What does a fair and trans-inclusive athletic policy look like? That is the question at the heart of journalist Katie Barnes’ electrifying debut, Fair Play: How Sports Shape the Gender Debates, which looks at the role gender has historically played in sports. Through in-depth and compassionate reporting, Barnes breaks down the misunderstood science surrounding sex and gender that has been used to keep cisgender women out of sports and has fueled debate over trans athletes participation in women’s sports. As Barnes explains, those who support trans sports bans have claimed that it would be unfair for trans women to compete against those who were assigned female at birth. Barnes investigates the validity of those concerns by speaking with medical experts and analyzing the difference between using testosterone to medically transition and using it to gain competitive advantage. The writer also takes a closer look at Title IX, the landmark 1972 federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on sex in education, and how it unnecessarily normalized sex segregation in sports.
But Barnes, who identifies as nonbinary, knows this issue is not just a political or scientific one. They put the personal stories of trans and nonbinary athletes at the center of the discussion, interviewing South African Olympic middle-distance runner Caster Semenya and University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas to understand the real effects these reactive laws are having on the community. Despite a rise in anti-trans bills in the U.S. over the past year, Barnes ends Fair Play on a hopeful note, offering their own thoughtful policy recommendations and suggestions to make athletics more inclusive. If there is anything Barnes has learned, it’s that there’s always a path forward—even if the road is a long one. —Shannon Carlin
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