Today in the Olympics, a weightlifter didn’t win a medal. This wouldn’t be remarkable if the weightlifter weren’t Laurel Hubbard, a transgender woman. But Hubbard it was, and her loss is confusing me. I thought trans women had to be kept out of sports because of their male-born advantage? That’s what social and right-wing media has been telling me about Hubbard for weeks now: her chances of winning because of her gametes or chromosomes or supposed lack of womanly essence were so incredibly high that her rivals shouldn’t even bother turning up.
And then she lost, all three times.
The anti-trans have an answer for that. Hubbard threw the event. Not only that, she threw it because she had a wider purpose in mind: to make people believe that trans women don’t necessarily have an unfair advantage in sport. It’s not that Hubbard was beaten by a stronger woman, because that couldn’t possibly happen: women are weak and need to be protected from the evil transes!
It’s incredible to see the speed at which the anti-trans mob have gone from “no woman can compete with a transgender woman!” to “the transgender woman threw the event!” But it’s easy to do that when your argument starts from your desired outcome – in this case, that trans women should be banned from everything. The same thing happened when the flaws in the “trans people are bathroom predators” argument were exposed; the anti-trans mob quickly changed to “predators will pretend to be trans people to get into bathrooms.” When reality disproves your argument, simply pick a different argument that leads to the same conclusion as your last one.
This is exactly the same thing cult leaders do, and that QAnon does. Every single prediction QAnon has made to date has been either meaningless or wrong, but because people are so invested in the conspiracy theory they interpret the evidence that it’s bullshit as evidence that it is real. We misinterpreted what QAnon said, or the Deep State got word of the event and made it too risky to continue with, or Q is testing us. The real answer, that Q is fucking with you, is not something the faithful can bring themselves to consider.
There are lots of names for this. I like the term sunk cost fallacy, which applies to illogical behaviour: it’s why gamblers keep on paying to play when they’ve lost almost everything. The rational behaviour is to realise that you’ve made a mistake and gambled more than you can afford and to stop. But the sunk cost fallacy says that you’ve put so much money in that it would be foolish to stop: the big win is coming any time now, and if you walk away you’ll lose the lot to the next person who comes along and plays.
With conspiracies it’s much the same. The more invested in the conspiracy you become, the more of you you have sunk into it and the more difficult it becomes to extricate yourself, or for others to help you extricate yourself. It’s much easier to flip to a different conspiracy theory than to accept that you’ve been hoodwinked, lied to, used. We humans do not like cognitive dissonance, which we experience when reality differs from our beliefs and expectations.
And with the Olympics, the reality is that in the 17 years since trans women were eligible to compete, not a single trans woman has won a medal. In fact, before these Olympics, not a single trans woman or trans man even qualified. Rather inconveniently for the anti-trans crowd, while one trans athlete did bag a medal this week the athlete was a non-binary person who’d been assigned female at birth, not a trans woman.
And yet our papers and airwaves have been filled with the supposed dangers of Laurel Hubbard all week in a way they haven’t been regarding any of the other issues concerning women’s sports, such as predatory coaches, income inequality or the apparently racist, misogynist demands for Black women athletes to take birth control to suppress their naturally occurring hormone levels or be excluded from events. It’s almost as if these pundits and social media posters don’t really care about women in sport at all.
As Hannah Jewell of the Washington Post (and author of 100 Nasty Women) put it:
and the gold medal for cruelty to trans people goes, as always, to britain 🏅
if you listen closely you can hear the tippy-tapping of a thousand british columnists rewriting their hateful columns to account for the fact that laurel hubbard did not do well at the weightlifting, while preserving their awful world view 🏅🏅🏅