TO SAY the debate about transgender athletes has become heated in the last few weeks would be the understatement of the year, with long-time equalities campaigner Martina Navratilova being dropped by an LGBT advocacy group for questioning whether trans and cis women should compete against each other while Sharron Davies, Dame Kelly Holmes and Paula Radcliffe have all been dismissed as transphobes and Terfs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) for daring to express an opinion on the subject.

READ MORE: Stuart Waiton: Why is the state pushing harmful transgender agenda? 

They are not alone. With transgender athletes expected to be able to compete in the Olympic Games for the first time next year, many non-trans women have expressed concerns that biologically female athletes would be unfairly disadvantaged if they were to compete against women who had been born biologically male. It may seem like a fair point, but for those on the other side of what has become a deeply divisive dispute, because trans women must be accepted as women without question their inclusion in female competitions should be taken as a given too. Meanwhile, with questions about whether male frames and testosterone levels really do give trans women an edge seemingly not up for debate, a much-needed conversation is shut down before it can even begin.

Could the intervention of 11 times Paralympic gold medallist Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, who at the weekend said the rules around trans women competing with biological women need “looking at” to ensure they are fair, help open it up? Given her own experiences as a wheelchair racer there is reason to hope it could, with the fact her body has different capabilities to that of someone like Dina Asher-Smith meaning few would label as discriminatory the practice of having them compete in different competitions.

Extending that argument to the conclusion that trans athletes should compete in a category of their own would be fraught with complications, not least because from a practical point of view there would likely not be enough contenders to hold a meaningful competition. However, drawing attention to the fact that there is no simple categorisation of ‘woman’ for trans women to be subsumed into can only be helpful for a debate that is stagnating well beyond the confines of the sporting world.

READ MORE: Iain Macwhirter: Transgender rights? Great. But don't tell women what makes a woman: they were born that way 

Indeed, much of the language that has been thrown around in the sporting context in recent weeks has already been heard in the wider transgender debate, with ongoing questions about the impact of self-identification leading the voices on both sides to become ever-more entrenched. Though much of the focus has been on the damaging impact the presence of male-bodied trans women could have in female-only safe spaces, as is the case with the question of transgender athletes neither side seems ready to find common ground from which to move forward on.

Rather, while it seems preposterous to suppose that a man intent on rape or murder would bother to don a dress before entering a female-only space, those on one side of the argument seem convinced that self-identification will lead to that happening and outright oppose it as a consequence. Those on the other side, meanwhile, cannot accept that a trans woman retaining male genitalia might be problematic for some biological women, with their insistence on asserting the right of trans women to be accepted as women in all circumstances being taken by some as a negation of cis women’s own hard-won - and still evolving - rights.

The issue is a complicated one and the truth is that there may be some instances where one group’s rights trump those of another, but unless and until that is tested in a court of law it is impossible to say with any certainty which way that might go. Meanwhile, court time has already been taken up with a case that speaks to all that is wrong with the current state of the transgender debate after a man who underwent gender reassignment surgery to become a woman but who still identifies as a biological male was accused by a non-trans woman of committing a hate crime for voicing his opposition to self-identification. The judge threw the case out on day one, noting that “there is no case and there never was a case” to answer.

Yet still each side seems to be as entrenched as ever and incapable of holding the conversation they claim is required to get to a position where everyone’s rights can be asserted and upheld. Meanwhile those without a strong position are left somewhere in the middle, baffled by all they are hearing and afraid to interject. Something has got to give.

At the moment it is women, trans or otherwise, who are shouting loudest on the issue, with those who want to protect their rights, those who want to assert their rights and those who want to share their rights all clamouring to be heard. There’s nothing wrong with that. The problem is, with all sides desperate to have the last word, the debate, if it is happening at all, is running the risk of becoming shrill and unreasoned, two things women have fought for centuries not to be accused of.