Gender Ideology Is on Life Support. My Day Watching Lia Thomas Swim
Activists have substituted knowledge with passion.
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Last week I was invited to attend the NCAA Division 1 Women’s Swimming & Diving Championships at Georgia Tech, in Atlanta, GA, where I watched Lia Thomas, the male Penn swimmer who identifies as a woman, become the women’s national champion in the 500y freestyle, soundly beating two Tokyo 2020 Olympic women’s silver medalists Emma Weyant and Erica Sullivan.
I was flown out by the women’s rights organization Save Women’s Sports (SWS), founded by Beth Stelzer, to participate in their organized protest and speak at their press event in support of the sex-based rights of women and girls. But mostly I was there to watch and observe—not just the swimming competition itself, but the reaction of the audience to Thomas’ participation and the surrounding protests. I was also there to hear and learn the views and motives of the trans rights counter-protesters who quickly assembled to oppose SWS’s message and advocate for Thomas’ inclusion in the competition.
While I believe it is an absurdity to allow males to compete in women’s sporting events, I’d like to step back from the “debate” side of things and instead focus on my overall experience and take-aways about this historical event as a whole.
Firstly, it is important to explain what the SWS protest was about, and what it was not about. Despite what Left-wing media, the ACLU, and the signs of the many counter-protesters might have you believe, we were not there to protest the inclusion of transgender athletes in women’s sports. The protest wasn’t even about Lia Thomas, nor did it have anything to do with transgender people whatsoever. The protest was simply objecting to rules that allow for biologically male athletes—regardless of how they “identify”—to unfairly compete against women and girls in sports leagues and events specifically designed to foster the fair play of female athletes.
To make this point abundantly clear, consider the narrative-destroying fact that none of the SWS protesters had any objection to the transgender athlete Iszac Henig, who was also competing at the women’s NCAA Championships that day. That’s because although Henig “identifies” as a man, Henig is female and does not take exogenous testosterone, and therefore has no unfair advantage over other female athletes. If SWS were truly opposed to transgender athletes per se competing in women’s sports, shouldn’t they also be protesting the inclusion of transgender swimmer Iszac Henig? One would think.
As I sat in the stands, the gravity of what was taking place during the competition didn’t really sink in. If you were invited to the event and not told explicitly what was occurring, it’s very likely that you wouldn’t have noticed anything out of the ordinary. Each event is over shortly after it begins, and it’s easy to miss the details from the stands. But because I was aware of the circumstances, I was able to notice the subtle and not-so-subtle ways the audience reacted to Thomas.
What stood out to me initially was the almost total absence of “boos” directed toward Thomas during swimmer announcements. Instead, Thomas’ announcement coincided with a very sudden and noticeable drop in the volume of applause. The same drop occurred at the end of each race Thomas won. But the most dramatic drop of all occurred at the podium ceremony as the swimmers’ names were announced in reverse order, from third to first.
After Thomas’ event, I left to join the SWS protesters outside the McAuley Aquatic Center. I’m not much of the chanting type, so I mostly just observed. What became apparent was just how many of those attending the swimming event supported SWS’s message. Nearly everyone leaving the event who was offered a SWS sticker that read “SAY NO TO MALES COMPETING AS FEMALES” happily accepted them. Many smiled and gave a thumbs-up. Furrowed brows, middle fingers, and profanity directed at SWS protesters were almost nonexistent from the crowd.
Across the street was a growing group of college-aged counter-protesters waving a transgender flag and holding signs with messages like “Hate has no place @ GT [Georgia Tech]” and “We support trans/queer athletes.” Given that the SWS protests were neither hateful nor about “trans/queer athletes,”—it was about male athletes—I decided to engage with them to better understand their perspective.
I found the counter-protesters to be well-intentioned. Most were silent, some were polite, and a few were snarky and verbally aggressive. But what they all shared was passion as a substitute for knowledge. After very little questioning it became clear that they knew next to nothing about the topic they were so passionately out defending.
One of the counter-protesters seemed interested in data, confidently asserting that there wasn’t any good data demonstrating that transgender women who have lowered their testosterone levels have an unfair advantage over female athletes. Being close to the data on this issue, I responded that their claim simply wasn’t true, and that there were currently two literature reviews published in the most prestigious sports medicine journals in the world—Sports Medicine, and the British Journal of Sports Medicine. These studies corroborated each other’s results demonstrating that hormonal suppression does very little to close the large performance gap between male and female athletes. And, though it doesn’t really matter, the first author of the latter review is a trans woman.
The activists had somehow never heard of these review papers. “Were they peer reviewed?” they asked. Yes. “By who?” The journal editors and expert reviewers they selected. “How many people were in the studies?” These are review papers, so they include all individuals from every study on the topic. “Can you show me the studies?” Yes, here. That is how far I got with one of the activists before a security guard instructed me to go back to “my” side of the road to join the SWS protesters.
It was shocking to me that people with such a tenuous-to-nonexistent grasp of the relevant facts and data could not only be out protesting with such passion, but doing so while purporting to care about facts and data. When you haven’t spent even three minutes on Google Scholar doing a basic literature review on a subject, you shouldn’t hold such strong opinions.
Though exasperating, the entire experience left me feeling optimistic. The facts are on our side, and the counter-protesters are doing nothing more than riding the wave of cultural momentum made possible by the “LGBT” movement’s earned credibility on gay rights. But unlike the current trans rights movement that’s fundamentally rooted in Queer Theory, the gay rights movement never required anybody to adopt reality-denying ideologies, and that’s what gave it such strength.
At some point, and I suspect it will be soon, the force of cultural pushback in response to the excesses of gender ideology will begin to prevail. People know what a woman is, and they also understand where the moral harm truly resides in this debate. Stark absurdities, like what occurred at the NCAA Women’s Championships last week, will only fast-track gender ideology’s demise. Reality can only be warped so much before it eventually snaps back to reclaim its original form, and more and more people are everyday becoming privy to the destructive nature of the current gender madness.
Reality’s Last Stand, is a publication and weekly newsletter by evolutionary biologist Colin Wright, designed to help keep you informed on the issues and news pertaining to the troubling rise of sex denialism and gender ideology throughout society. The newsletter is published once per week on Monday, and there will be one free newsletter per month in addition to regular free articles.
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Good summary, and the GLBT point was quite relevant. Gays asked for the freedom to exist without punishment, the freedom to have sexual relationships with whom they wish, and the freedom to marry whom they love, which never denied freedoms to anyone else. I suspect when the zeitgeist reframes this as an issue of women having the freedom to compete in sports fairly (a hard-won freedom which includes title-IX issues), then the sadness of biological men preventing women athletes from competing will be stopped. I’m waiting for the first Title-IX challenge, which may redefine the “playing field” so to speak. “Freedom to compete unfairly” won’t work very well as a rallying cry.
Good article! I think it's great that women's groups are able to leverage your knowledge for these more significant events or protests such as this NCAA swim competition. You can help them stand ground against claims made against them.
I think it was also really important that you engaged the opposition, listened to what they have to say, and then offered alternative with data. Given that you sensed the passion I would assume this also means emotionally driven thought. It's very hard to persuade people when in this emotional reasoning vs logical reasoning but it sounds like you were able to make at least one member think more deeply about what they were standing for and begin to ask questions. This is the first step! And they'll likely go look up the studies after talking to you. In this same way that ideas can spread exponentially I think they can also decrease. As you educate gender activists and they are viewed as defecting it might cause observers to also start questioning.
Always tough to stay patient and calm during these but sounds like you did it well! Keep up the good work. This article gives an optimistic outlook on this area and is good to hear in these troubling times.