NOAH: Be careful what you say. But it feels like there are many discussions to be had. It feels like, as you said, you know, the research, the science, everything hasn’t caught up. But I appreciate you for coming on the show and discussing this with us. Thank you so much for joining me.
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