McGowan: Fact-Checking the Governor’s ‘Trans’ Policy

April 23, 2024

by Richard McGowan, Ph.D.

The Indiana Legislature got it right. The governor did not. The issue of trans-girls and trans-women competing against natural, i.e., biological, girls and women remains unsettled. For some people and organizations, such as the ACLU, which brought suit in Indiana recently, the prefix “trans” before the words “girls” means little or nothing. On the other hand, the FDA treats trans-fat as different in kind from polyunsaturated fat, the former is unhealthy and the latter is not. Following the FDA linguistic practices, we may conclude that a trans-girl is different from a natural girl. 

However, linguistic practices do not often settle matters. In the case of trans-females competing against natural (un-adulterated? un-drugged? un-manipulated?) girls, language probably matters little, though I am reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s observation that calling a dog’s tail a leg does not make it a leg.

My usual line of address for contentious issues such as trans-females competing against natural females is to gather information before making a judgment. Then I can follow the data from people who are more experienced and knowledgeable about the subject. In this case, the subject is anatomy and physiology of the male-female distinction. Is the physiology of males and females different? 

Yes, we all know — except for maybe the ACLU — that there are differences between boys and girls, men and women. But how do those differences affect athletic performance? And can the differences be overcome by drugs or other intrusions into the natural state of a body?

Here is what Boston University’s  Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine said in 2018:    

“The Endocrine Society guidelines on monitoring transgender women suggests that patients should reach a serum testosterone <50ng/dl. Only a quarter of transgender women taking a regimen of spironolactone and estrogens were able to lower testosterone levels within the usual female physiologic range. Another quarter could not achieve female levels but remained below the male range virtually all of the time, while one quarter was unable to achieve any significant suppression.”

I understand that paragraph to mean that trans-women retain many male characteristics.

In 2021, several researchers asked, “How does hormone transition in transgender women change body composition, muscle strength and haemoglobin? Systematic review with a focus on the implications for sport participation.” Their article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that “In transwomen, hormone therapy rapidly reduces Hgb to levels seen in cisgender women. In contrast, hormone therapy decreases strength, LBM and muscle area, yet values remain above that observed in cisgender women, even after 36 months. These findings suggest that strength may be well preserved in transwomen during the first three years of hormone therapy.” 

The scientists who wrote “Implications of gender-Affirming Endocrine Care for Sports Participation,” a 2021 article in the Journal of the Endocrine Society, found that, “on average, the muscle strength data of trans-women fell below that of cisgender men but was significantly greater (16 percent) than the values of cisgender women.” Or, trans-women retained strength compared to natural women. (Lia Thomas, 34th ranked male swimmer, beating female Olympians comes to mind.)

That same year, the Journal of the Endocrine Society published “An Approach to Nonsuppressed Testosterone in Transgender Women Receiving Gender-Affirming Feminizing Hormonal Therapy.” The article concluded that “In a cohort of 98 transgender women on variable doses of spironolactone and estrogen, 25 percent did not suppress testosterone. Baseline testosterone levels and spironolactone dosages do not predict successful suppression of testosterone levels.”

Alison Heather examined physiology as it related to sport in “Transwoman Elite Athletes: Their Extra Percentage Relative to Female Physiology,” in a 2022 article for the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: “The descriptive critical review discusses the inherent male physiological advantages that lead to superior athletic performance and then addresses how estrogen therapy fails to create a female-like physiology in the male. Ultimately, the former male physiology of transwoman athletes provides them with a physiological advantage over the cis-female athlete.”

Or, trans-women retain many of the natural advantages that ostensibly were lost in transitioning.

The researchers for “Implications of Gender-Affirming Endocrine Care for Sports Participation,” a 2023 article from Therapeutic Advances in Endocrinology and Metabolism, found “that transwomen, therefore, may retain muscle strength advantages over cis women after transition due to cellular or epigenetic marks retained from prior life exposures to testosterone and myonuclei retention.” As well, they said “This study also found that for absolute VO2peak, trans-women VO2 peak was significantly higher than that of cisgender women (20 percent), and significantly lower than that of cisgender men (29 percent).” In other words, trans-women were more capable in terms volume of oxygen than natural women.

Finally, “Transgender Women in the Female Category of Sport: Perspectives on Testosterone Suppression and Performance Advantage,” a 2021 Sports Medicine article and one that the ACLU used in its Indiana court case, said, “Thus, the muscular advantage enjoyed by transgender women is only minimally reduced when testosterone is suppressed.”

I hope that all the scientific information was not too boring, but it was necessary since I know so little science and because the media sources don’t normally mention the science related to the issue of trans-females competing against natural females.

On the other hand, I know something about philosophy and ethics. As one widely used ethics textbook said, justice requires that “equals be treated equally, unequals unequally.” The data show that trans-girls and trans-women are unequal compared with natural females: The former male physiology of transwoman athletes provides them with a physiological advantage over the cis-female athlete. Trans-girls and trans-women did not earn the advantage by dint of hard work but through the use of drugs. They are not entitled to the athletic advantage. It is unfair for them to compete against natural women and girls.

Richard McGowan, Ph.D., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, has taught philosophy and ethics cores for more than 40 years, most recently at Butler University. Citations viewable at

Men-Women Record Comparisons
100 metres: Men’s record: 9.58 / Women’s record: 10.49 / Time difference: 0.91 / Percentage difference: 9% 200 metres: Men’s record: 19.19 / Women’s record: 21.34 / Time difference: 2.15 / Percentage difference: 10% 400 metres: Men’s record: 43.03 / Women’s record: 47.60 / Time difference: 4.57 / Percentage difference: 10% 1500 metres: Men’s record: 3:26.00 / Women’s record: 3:50.07 / Time difference: 24.07 / Percentage difference: 10% 5000 metres: Men’s record: 12:37.35 / Women’s record: 14:11.15 / Time difference: 1:33 / Percentage difference: 11% Marathon: Men’s record: 2:00:25 / Women’s record: 2:15:25 / Time difference: 15:00 / Percentage difference: 11% High jump: Men’s record: 2.45 m / Women’s record: 2.09 m / Height difference: 0.36 m / Percentage difference: 17% Long jump: Men’s record: 8.95 m / Women’s record: 7.52 m / Distance difference: 1.43 m / Percentage difference: 19%. (In every event, high school boys bettered the women’s world record.)


Leave a Reply