Carlos Bolsonaro’s project to ban athletes

The Rio de Janeiro Chamber of Councilors considered as unconstitutional the proposal of councilor Carlos Bolsonaro (Republicans), presented last week, with the objective of prohibiting transsexual athletes from participating in sports competitions in the city.

The Bill was blocked by the consulting and legislative advisory team of the City Council, as it is in line with three articles of the Constitution that define the Union’s competence in topics such as education, culture and sports. The decision was published last Thursday (23) in the Official Gazette of the municipality.

Despite not having moved forward in the legislative house, the proposal resumed the debate on the right of trans people to exercise their functions as athletes. Also about Carlos Bolsonaro’s intention to reaffirm a moral position in the political debate, through the denial of the existence of trans people.

To explain more about the debate, the Brazil in fact spoke with anthropologist Bárbara Pires, a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Social Medicine at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ) who conducts research on hormonal science and intersexuality, especially with regard to scientific consensus, medical protocols, care in hospital spaces and sports regulations.

Also read: “Our biggest challenge is to stay alive”, says transsexual activist

According to the researcher, the aim of the bill is to reaffirm a violent moral stance. Sport, in this sense, serves as a fertile environment to try to regulate social differences. “This sporting participation, which today prides itself on social inclusion and equal chances, in fact, has always been a space of distinction and privilege”, he explains.

Currently, what decides whether or not a trans athlete can compete is the hormonal measure. According to regulations of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) of November 2015, trans women must have the amount of testosterone controlled to compete in women’s teams by up to 10 nanomol per liter of blood in the 12 months prior to competition.

In 2017, the controversy surrounding the competition of trans athletes boiled over when Tiffanny Abreu received from the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB), the volleyball regulator, a formal authorization to enroll in women’s leagues. At the end of that year, she became the first transsexual athlete to act in the women’s Superliga for Bauru.

“There is a lack of long-term comparative studies. We would have to have studies carried out in an ethical manner by entities and researchers without links or funding to the sports institutions that establish these regulatory policies. So these processes obviously say more about the social demands of organizing subjects into essentially male or female categories than about the sports health of these athletes”, adds the researcher.

Check out the full interview:

Brasil de Fato: Carlos Bolsonaro’s project is a clear attempt to create norms that exclude and do not accept trans athletes/people. Do you believe that this is an example that sport is the environment in which discourses against transsexuality are echoed and credible by biological explanations?

Barbara Pires: Sport has always been a place of social organization. Historically, the sporting environment was a space for cultivating so-called modern sensibilities. Learn to structure the body and behavior for life in industrial society.

So, when the first sports institutions were created, like IOC, these rules were delimited by a very traceable social group. Men, aristocrats, Europeans.

Initially, the female category was not included in these events and, later, it was received influenced by social conventions that dictated the ways women appear publicly. Modalities considered too manly were not allowed for the female category.

In other words, this sporting participation, which today prides itself on social inclusion and equality of chances, has in fact always been a space of distinction and privilege.

Over time, the ways of inspecting women to be eligible for this female category changed according to the medical and scientific advances of each era. The supposedly biological explanations of today, which seek to ban trans athletes from sport, make the same movement of segregation and inequality that has shaped the history of institutionalization of international sport.

So we can say that the anxiety to control female bodies has always found an echo in biological explanations. The moral panic illustrated by this bill is no different from previous exclusions.

Would the objective of Carlos Bolsonaro’s project be, then, to reaffirm a moral position in the political debate, through the denial of the existence of trans people?

The bill is a piece of propaganda. We have not managed to detach the moral position from political action, but in recent years we have abandoned certain moral consensuses around the freedom or integrity of the human person to politically dispute the versions of these categories that make more sense for each social group.

Unfortunately, the Brazilian State was dragged by the moral panic that influences the most diverse violations of consolidated human rights. So, yes, the objective is to reaffirm this moral position through coordinated actions – institutionally and in a network – that reaffirm in discourse the validity of these social conceptions.

But they are very violent understandings of the world.

These social conceptions deny the existence of trans people, the possibility of autonomy and social recognition to which we are all entitled before the Brazilian State and, beyond that, they encourage a discourse of erasure and violation of their bodies and identities. It’s something to fight seriously.

What are the criteria used to establish that the bodies of trans people can or cannot play sports in the gender assumed by them?

The criterion is solely hormonal. We have differences between men and women regarding the rates and effects of steroid hormones with the onset of puberty. So it is speculated that trans athletes, in the case of trans women, maintain physiological advantages by having gone through hormonal virilization during adolescence. Even with hormone therapies up to date and possibly with reassignment surgeries also performed.

So look: this criterion is clinical. It starts from looking (and learning from that look) about which female body we should accept and celebrate.

But women exist with a lot of difference. Just as hormonal rates vary even among cis women. Expecting an athlete to always be “female-female-female” is to maintain a normative coherence that we don’t always find in biological and material life.

We can also mention the expectation that athletes are heterosexual, a criterion of eligibility and visibility that has only been abandoned in recent decades by sports institutions, the media, national states and a large part of society. Even so, at great cost, and of course this marker is still a sore point in many contexts.

So today’s debate, about the inclusion of trans people in sport, helps us to highlight another category in dispute: sex.

Our conception of the body – and consequently of the definitions of sex and gender – needs to be expanded and renegotiated because it is definitely neither binary nor immutable. Sport is a positive scenario precisely because it illustrates the plasticity of the human body in performing what was not expected.

We must, therefore, open our categories to include more and more athletes who qualify for competitions rather than restricting them based on outdated conceptions of what is hormonal science, the biological body, and the subjects’ political identity.

What does this process of gender verification, while determining an athlete’s sex, say about the bodies of trans people? Is there even more in sport a process of verification and validation of this body?

What became known as the “gender verification policy” has been called, at other times, sexual testing. Currently, some sports institutions call the regulation of eligibility for the female classification. These are different regulations for the trans population, on the one hand, and for the intersex population, on the other hand, despite being similar in terms of stabilizing a hormonal normality rate.

All of the most recent regulations are structured by the use of endogenous testosterone as a biological marker that differentiates between male and female body types, as well as the expected athletic performance for each category.

But biology isn’t all that binary.

Not in relation to the natural bodies of intersex people, which at all times blur these rigid boundaries of sexual dimorphism, not even with the type of hormonal normality imposed on trans people based on the functionality criteria of cis people.

To put it another way, I mean that these clinical and scientific definitions are still being produced by researchers from various disciplines. We still cannot say anything about differences in sports performance of trans or intersex people in relation to cis people because there is a lack of long-term comparative studies.

We would have to have studies carried out in an ethical manner by entities and researchers without links or funding to the sports institutions that establish these regulatory policies.

So, these processes clearly say more about the social demands of organizing subjects into essentially male or female categories than about the sports health of these athletes.

What we see, in fact, is a heavy process of debilitating bodies and public humiliation of trans and intersex athletes who seek social inclusion through sport.

Source: BoF Rio de Janeiro

Edition: Eduardo Miranda

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