Everybody Agrees This Trans Wrestler Should Compete With Boys, but Government Is the Barrier

Culture is adapting, slowly. Forced solutions make things messier.


Mack Beggs
Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire/Newscom

Mack Beggs should have been wrestling with the boys. Let's just start with that, but note the lack of use of words like "required" or "mandated" or other suggestions of involuntary placement.

Beggs won the Texas state high school championship in his weight class over the weekend. This victory became international news because Beggs actually competed solely against and defeated girls. Beggs is transgender, transitioning from female to male. He is taking testosterone under a doctor's care, which potentially gives him quite a leg up (pun fully intended) over his female competitors.

When something this awkward happens, inflexible regulations are often to blame, and that's partly the case here. Texas' athletics rules require athletes to participate in sex-segregated sports based on what they've listed on their birth certificates. And while steroids are generally banned substances for athletes, there is an exception for those who have doctor's orders for valid medical treatments, as what has happened here.

So, really, it's the state's fault this all happened. And not a few people are angry about it. There has been a lawsuit by the parent of a competitor to try to stop Beggs from wrestling because the hormone treatments enhance muscle growth and give him an advantage (though also keep in mind that wrestling has weight classes to help control advantages that result from size differences). The Dallas News notes that the controversy probably wouldn't have happened in other states because Beggs would have been wrestling males.

The News also suggests that the rule might not be changing anytime soon, so Beggs, currently a junior, could be put in this position again next year.

As is typical with transgender issues, there's an interest in trying to push through the simplest possible solution that happens to align with one's pre-existing issues of the cultural conflict. Accommodate everybody who declares themselves transgender! Or refuse to accommodate transgender people at all and insist it's not a real thing!

The first solution leads to fears of gaming the system—that athletes will take advantage, in this case men competing as women, obviously. It smacks of the same argument about transgender women in bathrooms—the idea that predatory men who are not actually transgender will "take advantage" of the law and use it to victimize women and avoid the consequences. It's a creepy attitude, denying one group of citizens appropriate treatment out of fears that some other group of people will do bad things as a consequence. Consider this approach in the terms of nanny state bans and the justifications for the drug war and realize that it's awful.

As far as the second solution, it's a terrible idea for a state school system or government to weigh in on the scientific validity of transgender people. It's not for the state to decide whether somebody's experience changing gender is based on something real or not. It's a situation that exists and will continue to exist. It's not going to go away. I've previously argued against government bans on "reparative therapy" (the idea that homosexuality and transgenderism can be "cured" with psychotherapy) partly because it puts the government in the position of determining what is and is not a legitimate application of social science. To the extent that the fields of psychology and child development and several other social sciences are still trying to navigate the increasing numbers of youths identifying as transgender, it's not a situation that calls for government referees.

Unfortunately, as the school bathroom and facilities battles have highlighted, federal discrimination law and Title IX have put the government in the position of having to play a role. Government facilities should accommodate transgender people as much as possible for no reason other than acceptance that we control our own bodies and identities, not the government. Any government intervention based on a person's identity should be based on legitimate claims of fraud.

In the case of Beggs, everybody seems to be in agreement here (well, except maybe for those who think Beggs shouldn't wrestle at all, which is like trying to solve the public bathroom conflict by banning transgender people from using them entirely): Beggs should be wrestling boys. If the hormone discrepancy is a source of conflict, maybe that's a good reason for us to be rethinking what role the government plays in moderating performance-enhancing drugs in the first place. Reason's written a ton on that subject.

There isn't a real crisis here—which is itself a kind of fascinating look at how the needle has moved in public opinion on transgender issues. It's a complex hammering out of a future that can be awkward and uncomfortable to see play out. The general government attitude should be a bias toward accommodation, but much like what happened with same-sex marriage recognition, the state and local-level fiddling and experimentation trying to hammer out policies are more likely to lead to comfortable communities than a blanket, top-down solution from the feds. And I say that as somebody who believes that the government should treat trans people according to their chosen sex.