University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas became the first openly transgender woman to win a NCAA Division I swimming title Credit: pennathletics.com

In what should be an issue of common sense, the determination on transgender athletes competing against men or women has become controversial and divisive.

The International Swimming Federation (FINA) has voted to enact a policy that would restrict transgender women from competing in the top women’s meets; it took effect this past Monday. FINA is looking to establish an “open” group at the elite events for transgender swimmers to compete.

The new policy states that, “Male-to-female transgender athletes will only be eligible to compete in the women’s categories in FINA competitions if they transition before the age of 12 or before they reach stage two on the puberty Tanner Scale.”

The Tanner Scale, developed by British pediatrician James Tanner in 1969, is a scale of physical development in children, adolescents and adults. It defines physical measurements of development based on their external primary and secondary sex characteristics, such as the size of the breasts, genitals, testicular volume, and development of pubic hair.

The Tanner Scale, also known as the Tanner Stages or the Sexual Maturity Rating (SMR), was a two-decade-long study following the physical changes in girls undergoing puberty.

“This is not saying that people are encouraged to transition by the age of 12. It’s what the scientists are saying, that if you transition after the start of puberty, you have an advantage, which is unfair,” said James Pearce, spokesperson for FINA president Husain Al-Musallam, to the Associated Press.

“They’re not saying everyone should transition by age 11, that’s ridiculous,” Pearce continued. “You can’t transition by that age in most countries, and hopefully you wouldn’t be encouraged to. Basically, what they’re saying is that it is not feasible for people who have transitioned to compete without having an advantage.”

This past March, Lia Thomas, a transgender woman and swimmer for the University of Pennsylvania, won the 500-yard freestyle event in the NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships, becoming the first openly transgender woman to win a NCAA Division I swimming title.

Elected officials across the country have weighed in on the issue of transgender athletes through legislation. Twelve states, excluding West Virgina, where legislation was blocked, have transgender sports bans.

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