The University of Pennsylvania hosted a swim meet with two trans-competitors on the women’s side.
Yales Iszac Henig and Penns Lia Thomas met each other in a closely watched 100-yard freestyle event.
The results challenged many of the transphobic ideas used to argue against their participation.
The participation of transgender athletes in women’s sports has been the hot-button issue in hot-button issues in recent years.
But for all the arguments about whether it is fair for trans athletes to compete in women’s sporting events, there are sparse concrete examples available for both parties to cite.
This weekend, a swimming competition in the Ivy League got overall attention for delivering just that. Two trans swimmers – Lia Thomas of the University of Pennsylvania and Iszac Henig of Yale – met, and the results challenged many transphobic discussion points used to argue against their participation.
In a closely monitored 100-yard freestyle event, Henig – who identifies as a man but has not yet made a hormonal transition – finished first, beating the second-fastest swimmer by more than a second and a half. But Thomas, who has been at the center of controversy in recent weeks for her perceived biological benefit, touched the wall 3.27 seconds behind Henig to take sixth place in the race.
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For the first three years of his college swimming career, Thomas competed for the Quakers’ men’s swimming team, according to SwimSwam. But after coming out as a trans woman, the native Austin, Texas, spent two years switching and working with the NCAA and Ivy League to abide by rules that would allow her to compete in women’s competitions.
The NCAA requires trans women to complete at least “one calendar year of testosterone suppression therapy” before competing in women’s events, according to the association policies for transgender participation. Although Thomas has met that requirement, many scrutinized her participation in women’s events due to. her recent dominance in the pool.
This week, the Ivy League had to issue a statement of support to Thomas after calls for her exclusion from competition reached a fever level. In an Instagram post published on January 7, the conference reiterated its “unwavering commitment to provide an inclusive environment for all student-athletes, while condemning transphobia and discrimination in any form.”
But on Saturday, Thomas fought in his race against Henig. The Bulldogs junior freestyle and butterfly specialist is also trans, but unlike Thomas, he has not switched over to the competition, which is closer in line with his gender identity.
Instead, Henig has chosen to continue competing with Yale’s women’s team – as he has done since arriving in New Haven in 2018. Although he has had top surgery, Henig has postponed hormone treatment to comply with NCAA rules.
But the delay has definitely put him “in a weird position”, as he wrote in The New York Times June last year.
“As a student-athlete, it put me in a strange position to come out as a trans guy,” Henig wrote. “I could start hormones to adapt more to myself, or wait, change socially and keep competing on a women’s swimming team. I decided on the latter.”
“I appreciate my contributions to the team and recognize that my childhood does not depend on whether more or less testosterone runs through my veins,” he added. “At least that’s what I want to try to remember when I put on the women’s swimsuit for competition and am reminded of an I I no longer feel attached to.”
Despite the added challenge, Henig has done well for himself in the pool this year. In addition to his 100-yard freestyle win over Thomas and others, Henig won the 50-yard free and broke a 32-year pool record in the process.
And apart from his sixth place, Thomas also had a successful show on Saturday. On his senior day, Thomas won the 200-yard free by nearly two seconds, beating a teammate narrowly to first place in the 500-yard free.
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