World Chess’s new guidelines place restrictions on both trans men and trans women

OPINION: The convoluted new policy treats trans women as men, and trans men as … also men

Last week, the organization responsible for running international chess, the International Chess Federation (FIDE), created a new trans-exclusion policy that bans trans women from international women’s competitions and would strip trans men of any women’s titles they’d previously won once they transition to male. The ridiculous new rules come amidst an international rush to restrict the competitive rights of trans people over the last year.

The convoluted new policy essentially treats trans women as men, and trans men as … also men. It’s incoherent.

Ever since collegiate swimmer Lia Thomas, who is a trans woman, won a couple of Ivy League swim meets and an international media frenzy kicked off over it, international sporting organizations have hurried to implement restrictions on trans participation in a variety of sports.

Organizers of the Swimming World Cup lauded themselves this week for holding an “open category,” claiming that the new division indicated how “inclusive and open” they are while also banning trans women and trans men from the women’s category. Not even this compromise was good enough for transphobic sporting activists.

Former Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies decried the $5,000 prize pool for the new open category, claiming that it was a “waste” to give prize money to “mediocre athletes.” Davies is best known for being among the the loudest advocates of the claim that trans women are “biologically superior” to women at sports. It seems strange then that she would take the position that a trans-inclusive category would unfairly reward mediocrity. How could this be if trans women are naturally dominant? We’ll come back to this in a moment.

World Aquatics, the World Athletics Council and the International Rugby League have also banned trans women from their women’s divisions over the last year. But the chess ban is definitely the most ridiculous and openly bigoted anti-trans competitive ban to date.

According to a statement from FIDE, the organization put the new rules in place while it studies whether trans women have a “biological advantage” in chess. They’re talking about a completely intellectual board game. So they want to study whether trans women, whom they consider to be men by default, are naturally intellectually superior to women.

U.K. MP Angela Eagle, who won the 1976 British Girls’ Under-18 chess championship, said the ban is “ridiculous and offensive to women.”

“There is no physical advantage in chess unless you believe men are inherently more able to play than women—I spent my chess career being told women’s brains were smaller than men’s and we shouldn’t even be playing,” she said.


Now, there are no doubt many who agree with the statement that men are naturally superior in intellect compared to women, as some gender critical anti-trans activists argued over the weekend, but it used to be that we called those people misogynists.

“Any woman who is talented at chess, or a sport, has to deal with the sexist attitudes and abuse of the men within their chosen sport or game.”

Chess is, to be sure, a male-dominated game. The vast majority of grandmasters and international masters are men, but this is due to a variety of factors. In most cultures, boys are typically allowed more time to play games or sports growing up, while women are steered more into self-sacrifice and domestic responsibilities. This is male versus female socialization.

In games like chess, this gives men an early leg up over women, generally. This advantage is further fostered using the tools of sexism to keep women behind. Any woman who is talented at chess, or a sport, has to deal with the sexist attitudes and abuse of the men within their chosen sport or game.

Just this weekend, Spanish soccer player Jenni Hermoso was forcibly kissed by her country’s soccer president, Luis Rubiales, while she accepted her winner’s medal for winning the Women’s World Cup. The gesture was a message to her that her body belongs to men, even at the moment of her greatest triumph.

This sexist abuse is partly why it’s important to have robust women’s competitions in various sports to begin with. Places where women can hone their skills free of social harassment from those who view them as lesser beings. Trans women also face this kind of abuse, with an added edge of transphobia. 

There’s no reason why trans women shouldn’t also be allowed to thrive in the women’s chess scene. There is no evidence that women are less capable than men in chess, despite the patriarchal FIDE board’s latest decision and inquiry.

The new policy has quickly drawn rebukes from several national chess organizations, with Germany’s and England’s federations both quickly coming out to say that they will not comply with the new policy. The U.S. Chess Federation also recently reiterated their trans-inclusion policy which allows trans players to change their officially registered gender.

Beyond the minute machinations behind these bans, it’s important to note the true motivation of the anti-trans side. It’s not even enough for them for trans people to be segregated to our own spaces in sports or games, as the swimming example shows. Nor are they campaigning for the safety or fairness of women’s sports—if so, they should be fine with trans people having our own competitions. Instead, they need us to be barred from participating entirely. 

The fact that they also oppose even simple and clean compromises shows that their true aim is to have trans women be categorized as men in all ways of life. Nearly every single trans-exclusive argument ultimately boils down to “trans women are men,” and there can never be a compromise on that matter.

Even when trans women face a toxic mix of misogyny, sexism and transphobia, we must not, in their view, be allowed to access any spaces, activities or support structures that might help us deal with the fallout from all of that sex-based abuse.

Anti-trans philosophy is ultimately designed to drive us out of public life, to the point where we have no support or comfort in any facet of society, even in our sporting activities and hobbies. 
FIDE’s new ban, however, is not only insulting to trans people while being incoherent, but it should rightly be seen as insulting to cis women as well. FIDE has never really adequately supported the women’s game and is widely seen as one of the most patriarchal sporting boards in the world. Their new trans ban proves they haven’t changed much.

Katelyn Burns is a freelance journalist and columnist for Xtra and MSNBC. She was the first openly trans Capitol Hill reporter in U.S. history.

Read More About:
Culture, Identity, Opinion, Transphobia

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