Transgender Brazilian Volleyball Star Sparks Olympic Debate

AP Tifanny Abreu

A transgender Brazilian volleyball player playing for the country’s women’s Olympics team, has sparked controversy.

Brazilian player Tifanny Abreu, has been dominating on the court this year in game after game. However, critics say the competition is unfair because Abreu is a natural-born male competing as a transgender woman, The New York Times reported.

Abreu plans to make Brazil’s team for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, and if she does, she would become the first transgender volleyball player in the history of the games.

“Just like any other player, I’d like to go to the Olympics,” Abreu, who underwent sex reassignment surgery in 2012, recently told the media. “But I know it’s not going to happen just because I’m getting all this attention. I’ve got to do my best as a player.”

While many are pointing to the situation as an example of “progress” for the transgendered, not everyone is supportive of Abreu’s inclusion on the women’s team.

Past Brazilian Olympic volleyball star Tandara Caixeta, for instance, is not supportive of Abreu at all.

“I really respect her and her history,” Caixeta said early in February. “But I don’t agree with her participating in the feminine Superliga. It’s a very delicate issue, and it’s not homophobia. It’s physiological.”

Abreu, who stands 6-foot 3-inches, was required by Olympics rules to lower her levels of testosterone to qualify to be considered a female contestant.

But some scientists say that merely lowering testosterone does not eliminate the natural advantage that an athlete born male has over natural-born female competitors.

As the Times noted, Joanna Harper, an expert on transgender physiology, noted that these advantages cannot be eliminated with hormones and surgery:

Ms. Harper, who published a study on transgender athletes, says transgender women who go through puberty as males do have advantages that cannot be eliminated completely through hormone therapy.

“It reduces muscle mass, but not to typical female averages,” she said. “On average, transgender women are taller, bigger and stronger. For many sports, including volleyball, these are advantages.”

But, she added, they also have disadvantages. The main one is they maintain their typically larger frames, but with reduced muscle mass and aerobic capacity.

Still, those who support the right of transgender athletes say questions over their suitability to compete is just another example of “homophobia.”

Needless to say, the debate is still raging over whether it is fair for athletes born as biological males to compete as women.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.


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