[FULL TRANSCRIPT BELOW] “In the fall of 2019, we were told that a member of the men’s team was going to be transitioning to the women’s team … And that’s when I started to dig deeper on what the NCAA actually allowed. And they did allow for men to become women only after a year of deciding that they wanted to switch.”
In this episode, we sit down with Paula Scanlan, a former University of Pennsylvania swimmer and teammate of transgender swimmer Lia Thomas.
“They brought in psychological counseling, advising us to make an appointment with them if we were uncomfortable with the situation. And they did say very clearly, Lia swimming is a non-negotiable. … Psychological counseling was scary because, in my mind, that’s almost equivalent to reeducation. That really showed me that they wanted us to think differently, not just help us be comfortable with the situation that we were in,” Ms. Scanlan says.
Now, Ms. Scanlan is an outspoken advocate for banning biological men from women’s sports.
Jan Jekielek: Paula Scanlan, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Paula Scanlan: Thanks for having me.
Mr. Jekielek: Paula, just a few weeks ago, a lot fewer people knew who you were. You were interviewed for the film, “What is a Woman,” by Matt Walsh. Recently, you decided to come out and say who you are and make a statement. Please chart this course to me. How did all this happen?
Ms. Scanlan: I was approached to be on the, “What is a Woman,” documentary when I was still in college. I was actually still competing on the UPenn swim team. There was this opportunity to be part of a documentary, and they pitched it to me, because there’s going to be people from all sides talking about this gender ideology as an issue. They needed representation from the athletic side.
I thought about being revealed in it, but the documentary was originally supposed to come out when I was still in college. That definitely seemed a little bit scary to speak about my experience at UPenn while I was still a student. So then, I decided to go anonymous. For the past year, I’ve sat on it and wished I had done the right thing. The biggest thing for me was just feeling like I wasn’t courageous enough at the time to do it, and that I really needed to get out there this past year. That’s something that eventually came true in about May, 2023. We started doing these interviews. Now, it’s July and here I am.
Mr. Jekielek: Tell me about doing the right thing. You said you should have done the right thing. What would have been the right thing to do?
Ms. Scanlan: The right thing would have been to speak about it when I was going through it, and not hide behind a cloak of anonymity. It’s very easy to talk about something when you don’t have to worry about putting your face behind it, and you don’t have to worry about the consequences. Obviously, I understand people who still do that. I was in that position a year ago. But the right thing would be to speak the truth and be comfortable putting your name behind the truth.
Mr. Jekielek: Let’s start a little bit earlier. You became a competitive swimmer. This is how you got into the documentary in the first place. But give me a sense of how you got there and what was your acumen in swimming.
Ms. Scanlan: I started swimming competitively when I was eight years old. Our town had built a really nice, new pool, and my parents thought it would be a good afterschool activity for me. I didn’t take it very seriously until I was in sixth grade, when my brother went to college and I really wanted to have my own thing. My brother is a very strong academic student, and I was not as strong in school. I needed to have an outlet that was mine, and that’s where swimming came in.
From the sixth grade through my senior year of high school, it was 20 hours a week, with morning practices starting at 5:00 in the morning, and then, right after school. It was a huge time commitment. Once I got to that level, I knew I needed to continue in college. I ended up at the University of Pennsylvania, where I continued to swim there.
Mr. Jekielek: When did you notice that something weird was happening?
Ms. Scanlan: In the fall of 2019, we were told that a member of the men’s team was going to be transitioning to the women’s team, but this wasn’t going to happen until the next season. Then, the next season was canceled because of Covid. It was actually two seasons later that a member of the men’s team was on the women’s team in the women’s locker room. At that point, I realized it was actually happening. Up until then, I had hoped or thought maybe it wouldn’t come true, or maybe somebody will change the rules, and this wouldn’t actually happen. In the fall of 2021 I realized it was happening and there wasn’t much I could do about it.
Mr. Jekielek: In 2019, when this came up as an idea, had anything been changing? Had there been any hints of some kind of new policy? Because obviously, this is a pretty radical new policy.
Ms. Scanlan: I hadn’t heard anything about it. Actually, after we were told this, I looked up the rules and I did see that the rules required a year of hormone replacement therapy. But I wasn’t quite sure what that even entailed. At this point, I was wondering who came up with these rules, where they came from, and how long these rules had been in place.
I was thinking, “Oh, any man could become a woman on any sports team.” At that point, I started to see that the NCAA [National Collegiate Athletic Association] had these policies that were deeply flawed, and that didn’t take into account skeletal structure, muscle mass, lung capacity, heart size, and other factors that differentiate men and women.
Mr. Jekielek: You were seeing this even before you were competing with men.
Ms. Scanlan: I just looked it up when we were told this because I thought to myself, “How is this allowed?” I wanted to know what the policy was for allowing it. That’s when I started to dig deeper on what the NCAA actually allowed. They did allow for men to become women after only a year from deciding that they wanted to switch.
Mr. Jekielek: It seems obvious that men would have a biological advantage over women. Phenotypic advantage is another way to put it. This became contentious at some point. Do you remember when?
Ms. Scanlan: When we started talking about what the policy was and how it wasn’t fair, people started throwing out the word transphobic. That’s when I started hearing that. I never thought that pointing out that men and women are different was something that would classify as hate speech. But that was something I found happening as I questioned more.
It was actually more about questioning authority by saying, “Maybe the NCAA is wrong,” or, “The university is wrong,” or, “The system is wrong.” When you start to raise those questions, that’s when they start labeling you as a hater or a transphobe or all those other insults that they like to throw.
Mr. Jekielek: I definitely want to talk about that more. You mentioned something about the locker rooms. This is something that has been prominent in Riley Gaines’ testimony to Congress and other places. Please explain that whole situation to me.
Ms. Scanlan: Funny enough, at the beginning, when this member of the men’s team, formerly Will Thomas, announced the transition, we weren’t sure if Will was actually going to be in the locker room with us. In his one year of hormone replacement therapy, Will, still Will at the time, was still competing for the men’s team and changing in the men’s locker room.
But to start getting Will more acquainted with the women’s team, some people would invite Will into the women’s locker room. They would give us a warning and would say, “Hey, guys. Will’s coming in. Is everyone decent?” At that point in time, in fall 2019, a warning was justified. But for some reason, two years later, there was no warning, and it was every single day that we changed in the same locker room.
I was asking, “Just because you’ve declared you’re a woman two years ago, that’s somehow okay, when everything about you is still the same, and you just say that you identify differently? That’s something I found very, very confusing, that just because you declare something is true, in a short amount of time, it is suddenly true.
Mr. Jekielek: What was the reaction of the women in the room?
Ms. Scanlan: Some girls were definitely very uncomfortable. A lot of girls would go and change in the bathroom stalls so they would be completely covered and confined to their own space. People brought it up to the coaches. But unfortunately, we were told that if someone’s part of the team, they should deserve the same privileges as everyone else on the team. In their defense, that does actually make a lot of sense. If we’re going to say Lia is part of the women’s team and is a woman, why would Lia not have the same rights as the rest of us?
In that sense, it’s consistent, but definitely not the right thing for women. It was definitely very challenging to be in a situation that we didn’t really discuss. We didn’t discuss it. We didn’t say, “Maybe there’s an alternative on how we can set up this locker room,” or, “Maybe there’s another family stall that we could use,” or whatever the solution might be. There was just never a discussion about it.
Mr. Jekielek: Right. The idea was you wanted to do nothing to stigmatize. That was the approach.
Ms. Scanlan: Yes, that’s what we were told. We have to be inclusive in every single part for someone to feel comfortable with their new gender identity. It’s all about being inclusive in every single part of women’s spaces and women’s rights that they now need to be included in.
Mr. Jekielek: What about the competitions themselves? How did things change?
Ms. Scanlan: At the beginning of the season, we actually weren’t really sure how fast everyone was going to be swimming. Again, the Ivy League canceled all competition for the 2020 to 2021 school year, so there was not a single sports competition for swimming at all. A lot of people didn’t swim at all in that year off.
In general, we weren’t really sure who was going to be fast and who was going to be slow, because a year off is a lot of time. We weren’t sure. But the first meet we swam against Columbia, it was very obvious that Lia was going to be a very dominant swimmer for the season, who just destroyed the competition in these events. It was definitely obvious.
But at that point, I didn’t know if Lia was going to win an NCAA title. I knew it was going to be a possibility, but I did not know if it was going to come true. Obviously, it ended up coming true, which was the most dramatic outcome of the entire situation, in my opinion.
Mr. Jekielek: How were people on the team dealing with this situation?
Ms. Scanlan: At the beginning, you could talk to people. You could have one-on-one conversations with anyone on the team, and people had different opinions. Some people said, “I don’t really care that much about the locker room, but I don’t like losing my spot on the relay.” Someone else would say, “I don’t like that the record board is now going to have Lia’s name.” Someone else would say, “I don’t like that Lia is able to score points against other teams.”
Everyone had their own varying comfort level with the situation. But in general, Most people you would have a one-on-one conversation with would be uncomfortable with it, and that varied, obviously. But everyone had at least some level of discomfort with it.
That was something I found very interesting, but the season went on. The university started coming in and telling us to stop speaking about it and not to go to the media, and that Lia swimming was a non-negotiable. We couldn’t even talk among ourselves. There were people who were scared to even voice their opinions in their own head.
There were people that changed their opinion in their own minds. There was a girl who was very upset by it, and she suddenly changed her opinion after meeting with the school. I think her parents also told her, “There’s nothing you can do about it, so you might as well be supportive.”
Mr. Jekielek: There has been a transformation of schools in general around these many issues, this being one of them. Please tell me about how the university treated this whole situation.
Ms. Scanlan: UPenn likes to ignore issues as much as they can. Obviously they don’t want to get involved with something controversial. They never met with us directly until it started to become a big media story. After a meet in December when Leah broke a bunch of records, it started becoming a huge national headlining story. That’s when the university finally came in and had their first meeting with us as a team, which was way too late, in my opinion.
They should have had conversations earlier on, listened to the people on the team and what they thought about it, and given us warning that this was going to be a controversial situation. But they never did that. It was only after the media started knocking on people’s doors and wanting quotes and wanting to write stories about this that they told us not to speak to the media, saying, “The media is not our friend,” and that we would regret speaking out if we did.
It was this meeting that just put us in shock, because they brought a bunch of specialists to this meeting. They said, “This is a special panel.” It was a member from the LGBT center that said we were going to start having mandatory team meetings with the LGBT center. They brought in psychological counseling, advising us to make an appointment with them if we were uncomfortable with the situation. They did say very clearly that Lia swimming is non-negotiable. They said, “We’re here to help you provide services to make that okay.” They wanted us to be okay with it.
Bringing in psychological services was a crazy step. I understand bringing in the athletic department. I understand even bringing in the head of the athletic department. I understand even bringing in the LGBT center, because this is an LGBT issue that they wanted us to figure out. But psychological counseling was scary, because in my mind, that’s almost equivalent to re-education. That really showed me that they wanted us to think differently, and not just help us be comfortable with the situation that we were in.
Mr. Jekielek: Please tell me more about this. Typically, with counseling, you have some kind of issue, you go to the counselor, and then, you figure something out that you need to do. How is this different? Did you actually go to one of these sessions?
Ms. Scanlan: I did not go to one with the school, but I actually worked on my own with an outside-of-school therapist. It’s very challenging because therapists in most states could lose their license for “misgendering” a child. They can lose their license for not affirming someone’s gender. With a lot of these therapists, when people go in with gender dysphoria, the therapist has to say, “Yes, you are valid in how you are feeling. Yes, you are a woman, if you say you’re a woman.”
A lot of these therapists are conditioned to believe this, because if they don’t, they’ll lose their job. When you go to talk to these therapists about this issue, they will also tell you, “Oh. They need to become a woman or they’re going to kill themselves.” They tell you that. If you go in and say, “I’m uncomfortable with a man being in my locker room,” they say, “It’s your own bias that thinks that they’re a harm to women. They are women, so you have to believe that they are”. That is very challenging.
Obviously, there are therapists that don’t do this, and there’s therapists that are more understanding of why people might be uncomfortable. But generally speaking, a lot of them are threatened with losing their license if they don’t treat patients with gender dysphoria this way.
Mr. Jekielek: From the sound of it, they validate that viewpoint as being the one correct way that everyone has to think. That’s the sense I’m getting here.
Ms. Scanlan: Yes, of course. They want one belief. They want everyone to agree on one single thing.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s actually a completely different approach to therapy. It’s very interesting that you describe it as thought reform.
Ms. Scanlan: Yes, thought reform and re-education. I would say those are accurate descriptions.
Mr. Jekielek: I hadn’t really thought of it that way until now. You said you had your own therapist. Was this outside, but also in the same vein?
Ms. Scanlan: No. I just had someone I worked with just to talk about school and life and things in general. But it was very interesting because they always speak about it from the perspective of having transgender clients themselves and saying, “They need to transition, and they can’t stand their own body and they’re going to commit suicide if they don’t get to be a woman in every sense.”
I’ve met a few of the therapists that were on the “What is a Woman” documentary. There was a reunion, and I got to meet with them. They were saying that they are going to be threatened with losing their license if they don’t affirm these people’s genders. There are also situations where there’s a husband and a wife, and one parent wants to transition the child and the other one doesn’t, and the court always rules with the parent that wants to affirm.
This has been accepted as what we have to do, and as the right thing to do. There hasn’t been an instance, at least that I know of, where they side with the parent that doesn’t want to change this kid’s gender. Someone, somewhere, has decided that the right thing to do is to affirm. I don’t know where that came from. I don’t know who came up with that, but it is very interesting.
Mr. Jekielek: How did things change in the school overall, other than the swim team? Because that’s something that you saw happening as well.
Ms. Scanlan: Yes, I mentioned this when I talked to Matt in one of my interviews. I always thought universities were a place of higher education. In my mind, at age 16 and 17 when I was looking at colleges, I thought it was about discussion and debate. I anticipated I would go to college and I would meet people from all walks of life, all different backgrounds, and everyone would have different opinions. I always thought that about college. I thought college was a place where you go to debate things.
I arrived at college, and I found that that wasn’t the case. We had Candace Owens come talk on campus my freshman year, and I thought, “Wow, that’s really cool. We have a conservative speaker and we have plenty of liberal ones.” But as I went through college, I saw that that was happening less and less. In fact, they would protest if anyone would try to bring someone even remotely right-leaning on campus.
I started thinking that this is not what college was supposed to be, and that there was just a lack of debate. I always had this idea in the back of my mind through my junior year. My senior year was when this situation happened to me. I tried to write an opinion piece for the school newspaper. They were publishing several different opinion pieces that were pro-Lia swimming, and they couldn’t find a single person to write one that was in opposition. When I went to do that, it was retracted because they said it was too offensive.
I saw that there was no debate. They wanted everyone to think the same thing, and there was no room for dissenting viewpoints. That’s something I never expected when I went to college. I knew that colleges were more Left-leaning, but I always thought there was room for the opposite opinion. By the end of college, I found that wasn’t the case.
Mr. Jekielek: Let’s touch on this op-ed for a moment. It was actually published.
Ms. Scanlan: Yes, for about two hours. I don’t know the exact timestamp.
Mr. Jekielek: What was in there?
Ms. Scanlan: It didn’t really talk about Lia, to be honest. It was dissecting the policy the NCAA had put into place, and why men are still stronger than women. It was analyzing the finishing times at the Olympics of what percentage the men beat the women by. It was analyzing track and field and how men on average jump this much further. It was just a lot of statistics, and a lot of analysis on the policy.
In an original draft, and I think this got cut, I did use the fact that if you transition from a woman to a man, you don’t have to sit out any time at all, which at the very least shows that they acknowledge that women are weaker on average than men. Because if you transition from a woman to a man, you don’t have to sit out at all. But if you transition from a man to a woman, you have to wait a year.
That at the very least acknowledges that there is a difference. But that’s all that they acknowledged. There are a lot of studies that have shown that taking cross-sex hormones do not change your skeletal structure. They don’t change your muscle mass. They can’t change the size of your lungs or your heart. They only really discuss testosterone, and there are many hormones in the human body that are not mentioned.
They’ve chosen this one hormone to be the only tell of athletic performance, which is completely false. You can’t have one singular hormone in the human body that’s related to all athletic performance. They just chose one thing to focus on and everything else didn’t matter.
Mr. Jekielek: You’re saying there isn’t a shift in muscle mass with this replacement therapy?
Ms. Scanlan: There is, and you do become weaker. But if you continue to work out during the wait time, you can still maintain some level of muscle mass. Your muscle mass is not dependent on the hormone. If you continue to work out muscles, your muscles will get stronger. The baseline at which men have muscles is higher than the baseline that women have. Of course, cross-sex hormones do make men weaker in some way, and I’m not denying that. That’s obviously true. But if you continue to work out, you can still build muscle mass at a rate that’s higher than an average woman could.
Mr. Jekielek: I hadn’t quite thought about the nuance of this. But again, if you’re in competition, you’re incentivized to win.
Ms. Scanlan: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: This is the whole point. You’re obviously going to try to minimize becoming weaker as much as possible.
Ms. Scanlan: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: I feel like it’s ignoring a lot of the incentive structures that exist, the incentives that people have that are obvious.
Ms. Scanlan: Yes. I also think that Lia was not nefarious in any of this. But these policies are allowing for people that are dishonest. You could have somebody who can just say that they’re going to be transitioning, and they only have to wait a year. If they continue to work out at a very aggressive rate during that time, they can train past some of these disadvantages they might be getting from taking cross-sex hormones.
If you continue to work out your muscles, to some extent you can maintain the muscle mass that you had prior to taking cross-sex hormones. I’m not saying that any transgender athlete that’s currently competing is doing it for bad reasons, but it opens the door for people that might be. That’s something that is very scary.
Again, in a perfect world, I would love for us to just say every single person competing in the opposite sex category is doing it just because they’re going to kill themselves if they don’t, or they’re going to be depressed if they don’t. But based on these policies, we can’t ensure that. We have to make rules for the people that are going to break them for bad reasons, not the people that are more common to switch over or more common to want to participate in the opposite sex.
That’s something we need to consider. No one really talks about that because we want to assume that people are going to do the right thing, but we can’t. As a society, there’s always going to be people who break rules for the wrong reasons.
Mr. Jekielek: Those people cause a disproportionate amount of harm. You can see that actually in all sorts of statistics that I’ve been looking at. Looking at a bit of Epoch Times history, we were founded by Chinese Americans back in the day. It was very interesting for me to discover that you’re actually Taiwanese American.
Ms. Scanlan: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: Your grandparents were actually quite active in Taiwan in diplomacy, and in the political scene. Some of what you’ve learned from them is operative here, which is a very interesting connection. Please tell me about that.
Ms. Scanlan: Yes, that is part of my family history. My grandfather worked for the government in many different ways. He was a journalist and a diplomat. He was born in Tokyo, actually. He worked to get the Japanese media to cover what was going on in Taiwan in terms of reunification, and about the people who were against reunification. A big part of my family history is him encouraging all viewpoints. Something he worked on very hard was the idea of freedom of press to then encourage freedom of speech.
When this happened to me, it was a freedom of speech issue because I wrote an article that was pulled. That was something that really turned on my gears and I said, “This is like my family history. I got to go do what my grandfather did.” It was very interesting to have that perspective of knowing what countries can look like without freedom of speech.
That’s something that is very scary, like the February 28th incident in Taiwan, where they were killing a bunch of people that had viewpoints that dissented what the government wanted. Obviously, we’re not there yet in America, but I see that restricting freedom of press and freedom of speech gets you there.
We’re not there yet in America, but if we don’t continue to fight back, we could end up in a situation where people who even think differently are not allowed to live in that country, or they get banished. Or worse, they get killed.
Mr. Jekielek: For the benefit of our audience, I think a lot of people might not be familiar with the February 28th incident. Please briefly explain that for us.
Ms. Scanlan: It happened in Taiwan, where basically all educated people were killed off because they were worried that they would just change views and encourage people to think differently and be against the government. That was a big thing. It was an attempt to suppress the people, because they didn’t want an uprising.
That was very, very scary. My grandfather’s family members were almost killed during that. A lot of them actually ended up getting banished instead, and they had to move to other countries. It was very real. When governments don’t like what the people think, they will come in and do something crazy like that.