Transgender Swimmer Lia Thomas has used her first TV interview to hit back at critics who claim she has an “unfair advantage” as she competed on the women’s swim team at the University of Pennsylvania as a trans-athlete.
Following her recent graduation from UPenn, Thomas spoke to ABC News’ Juju Chang about her struggles with gender dysphoria before she started the process of transitioning from male to female. She also spoke of how she hesitated on transitioning beforehand because she was afraid of not being able to swim competitively anymore.
“I was barely going to classes. I could really barely get out of bed,” Thomas explained. “I said, ‘I can’t live like this anymore. I want to live again. I want to be able to do things I enjoy.’”
Thomas has drawn massive public interest in recent months for breaking records in women’s swimming, though she has also been a lightning rod for controversy from critics who say that someone who was assigned male at birth like Thomas has an unfair physical advantage over women who were biologically born female. NCAA rules allow transgender athletes to compete as women after a year of hormonal replacement therapy, and the organization has announced new guidelines stating the governing body of each individual sport will determine the participation of transgender athletes.
Thomas spoke about the therapy she went through by saying, “The mental and emotional changes actually happened very quickly. I was feeling a lot better mentally. I was less depressed, and I lost muscle mass, and I became a lot weaker and a lot, a lot slower in the water.” When asked about those accusing her of having a competitive advantage over cisgender women, Thomas said, “there’s a lot of factors that go into a race and how well you do.”
Thomas did compete as a male swimmer against other male swimmers before she began transitioning.
“The biggest change for me is that I’m happy,” she continued. “Sophomore year, when I had my best times competing with the men, I was miserable. And so, having that be lifted is incredibly relieving, and allows me to put my all into training, into racing. Trans people don’t transition for athletics. We transition to be happy and authentic and our true selves. Transitioning to get an advantage is not something that ever factors into our decisions.”
Chang proceeded to bring up the letter anonymously signed by 16 of Thomas’ teammates who said her place on the women’s swim team was a “threat” to women’s sports.
“You can’t go halfway and be, like, ‘I support trans women and trans people, but only to a certain point,'” Thomas responded. “If you support trans women as women, they’ve met all the NCAA requirements; then I don’t know if you can really say something like that. Trans women are not a threat to women’s sports.”
She also rejected the idea of having transgender people be disqualified from competitions or having them only compete against each other.
“In addition to not allowing the full athletic experience, that’s incredibly othering to trans people who already face immense discrimination in other parts of our lives,” said Thomas. “To then again have this discrimination in sports and be, like, ‘Oh, OK, you can swim, but only over there, like in that lane.’ It’s very othering.”