Do transgender athletes really have an unfair advantage?

Doctor who performs hormone therapy for transgender patients says it's 'case-by-case situation'
Posted at 8:18 AM, Mar 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-24 09:07:20-04

The conversation into whether transgender athletes have an unfair advantage over female competitors has reignited this week after Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a proclamation declaring Sarasota native Emma Weyant the real winner of a NCAA swim meet in the 500-yard freestyle event.

During the competition, Weyant was defeated by Lia Thomas, a transgender athlete who underwent gender reassignment surgery in 2019.

Thomas defeated Weyant, an Olympic silver medalist, by more than one second. Yet, if she had the same time during the 2019 race, she would have placed third.

Thomas placed fifth and eighth in her other two races at the competition.

Though the overall competition saw 27 all-time NCAA records broken, Thomas didn't break any of them. Thomas' win trails Olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky's 2017 record by about nine seconds. That's a lot of time in swimming.

Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas waits for preliminary heat, March 17, 2022
Pennsylvania's Lia Thomas waits for a preliminary heat in the NCAA women's 500-yard freestyle swimming championship start, March 17, 2022, in Atlanta.

Dr. Maureen Whelihan performs hormone therapy for transgender patients in South Florida. She said each case is unique.

"I think it would be a case-by-case situation based on how long did you spend as a male before you became female," said Whelihan. "How much muscle mass did you develop as a male before you became female? So, it really wouldn't be cut and dry. You need to have some formula to begin with."

Whelihan said a large determining factor could be when the patient underwent gender reassignment surgery and what is the history of the patient pre-surgery.

"You really have to separate the patients or the individuals by how developed they've gotten as individual in the 'X-Y' before they started transitioning to a woman and, boy, that would be a lot to sort through, because there are such variations in that," said Whelihan.

Whelihan said patients can retain muscle mass up to four years post gender surgery. However, without normal male testosterone production, those muscles would not sustain the same amount of strength.

Last year, DeSantis signed a bill banning transgender athletes from competing in female sports at the high school and collegiate levels, making females' eligibility to compete in female sports based on their biological sex given at birth.