SPORTS There is space in sports for transgender athletes –...

There is space in sports for transgender athletes – especially at the youth level

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When I walked into cross country practice last week, my teammate, a top 30 runner in class A girls, was handed a letter addressing her as a fellow student-athlete.

The Class C cross country state championship race last month at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Curious about what it could be, she opened it carefully to reveal a letter urging her to buy a “save girls sports” t-shirt. The letter then went on to label Maine runner Soren Stark-Chessa as a “boy who thinks he’s a girl,” explaining that her participation in girls’ cross country was “selfish and wrong.”

I write this as a cisgender girl, something I would like to make extremely clear to anybody evaluating my point of view. I have no relationship to Soren besides the fact that I, too, am a Maine girls cross country runner. I will not pretend to be entirely educated on the trans community or trans people’s participation in sports; however, I have held strong opinions on the matter for many years.

In the spring of 2021, I testified before the Maine State Judiciary Committee against L.D. 926 and L.D. 1401, bills that were attempting to prevent trans girls from participating in youth sports. As an eighth- grader, my feelings on the topic were clear and straightforward: trans girls have every right to participate in youth sports.

Since then, the debate has become more heated and more relevant, as more and more trans women of all athletic levels have gained publicity for their participation and often incredible accomplishments in women’s sports.

My opinion is not as black and white as it was two-and-a half years ago, but I still believe (now with more personal experience with the topic) that there is space in sports, especially at the youth level, for transgender women and men.

First and foremost, cross country running is an individual sport.

If someone asked me how good I am at running, I would not mention that one time I placed fifth at a meet with only 20 runners. That would not be an accurate representation of me as an athlete because the place can vary for every race. For example, in 2022, the winner of the Class A Maine State Girl’s Cross Country Championship ran a time of 19:04. A time of 19:04 at the 2022 Division One (class A equivalent) California State Girl’s Cross Country Championships would put you at 49th place. To reiterate, the number one class A girl in Maine would be the 49th fastest runner in California, a 48-place difference.

This does not take away from the incredible accomplishments of Maine’s best runners; however, it does show that place is an arbitrary number that differs in every course, state and race.

I am not attempting to invalidate the excitement and fulfillment of a first-place – or even 10th-place – medal in reward for hard work and dedication, but to say that allowing Soren Stark-Chessa to run does not erase the achievements of other female athletes.

A runner’s speed and success are defined primarily by their times, something that Soren and other transgender athletes have no control over and, therefore, do not take away from.

Despite your opinions on the matter, Soren is a child – a child whose most significant “crime” is running a race. Instead of being able to participate in the same competition as any other high school runner, she is booed at, laughed at, cursed at and now, seemingly, the face of an anti-trans campaign created by an adult.

If you ask any runner, I am sure they will tell you that one of the best aspects of cross country is the community, an aspect we reduce every time a child is yelled at for being comfortable in their own skin. There are hundreds of problems we could label as women’s issues. A cross-country race is not one of them.


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