Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Friday, July 30, 1999

Transsexual canoe
argument doesn’t float

IF I donned a sports bra and changed my name to Charlene, should I be allowed to paddle on an all-woman's canoe team?

Certainly not. Because, first of all, the sight of me in a sports bra would be a crime against humanity. And secondly, no canoe team, especially one manned by women, would let me in their boat unless it were the size of the Titanic and was nuclear powered.

But that's sort of what LiAnne Taft wants to do [Star-Bulletin, July 29]. Taft says she is a transsexual. The definition of transsexual is "a person who is predisposed to identify with the opposite sex or one who has undergone the surgery and hormone injections to effect a change of sex."

And, this is where it gets a little hairy. If Taft merely "identifies" with the opposite sex, then she's probably still legally a he. If she's legally a he, she should be in the he canoes. But if she's had the operation and is no longer physically a he, that is, if all of her he-equipment has been, well, deleted, then she's probably legally a she and should be in the she boats.

That's what happened with Renee Richards, a professional male tennis player who surgically changed his sex and then competed against women. Needless to say, Renee's female opponents weren't thrilled to face a woman in a man's body with a little white skirt and a killer serve.

But Taft won't say exactly how far along the transsexual process she is. She says it's a privacy matter. Huh? It's an issue when she asks to be allowed to compete as a woman but a private matter when asked to disclose her gender?

THAT'S not fair. It's a fact of life that most men are bigger and stronger than most women. That is why, in sports involving strength and size, men do not compete against women. (I don't understand why men and women can't compete against each other in sissy sports like pingpong, bowling and Australian Rules Football. Just kidding. I don't want an all-women's Australian Rules Football team visiting my desk and pounding the snot out of me. Or a pingpong team either.)

Canoeing is fairly divided into men's and women's teams. Taft apparently is caught in the middle, someone undergoing a transformation. One that takes time. As I understand it, surgeons will not complete the transformation until the person has shown she can live as a woman. But that's Taft's personal decision. It's HER problem. It's unfair for her -- since she refuses to say exactly what gender she is -- to make it a Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association problem.

It's hard not to be indelicate in discussing this. But it's clear here what the intention of the canoe association rules are: if a person has certain male equipment, that person competes as a male. If they don't, they compete as a woman. Frankly, what's called for here is an equipment check. If Taft still has all the male accoutrements, she should compete as a male.

The reason is simple. If you allow one man to compete as a woman -- even for legitimate sexual identity reasons -- other men will follow with less sterling motives.

We stacked the U.S. Olympic basketball team with the highest-paid pros in the world. You don't think that in our zeal to win, we wouldn't stack the U.S. women's soccer team with professional soccer-playing guys in wigs and tutus if we could get away with it?

Taft should do the right thing: show her cards and let the chips fall where they may. It's too bad she's caught in the middle. But that doesn't mean the canoe association has to be.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802

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