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Transgender soccer player makes history
March 2, 2013 7:29 AM   Subscribe

In November of 2011, Jaiyah Saelua, a center back for American Samoa, became the first transgendered individual to participate in a World Cup qualifier.

Jaiyah is a Fa'afafine, a recognized third gender in Samoan culture that consists of individuals born biologically male but who identify as women. She helped her team, previously best known for losing 31-0 to Australia, to its first ever win.
posted by Bulgaroktonos (17 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
We're kicking the ball further down the field. Progress.
posted by arcticseal at 8:16 AM on March 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't understand this: sports are sex segregated, not gender segregated. So why allow someone who is xy-chromosome/genetic male compete with xx-chromosome/genetic females, irrespective of gender identity?
posted by koavf at 8:29 AM on March 2, 2013


"I don't understand this: sports are sex segregated, not gender segregated. So why allow someone who is xy-chromosome/genetic male compete with xx-chromosome/genetic females, irrespective of gender identity?"

Well for starters chromosomes aren't as absolutely defining of biological sex as you think they are.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:31 AM on March 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


Coached to glory by a Dutch coach.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:32 AM on March 2, 2013


I don't understand this: sports are sex segregated, not gender segregated. So why allow someone who is xy-chromosome/genetic male compete with xx-chromosome/genetic females, irrespective of gender identity?

Well, for a start, she plays for the American Samoa men.
posted by hoyland at 8:37 AM on March 2, 2013 [9 favorites]


sports are sex segregated, not gender segregated. So why allow someone who is xy-chromosome/genetic male compete with xx-chromosome/genetic females, irrespective of gender identity?

Unless I'm missing something she plays for the male team and was born genetically male. Don't see the issue.

Also:

“I just go out and play soccer as a soccer player,” Saelua said. “Not as transgender, not as a boy and not as a girl. Just as a soccer player.”

Anyway it's a complicated issue I suppose but at the end of the day I believe if you're good enough to play on the men's team I think you should be able to play irregardless of gender or sexual identity or chromosomes or whatever. I don't necessarily think people who were born genetically male should be allowed to play on women's teams, despite how logically inconsistant I recognize that to be.
posted by nathancaswell at 8:38 AM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


And to continue the last comment (I was about to write a comment about why this isn't really progress, but this doesn't fit there)--chromosomes don't determine athletic ability. As far as anyone knows, it's hormones that are the big determiner of athletic 'advantage'. So trans women who've been on anti-androgens and estrogen aren't at an advantage over cis women who produce their own estrogen (never mind cis women who don't produce their own estrogen), aside from the fact they're, on average, taller than cis women. Trans men have the same levels of testosterone as cis men, but are on average smaller so at a disadvantage because of that.
posted by hoyland at 8:41 AM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


at the end of the day I believe if you're good enough to play on the men's team I think you should be able to play irregardless of gender or sexual identity or chromosomes or whatever. I don't necessarily think people who were born genetically male should be allowed to play on women's teams, despite how logically inconsistant I recognize that to be.

This is actually the NCAA rule, well sort of. You're allowed 'mixed' teams, but they have to play in the men's competition (which is really the competition for men's and mixed teams), which is why college football teams can field women once in a blue moon.
posted by hoyland at 8:42 AM on March 2, 2013


hoyland: "So trans women who've been on anti-androgens and estrogen aren't at an advantage over cis women who produce their own estrogen (never mind cis women who don't produce their own estrogen), aside from the fact they're, on average, taller than cis women."

FWIW, I never met a single fa'afafine in either of the Samoas who was on any sort of hormone therapy, and while that's only anecdotal I highly doubt there are anti-androgens or estrogen here. As to why she's playing on the men's team, I'm pretty sure that once beyond the high school sports level, there aren't women's soccer teams to play on. 'Least, I don't remember any, outside of the soccer games ex-pats would organize.
posted by barnacles at 8:53 AM on March 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


So why isn't this really progress? Unless it's progress for American Samoan culture, which I know virtually nothing about, FIFA doesn't give a toss. She's got an M in her passport* and can pass a drugs test? And didn't rock the boat officially? FIFA calls her a man and is done with it.

AFAICT, FIFA doesn't even have a policy regarding players who have medically transitioned. At a guess, they'd bar trans men by refusing a medical exemption for testosterone. It's possible a trans woman could pass a drugs test. (Estrogen and anti-androgens aren't banned, I don't think. So as long as you don't have levels of testosterone weirdly high for a cis woman, you're theoretically fine.) But trans women would face far more resistance in women's sport than trans men in men's sport.

The IOC does have a policy, not that it says anything about FIFA, but it's pretty much bullshit because they require one to have been on hormones for two years and have had genital surgery. But that two year waiting period is probably effectively career-ending for an Olympic-level athlete, so they can avoid the surgery issue for a while. (I kind of wonder if the Gender Recognition Act in Britain could be used as leverage for a challenge. But how often is British law relevant to the IOC, aside from last summer?)

*Supposedly the reason American Samoa lost 31-0 that one time is because FIFA told them they had to field people with American Samoan passports (which is the overall rule, aside from England/Scotland/Wales/Northern Ireland) instead of fielding some people with American Samoan passports and filling the team out with Americans.

FWIW, I never met a single fa'afafine in either of the Samoas who was on any sort of hormone therapy, and while that's only anecdotal I highly doubt there are anti-androgens or estrogen here. As to why she's playing on the men's team, I'm pretty sure that once beyond the high school sports level, there aren't women's soccer teams to play on.

No, I'd bet she's not on hormones either because I suspect that's why FIFA didn't find a pretext to ban her. American Samoa had a women's national team, but it looks pretty dead. It looks like there's a women's league of some kind, though (fiddle with the drop down menu).
posted by hoyland at 9:13 AM on March 2, 2013


barnacles, to be clear, I was talking about trans women on hormones in response to koavf, not in the context of anything actually directly relevant here.
posted by hoyland at 9:15 AM on March 2, 2013


So trans women who've been on anti-androgens and estrogen aren't at an advantage over cis women who produce their own estrogen

It depends on the sport. In boxing/Thai boxing (in Thailand - not sure about elsewhere), it's not unheard of for male-to-female transsexuals to fight women after gender reassignment surgery, having fought men prior to the surgery. At the moment, they have a MASSIVE advantage over 'cisgendered-women,' because they've fought much higher calibre (male) opponents.

Women have only been fighting here since 1997, and there's not as much money or opportunities for the top women. And given that in boxing, you get better as you fight better opponents, it means that female boxers aren't yet at the same level as males, and will get better gradually, as the standard of their peers is raised etc. For this reason, when katoys fight cisgendered women (of the same weight category), they usually dominate them.

That said, female fighters are getting on bigger shows, and getting more TV exposure, and getting paid more, and hence there's more incentive to stay in boxing, and so on - and thus the quality of female fighters is improving rapidly. At the same time, you have female kids fighting boys. Eventually, it may become like the 100m sprint, where having competed against men won't matter...



...but in conclusion, in many sports (possibly including football) skill is as important as athleticism. And transgendered athletes can often learn more by training/competing with men, and thus have an advantage when facing women, even if their physical attributes are otherwise the same as those of cisgendered women2.

Not that that matters to this article, which deals with a fa'afafine playing in a men's team.
posted by Sedition at 9:39 AM on March 2, 2013


And transgendered athletes can often learn more by training/competing with men, and thus have an advantage when facing women

Obviously having competed successfully against better opposition will give you an advantage over people who have only competed against lesser opposition (probably even against people with greater natural skill because they haven't had to take advantage of their full range of capabilities), but that's hardly a general reason to stop trans women from competing against cis women. You could perhaps construct an argument specific to the development of women's Thai boxing (or whatever), but it's obvious Thailand has concluded that line of reasoning isn't worth much.
posted by hoyland at 9:49 AM on March 2, 2013


Of course, there are plenty of sports where women competing at a high level do train with (and sometimes compete with/against) men (or did growing up). Cricket's one, certainly. When we're talking about playing the sport growing up the list gets longer: track and field, soccer (both had co-ed training until high school where I grew up), hockey in some places. Fencing. Probably most team sports that are dominated by men, honestly.
posted by hoyland at 9:56 AM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


So trans women who've been on anti-androgens and estrogen aren't at an advantage over cis women who produce their own estrogen (never mind cis women who don't produce their own estrogen), aside from the fact they're, on average, taller than cis women.

That is an advantage. Also, they are probably wider, with larger skeletons and more capable (in terms of space) of muscle development on those longer limbs.

In the end, I think it 100% fair for women to play on mens teams in team sports and not fair for men or trans-women (men changing to women) to play amongst women. Not everyone undergoes the hormone therapy either. Did Dr. Renee Richards?
posted by Ironmouth at 11:40 AM on March 2, 2013


Athletes do not have average physical abilities, so any discussion of the average male vs. the average female would seem to be irrelevant.

If there are major differences in an individual's ability due to the quality of training and/or their competition, then it really sounds like segregating sports by sex or gender or whatever is ultimately not doing any favors. It's basically telling women they will always be Little League and never pro.
posted by Foosnark at 12:30 PM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not everyone undergoes the hormone therapy either. Did Dr. Renee Richards?

1) So not our business, though I realise her medical history is fairly public.

2) Almost certainly given when she transitioned.
posted by hoyland at 1:01 PM on March 2, 2013


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