Do opponents of transgender rights realize that transgender men exist?
Beggs’ unique predicament—being barred from competing against boys because his original birth certificate lists him as female, but being allowed to take testosterone because it is a medically necessary part of his transition-related health care—has drawn a great deal of media attention and, predictably, outrage.
But it also exposes a blind spot in the culture war over transgender rights: Often, the architects of anti-transgender policies don’t seem to realize—or don’t care—that transgender people aren’t just comprised of those who transition from male to female, but those who transition from female to male as well.
So focused are they on the specter of “men in dresses” that they don’t think about how their rules will affect men in pants—or, in this case, wrestling unitards.
Beggs himself has been caught in this awkward spot for the entirety of his wrestling career.
As The Daily Beast previously reported, he won the girls 110-pound category in a state tournament last February. Although his victory angered parents and other competitors, the University Interscholastic League, a Texas state-level high school athletics organization, failed to adjust the rules to allow Beggs to wrestle boys instead.
So, the 18-year-old’s repeat victory in the same category comes as no surprise. He won again this last weekend, finishing off high school with a 132-9 record, as ABC News reported. He was, as USA Today noted, booed at the moment of his victory.
But those boos should be directed not at Beggs but at the archaic rules that kept him in the girls category against his wishes.
“Even though I was put in this position, even though I didn’t want it to be put in this position, even though I wanted to wrestle the guys, I still had to wrestle the girls,” he told the Dallas Morning News.
“All I can hope for is that they come to their [senses] and realize this is stupid and we should change the policies to conform to other people in my position,” the wrestler added.
The particular policy that kept Beggs out of the boys category is of tellingly recent vintage.
In 2016, as a University Interscholastic League FAQ noted, 95 percent of UIL-member school superintendents gave the birth certificate rule their stamp of approval.
According to TransAthlete.com, that makes Texas just one of seven states that requires a birth certificate change or proof of surgery to allow K-12 transgender athletes to compete against others of their gender.
Mercifully, once at the college level, the NCAA has an inclusive policy with guidelines that were developed with input from LGBT advocates and medical professionals.
But thanks to the University Interscholastic League’s birth certificate rule—approved during a year when several state legislatures were targeting transgender people based on their documentation—Beggs has been surrounded by controversy for simply opting to play his sport.
What should be eminently clear by now is that policies that ban transgender girls from competing against other girls also have the the effect of forcing transgender boys like Beggs to compete against girls.
Yes, even though Beggs was taking testosterone, even though he was almost undefeated, even though no one really seemed to want him to compete against girls, he was caught in a perhaps unintended gray area of policy.
As TransAthlete founder Chris Mosier told me last year, it seems like the University Interscholastic League passed the birth certificate rule “without thinking through how this limits and impacts all student athletes.”
Much of this legislation, written under the false justification that it’s necessary to protect women and girls, would restrict bathroom use by birth certificate—or even by “original birth certificate.”
That would prevent many transgender women from using the right restroom—but it also forces many transgender men to go into women’s rooms if they want to pee legally.
Although transgender men vary in appearance, and restroom use shouldn’t be determined based on how well you conform to certain gender norms, that means transgender men with beards, big muscles, and yes, penises, would be forced to use the ladies’ room—as burly transgender men on social media have repeatedly pointed out.
In other words, the anti-transgender groups who back these bills are effectively trying to bring about the very situation they rail against: men in women’s bathrooms.
Much of this madness seems to be a function of the fact that transgender women receive the brunt of society’s hatred—and the bulk of media attention. From a theoretical perspective, it’s not surprising that this is the case: Because “woman” is a devalued but marked category, everyone from Hollywood producers to Fox News anchors find it more compelling to explore those who embrace it, despite having been sorted into the privileged and unmarked male category at birth.
Indeed, if you only ever watched popular movies with transgender characters—unless you happened across Boys Don’t Cry—you might not even know transgender people can be boys and men, as well as women and girls.
Indeed, as I write this, there are those on social media reacting to Beggs’ victory as if he were a pre-transition transgender girl—i.e., someone who was assigned male at birth—competing in the girls category.
Scroll through the replies on Twitter to the conservative Washington Times’ coverage of Beggs’ win and you’ll find many readers who didn’t really grasp that Beggs is transitioning from female to male, not the other way around.
(The Associated Press report the Washington Times sourced from didn’t help matters much by waiting until the fourth paragraph to mention that information.)
As my friend Natalie Washington, an advocate for transgender people in sports, pointed out on Twitter, “Media outlets know that the public are confused, willfully or otherwise, on this [and] they have a responsibility to be super clear about what is going on so that people don’t get their knickers in a twist about the wrong stuff.”
It would be great if we lived in a society that understood that transgender men are real and abundant—in fact, 57 percent of respondents to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey were assigned “female” on their original birth certificate—but Washington’s right: The media has got a lot of work to do to make that happen.
Maybe if we realized that transgender people can be male or female or neither—and that all are human and deserving of respect—we’d end up with fewer sticky situations like boys winning girls’ wrestling tournaments or men going into women’s bathrooms.
After all, isn’t that exactly what opponents of transgender rights say they don’t want?