The Endless Question of Lia Thomas

by Lauren Tortolani ’24

Source: AP Photo

Published Feb. 10th, 2022

Born in Austin, Texas, Lia Thomas first found her passion for swimming in kindergarten, where she quickly rose to dominance at the middle and high school levels  Her talents landed her a spot on the University of Pennsylvania swim team, where she continued to put up monster times and rack up impressive performances. Her talent shone even brighter when she eventually made her way to the Ivy League championships.

Through these streaks of victory, one key thing would change the course of Thomas’s career: she was a woman born into the body of a biological man. 

During her entire swimming career, Thomas had swam on men’s swim teams. Stuck in the wrong body, Thomas was able to take a year of testosterone suppressants in order to gain eligibility to participate on the women’s swim team at Penn. Competing against women, Thomas has displayed total domination over her competition throughout her senior year.

Thomas’s freedom over which category she would compete in has angered many on the basis of biology. Although she took a year of testosterone suppressants and followed all NCAA guidelines, many believe Thomas is cheating women’s college swimming itself. 

Thomas’s dominance has brought forth negative reactions from many. Caitlyn Jenner, a transgender Olympic legend, said, “We cannot have biological boys competing against women. It’s bad for the trans community.” 

In addition, multiple women from the Penn swim team have been anonymously speaking out, expressing the fact that they will always be inferior to Thomas due to her biological build. Although testosterone suppressants cause a reduction of both muscle mass and overall strength, a year-long suppressant cycle will still leave a biologically male athlete faster than a biological woman, leaving the playing field severely skewed.

Puberty gives biological males bigger lungs, hearts, and more hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen to the heart. These are all crucial factors in performing well in swimming, as it is a cardiovascular sport.

Lia Thomas, as well as all other transgender athletes, have forced the nation to reckon with the delicate balance of fairness as they consider both biology and humanity. Though Thomas didn’t ask for a spotlight, her current role in the center of the transgender athlete controversy exposes the murky areas of life that society is still just beginning to explore.

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