Gender and Chess

The International Chess Federation (FIDE) is blocking transwomen from competing in women’s chess tournaments.

No one has come out and said it, but it’s clear that this is rooted in the misogynistic belief that women are inferior to men when it comes to chess. As with the bans on transwomen in physical sports competition, the underlying assumption is that someone assigned male at birth is clearly “naturally” better at chess than someone assigned female, and transition doesn’t take away that advantage.

However, a person assigned female at birth who has won women’s chess competitions will lose their titles if they transition to male. Apparently FIDE is recognizing that a transman counts as a man, even before they transition.

I gather FIDE sees the act of transitioning to male as confirmation that the person is not an inferior being and therefore should not compete in an inferior category.

Transwomen, on the other hand, will not lose the titles they won in male competitions before transitioning. That this is ludicrous doesn’t change the reasoning.

Of course, none of this makes any sense. There is in fact no reason at all for chess competitions to be divided by gender, except for the fact that chess has been dominated by men and women’s competitions are a way for women to get their feet in the door.

The assumption that women are inherently inferior at the skills of chess is just another misogynistic tool for blocking their participation.

It’s very important to recognize that the efforts to limit the activities of transwomen are directly tied to the underlying misogyny against all women. In the case of a person assigned male at birth who transitions to female, the assumption appears to be that they are choosing an inferior status and plan to use their naturally superior skills as “men” to lord it over cis women.

Of course, even in the case of physical sports, transwomen are unlikely have an advantage over cis women. For one thing, the physical differences between men and women are on a continuum, meaning that there are women who are stronger or faster than most men, just as an example.

Also, many transwomen take female hormones as part of the transition process. Frankly, I’m not sure the different hormones assigned to men and women make a lot of difference in physical performance, but given that many people are convinced that they do, banning someone taking female hormones from participation as a woman makes little sense.

This nonsense makes even less sense with something like chess, which can be assumed to require a certain amount of intellectual skills.

I am completely unwilling to believe that intellectual skills are in any way gendered. I have in the past read some significant books on this subject — I discussed them in detail in an essay for the Cascadia Subduction Zone a dozen years back — and most of the studies asserting significant differences between male and female brains fall in the category of junk science.

If women are not currently competitive with men in chess, it’s because of a history of discrimination and ill-treatment and a lack of programs to encourage the girls and women who are interested. It isn’t that women aren’t smart enough.

Transwomen participating in programs set up for women are not a threat to cis women. The threat to both trans and cis women remains the usual one: cis men.

That’s why no real feminist cis woman would ever oppose including transwomen in women’s spaces. We’re on the same side.

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