Trans women like swimmer Lia Thomas in female sport is ‘just not fair’ – and ‘everyone needs to calm down’ about J.K. Rowling: Trans celebrity Caitlyn Jenner offers a dose of common sense (PS She also hates cancel culture and all things woke)
On the coveted cover of the latest issue of Sports Illustrated magazine, there is a striking image of the transgender swimmer Lia Thomas, ploughing her way through water, sleek and powerful.
The 22-year-old American is the most controversial athlete in the world at the moment, making waves amid a passionate and polarising debate about whether she should be allowed to compete against biological females.
‘The very simple answer is that I am not a man,’ she told the esteemed sports publication. ‘I’m a woman — so I belong on the women’s team.’
Yet while Lia has many supporters, she is also facing mounting criticism from her fellow swimmers and people inside and outside the sport, and the interview has fuelled the controversy.
Caitlyn stresses that swimmer Lia Thomas has her full support in living her ‘authentic self’, but says she would ‘love to . . . talk privately to her about the issue of sport’
Critics say because Lia was born a biological male, she has advantages in the pool that biological women don’t have, and the precedent she is setting could be a direct threat to female athletes in every sport.
One of the most forthright critics of this fraught situation — though not of Lia herself — is Caitlyn Jenner.
Caitlyn, of course, was previously Bruce Jenner, the athlete who won gold in the Decathlon at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, and who later blazed a reality TV trail as the father of a brood of glamorous step-daughters and daughters in Keeping Up With The Kardashians.
Her gender transformation in 2015, aged 65 — announced by her posing in a satin bustier on the cover of Vanity Fair — made Caitlyn the most famous trans woman of the modern age.
Always a cool, reasoned and intelligent voice, Jenner fostered greater understanding of what it means to be a transgender person.
But that was in a different, less complicated, more innocent time. Now, Caitlyn despairs at the bitter gender wars raging today.
‘The world’s gone mad,’ she says. ‘It was never meant to be like this.’
As a former Olympian, she particularly despairs of trans women being allowed to compete alongside biological females in sport.
‘I don’t think biological boys should compete in women’s sports — we have to protect women’s sports,’ says Caitlyn. ‘That’s the bottom line.’
Now 72, Caitlyn is speaking in the kitchen of her secluded home in Malibu, a wealthy seaside enclave in California. When she transitioned, she could never have predicted that the transgender community to whom she was a heroine would so quickly turn against her for speaking out.
Her Instagram account — she has 12.5 million followers — records some of the abuse she is subjected to.
On the coveted cover of the latest issue of Sports Illustrated magazine, there is a striking image of the transgender swimmer Lia Thomas, ploughing her way through water, sleek and powerful. The 22-year-old American is the most controversial athlete in the world at the moment, making waves amid a passionate and polarising debate about whether she should be allowed to compete against biological female
‘Last time I checked you were a washed-up has-been riding on the Kardashian coat-tails,’ one person wrote. ‘For a trans woman, you sure do the most to speak out against other trans men and women living their lives.’ And that’s one of the nicer messages.
Caitlyn, however, remains steadfast in her views on trans athletes competing in women’s sports — and surely no one is more qualified than she is to give her opinions.
But now the debate has become even more fevered as swimmer Lia Thomas dominates competition in the women’s category having undergone hormone treatment.
Thomas’s interview in Sports Illustrated has prompted an outpouring of support — and opprobrium.
‘Lia Thomas gets a Sports Illustrated cover story while the female swimmers have to speak anonymously to the few media outlets that will actually bother to acknowledge their existence, in case you’re wondering just how misogynistic this mess truly is,’ wrote one Twitter user.
Another particularly unpleasant tweet said: ‘Every piece about Thomas simpers on about ‘Lia has been on HRT for a year’. As if the world has come to some agreement that if a narcissistic cheat takes some oestrogen [she] can just do whatever [she] wants. Don’t let them pretend that it makes all of this OK.’
A swim team mate at the University of Pennsylvania told dailymail.com this week that the trans swimmer doesn’t always cover up her male genitals when changing, and other competitors’ concerns go ignored.
So what does Caitlyn make of it?
‘I respect [Lia’s] right to transition and I hope she has a wonderful, wonderful life. But she grew up as a biological boy and I don’t think it’s fair that she’s competing in women’s sports,’ Caitlyn tells me. ‘Her cardiovascular system is bigger, her heart is bigger, she’s got longer arms and legs.
‘Three years earlier, she was on the men’s team ranked 462; now she’s No. 1 in the same event for women? Obviously, it’s not fair.’
Yet Lia is abiding by regulations set out by the U.S. National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which requires trans women to be on hormone therapy for at least 12 months before they can compete.
New guidelines that trans athletes would need to register continuously on HRT for 36 months before applying to swim as a woman — Lia has been on HRT for a total of 34 months — have not yet been implemented, and many people feel even that doesn’t go far enough in protecting women’s sport. ‘She’s following the rules,’ agrees Caitlyn, ‘but the rules have to change.
Caitlyn, of course, was previously Bruce Jenner, the athlete who won gold in the Decathlon at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, and who later blazed a reality TV trail as the father of a brood of glamorous step-daughters and daughters in Keeping Up With The Kardashians
‘Here’s an example: I play golf and, seven years after my transition, I still have a big advantage over women players. I’m 6ft 1in. I have longer arms than the ladies and I can outdrive them by a hundred yards,’ she explains. ‘Even being off testosterone and on oestrogen for seven years now, what I’ve got left over is still more than they’ve ever had. So, it wouldn’t be fair.’
Before the pandemic, Caitlyn was regularly invited to take part in ladies’ golf tournaments, but she always turned them down. ‘I’d feel bad taking a trophy away from one of the ladies at our club who really deserves it,’ she explains.
And while she fully supports Lia living as a woman, she says she does not understand her motives in sport.
‘I don’t see how you can be happy beating other girls under these circumstances. You have to have a sense of personal responsibility. You can still enjoy sports but not play at a competitive level, right?’
Today, the insistence by activists of complete acceptance of anyone who self-defines as female, regardless of the impact on other females around them, dominates the debate, not just in sport but across the board.
Biological sex does not exist, these uncompromising campaigners argue, and switching gender should merely be a matter of ‘self-identification’.
Indeed, a controversial Bill published by the Scottish Parliament this week proposes exactly that, removing the need for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria (a condition where a person experiences distress because there is a mismatch between their biological sex and the one they feel they are).
Many women are concerned that certain aspects of gender identity ideology pose challenges to their fundamental rights, but fear that if they raise their voices they will be stigmatised as transphobic.
J.K. Rowling, regarded by trans activists as a serial offender, has been maligned for calling for single-sex spaces to be preserved, while philosophy professor Kathleen Stock was forced to quit her job at Sussex University after being accused of transphobia for her views on gender identity.
Professor Stock opposes what has been described as the ‘institutionalisation’ of the idea that gender identity is all that matters — that how you identify automatically confers all the entitlements of that sex. She also believes it is an issue of free speech that the view she and many others espouse increasingly cannot be aired.
In a recent heartfelt opinion piece in the Mail, Left-wing commentator Hadley Freeman argued women’s rights are being eroded by transgender ideology.
‘Bullies are trying to shut down the debate over trans rights . . . if sex and gender are being blurred together, how can we discuss who’s being discriminated against and why?’ she asked.
Many women are concerned that certain aspects of gender identity ideology pose challenges to their fundamental rights, but fear that if they raise their voices they will be stigmatised as transphobic. J.K. Rowling, regarded by trans activists as a serial offender, has been maligned for calling for single-sex spaces to be preserved
Caitlyn agrees: ‘There’s a fringe element of the trans community that has a big voice, and their mission is to shut down all other opinions. I have a large platform [as well as Instagram, she has 3.4 million Twitter followers] so nobody’s going to shut me up. We can’t bow down to the woke people who want to change the world.’
Caitlyn is a brave voice on a divisive subject, and courage is not something she has lacked in a life blessed by both success and challenges. As Bruce, her first marriage was to actress Chrystie Crownover, with whom she had a daughter, Cassandra, and son, Burt. That ended in 1981 and Bruce then married Linda Thompson, a former girlfriend of Elvis, with whom he had two sons, Brody and Brandon.
In 1990, the now divorced Bruce met Kris Kardashian (mother of Kourtney, Kim and Khloe and son, Rob, from her previous marriage) and they wed the same year.
The couple were together until 2013, and had daughters Kylie and Kendall together.
Caitlyn claims in her 2016 book, The Secrets Of My Life, that Kris was always aware of her gender issues. But Kris maintains that while she knew her husband had used hormones in the 1980s, ‘no one mentioned a gender issue’.
In the memoir, Caitlyn recalls how she found out in her mid-30s that she had gender dysphoria. She cross-dressed in wigs and women’s clothing as an ‘escape’ from feeling she was a woman trapped inside a man’s body.
She underwent two years of excruciatingly painful electrolysis to get rid of facial and chest hair, had a nose job as well as receiving hormone therapy.
Following her divorce from Kris, Caitlyn went on to have facial feminisation surgery (hairline correction and forehead, jaw and chin contouring and a tracheal shave). Breast augmentation followed, and she completed gender reassignment surgery in 2017.
‘I’ve got no regrets. It was the best decision of my life,’ Caitlyn tells me. ‘I wake up in the morning and I can just be myself all day.’ Caitlyn is well aware of the gender debate in the UK.
Though she criticised J.K. Rowling in 2020, when the Harry Potter author questioned the use of the term ‘people who menstruate’ instead of women, she has since softened her stance.
Last year, Caitlyn sided with American comedian Dave Chapelle, who came under fire for saying on his Netflix show: ‘They cancelled J.K. Rowling — my God! Effectively, she said gender was a fact, the trans community got mad as sh**, they started calling her a TERF [a trans exclusionary radical feminist] . . . I’m Team TERF. I agree . . . gender is a fact.’
Caitlyn tweeted: ‘This isn’t about the LGBT movement. It’s about woke cancel culture run amok, trying to silence free speech.’
‘J.K. Rowling shouldn’t be cancelled,’ Caitlyn says. ‘She’s just got an opinion. Everybody’s got to calm down.’
When I tell her that the Brit Music awards in London last month were ‘gender neutral’, with no Best Female Singer or Best Male Singer category, she shakes her head in disbelief.
‘That’s cancel culture at its worst. Why does everything have to be gender neutral — why can’t we just leave things alone?’
In Westminster this week, the issue of pupils identifying as transgender in single-sex spaces was described as a ‘minefield’ by a Government minister.
During a Commons’ education select committee, MP Caroline Johnson said she had been contacted by parents with concerns about an 18-year-old trans girl sharing a boarding house with their daughters.
Will Quince, Minister for Children and Families, said he ‘wouldn’t be overly happy’ for his daughters to share with such a pupil.
Caitlyn has again been at odds with trans activists over a similar situation in California, where biologically male non-binary (possessing a gender that does not fall into either the male or female category) counsellors were allowed to sleep in the same cabins as ten and 11-year-olds at a school-organised science camp.
‘We’re living in such a woke world right now, I can’t even figure it out,’ Caitlyn said in a recent TV interview on Fox News.
‘They went to this camp and when they came back they were talking about gender this and that, and the good news is that parents — especially moms — are standing up [to question this].’
The way ahead is fraught, she warns. ‘Things are getting out of control. There are all these different genders. It’s too complicated and it’s taking over the world.’
So, just to be clear, does Caitlyn Jenner believe there are only two biological sexes?
‘I still believe that. I went through a change, and I have no problem being referred to as a trans woman and using all the female pronouns. You can be a variation, and that’s fine, but the bottom line is there’s male and female, right?’ she says.
Caitlyn stresses that swimmer Lia Thomas has her full support in living her ‘authentic self’, but says she would ‘love to . . . talk privately to her about the issue of sport’.
For now, she calls for a period of restraint and reflection.
‘I hate cancel culture and wokeness. We’ve got to get out of this, and how do we do that? We don’t try to be the ‘bully’ in a china shop, forcing people to use this pronoun or that pronoun and all the rest of it,’ she says.
‘It’s a divisive time, but if everyone just uses common sense we’ll get through this.’
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