“Surly Shirley” and the assault on women’s sport–then and now

by Worriedmom

The year is 1976, and the place is the Montreal Olympics. And it’s clear that something is wrong.

The East German women’s swim team is unstoppable. Inhuman, almost. Smashing every record, every competitor, sweeping every race – then jumping out of the pool like it wasn’t even challenging. Race after race, the American women – before this, favored to medal, if not win, most swimming events – are outclassed, demoralized, destroyed.

What could possibly be happening? Who are these women? Where did they come from and how are they dominating this Olympics so thoroughly? Today, of course, we know that the East German and other former USSR-bloc women athletes were part of massive, intensive, state-sponsored doping programs, that “processed” thousands of female athletes, pumping them full of anabolic steroids, human growth hormone, and other performance enhancing drugs to turn them into athletic machines.

Kornelia EnderAfter the fall of the Berlin Wall and subsequent disclosure of state-sponsored doping programs, the story of the East German women’s drug scandal today is well-known. Sadly, many of these athletes, such as Kornelia Ender (pictured left) did not even know until much later that they were the victims of a doping machine. As Ines Geipel, an East German sprinter, stated, “We were a large experiment, a big chemical field test.” (Have we heard this somewhere before?)

Virtually all of the “doped” women went on to suffer serious health consequences stemming from steroid use, including chronic pain, kidney disease, heart attacks, infertility, and skeletal problems. Germany has now compensated some for their life-long health problems, and there have even been a few criminal convictions of “doping doctors.”

The drug program was not limited to swimming, nor East Germany, and several commentators have suggested that track and field records set during this period should be invalidated since it is unlikely they will ever be equaled.

Jarmila KIn 1983, Jarmila Kratochvilova, a “previously mediocre” 32-year-old Czech middle distance runner, set a world record in the 800-meter run in 1:53.28 seconds. That record has never been beaten in the 35 years since.

What is not as well-known today is that at the time, one particular woman, who was cheated out of as many as five gold medals – and who knew she was being cheated – was harshly criticized, ridiculed, and silenced when she dared to speak up about the unfairness she saw all around her.

Shirley Babashoff of the United States, then known as the “Queen of U.S. swimming” and  favored to exceed her stellar performance in the 1972 Olympics, arrived in Montreal in 1976. Her first clue that something was wrong was when she and the other U.S. women were changing in the locker room and heard men’s voices. Assuming the locker room was co-ed, they dressed quickly and looked around the corner, only to find the East German women’s swimming team.

Getting on the bus to return to the Village, Babashoff was asked by reporters for her opinion of the East German team. She replied, “Well, except for their deep voices and mustaches, I think they’ll probably do fine.”

The comment was the spark that lit the flame. (Source.)

As the 1976 Olympics went on, things got worse for the American women – and particularly for Shirley Babashoff. Beaten by East German women in all of the individual events in which she was entered (the 100, 200, 400 and 800-meter freestyle events), Babashoff won gold in only one event, the women’s 400-meter medley relay. Overall, the East German women won 32 out of a possible 38 Olympic women’s swimming gold medals.  Dubbed “Surly Shirley” by an unforgiving press, for continuing to speak out against the obvious cheating, Babashoff returned home from Montreal to find herself labeled a “loser” by none other than Sports Illustrated.

According to Mark Schubert, her coach at the time, “She was the only one that had the guts to speak out back then. If anybody had the right to speak out, it was her because she was the one that was cheated out of Olympic gold medals.” (Source.)

surly shirley olympics ceremonyDismissed as “shrill,” and “angry,” pictured is Shirley Babashoff, at left, during the Olympic medal award ceremony for the 400-meter freestyle, which she lost to Petra Thumer of East Germany. Thumer later admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs.

The 1976 Olympics marked the end of Babashoff’s swimming career. No fame and fortune like that enjoyed by Mark Spitz in the same era, no valuable endorsements, no cereal boxes, just finger-pointing, blame and ultimately, anonymity. Babashoff went on to a career as a postal carrier and life as a single mother to her son. It’s only recently that anyone has become interested in what Babashoff has to say, and in her recent book, Making Waves: My Journey to Winning Olympic Gold and Defeating the East German Doping Program, Babashoff expresses hope that the International Olympic Committee will consider re-awarding the gold and other medals from the 1976 Games to their rightful recipients. As of press time, she’s still waiting.

The other women athletes around Shirley Babashoff learned her lesson well. Speak out and get thumped in the press. Be labeled a “bad sport” or a “sore loser.” Get told you’re imagining things, or that you’re not seeing what’s right in front of your own eyes. Most important of all, don’t take yourself or your performance seriously. Give up your athletic dreams if they say you should, and do it with a smile on your face, like a good girl.

Could the parallel be any closer to what is happening to the female athletes of today, who are expected to compete with natal males in sports as varied as track and field, marathon running, weight-lifting, mixed martial arts, women’s football, American football, dodgeball,cricket, volleyball, golf, basketball, cycling, softball, even roller derby? After all, as Vice News puts it,

fallon foxTake that, cry-baby.

Most articles discussing the entry of transgender women athletes into women’s sports do not feature the voices of the women affected. A classic example is “Transgender Weightlifter Might Have ‘Unfair Advantage’ – Expert”, published on the New Zealand news site News Hub.  Quoted in the article are a skeptical professor, a defensive New Zealand sporting official, an annoyed Australian official, and of course Hubbard, who was given a platform to say the following:

lauren hubbard

lauren hubbard 2

No “fundamental difference.”

Typical of the coverage afforded transgender athletes, however, we rarely if ever hear from the women beaten by Hubbard, who competed as a male in weightlifting for many years, and has now broken several women’s Masters weight-lifting records.  In fact, anybody with an objection to Hubbard’s stunning performances is dismissed as “prejudiced” and “jealous.”   Shades of Shirley Babashoff, who was ridiculed for losing to the East Germans when she was favored to win, and critiqued for not somehow prevailing anyway in an entirely unbalanced and unfair competition.

sore loser awardsIn many ways the failure of women athletes to object to transgendered men in their sports is not surprising.  There is a strong taboo in athletics against appearing to refuse to take personal responsibility for one’s sporting losses. No matter the circumstances, athletes are expected to take all of the blame when their performance does not measure up to standards.  Even in circumstances that are objectively unfair and unequal, a female athlete – faced with the pressure to be socially correct, the requirement that females be “nice” at all times, and worries about being judged as a griper and a sore loser – will hold her fire and not point out the obvious.

Women athletes are in an impossible bind: speak out and suffer Shirley’s fate, or continue to lose in lopsided and unfair competitions. Nothing will change until the athletes themselves, and not their surrogates, begin to protest, speak out, and refuse to participate in patently unfair competition. Until then, women’s sports will continue to be vulnerable to domination by transgender males.  How long will it be until potential women competitors decide it simply isn’t worth it? Why compete at all, if not on a level playing field?

Even the youngest competitors seem to sense that protesting will lead only to being punished, not heard. In Connecticut in 2017, Andraya Yearwood, a male teenager, who had undergone no medical treatment whatsoever, entered, and won, high school girls sprint races (on both the state and regional level).

andrea yearwoodAccording to Sarah Hall, the female athlete shown being beaten by Andraya Yearwood in this picture, “I can’t really say what I want to say, but there’s not much I can do about it” (Source). “It’s frustrating,” said Hall, who finished third in the 200. “But that’s just the way it is now.” (Source.)

That’s just the way it is now.  Shirley Babashoff could have told her that.

 

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Letter to a gender clinic: A parent’s call to action

A version of the letter contained in this post was sent by the parents of a trans-identifying daughter to the gender clinic where she received transition services. PADad, who is the young woman’s father, would like this letter to serve as a template for other parents, and encourages readers to participate in the letter-writing campaign he describes below. PADad is available to interact in the comments section of this post.

Note to 4thWaveNow readers: The letter as written by PADad has undergone lawyer review. Please see the April 10, 2018 update posted beneath the letter.


 by PADad

Like many who congregate on 4thWaveNow, we are the parents of a young person (in our case, a 20-year-old daughter) who has recently and suddenly come out as transgender. And like most here, our daughter had never exhibited any gender dysphoria as a child.

We have been doing a lot of research and planning our steps carefully. We have decided that one thing we must do is to push back against the forces in our society that are encouraging young people to take potentially harmful medications and make irreversible changes to their bodies. We want to help ensure that, before they are given access to medical interventions, young people carefully explore why they believe these changes are needed and how the changes will affect their lives in the future.

The trans activists do not outnumber those of us who are concerned about this trend, and our inactivity is putting our children at risk. Right now, many clinicians prescribe hormones and surgeries for youth with little fear of repercussion. We can change the calculus for these clinicians. We must reveal to them how many parents have the same concerns, as well as our tenacity in calling them to account. We are not going away.

To that end, I have prepared a letter that I will be sending to all of the clinicians who are involved in my daughter’s care. Because she is on our health insurance plan, we have access to her actions and payments, so we know who these people are.

I have drafted a similar letter to send to our health insurance company, putting them on notice that they are complicit in this harmful trend and urging them to change their standards for the treatments and surgeries they will allow and cover. We are also pursuing legal representation to follow up on our letters.

If insurance companies see they may be exposing themselves to liability by covering interventions that may cause more harm than good, they can play an important role in limiting the number of young people who inappropriately undertake medical intervention.

This linked site contains a comprehensive list of gender clinics in the US., organized by state and easy to search. Please consider sending your own letters to no fewer than 10 clinicians on this list, if possible, by registered mail. You may choose to use/customize our letter (below) as a template. Choose the clinics who are closest to you and perhaps add in some at random. We need to get as many out there as we can.

If some of these clinicians and facilities change their ways, others will follow. The risk of lawsuits goes up for them if they allow themselves to be singled out. That can affect the cost of their malpractice insurance. If we act together, we can make a difference.


A Parent’s Letter to a Gender Clinic

You are receiving this letter because our child is a patient at your clinic or a clinic like yours. The purpose of the letter is to make you aware of a concern that many parents, including myself, and a large and growing number of medical professionals, share about the care you are providing for our children. Some of these young people are over the age of 18 and therefore do not have to include us in their health decisions. Regardless of their age, and regardless of whether or not we are involved in discussions between you and our children, you have an obligation to do what is best for their long-term health. We do not believe this is happening.

The increasing rate at which young people, aged 11-21, are coming out as transgender cannot be explained by the fact that the broader transgender movement in western societies is removing the social stigma around coming out. The evidence is very clear at this point, and becoming clearer by the day, that what is going on with at least some of these young people, particularly young women, has elements of a social contagion.

We are including links to multiple pieces of research at the end of this letter to support our statements and to elucidate our concerns. As medical professionals, you should be aware of this research, and you have an obligation to take it seriously. At a minimum, you should be raising the bar and making selection criteria considerably more stringent before prescribing “puberty blockers,” HRT and surgeries. Because these treatments have permanent effects on patients’ bodies and minds, you should be first requiring alternatives to these treatments which are more reversible. Unless social contagion and other underlying and preexisting factors (including other mental health issues) are ruled out, it is insufficient and negligent to place undue emphasis on self-reporting from the youths themselves.

We understand that you may be under the impression that existing law provides protection against future liability for prescribing these dangerous drugs and performing these surgical interventions. We disagree. Moreover, as human beings and responsible medical professionals, you can raise the bar for treatment, reduce future regret rates, and put pressure on your peers to be better informed and to act responsibly.

Be advised that through this letter, we are putting you on notice. So far as we know, the current course of medical transgender treatment for minors has never been tested in the context of medical malpractice liability, and we do not believe that these interventions will be found to meet the standard of care for the treatment of juvenile dysphoria.

If you do not act in the best interests of all of your patients, the day may well come that you will be held accountable. We are planning for that day. Clinics and doctors will be called out by name. We will call you out by name in legal proceedings, and in social and conventional media. You should assume that, particularly given the irreversible and (at least in some cases) unwanted changes that these young people will suffer, damages can reasonably be expected to be substantial.

In addition to the risk of legal action, you should think about your place in history and your reputation. This contagion will pass, as they all do. But due to its size and impact, you should expect this social contagion to be a topic for years to come. It is already large and catastrophic enough to garner significant interest and publication in medical, social and psychological journals. I urge you to think carefully about how your clinic and your name will be mentioned in the course of this crisis, and whether you protected or ultimately harmed young people; whether you acted out of concern for youth or for your profits. You can dismiss any single case or patient as justifiable, but history will be less kind when looking at the body of your work over time.

I would encourage you to read the referenced research and clinical opinion, including the multiple links to additional published research in these articles, and familiarize yourself with it. There is sufficient information there to warrant serious soul-searching in any practitioner involved in the medical transition of minors and young adults.


Update: April 10, 2018. A few trans activists have claimed that the letter as written amounts to issuing (possibly unlawful) threats. For clarity, here are remarks by two lawyers in the 4thWaveNow community. (Caveat: This statement should not to be construed as legal advice for anyone reading this.)

Any communication, such as the letter referenced above, that states “if you engage in X behavior, Y consequences may result” could be termed, in some sense, a “threat.” The issue is not whether “threat” is the correct appellation, the issue is whether that “threat” is actionable (i.e. potentially gives rise to civil or criminal liability). Here, the answer is no.

Start with the understanding that in the United States, there is extremely wide latitude for speech. We enjoy robust First Amendment protections that give us the ability to express our opinions quite freely and widely without government interference, compared to other countries. There are allowable restrictions for such things as defamation or criminal conspiracy, as one would expect, but generally speaking, such restrictions on speech tend to be very narrowly interpreted and difficult to fall within. In the U.S., there simply is no such tort or crime as “hate speech;” our Supreme Court so ruled last summer. Moreover, “hate crimes,” or crimes motivated by animus against a particular group based on group characteristics, are a sentencing enhancement, or an additional penalty that is added on to a pre-existing crime. Other than in a few very select instances that don’t apply here, there is no such thing as a “hate crime” standing alone (an underlying crime such as assault, battery, etc. has to have been committed to give rise to the “hate crime” add-on).​

​On the “threat” point, first, as to criminal liability. A “threat” only gives rise to criminal liability when it communicates or contains, for instance, the intention to use bodily harm against the recipient, to harm the person’s property (e.g. “terroristic threats”), or to obtain financial advantage by unlawful means specified in an applicable law. An example of the latter would be extortion (“pay me X or I’ll tell your husband you are having an affair”). The “clinic letter” does none of these things, and 4thWaveNow unequivocally and strongly condemns any revision to the letter that would threaten such actions.

Second, as to civil liability. It is generally permissible to threaten to take legal action against someone in order to assert or protect one’s legal rights. Lawyers send “demand letters” (letters that outline why a party should do, or not do, some action, and the legal consequences for refusing to comply) all the time.

Moreover, it is not 4thwavenow that is making any demand in the letter; and the letter, in the form contained on the site, does not identify any recipient.

Summing it up, at the very most the “clinic letter” could be viewed as containing a non-actionable “threat” by the individual at issue (a) that legal remedies may be sought, to the extent such remedies are now, or in the future become, available and appropriate, and (b) to advocate the subject positions with, and exert public pressure upon, medical providers and insurers.


Suggested References

 “Evidence for Altered Sex Ratio in Clinic-Referred Adolescents with Gender Dysphoria,” Aitken et al, The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 2015

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25612159

Analysis of article here:

https://transresearch.info/2015/09/10/evidence-for-an-altered-sex-ratio-in-clinic-referred-adolescents-with-gender-dysphoria-review/

The Canadian clinic saw nearly nearly three times as many female teens in the past 8 years as they had seen in the previous thirty. The Dutch clinic saw nearly twice as many female teens in the past 8 years as they had seen in the previous seventeen.

Rapid Onset of Gender Dysphoria in Adolescents and Young Adults: A Descriptive Study. Lisa L. Littman MPH., Journal of Adolescent Health, 2017.

http://www.jahonline.org/article/S1054-139X(16)30765-0/fulltext

Parents online are observed reporting their children experiencing a rapid onset of gender dysphoria appearing for the first time during or after puberty. They describe this development occurring in the context of being part of a peer group where one, multiple, or even all friends have developed gender dysphoria and come out as transgender during the same time frame and/or an increase in social media/internet use. The purpose of this study is to document this observation and describe the resulting presentation of gender dysphoria inconsistent with existing research.

“Medicine must do better on gender,” Margaret McCartney, British Medical Journal, 2018

https://www.bmj.com/content/360/bmj.k1312

A clear rise in referrals of children to specialist gender identity services has been seen in recent years, particularly in teens. Yet the role assigned to medicine can’t be separated from societal attitudes and abilities. The debate on gender occurs in an environment where boys are seen as being boys, and girls as girls, because of how they behave rather than their biological sex…

…Therapists are right to be concerned about overdiagnosis and overtreatment. But this concern can be perceived by parents as a barrier rather than a caring, evidence based response.

Many children with gender dysphoria will grow up without reassignment surgery but will be gay or bisexual. One concern is that gender reassignment makes homosexuality “disappear”: in Iran being gay is illegal, but the rate of gender reassignment surgery is the highest in the world.

“CBC Self-Censorship Part of Frightening Gender Identity Trend,” Susan Bradley, The Post Millennial, 2018.

https://www.thepostmillennial.com/cbc-self-censorship-part-frightening-gender-identity-trend/

In my own practice, I have seen a good many young women displaying the phenomenon known as “rapid onset gender dysphoria,” or ROGD, which overwhelmingly affects girls. Typically, the ROGD teenage girls I see have, wittingly or not, begun to experience homoerotic feelings about which they are conflicted. They tend to be socially isolated, and somewhere “on the spectrum.” They may have histories of eating or self-harm disorders.

They have found companions with the same attributes on Internet sites, which diminishes such adolescents’ sadness over their social isolation, but which can also lead to foreclosure of reflective thinking about their own feelings and situation. Some of these girls are depressed, afflicted with suicidal ideation. Because of the initial euphoria they experience in finally “belonging” to a well-defined kinship group, they tend to embrace the idea of transitioning wholeheartedly as the solution to their other problems.

“Transgenderism and the Social Construction of Diagnosis,” Lisa Marchiano, Quillette, 2018.

http://quillette.com/2018/03/01/transgenderism-social-construction-diagnosis/

Activists and certain clinicians who are sympathetic to the activist movement appear to feel threatened by the idea of rapid onset gender dysphoria because the suggestion that dysphoria might be influenced by social or cultural factors undermines the notions of innateness. If dysphoria isn’t innate, justifying medical intervention becomes more complicated.

“Early Medical Treatment of Children and Adolescents with Gender Dysphoria: An Empirical Ethical Study.” Lieke et al, Journal of Adolescent Health, 2015 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26119518 

Seven themes give rise to different, and even opposing, views on treatment: (1) the (non-)availability of an explanatory model for GD; (2) the nature of GD (normal variation, social construct or [mental] illness); (3) the role of physiological puberty in developing gender identity; (4) the role of comorbidity; (5) possible physical or psychological effects of (refraining from) early medical interventions; (6) child competence and decision making authority; and (7) the role of social context how GD is perceived. Strikingly, the guidelines are debated both for being too liberal and for being too limiting. Nevertheless, many treatment teams using the guidelines are exploring the possibility of lowering the current age limits […]As long as debate remains on these seven themes and only limited long-term data are available, there will be no consensus on treatment.

“The Influence of Peers During Adolescence: Does Homophobic Name Calling by Peers Change Gender Identity” Delay et al,  Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 2017

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10964-017-0749-6

Homophobic name calling emerged as a form of peer influence that changed early adolescent gender identity, such that adolescents in this study appear to have internalized the messages they received from peers and incorporated these messages into their personal views of their own gender identity.

“The Endocrinologist’s Office—Puberty Suppression: Saving Children from a Natural Disaster?” Sahar Sadjadi,  Journal of Medical Humanities, 2013

https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/46da/ae7559f1b49d4516b0eee5266ab24a6e739a.pdf

Currently, the health consequences of the treatment are relatively unexplored. The treatment is being implemented, however, under the pressure of the emergency of saving the child from the devastation assumed to follow the onset of puberty. It must be remembered that puberty suppression as the first step to medical transition, if followed by cross-sex hormones, which has been the case for almost all reported cases, leads to infertility due to the permanent immaturity of the gonads and the reproductive tract. The absence of the discussion of sterilization of children as a major ethical challenge in this bioethics article, and many other clinical debates on puberty suppression, is striking. For any other group of children, such an intervention would be discussed extensively with ethics review boards.

The annual number of referrals to the gender dysphoria specialist team at the Astrid Lindgren Children’s Hospital in Stockholm. Referenced article in Swedish:

http://lakartidningen.se/Klinik-och-vetenskap/Klinisk-oversikt/2017/02/Kraftig-okning-av-konsdysfori-bland-barn-och-unga/

“A Different Stripe”, Renee Sullivan, Psychology Today, 2018

https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201803/different-stripe

It’s been four years since I reidentified as a woman. My gender dysphoria was real and often painful, but the way for me to resolve it wasn’t by becoming a man. It was by questioning and rejecting the stories society had told me about what it means to be a woman.

Some charts illustrating the steadily increasing number of natal females presenting to gender clinics, worldwide.

increase in girls Toronto amsterdam

Canada, Netherlands, UK, Finland

increase in girls sweden

Sweden

increase in girls tavistock

United Kingdom

New zealand increase in girls to gender clinic

New Zealand

increase in girls

Toronto and Amsterdam