Let's assume the following for a moment:

  • a person grows up as a man, with the matching hormonal profile for his first 20 years
  • that person then decides to undergo hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for several years
  • Once the hormonal profile stabilizes to resemble that of a typical female, are there any physiological reasons why that person should not compete in a women's weightlifting competition?

I could imagine that the muscle fibers are already developed during puberty to a certain extent, which would make this unfair for the other competitors, since males probably develop 'better' that way.

Also there's the fact that the male hormone profile influences growth much better than the female profile, making all 'gains' prior to the HRT also an unfair advantage. Although, biological women can take steroids, so that's not a good reason.

Please note: I do see why the sexes should compete seperately and I'm not fighting that notion right now. I'm also aware of several practical reasons for not allowing this. Please refrain from answers citing those reasons.

2 Answers 2


This is a question that has been addressed by many governing bodies.

The NCAA policy (page 13) is that MTF transgender athletes can compete after a year of living with their new, lowered-testosterone hormonal profile:

A trans female (MTF) student-athlete being treated with testosterone suppression medication for Gender Identity Disorder or gender dysphoria and/or Transsexualism, for the purposes of NCAA competition may continue to compete on a men's team but may not compete on a women's team without changing it to a mixed team status until completing one calendar year of testosterone suppression treatment.


A trans female (MTF) transgender student-athlete who is not taking hormone treatments related to gender transition may not compete on a women’s team.

The International Olympic Committee has a similar but more stringent policy, extending the hormone-transition requirement to two years and requiring surgery and political recognition:

The IOC advisory group recommended that individuals undergoing sex reassignment after puberty could compete, but only under certain conditions.

  • Surgical changes must have been completed, including external genitalia changes and removal of gonads.
  • Legal recognition of their assigned sex must have been conferred by appropriate official authorities.
  • Hormone therapy -- for the assigned sex -- must have been given for long enough to minimize any gender-related advantages in sport competitions, a period that must be at least two years after gonadectomy.
  • While that is good to know, it's still only practicalities. The question is not so much if it is allowed, but if it should be allowed, considering lasting effects of prior hormonal profile and/or other lasting effects (like irreversible changes on body composition during puberty). The fact that a FTM transsexual could compete according to IOC policy at least strongly suggests that it is indeed possible to roll back all advantages one would have had as a man, though.
    – user8119
    May 21, 2014 at 15:46

Yes, biological women can take steroids, but technically, most of the body-building competitions do drug testing and ban steroids. It's followed about as seriously as it is for professional wrestling entertainers, but it's on the books. Thus, they cannot allow MTF competitors because there's really no way those people would pass the test.

  • @LarissaGodzilla: I don't really know that I can answer that without getting into a personal opinion on gender and sex identity. What is the meaning of a man? And how does that affect gender-specified sports? In some sports, it's due to an unfair advantage — the male or female body is simply better suited to a sport. In others, it's aesthetic. The former would be affected by the sex change. The latter only if the change affects the appearance and/or whether it offends those judging it.
    – Sean Duggan
    May 21, 2014 at 14:19
  • @SeanDuggan: Yes, once they compete, biological women will be tested. They can use hormones (those are not steroids btw) before that, to build muscle, though. Granted, with the missing hormonal aid to keep it up, some of that muscle will go away. I assume the carryover would be substantial enough to render this practice unfair, though. Which would put biological women in the same position as post-op FTM transsexuals, regarding the possiblity of past use of male hormones. (Sorry, I deleted my comment instead of editing, so it's a bit mixed up now)
    – user8119
    May 21, 2014 at 14:20
  • @LarissaGodzilla: I don't want to get into a comment conversation on this, but I don't really have the spare time to go to chat either. I think it's a combination of the practical (the difficulty of telling whether someone is trans or is actively juicing) and the aesthetic (segregation of the sexes). There's probably an appeal to fairness, but between the physiological bias (you really have to have a very specific body type) and the fact that everyone juices, I think it's all pretty silly.
    – Sean Duggan
    May 21, 2014 at 14:23
  • @SeanDuggan: It hasn't got anything to do with personal opinion, or gender identity. If there's a lasting advantage of ever having had male hormones, the person in question (be it biological woman or FTM transsexual) shouldn't compete. The question was just if there is such a lasting effect or if it's possible to wipe the slate clean, and compete in a fair manner. Also this question isn't about the olympics, but more about the ethical considerations when doing a powerlifting meet just for fun. I understand you not wanting to discuss this further, though.
    – user8119
    May 21, 2014 at 14:25
  • @LarissaGodzilla: My comment on sexual identity is not about self-identification, but rather the identification by others. To enter into a competition restricted to a single sex, you have to meet their criteria for that sex. As regards ethical concerns... my personal point of view is that, as long as you don't feel that you are deceiving anyone, what's the harm? On the other hand, if it requires outright lying, such as to "Were you born physically female?", then that's a different kettle of fish.
    – Sean Duggan
    May 21, 2014 at 14:28

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