The famous (or infamous) animated sitcom has made a name for itself by parodying and making fun of literally everybody. The basic evolution of the show’s story is based on current events, political discussions, pop culture influences and other things happening in the moment. Making South Park a unique show in that its quick production time makes it possible for them to create stories about events as they’re happening.
In the most recent episode, called “Board Girls” the story is centered around the often discussed and controversial topic of transgender athletes in sports. The episode included a character named Heather Swanson, a transgender woman “who looks and sounds just like wrestler Randy Savage” who transitions to a female two weeks before a local Strongwoman tournament.
“Board Girls” is not the first time that South Park has done episodes about transgender topics, calling back to 2014’s “The Cissy.” Nor is it the first-time transgender athletes in sports has been parodied on such a show, calling back to Futurama’s 2003 episode “Bend Her.”
In “Board Girls” the character Heather Swanson enters the Strongwoman tournament and quickly dominates the competition until she is later revealed to be the ex-boyfriend of another competitor and faked the transition in order to undermine and seek revenge on her. The B plot of the episode involves the South Park boys having to deal with some of their female classmates joining their board gamers club. The episode ends with Heather Swanson winning every competition except a board game competition when challenged by the girls.
As South Park is known to do, the episode has drawn criticism from the transgender and LGBTQI sports community for its depiction of transgender issues in sports. With many criticizing the episode for airing during Transgender Awareness Week, calling out the creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker as transphobic, and calling out the episode’s plot for being derivative considering it’s similar to the 2003 Futurama Episode “Bend Her.”
The episode specifically depicts the character “Heather Swanson” to have transitioned just two weeks before the Strongwoman competition as depicted in the show. However, it is important to note that there has never been any documented case or report of an athlete transitioning gender solely for the purpose of a sports competition. Despite this argument being used as a common point for anti-trans activists in sports, there has never been a reported or verified case of this actually occurring.
In addition, the tournament depicted in the show is a Strongwoman tournament, which is created and organized by the Strongman Corporation. The Strongman Corporation which organizes both Strongman and Strongwoman events actually has specific guidelines for the participation of transgender athletes that are developed in line with the International Olympic Committee recommendations regarding the inclusion of trans athletes in sports.
Specifically, the Strongman Corporations rules for transgender female athletes (transition from male to female and compete in the female category) states “that the athlete has declared their gender identity as female and cannot be changed for sporting purposes for a minimum of four years” and that “the athlete must demonstrate her total testosterone level in serum has been below 10 nmol/L for at least 12 months prior to her first competition.” Thus, as depicted in both “Bend Her” and “Board Girls” an athlete cannot simply declare themselves as female solely for a sports competition and then transition back.
This reinforces a poor argument with an unfair and transphobic stigma that anti-trans athlete activists commonly use despite having absolutely no moral, ethical, or legal ground to stand on to back it up. While South Park is simply doing what it has done from the beginning, it’s important to take this consideration in mind should you choose to watch the episode.
By Dirk Smith