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This isn’t an easy thing to write.

Not because I don’t have conviction in what I’m about to say. I do. Rather, it’s because the temperature around this subject is so high. It’s divisive, it’s emotive and it’s almost impossible not to offend somebody.

You could say it’s one of those ones where instinct would have you look the other way, squeeze your eyes tightly shut and shove a finger in each ear.

But then there’s the other part of you. The idealistic fool who believes in “being the change you want to see in the world.”

And so you strap yourself to the mast, make peace with the inevitable, and try nonetheless.

With that said, here goes.

A week from now, a transgender golfer could participate in the US Women’s Open for the first-ever time.

Hailey Davidson made international headlines earlier this year when she – Davidson has indicated a preference to be referred to using ‘she/her’ pronouns – won on a women’s professional circuit in the US, and now she is amongst the alternates for the second women’s major of the year.

If enough players already in the field withdraw, Davidson will peg it up at Lancaster Country Club in Pennsylvania, competing on the same terms as world No.1 Nelly Korda, defending champion Allisen Corpuz and the rest of the best female golfers on the planet.

Except “the same terms” is a matter of contention. Because Davidson was born a male, there is mounting pressure on the game’s governing bodies to disqualify her from participating in women’s events.

Davidson insists that whatever advantage she may have had has been eliminated by years of hormone therapy treatment and, in 2021, gender reassignment surgery.

During a television appearance in the States following her win on the NXXT Tour in January, she said: “Before I had surgery, I definitely had an advantage.

“But the difference is now that years have gone on, three years after surgery, my physical capabilities now compared to back then are night and day. So, honestly, I 100% agree that men do have advantages. Say you get a trans person on hormones for a year or no surgery nothing… of course, for the most part, yeah, they’re going to have an advantage.”

The problem is that Davidson’s self-assessment is purely anecdotal and almost impossible to corroborate. That creates an issue – an issue upon which some of the finest scientific minds struggle to agree.

In May 2022, BBC Sport interviewed two sports scientists about transgender athletes participating in women’s sports.

Both Ross Tucker and Joanna Harper – the latter, for clarity, also being transgender – were asked if transgender women should be banned from women’s sport.

“The point of the women’s category is to exclude male advantage, which comes as a result of testosterone,” said Tucker. “Until it can be shown that that advantage doesn’t persist or exist in trans women, then I would say that there’s no basis to allow trans women in.”

He then pointed to 13 studies which show ‘significant retained advantage’.

“I would be quite confident at this point that a policy that regulates women’s sport by excluding male advantage, which includes trans women, is the evidence-based one,” he added.

Harper disagreed. “The science is in its infancy and we are not going to have definitive answers for probably 20 years,” she said. “There are some, including the IOC, that have said until we know [more] we shouldn’t restrict trans athletes.

“What I would say is that until we know for sure, sport’s governing bodies should do the best they can with the data that exists, with the knowledge that we have today, with the understanding that any policy they create now should be subject to change one we get more data.”

A complex matter becomes even more difficult when you consider what the law says. The Equality Act 2010 lists gender reassignment as a characteristic given legal protection from discrimination. But there are exemptions when it comes to sport.

Section 195 of the Act, which deals with sport, states that is appropriate for separate sporting competitions to “continue to be organised for men and women where physical strength, stamina or physique are major factors in determining success or failure, and in which one sex is generally at a disadvantage in comparison with the other”, adding that is lawful “to restrict participation of transsexual people in such competitions if this is necessary to uphold fair or safe competition, but not otherwise”.

In which case, the regulatory authority falls to the sports themselves and their various governing bodies.

A number of organisations, including World Rugby, the International Swimming Federation, World Athletics and even the International Sport Fishing Confederation, have imposed at least some restrictions on trans participation.

In golf, the LPGA’s gender policy states that “individuals who have undergone gender reassignment from male to female after puberty are eligible for membership and/or participation in tournaments”, provided they comply with various eligibility requirements. These include having undergone gender reassignment surgery and appropriate hormonal therapy for at least one year.

Regardless of whether you agree with the policy or not, the LPGA has made its position quite clear. So, too, the USGA.

But there are myriad other tours and governing bodies in golf. Getting clarity on “the sport’s position” on trans participation – and, just as importantly, who has responsibility and ownership of it – is difficult.

As an example, consider the fact that the tour on which Davidson won in January subsequently banned her, citing a need to “uphold the competitive integrity” of the circuit for “biological females”.

In other words, trans participation wasn’t an issue for the NXXT Tour until it became an issue. You could therefore make the case that the USGA and LPGA’s gender policies count for very little because they haven’t been challenged – yet.

There is a sense that the sport has been too passive on the issue. In a March 2020 interview with Irish Golfer, one anonymous Ladies European Tour card-holder said: “Hyperandrogenism, DSD or male-to-female transitioning are already significant – and controversial – issues in sports such as athletics, cycling and volleyball. Why should golf consider it is exempt from or oblivious to such developments?”

Which brings us full circle to Davidson.

Let us be clear: she is not the problem. She has broken no rules. She is just a person. A person who has elected to undergo a traumatic, invasive range of procedures – procedures that the overwhelming majority of us cannot begin to fathom and that many might struggle to rationalise – but a person nonetheless. She is no less deserving of kindness and empathy than anybody.

That, though, doesn’t mean she should get a free pass and unfettered acquiescence just ‘because’. It’s appropriate for people, particularly biological women, to have concerns and questions and to dismiss them with a casual wave is to deny their human rights.

It’s a complicated situation. I can’t deny that as the father of a young daughter, I have worries. Worries about fairness. Worries about safety. Worries generally.

I am also left to reflect on the fact that this movement is predominantly going in one direction. How many trans men are trying to compete in men’s sports, for example? My instincts tell me that has to mean something. But am I wrong? Have I got this all twisted? Am I part of the problem? Or are my concerns legitimate? The inconvenient, frustrating answer to all of the above is ‘maybe’.

Better to ask those who are most impacted. In April, the Manchester Metropolitan and Swansea universities published details of a study they conducted amongst female athletes. It found that 58% favoured categorisation of women’s sport by biological sex rather than gender identity. That number rose to 77% amongst ‘world class’ athletes – in other words those who had competed in Olympic or World Championship final – as it related to their own sports.

However, the majority of athletes competing in non-Olympic sports believed changing category should be allowed, particularly as it related to ‘precision’ sports such as archery, where physical advantages are less of a determining factor. (Of course, one person’s ‘precision’ sport is another person’s lifelong passion and purpose.)

One potential solution is to introduce a separate category for trans athletes, but even that is fraught with obstacles.

As Joanna Harper put it, you would end up with three categories: one with 49.5% of humanity, the other with 49.5% of humanity, and one with 1% of humanity. At the elite level, where the temperature runs highest, this simply wouldn’t work. There just wouldn’t be sufficient numbers to sustain competition.

Besides, is this something that the world is ready for? Like, really ready for? It would undoubtedly be a progressive move and we do like to think of ourselves as a progressive species – but if you were to hold a mirror up to society, would you like its reflection? Bear in mind, there are many countries – including 47 UN member states – where it’s not possible to legally change your gender, while a 2020 study discovered that 13 countries have laws that criminalise transgender people.

What seems, at first blush, like an easy and obvious solution doesn’t stand up to scrutiny and, worse, may make transgender athletes more of a target for abuse and vilification than they currently are.

So, where are we? It’s hard to say. I know I have compassion for Davidson on a human level but, equally, many questions about her right to compete in elite golf. That leads me to the conclusion she shouldn’t be allowed to. Not right now. Not until the scientific community can stand as one behind proof that she doesn’t possess an unfair advantage.

Whilst doubt remains, the fairness of the sport stands to be compromised.

As I said at the outset, this isn’t easy.

Not to write, nor, I suspect, to read.

But this is the world we live in. The times we occupy. The questions we must seek to answer.

Michael McEwan is the 2023 PPA Scotland ‘Columnist of the Year’ and ‘Writer of the Year’

author headshot

Michael McEwan is the Deputy Editor of bunkered and has been part of the team since 2004. In that time, he has interviewed almost every major figure within the sport, from Jack Nicklaus, to Rory McIlroy, to Donald Trump. The host of the multi award-winning bunkered Podcast and a member of Balfron Golfing Society, Michael is the author of three books and is the 2023 PPA Scotland 'Writer of the Year' and 'Columnist of the Year'. Dislikes white belts, yellow balls and iron headcovers. Likes being drawn out of the media ballot to play Augusta National.

Deputy Editor

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