According to a twist in the new International Olympic Committee gender tests, if my sister can’t be my sister—then she must be… my brother—and may be eligible to compete in the Olympics as a man, provided she qualifies for a male team. She won’t be able to compete against women because of her high level of endogenous, or self made, testosterone, which may or may not render her gender indecisive or give her an unfair athletic advantage. I hope her effective hormone level is high enough that she crushes some man competing against her.
Gender investigations may be initiated by complaints from other women competitors, who imply a winner doesn’t look feminine enough, or by officials harboring similar thoughts. Unfortunately, the testing protocols single out a small number of female athletes out for personal, physical, and public humiliation. The gender determination burden falls on those women who are medically intersexed and have complex genetic patterns. The most recent notorious case involved a young South African runner, Caster Semenya,
The original rationale for these invasions was to protect women against men intruding into their sport. Does reliance on the testosterone standard mean that a hypogonadal man, festooned with the appropriate external equipment, can now compete against the women if his testosterone level falls into the female range?
Let’s face it, no matter how much the IAAF and the IOC struggle to come up with a simple straightforward gender determination test, it can’t be accomplished within the complex medical and social issues involved. These investigations carry with them a possibly unfair prohibition against competition, while a panel of geneticists, psychologists, and endocrinologists try to make their minds up about whether she is a he.
Many women swimmers and weightlifters, among other athletes, as a result of their training protocols, display muscular builds, often associated with men, yet their femaleness is not questioned as long as they are not taking artificial testosterone. This test is accomplished by use of a noninvasive anti-doping blood test. Such simplicity will not easily come into gender testing.
Historically, the sports federations have jumped from one test or another in an attempt to nail down the gender question raised by questionably female athletes. The track record they created has been a sad tale for the women involved in invasive testing. At one point, one female athlete was disqualified, then the next year the test used on her was dumped, and the test substituted for it would have declared her a female. Because of such problems, female gender testing was eliminated for almost a decade.
Further compounding the issue is the complete lack of similar testing within the ranks of male athletes, some of whom look hyper–male, or super-athletic, compared to others. Maybe they have genes granting them enough testosterone to be above the normal male range.
Athleticism is based on a complex interplay that includes genetics, talent, training, and financially based access to the best equipment and facilities. I don’t think we’ll ever be able draw a clear-cut line that creates a level playing field with regard to gender or for that matter, one based on purely athletic issues. We’re just going to have to put up with some vagueness, and do all we can to be fair to our athletes. To make things simple for ourselves we cannot prejudicially dump our fears on a narrow group of women who just don’t look the way we expect them to. Vive la difference!