Editor’s Note: One of the thing’s I’m proudest of about Brew Hoop is how maturely our community handles sensitive topics. We don’t stick to sports, and even when conversations get difficult we are largely able to conduct ourselves in a manner befitting this forum. I think that’s a good thing, and I thank all of you for it. I am also grateful to our staff and their willingness to share their personal experience; Julie is no exception, and her experience is very different from most people on Brew Hoop, myself included. I appreciate the opportunity to see that perspective.
All that said, a number of people have previously stated their preference for the site to focus on basketball. And that’s fine! Consider this fair warning that this article will not focus on basketball. Nobody’s feelings are hurt if you decide to simply not contribute to this conversation. If you do contribute, do so the way you normally would: in accordance with the Community Guidelines. As always, we welcome your feedback, either by contact form or via email.
Hey guys. It’s been a while since I have been here, I kind of took a bit of a break after my posts about the Greatest Milwaukee Bucks Picks, and was going to take off a bit longer before the season but something drew me back. After checking out the site a bit ago, I stumbled upon the N-B-Gay article by Morgan, and wanted to follow up with that with a transgender version. I’m going to discuss what I believe it would look like to have a transgender person in both the NBA and WNBA, as well as a potential solution for not only basketball, but for all sports on how to be inclusive of transwomen without excluding ciswomen. Please note that, yes, this post is a political one (personally, I think it shouldn’t be, but that’s me), so keep that in mind.
For starters, I agree with Morgan’s post that the likelihood that a transgender individual is not currently in the NBA is unlikely. Sooner or later there will be somebody who comes out as a transwoman or as non-binary. To have a transgender player in the NBA, it would mean one of these three scenarios:
- Someone assigned female at birth would have to be exposed to puberty blockers and testosterone before hitting female puberty, and then become good enough to make it to the NBA.
- A player assigned male at birth would not start taking hormones until retirement; they were transgender all along, but took further action after they were done playing.
- A player assigned male at birth would start taking hormones during their playing career, effectively transitioning in the middle of their time as an active NBA player.
The second option is most likely, in my opinion, but none are impossible. As someone who has spent six months taking estrogen, I will say that my own physical strength has decreased by over 25% for certain, probably significantly more. That alone would impact rebounding, defense, shooting range, and much more. This means that any NBA player who touches hormone treatments would lose some ability at all of those things and likely fall out of the league as soon as the team could dump her. The slightest decline in skill or ability already pushes people out of the league, this would be just another name on that list.
This is why I also believe that any transman who was exposed to any amount of cisgender levels of estrogen has next to no chance of making the NBA. The minimum baseline for athleticism is simply too high. The only woman I ever remember getting a look from an NBA team was Brittney Griner (timely, right?), and she didn’t end up there. Now, if Brittney or whoever is the best in the WNBA currently took testosterone, that might give them a chance, but still an unlikely one. This is why I believe they would need to go through “male puberty” during their teenage years, so they could grow into a male body instead of transitioning later. On a personal side note, I can’t wait for the day when a transman makes it to the NBA; that would be incredible!
Let’s delve deeper into each of the four main groups that a transgender basketball player could be a part of. I’m leaving non-binary out of this just for simplicity, but it deserves to be mentioned that even transitioning from male or female to non-binary can actually include some – or all! – of the things we’ll be covering. That said, here are those four simplified “main” groups:
- Pre-puberty, male-to-female
- Post-puberty, male-to-female
- Pre-puberty, female-to-male
- Post-puberty, female-to-male
Editor’s note: Let this be another reminder that this article is a thought exercise; the author is specifically not advocating for anything, but looking at each situation to explore the differences in order to explain them to us. This article is not presenting what choices people should make, but explaining what choices exist and how we can better understand them. Please keep this in mind, and ensure that any comments or concerns about transgender youth are made in good faith.
Look back to the kids you knew growing up during elementary school. If you were to remove the differences in clothing style between genders, hair, etc., boys and girls would look and act mostly indistinguishable from each other. But once a human hits puberty, no matter which sex they were assigned at birth, the person will go through the hormone process that is associated with that sex (testosterone = male; estrogen = female).
If one was to first go through what the trans community calls the “wrong puberty” and then go through the “right one” afterwards, that causes exposure to both puberties and thus will be hard to overcome from the perspective of athletic development. Fat gets redistributed, breast tissue or facial hair develops (depending on the hormones), skin gets softer or tougher, muscle mass increases or decreases, and so on. Not going through the “wrong puberty” keeps trans people almost indistinguishable. Here is an example of a transwoman who gained access to hormones at age 15 or so and was on puberty blockers until then.
You really can’t tell visually, can you? This is an example of type number 1 from above, pre-puberty male-to-female. In my view, this person should be allowed in ciswomen sports with no question, as the exposure to testosterone (which is the basis for comparing men and women from the perspective of athletic competition) simply did not occur.
For post-pubescent male-to-female people such as myself, a catchphrase I have heard is that “estrogen giveth, but not taketh away”. While it’s possible for most other current transwomen and me to appear cis (should we choose to) and get everything in order, we still have to spend years overcoming the influence (some might call it damage) that testosterone has had on our systems. It’s why everyone was in such a fuss over Lia Thomas, who is transgender (male-to-female). While I will say that estrogen has a lot of power in reducing strength, the data at this point is inconclusive regarding where we would need to get to compete on the same playing field.
Something many people forget is that just because you have a male body does not automatically mean you are good at sports. Even when I identified as a male, I would not have had a chance against a WNBA player or even a women’s college player. I swam and played football, but I'm not going to make an all-conference team in women's swimming just because of my birth assignment. My point is that people forget that girls are also good at sports, and in my opinion, the whole trans sports debate is misogyny as well because you are stating that women have no chance to compete with any male body in sports. Furthermore, you are limiting what a woman is to her parts. Imagine if this statement is said to a woman: "you are only a woman because of your parts." That goes right back to the rhetoric where we only value women's bodies and not their minds.
When it comes to transmen, that’s a whole ‘nother ballgame. Pre-pubescent female-to-male people should, in theory, be capable of developing as anybody else who was exposed to testosterone at a male level. Whether they get to a point of being a Giannis Antetokounmpo or Dwayne Johnson, I don’t think that’s known yet, but there is nothing yet that says it’s not possible. Based on what I’ve learned, all that happens before puberty regarding differences in sex is the physical organs, ready to produce hormones when the time comes.
Because female-to-male transgender people had estrogen exposure during puberty, it would be challenging for them, though not impossible, to overcome in terms of developing into professional-level basketball players. Testosterone would help their bodies gain muscle, but height, skeleton structure, and other things won’t change. Since most women in the WNBA are shorter than 6’6”, that is a challenge on its own. Forget about strength, these men won’t grow 3-10 inches after taking testosterone in their 20’s or later.
Now that we’ve discussed the four (simplified) groups of transgender people, let’s explore the Lia Thomas route (transitioning during your career) with professional basketball. Let’s make up a player to use for this thought experiment, using names that are already familiar to us. Let’s meet Khris Holiday. Khris Holiday is an average NBA player; standing at 6’7” and weighing in at 200 pounds, he plays small forward and puts up averages of 7 points and 4 rebounds per game while playing decent defense.
Say my made-up NBA player decides he can’t pretend anymore. He doesn’t want to continue as he is without fully living as a woman. Regardless of how anyone else feels about it, this is a perfectly valid feeling for anyone to have. Khris Holiday chooses to transition while continuing to play basketball professionally and becoming the first male-to-female WNBA player. He decides to undergo the change and she is now Khristine Holiday. Let’s also assume the WNBA and NBA both are trans-friendly enough to allow Khristine to transition leagues and play in the WNBA. There would obviously be some CBA considerations (with both leagues) to work out, but let’s just pretend it all works out on that front.
Khristine would likely have to take hormones for at least a year and get her levels of hormones to a normal level for women. She would also likely have to limit her weight-lifting and focus more on finesse exercises, especially upper body, and keep working on getting into appropriate WNBA shape. Changing her exercise routine would, over time, get her closer to ciswomen levels in strength and conditioning. Once cleared, hypothetically, she would then be eligible to be signed by a WNBA team.
Other possible side effects of Khristine’s transition during this time would be extensive, and she would also need to maintain contact with a therapist for however long she needs. She would need to go through blood work (albeit NBA players already likely go through it) to check her hormone and vitals every 6 months minimum, but probably more often since she is a professional athlete. Then you have emotional mood swings that may or may not happen (but will) because you are going through your second conscious puberty, and third overall if you include the hormone washes in the womb. She essentially has the hormonal makeup of a pubescent female…in the body of an adult male.
You also have the more permanent alterations that can be done to your body, which we won’t discuss in detail here, but someone going through the process surely will. Do you undergo facial feminization? Orchiectomy? Breast enhancement? Bottom surgery? Each of those procedures would require significant recovery. In theory, they could be done during the basketball offseason, but some of them (like reassignment) would take you out of playing shape for at least a few months. The other ones aren’t as bad, and there are more surgeries than these (i.e. clavicle shortening), but they all affect your basketball capabilities.
And those are only the bodily effects. You also have mental effects, which are tough to imagine unless you go through them. Forget the fact that she would become the most well-known and (in)famous WNBA player ever and have all of the drama (and trauma) that will come with it, but she still has to deal with the dysphoria. Slight insults that others wouldn’t think twice about can be debilitating for a transgender individual for minutes, or hours, or days. Beyond that, seeing the wrong thing in the wrong way at the wrong time, even if there is nothing wrong with that thing, way, or time, can also have that effect. This probably happens to me weekly on average, and I don’t know a transgender individual who has escaped that feeling entirely. Can you imagine going through this while living the life of a professional athlete?
Then we get to all the relationship changes: legal, professional, and personal. For starters, you might choose to change your name. This isn’t just done in court, but with credit cards, banks, and government agencies, and those are just the big ones. Not only that, you have to eventually tell everyone you know, or else let them find out and deal with it later. You may lose family, friends, partners, kids, teammates, and coaches, all because they don’t accept the fact that you “switched” genders.
For the relationships you do keep, you have to teach everyone you come in contact with (like me with Mitchell, lol) about proper pronouns and general information. You become a living FAQ board. You get uncomfortable questions from friends and strangers alike. Some of them seem to want to know what kind of business you have going on “down there” more than anyone else, which can get uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable.
That’s a lot to go through without basketball being involved, and in many ways, you are never done transitioning. There is a point where you feel like you’ve hit the end of the road (such as reassignment), but then you still have to deal with getting used to it, which is a continual transition from what was to what is. Hormones are also permanent, as in you don't stop taking them, and there is also potential ongoing dysphoria such as not being able to get pregnant or being too tall or hand size or foot size that doesn’t go away.
Going back to Khristine, a mid-career transition could be a blessing because if she had existing NBA money, she likely has the resources to help with the transition. Most transwomen don’t have six-plus figures to help with this stuff, so she at least doesn’t have to worry about the costs of hormones, appointments, new clothes, and all the procedures. For example, bottom surgery costs over $20,000 (on the low end) if insurance won’t cover it.
But let’s zoom back into the basketball-centric part of this conversation. We already established that Khristine was average in the NBA: 7 points, 4 boards, solid defense, etc. Let’s also assume that her NBA-average measurables (6’7”, 200 pounds) are about the same when heading into the WNBA. That might be nothing unique in the men’s league, but Khristine would likely be a popular free agent (or draft pick?) in the WNBA. For example, her attributes would make her the second heaviest and tallest player on the Minnesota Lynx while likely being the strongest and among the fastest, as well as having 10+ years of experience playing professional basketball. Suddenly, you have the potential for someone to come in and break the game.
The NCAAW faced this kind of situation with Brittney Griner when you look at her dominating collegiate statistics, and the early days of the NBA dealt with something similar. Did you ever hear of Wilt Chamberlain’s season when he averaged 50 per game? I’m guessing it could be something like that for Khristine at best. Wilt was taller than everybody else on his team by four inches, so he had it easier than the likes of David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal, and even Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But the NBA adjusted, players improved, and the league became more competitive.
This wouldn’t be a bad thing, though, for the WNBA. How many players do you know in the league without looking it up? I’m guessing not many if any, and Khristine would change that. She would be the Miami-era LeBron James “villain” or present-day Kevin Durant, if you prefer. She would make the sport more popular to watch, and while there would be hate (similar to what Wilt and Bill Russell got in the 60s), it would still be worth it for the ratings. This would help the entire league and actually help all the other women in the league make more money because of her presence. Eventually, the league would adjust in competitiveness. One final thought: in the year when Wilt averaged 50, the Warriors still lost 31 times, so it’s not like one great player makes your team unbeatable.
That’s my take on the story if one person goes that route. But what if it blows up from there? What happens if enough transwomen join the WNBA, so many that they knock an entire team or two of cis women out of the league? How could we prevent ciswomen from being kicked out of sports?
First of all, there aren’t enough transwomen for that to occur, generally speaking. From my own experience in the community, a ton of them also have limited knowledge of sports whatsoever and don’t really care. So it’s not like they will all start joining once the doors open, or even years later. After all, Juwanna Mann is twenty years old. How many people have tried to copy the plot of that movie?
Still, let’s play along for a bit. Let’s say cismen do try to BS their way into the WNBA, which is a reactionary fear to the debate. To counter that, for safekeeping, you would have to have a heavy screening process to “authenticate” the transwoman’s validity in her identity, as well as the appropriate hormone levels or other markers, similar to what our hypothetical-Khristine would go through. I don’t see another way to be able to ensure that cis men don’t take advantage of the system; this approach would be dysphoric and comes off as transphobic at worst.
Here’s a quote I can imagine arguments against this change using: “Even if one transwoman takes the spot of a ciswoman, that means there is one less ciswoman being able to make it.” On its face, that’s true, but they also didn’t necessarily beat out a ciswoman, did they? They could have beat out a different transwoman. Even still, for that moot point, how do we keep this fair for ciswomen so that everybody wins?
One solution to this concern is to create an extra roster spot designated for transgender women only. Once one fills up on every team, which I don’t think will happen for years (I’m thinking 15 years, minimum), you add a second one. It’s similar to the injury-related 16th roster spot, and transwomen will also not count against the cap for ciswomen. That way, you take no money or roster spot away, and since the transwomen are essentially only competing for spots against other transwomen, it can’t be said that “she lost her spot because of a transwoman.” Of course there is still playing time to worry about, and that’s something that maybe can’t be solved with this solution. Finally, it would even out the transwomen by team, so competitive balance doesn’t become as big of a problem. This would work similarly to if the Bucks were to sign an extra “COVID player” on a 10-day exception during the Omicron times, but it would be season-long.
As for winning games, basketball is a team sport, and as Lakers and Nets showed us in 2021-22, having one or two great players doesn’t mean your team will be great. Playing time may change, but with only one person on a team that’s trans, it’s not like it would be much.
Now, I want to address this on another level in the individual sports realm before wrapping up. We mentioned Lia Thomas earlier; what about her? “It’s not fair that she wins and takes trophies from ciswomen,” say some folks. Okay, but that’s why in those sports, you have the same concept with trophy competitions. You have the transwoman’s time separate from the ciswomen, and you award each of them equally. I’ll illustrate with an example.
Say a transwoman swims and is invited to the championship. There are only 8 spots open, so they invite a ninth to be inclusive to transwomen without “taking away” from ciswomen, if and only if the transwoman qualifies (it’s not automatic). She gets third place, so you award a third place trophy to the transwoman and a third place ciswoman. They should both receive equal representation, compensation, and recognition from that award.
This could solve, maybe partially or maybe overall, for individual sports that are most prevalent in the Olympics; it doesn’t fit for team sports like basketball, but we previously covered one way to handle that.
Nothing is perfect, and neither is the solution I outlined above, but that is the best I can come up with. And in the grand scheme of things, this is likely low on the list of concerns transwomen have, but the problem with it (transwomen participating in sports that are “for” ciswomen) is that it keeps us (and our identity) in the media to be attacked.
When these stories get attention, they are used as a vehicle to gather support for change…and not necessarily progress. When that happens, more gets taken away from an already-marginalized group (like the trans community) like Medicaid benefits (happening in Florida). These problems actually do need a solution that works for everyone, and excluding transwomen entirely doesn’t work. Separating transwomen is akin to the Negro Leagues of the 20th century and demonstrates the belief that we are not “real women.” It is transphobia, which does not actually mean “fear of trans people” but “the dislike or prejudice against trans people.” Nobody kicked out Wilt Chamberlain because of his height, but they wanted to because of his skin color. Nobody kicked out Jackie Robinson for being too good, but they wanted to because of his skin color. And so on.
It’s possible to work through this and find fair solutions for everyone, but many appear to simply not want to, and that’s where the problem lies. Hopefully, leadership will start to think of this inclusively for everyone, not just cisgender humans but also not just transgender humans either. We all are equal and deserve to be treated with equity.
I also want to add that while I listed off all of the perceivably negative sides of being transgender, there are so many things that make all of that worth it. Considering the Brew Hoop community is mostly a male audience, let’s go through one more thought exercise:
Imagine if you were to swap minds with a random woman on the street. After all of the Lil Dicky Freaky Friday experimentation (I’m referring to the part at the very end of this video), how would you start to feel? Eventually, I’d bet it’s “out of place.” Now have someone interact with you and call you the gender that they see, not the one you feel. You think inside your head, “I’m a boy” when they see a girl, and maybe you even have the guts to say it out loud. Either way, you feel bad, and you also feel guilty because you know that this other person sees a girl, even though you know deep down you are a boy. You then had enough of this, and you go to try to get yourself out of this situation. But you can’t, you’re stuck in a girl’s body, and now you have to transition out of it.
You have to go through everything I described for Khristine and more, and it’s worth it. Because once people start to recognize and see that you really are the man you say you are, you start to feel good. You feel whole. They start calling you by the name you want to be called. You feel good that people can recognize you, start treating you like a man again, and once you take hormones, you start getting your beard back. You start getting your voice back. You have surgery and no longer have those boobs. The feeling of that euphoria and triumph make this worth it, and frankly, it isn’t talked about enough. Some people don’t want to talk about it, but you can’t deny another person as easily as you deny the conversation.
Khristine – or any other transgender individual – does not have to deal with, go through, or experience any of these things to be valid. This is assuming that she goes as far as she can possibly go with transitioning. That is her journey.
Thanks for reading! I hope you all have a great rest of your summer! Please let me know what you think below, and try not to be discriminatory or inflammatory. Thanks!
Editor’s note: No, but seriously. Be cool!