Dutee Chand & Sport & Gender
October 2, 2014 10:31 AM   Subscribe

"Like South African 800m sensation Caster Semenya before her, Chand discovered - in bold newsprint - that she had natural levels of the hormone testosterone normally only found in men. It did not take long before reporters were outside her parents' humble home asking them and her six siblings if she was a boy or a girl." [Via BBC Sport]

"Now, almost three months later, Chand is in limbo, unable to join the Indian team at the 2014 Asian Games, and unwilling to subject herself to the "corrective" treatment (hormone suppression therapy and sometimes even genital surgery) prescribed by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), International Olympic Committee (IOC) and other leading sports bodies.

"I am who I am," says Chand with a mixture of defiance and dismay.

Instead of the sprinter she has spent years training to be, she has become the focus of a challenge to sport's rules on gender, a cause celebre and evidence in a scientific debate about testosterone."
posted by marienbad (59 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
Whoof. Great article, really tough situation all around. Thanks for sharing!
posted by corb at 10:57 AM on October 2, 2014


Great article, really tough situation all around.

This is pretty clear cut, to my eyes.

The IAAF and IOC - notably one of the most corrupt organizations in the world, who should not be left in charge of a lemonade stand much less an international event - have effectively decided that women's gloves can only be a certain size, and if your fingers are any longer than that, young lady, well. That's unfortunate, but we have to have standards. You're welcome to cut your fingers down until our gloves fit. Anything else would clearly be unfair.

From the article: "But if women's sport is to have meaning there must be some boundaries."

Right, right. And the boundaries to women's participation must be chosen arbitrarily by a bunch of rich, corrupt men, and enforced by their institutions?

That's an awfully familiar tune, I wonder where I've heard it before.
posted by mhoye at 11:16 AM on October 2, 2014 [23 favorites]


Yeah. There do have to be boundaries, but these guys seem ill equipped for it.

I wonder if some sort of commission of former female Olympic athletes might be something that might work? I don't know if it's ever been tried or is even feasible, but it seems reasonable that women will be much fairer to their own gender than men would.
posted by corb at 11:24 AM on October 2, 2014


Right, right. And the boundaries to women's participation must be chosen arbitrarily by a bunch of rich, corrupt men, and enforced by their institutions?

That these boundaries are wrong does not mean that choosing universally agreeable boundaries is easy.
posted by GuyZero at 11:24 AM on October 2, 2014 [8 favorites]


"the "corrective" treatment (hormone suppression therapy and sometimes even genital surgery) prescribed by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), International Olympic Committee (IOC) and other leading sports bodies. "

WHAT THE WHATTING WHAT
posted by rtha at 11:33 AM on October 2, 2014 [21 favorites]


Ok, so I understand the testosterone idea. It does influence performance in some way. But how on earth is the shape of someone's genitals relevant?
posted by nat at 11:41 AM on October 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


Setting the boundaries is fantastically complicated, even assuming that those who are making the rules really understand the issue. Here's a fun little quiz to demonstrate!
posted by JParker at 11:42 AM on October 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


That these boundaries are wrong does not mean that choosing universally agreeable boundaries is easy.

Yes, indeed. The article is mostly very good, I think, but it does try a little to have it both ways on this. On the one hand it reiterates that this is an inherently intractable problem, but then it wants to jump up on the OUTRAGE OUTRAGE platform that any young woman would go through something as grueling and and as traumatic as having her gender called into question or having gender-related medical tests imposed. But it really isn't possible to have any rules about this at all without also subjecting young women to such tests. And if you have no rules about it at all then you really might as well do away with women's sports at the elite level. If claims to eligibility to participation in women's competitions at the Olympics and other elite competitions could not be subject to any testing or scrutiny we would pretty soon see the top ranks of most "women's" competitions filled with men who considered they had some reasonable chance of "passing." There's a lot of money to be made in these sports now and a lot of national prestige at stake, and I don't think relying simply on the honor system is realistic.

But if that's the case, then whatever system you design is going to end up putting young, vulnerable women who have absolutely no dishonest motives and who have never thought of themselves as anything but "women" in the ghastly situation of being told that their right to that identity has been challenged and will be subject to scientific testing. I really can't see any way out of that unhappy dilemma.
posted by yoink at 11:49 AM on October 2, 2014 [6 favorites]


yoink's comment reminds me of the UK's virginity test for fiancee visa eligibility.
posted by infini at 11:57 AM on October 2, 2014


yoink's comment reminds me of the UK's virginity test for fiancee visa eligibility.

Um...why? The virginity test is clearly completely unnecessary. It had A) no scientific basis and B) served no useful purpose (the state had, in fact, no compelling interest in whether or not those women were virgins).

If you're saying that it should be totally forbidden under any circumstances for any athlete to have their right to compete in women's competitions (as opposed to men's) challenged or tested it would be more helpful if you actually advanced that claim explicitly and explained why you think it would not lead to serious problems than making this kind of snide comment.
posted by yoink at 12:01 PM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


I hate hate hate that they call this stuff "gender" tests instead of sex tests. Her gender (and that of Caster Semenya and of the XY-chromosomed Maria Jose Martinez in the article) is indisputably female. Nobody argues that these women identify wholly as women, which is what gender is about. It is her biological sex that is at issue. If it were a gender issue they wouldn't need to do these tests at all. Is "sex" just too naughty of a word so they incorrectly and confusingly and, well, dehumanizingly use gender instead?
posted by brainmouse at 12:01 PM on October 2, 2014 [7 favorites]


Is there much evidence that the situation yoink describes would actually happen? Namely, that a lot of people who actually self-identify as men would publicly identify as women out of a personal desire to be "successful" as an athlete?
posted by jepler at 12:02 PM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


I don't think it's out of personal desire. The one athlete who did get outed was apparently doing it for national pride, or what have you. But I could see countries forcing people to do this easily.
posted by corb at 12:07 PM on October 2, 2014


Setting the boundaries is fantastically complicated, even assuming that those who are making the rules really understand the issue. Here's a fun little quiz to demonstrate!

It's only fantastically complicated for people who are intersex, which is about 1% of the population. For the rest, it's really easy to a little bit complicated.
posted by nooneyouknow at 12:08 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Is there much evidence that the situation yoink describes would actually happen? Namely, that a lot of people who actually self-identify as men would publicly identify as women out of a personal desire to be "successful" as an athlete?

If there was a cast-iron rule that no tests to disqualify any entrant were allowed, why on earth wouldn't men flock to these competitions? There's a lot of money and prestige at stake. Abiding by "the athletes code of honor" didn't exactly work miracles with keeping performance enhancing drugs out of sports, did it? If you're a male athlete (and there are thousands upon thousands in the world who fall into this category) who's not capable of being a serious contender in male competition but would be an elite performer in the women's competition and you have an absolute guarantee that your claim to being eligible for the women's competition cannot be challenged, well it's hard to imagine that it's not going to be a sore temptation for many people.
posted by yoink at 12:18 PM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


The "Fun Little Quiz" posted by JParker is amazing (allowing that it gets pretty technical).
posted by marienbad at 12:19 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


"WHAT THE WHATTING WHAT"
posted by rtha

Yeah, that blew me away too. Jesus fucking christ, what the fuck?
posted by marienbad at 12:20 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's only fantastically complicated for people who are intersex, which is about 1% of the population. For the rest, it's really easy to a little bit complicated.


Yeah, but those cases are the ones that really matter, and it's not like this issue *hasn't* come up in sports competitions. See, well, the linked article. "It's only complicated some of the time" excuse doesn't work for this situation.
posted by damayanti at 12:28 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


If claims to eligibility to participation in women's competitions at the Olympics and other elite competitions could not be subject to any testing or scrutiny we would pretty soon see the top ranks of most "women's" competitions filled with men who considered they had some reasonable chance of "passing."

This strikes me as about as likely as the bathroom assault mythology fears about transgendered people. That is to say I'd be more worried about an invasion of purple unicorns from Mars.
posted by winna at 12:28 PM on October 2, 2014 [8 favorites]


If you're a male athlete (and there are thousands upon thousands in the world who fall into this category) who's not capable of being a serious contender in male competition but would be an elite performer in the women's competition and you have an absolute guarantee that your claim to being eligible for the women's competition cannot be challenged, well it's hard to imagine that it's not going to be a sore temptation for many people.

The world is a big and very weird place, but I am personally having a hard time imagining tons of cis men flocking to women's competitions and boasting about how they beat a bunch of women WOO HOO when they couldn't make the cut for the men's divisions. The likeliness of that becoming a real problem any time soon seems really, really un- to me.
posted by rtha at 12:31 PM on October 2, 2014 [10 favorites]


If there was a cast-iron rule that no tests to disqualify any entrant were allowed, why on earth wouldn't men flock to these competitions?

yoink - because money isn't the only motivator. I suspect there would be a tremendous hit to the prestige of any man who beat a bunch of women. Very few guys want that reputation. But sure, there would be some.
posted by desjardins at 12:31 PM on October 2, 2014


boasting about how they beat a bunch of women WOO HOO when they couldn't make the cut for the men's divisions.

Um, they're not going to out themselves. You seem to be imagining a scenario in which men enter these competitions sporting beards and giving massive, eye-rolling winks whenever they refer to themselves as women or something. I'm talking about men choosing to pass as women athletes so as to reap large financial and national prestige rewards. Simply saying "oh pish, tosh, such a thing would never happen. Why, all the chaps I know would blanch at the very idea" isn't much of an argument.

The only halfway meaningful argument I can think of is that historically we find very few cases. But then, you don't have to go back too far to find a time where there simply weren't meaningful financial rewards in women's sports. And once those rewards did start to appear, we were into the era of sex testing--so there was a real chance of detection and exposure. Give men a guarantee that they cannot be tested and exposed and offer them very real rewards, financial and otherwise, for committing the fraud and, again, why wouldn't there be reasonably large numbers who would jump at the chance?
posted by yoink at 12:39 PM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


Um, they're not going to out themselves. You seem to be imagining a scenario in which men enter these competitions sporting beards and giving massive, eye-rolling winks whenever they refer to themselves as women or something. I'm talking about men choosing to pass as women athletes so as to reap large financial and national prestige rewards.

Choosing to live as a woman (because that is largely what it would take) in order to achieve some Bond villain dream is an enormous amount of work and I just don't think it's very likely.
posted by winna at 12:43 PM on October 2, 2014 [7 favorites]


I agree that men competing in women's events would be an unusual occurrence due to cultural pushback. But this very small group of men would win the competitions disproportionately frequently, so it seems worth thinking about.
posted by miyabo at 12:43 PM on October 2, 2014


Yeah, the number of cis dudes willing to fake being a trans woman for whatever reason is very low. This is not a realistic fear in sports or in other situations where the specter is raised.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 12:45 PM on October 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm talking about men choosing to pass as women athletes so as to reap large financial and national prestige rewards.

I guess I'm still not getting it, because they would not simply have to pass as women athletes but as women; assuming they get famous because they're successful (because they'd be winning a lot), they would have to live as women in all the rest of their lives, for the rest of their lives, under the scrutiny of the press and with the knowledge and cooperation of their family of origin and anyone else who knew them when they were kids/pre-competition.
posted by rtha at 12:45 PM on October 2, 2014 [12 favorites]


The world is a big and very weird place, but I am personally having a hard time imagining tons of cis men flocking to women's competitions and boasting about how they beat a bunch of women WOO HOO when they couldn't make the cut for the men's divisions. The likeliness of that becoming a real problem any time soon seems really, really un- to me.

True. But I can easily imagine that every North Korean athlete entered in a womens event with no eligibility restrictions would be someone who wouldn't have been eligible to enter today. Saying that's unbelievable is pretty naive when you already have examples like East Germany's hormone program and China's gymnast program.

I guess I'm still not getting it, because they would not simply have to pass as women athletes but as women...anyone else who knew them when they were kids/pre-competition.

Would they? Who says? Would you start running social passing tests instead of medical ones? Are you saying a transgender woman who transitioned after she left home at 18 shouldn't be able to compete because her school friends knew her as a man?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 12:48 PM on October 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm not sure I buy the idea that cis men would start presenting as female full-time just to win a competition. Trying to pass as a gender you don't identify with is the sort of thing that seems like no big deal unless you've tried it — but if you've tried it you know it can drive otherwise sane people to suicide.

I guess there's the possibility that women's sports would be taken over by non-transitioning/non-op trans women, though. Which as a pure hypothetical is an idea I find entertaining in a "die cis scum [n.b. please do not actually die i am just venting here]" sort of way, but in practice it would actually suck a lot for the cis majority of female athletes and let's not go there.

Realistically I think our best bet is to have hormone-level classes the way there's weight classes now — ideally more fine-grained than just "male" and "female," because there's a wide spectrum of variation there — and however you want to get yourself into whatever class you want to compete in is your own business.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:50 PM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


they would have to live as women in all the rest of their lives, for the rest of their lives

Well, no, not really. The career of a pro athlete is pretty short. And they could pretty easily claim to have "transitioned" from being a woman to being a man after their career ends--and it's not as if anyone is demanding that female athletes all live outwardly conventional heteronormative lives..

Obviously there will be many men who are not even remotely tempted by the idea, some smaller number who are tempted but think "ah, it's too much trouble" etc. But it really only takes a handful and their impact on the sport would be enormously disproportionate. Imagine, for a moment, that you're the best woman sprinter in the world and you're watching someone on the podium beside you get the gold medal and you're pretty sure that that person is a man. Is it really fair if there is simply no institutional mechanism available that can disqualify that person? Should it really turn on nothing at all but the participant's say-so?
posted by yoink at 12:54 PM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


Realistically I think our best bet is to have hormone-level classes the way there's weight classes now — ideally more fine-grained than just "male" and "female," because there's a wide spectrum of variation there — and however you want to get yourself into whatever class you want to compete in is your own business.

I think this gets closer to an issue here that isn't directly related to the "men-passing-as-women-to compete" question. As I understand it, the reason to have separate competitions for men and women is that men enjoy biological advantages that make it impossible for women to compete with them in a meaningful in many sports. (This obviously isn't the whole story, as it doesn't explain to me why you have separate men's and women's curling.)

But if there are women who enjoy that same biological advantage, it's just as unfair to have other women compete against them as it would be to have them compete against men. What the international sports bodies seem to be saying now is "Well, the women that have the biological advantage aren't really women." That doesn't strike me as a viable solution, but I do think the issue is one that should be addressed in elite sports competitions.
posted by layceepee at 1:01 PM on October 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


If the best answer to making sports honest is "go stick a knife in your genitals" I don't think I want to watch any sports any more.
posted by DreamerFi at 1:23 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Ugh. As an intersex person, I can't tell you how tired I am of binary sex policing. It is policing a myth.

Sex is made up of wide array of characteristics, each one of which naturally exists in a spectrum of varieties. Name any bodily characteristic that is said to differ by sex, and you will fail to find some bright line distinguishing binary sexes. "Men are taller than women." Are you kidding? A modest average height difference pales in comparison to the overlap, as there are men who are three feet tall and women who stand over seven feet. "Women have breasts and men don't." Hardly; many men have moobs that are larger than the beasts of many women. "Men grow beards and women don't." Nope again: plenty of men don't grow significant amounts of facial hair, and there is an entire industry built around the fact that women do, and are told they must make it go away. "Men have XY chromosomes and women have XX." Actually, there are XX people who are born with penises and XY people born with vulvae--not to mention all the many other sex chromosomal variations like XXY, XYY, Xo, and XX/XY mosaics.

Binary sex categories are socially imposed onto natural sex spectra. And any dividing line is arbitrary. Since "men's" and "women's" naturally occurring testosterone levels overlap, telling Dutee she can't run because her testosterone level is "male" is as unfair as telling women over 6' tall they can't compete In sports due to their "male" height.

Note also that the range of "female" testosterone levels is defined much more narrowly than is the range for men, and that there is no upper limit put on the natural testosterone levels men are allowed to have and compete--the IOC doesn't say to men "Your body is abnormal and it cheats by nature, so you have to take testosterone suppressants."

And can you even imagine the IOC going on to measure the penises of men "caught" with naturally high levels of testosterone and requiring that any over a certain length be surgically shortened?

Bodies vary by nature. The bodies of most Olympic athletes are atypical. Genitals are never relevant to sport performance. Just stop sex policing intersex people's bodies. Dutee was assigned female at birth and identifies as a woman and that's that: she should be left in peace to compete with the other women, with their own unique long legs or high levels of fast-twitch muscle or large lung capacities, unmolested.
posted by DrMew at 1:32 PM on October 2, 2014 [37 favorites]


Well, no, not really. The career of a pro athlete is pretty short. And they could pretty easily claim to have "transitioned" from being a woman to being a man after their career ends--and it's not as if anyone is demanding that female athletes all live outwardly conventional heteronormative lives..

And what, they transition from male to female as adolescents? Athletic careers are short and, for most sports, the elite athletes begin very young and are noticed very young.

This "danger" seems like a huge outlier of a possibility, and I'm really sorry now that I've furthered what has turned into a stupid derail. The point is not that OH NO we can't have *any* rules! but that the rules we currently have are incredibly crude, and punitive, and we need to work towards something better and more equitable. And we can do so without bringing in bathroom panic or the specter of dozens of men taking over women's sports for the bragging rights.
posted by rtha at 1:37 PM on October 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I also want to say, it would be really great if we could actually have a discussion about intersex athletes that didn't for once devolve instead into an argument over exactly how many cis men would somehow get into women's spaces if we stopped humiliating and mutilating intersex people.

Just sayin'.
posted by DrMew at 1:46 PM on October 2, 2014 [13 favorites]


This obviously isn't the whole story, as it doesn't explain to me why you have separate men's and women's curling.

Because men's biological advantage applies to curling too. It's not as in-your-face obvious as it would be for, say, boxing. Buts it's definitely present and upper body strength has a big impact on multiple aspects of the sport.

DrMew: Seems like discussing what kinds of rules and testing are appropriate is completely on point when discussing top tier intersex athletes. Just sayin'!
posted by Justinian at 1:50 PM on October 2, 2014


and that there is no upper limit put on the natural testosterone levels men are allowed to have and compete

I think that's because it's better to think of most "men's" competitions as "open" competitions instead. Anybody who can compete can compete.

Unfortunately that's not true of the IOC since they are a bunch of reactionary misogynists who wouldn't even let women compete in the ski jump for most of history because... I dunno, their insides would fall out or something... but thankfully most sports aren't governed by the IOC.
posted by Justinian at 1:52 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


I would support a vote to delete every comment except for like, Dr Mews, this is the dumbest fucking derail i've seen in months.

I was very very briefly sympathetic to the idea of like, china or north korea or some country that already competes with illegally young gymnasts and stuff trying to game this... but honestly, that's pretty much as dumb as the bathroom assault thing, yea. People who think this is a possibility really aren't considering that this is the internet era, and it would take an amount of work that puts this far beyond other sex/gender related conspiracy theories in to like "pretending to be arnold schwarzenegger's kid" territory.

They lost 100% of my sympathy when they mentioned the genital surgery thing.

I think that "but then ANYONE COULD FAKE IT AND COMPETE" fear is exactly what they want to happen. It's their last weapon of defense and their shield to hide behind the fact that they're doing something really fucked up and stupid here.

Why load their guns?
posted by emptythought at 1:56 PM on October 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


Binary sex categories are socially imposed onto natural sex spectra.

So for better or worse international sports organizations have to deal with a lot of countries where people are pretty much a-ok with purely binary gender categories. Not that means we need to along with it, but the tyranny of the masses is a thing going on here.

Bodies vary by nature. The bodies of most Olympic athletes are atypical. Genitals are never relevant to sport performance.

Yes, but hormones are relevant. And honestly as these tests become faster and cheaper we may very well start seeing non-intersexed athletes getting tested for these very things you posit, like "normal" men being checked for natural testosterone levels. It may become inevitable once gene therapy and doping get together to make doping way worse than it's ever been before.

But the nonsense about checking genitals is Victorian prudery run amok.
posted by GuyZero at 2:41 PM on October 2, 2014


Ugh, so I guess there's nothing factually incorrect to all the chicken-littling about gaming the Olympics, but which is more important: maintaining the shammy "purity" of ultra-elite sports competition, or respecting a human-centered approach to gender self-identification? The cases under discussion inherently trouble the basic assumptions behind sex-segregated sporting, so it seems pointless and annoying to go back and forth about how better to preserve that system as it exists.
posted by threeants at 2:49 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Do you think most people would be happy with the results if we eliminated sex-segregated sporting events? Would it be a net good?
posted by Justinian at 3:00 PM on October 2, 2014


The idea that there would actually be a problem with cis men pretending to be women to infiltrate women's sports if we stopped policing intersex bodies is a derail because the IOC has very strict rules it applies to people who gender transition, and we are not talking about people who gender transition from the sex they were assigned at birth.

(FYI, to compete as a woman, the IOC requires an individual who gender transitions to take testosterone-suppressant medications and estrogen for a minimum of two years, have an orchiectomy and genital reconstructive surgery, and be legally recognized as a woman. To access the required surgery, therapy to ensure that the person truly identifies as a woman and understands that medical transition permanently changes the body is required. Cis men can't just show up and say, "I identify as a woman, let me run with the girls!" Now, I'm not defending the IOC rules for trans people--I do not believe genitals are relevant to sporting competition, and I don't approve of requiring expensive genital reconstructive surgery for anyone. But it seems clear one of the main reasons the IOC has this rule is to ensure people won't believe cis men are gaming the system by pretending to be trans.)

Anyway, we're talking here about intersex people who have not chosen to gender transition from the binary sex they were assigned at birth. And here is the thing: it's a ridiculous Catch-22 for intersex people. First, medical professionals to say to us when we are born, "Oh, no, you can't live outside the sex binary. We are going to assign you a binary sex--our scientific knowledge allows us to pick which one is best. Your job is to believe us when we say you are really a girl, and live that way, and not undermine our society's whole understanding of sex." Then, should you happen to develop strong athletic skills, a second set of medical professionals comes along and says, "You're not really a woman, you're intersex, outside the sex binary!" Make up your mind, medical sex police--you're giving us whiplash.

Just because we monitor "doping" does not mean we have to police natural hormone balances, any more than we police people assigned female for having lungs of a size typical of men, or legs of a length found more typically in men than women.
posted by DrMew at 3:00 PM on October 2, 2014 [11 favorites]


Is there any evidence that females with high testosterone do consistently better than females who have normal levels?
posted by nooneyouknow at 3:26 PM on October 2, 2014


Would you accept general evidence that testosterone produces great physical advantages? Because that's easy to provide.
posted by Justinian at 3:32 PM on October 2, 2014


Just because we monitor "doping" does not mean we have to police natural hormone balances, any more than we police people assigned female for having lungs of a size typical of men, or legs of a length found more typically in men than women.

You know, I think two things are getting really mixed up here, and honestly, it's quite natural that they would. It's twofold: does the Olympic Committee, and other sports authorities, have an interest in showcasing the extraordinary abilities of diverse sets of people? And does the Olympic Committee get to declare what someone's gender is?

The second is, or should be, an unequivocal no. It is not their business. It is so far from their business that it's not even funny.

But the former is a real thing. We have extremely elite competitions for all sorts of people who are naturally handicapped. For example - at the Paralympic Games, people who are not physically disabled are not allowed to compete. They aren't decreed "not disabled", because that would be an offensive insult - but they are told that they do not meet the standards for qualification for that particular world-class competition.

Wouldn't it be possible to simply sort the games into, for example, three categories? High testesterone, mid testesterone, or low testesterone? Some way that would accomodate the need for those of different categories to be judged fairly, without adding the obnoxious gender identification component?
posted by corb at 3:52 PM on October 2, 2014


Also I found the "fun little quiz" posted up thread entertaining in a certain perverse way:

"She says she's female, lives as a woman, and has female sex characteristics! Do you think she's a woman?"

[Yes]

"Well sure, but what about that weird thing that we told you was common in female athletes anyway, huh? Let's do some gene testing anyway! Here's her genes, pick male or female"

[She is a woman and these are her genes and I pick female]

"Uh, weren't you listening there? That was clearly a Y chromosome! But how can that be? Let's do more tests! Maybe she has this specific condition that would defeat the Y chromosome. Test: nope she doesn't have that. Is she male or female?"

[Still female, female forever]

"Well, usually not having that condition would mean you're a dude, but okay, maybe one gene isn't the be-all-end-all. Time to make a final decision! So far the three tests have been one in favor of female and two in favor of male, whatever will you do?

[Qualify her, you fool]

"Haha we tricked you before. It turns out she has this other specific condition that is different from the one we mentioned earlier! She's female!"

[...]
posted by vibratory manner of working at 4:02 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


nooneyouknow: Is there any evidence that females with high testosterone do consistently better than females who have normal levels?

Another good question is, even if that's true, does it matter? There's so many factors like that.

Notice how short people tend to compete in certain gymnastic events, runners are usually tall as are basketball players, etc?

Do we start regulating people who are too short or tall? People with too great of a leg to body ratio? People who naturally build muscle easier for various genetic reasons? What about various advantages of bone structure or natural resting weight and just general body size? Some people are naturally very tall and broad, some people have very narrow shoulders and hips and are just tiny. This applies to all genders.

This is a deep, deep rabbit hole. And this is a very arbitrary, and loaded place to draw the line that people have fairly messed up reasons for choosing.

You probably know this, nooneyouknow, and this wasn't really directed at you. Your post just made me think that was worth bringing up.

I just think this is one of a whole lot of factors that could cause someone to excel, and give them a mechanical advantage when trained. It's like getting annoyed at someone for being unfair at running because they have long, massive legs.

Pretty much, even if there is evidence to support that, it's really not the whole story. Figuring out what percentage or slice of the pie it is could be useful, but acting like it's a yes/no thing like the article itself and some people here seem to is... Ehh.
posted by emptythought at 4:13 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


There's really two questions: Should we segregate most sports competitions based on sex, and how do we go about that fairly? I think most though not all people agree that the answer to the first question is "yes" while the answer to the second question is quite difficult.

I admit that "let people decide for themselves which category to compete in" has quite a bit of appeal to me these days. If the GENDER PANIC people are right and we see a bunch of men faking it to compete in the women's categories we could always institute testing regimens in the future. It's not like you can never change the rules.
posted by Justinian at 4:31 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Allowing people to choose their category freely shouldn't be such a big deal because it seems like people really expect sports to be dominated by physical outliers *right now*. I've always liked the ideal represented by weight classes in combat sports though, that there is a worthy contest of skill to be had between physically matched competitors no matter what category their bodies fall in. So I *like* in principle the idea to sort competitors into more than two classes by hormone levels and other physical measurements, without making any assertion about their sex/gender status. Though it would be difficult to weight the factors to draw these lines, which would presumably differ by sport. And weight classes already promote gaming behavior with unhealthy consequences. And it raises the fundamental question of what is a "skill" and what is a "physical advantage" exactly anyway.
posted by atoxyl at 6:32 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


The scientific understanding of the influence of testosterone on athletic performance or other attributes is (1) impartial, (2) weirdly full of assumptions in a way you don't find research on, say, melatonin or other "nonsexy" hormones to be, and (3) especially thin when it comes to studying women.

An example: scientists for many decades simply asserted that women had low testosterone because it was the hormone of antinurturant aggression. So they didn't study women's testosterone levels. It wasn't until the 1980s, I believe, that a study measured levels of testosterone in women who were stay-at-home mothers, and compared those with the levels of "career women," and found to their surprise that the stay-at-home moms had higher levels of T than the women working for pay. This caused a bit of a stir, but not a huge upsurge in studies of testosterone in people not classified as men. (It's similar to the way in which scientists only recently discovered that low estrogen levels in men cause infertility due to improper sperm production--and that there has been no proposal to treat infertile men with estrogen as a result.)

Anyway, I'm not an endocrinologist, but from what I've read, there is no linear relationship between levels of testosterone and performance. It's highly complicated by the fact that different people respond differently to the same levels of T for various reasons. So if you divided sports by high/medium/low levels of testosterone, it would not divide people by ability. There are people whose natural level of T is five times that of others--and they are not five times better athletes. In fact, people whose bodies are less sensitive to testosterone naturally produce more of it, and vice versa. Note that 17% of elite male athletes turn out to have testosterone levels in the "female" range.

So, we don't know to what extent Dutee's absolute testosterone level relates to her success as an athlete, though the individual relative level matters, and reducing it would likely decrease her ability.

I continue to assert that even if Dutee's testosterone level is an advantage to her, this is no different than the natural advantage of having unusually long legs in the "male range": a natural atypicality of the sort common in Olympic athletes--attributes that are not sex-policed.
posted by DrMew at 6:47 PM on October 2, 2014 [7 favorites]


The idea that there would actually be a problem with cis men pretending to be women to infiltrate women's sports if we stopped policing intersex bodies is a derail because the IOC has very strict rules it applies to people who gender transition, and we are not talking about people who gender transition from the sex they were assigned at birth.

But that's entirely missing the point. The only reason that such a policy can be in place and be enforced is because the IOC has the ability to demand testing to ascertain whether or not someone is a "person who has gender transitioned." The hypothetical case is one where all such tests were disallowed. In other words, if we say "noone will ever have to prove their eligibility to compete in women's events; if they say they're a woman, they are a woman and may compete" then that clearly and definitively opens the floodgates for people who are gender transitioning, as well as for cis men who want to cheat the system.

If the GENDER PANIC people are right and we see a bunch of men faking it to compete in the women's categories we could always institute testing regimens in the future.


Nice ad hom, but this has nothing at all to do with fear of transgender people or anything remotely related to it. You might notice that the only people I'm casting any aspersions on here are cis men, who I assume will try to game the system if we give them carte blanche to do so. And the "if we see a bunch of men faking it" is a kind of silly point. How, exactly, are we going to know that that's what we're seeing if no one is allowed to put the question to the test? We can say with absolute certainty that we would see a bunch of people about whom rumors will start that "they can't possibly REALLY be women." That already happens, even with testing options in place. Removing all such tests couldn't possibly reduce the incidence of such rumors. So, what then? You think if everyone suspects that Country A is submitting men to win gold medals at the Olympics that Country B won't think "well, we might as well do that too!"? And, again, whether or not that's what's happening, there'll be a constant chatter about it in the press. You'll have an ugly situation in women's sports rather akin to the doping situation, in which many contestants feel that the situation is simply rigged against them. So the calls for reinstating the option of some sort of testing regime will emerge immediately. Which, of course, just brings me back to my first point: as soon as you have such testing regimes, they'll inflict real trauma on people who are operating in entirely good faith. There just isn't an easy answer here.
posted by yoink at 7:09 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


I continue to assert that even if Dutee's testosterone level is an advantage to her, this is no different than the natural advantage of having unusually long legs in the "male range": a natural atypicality of the sort common in Olympic athletes--attributes that are not sex-policed.

You may be right. But what is your solution, to rely strictly on self-selection and allow whoever wants to compete in the men's stuff to do so and same for the women's divisions? That's the simplest solution but as you can see from yoink's comment wouldn't go over well with many folks.
posted by Justinian at 7:21 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Cis men can't just show up and say, "I identify as a woman, let me run with the girls!”

I really want to underscore this point.

The only way that I can really see a cis man pulling this off at the international level is with the deliberate collusion of the national governing body for their sport.

To be eligible to compete in sanctioned events, athletes have to register with their national governing body. For instance, to complete in sanctioned events in my sport, I had to submit notarized proof of citizenship (which I can guarantee is far more frequently gamed than sex, esp. at the junior levels of competition) in the form of a government ID (a passport in my case), and I had to register as the sex that matches the one on my ID. In addition, to actually qualify to compete in national and international events, you have to have competed (and placed highly enough) at a certain number of sanctioned events in the year prior.

From a practical standpoint, these requirements mean that by the time you reach an international competition, people throughout the sport (coaches, other athletes, trainers, college recruiters, etc.) know who you are, including your backstory. It’s not like showing up at a neighborhood 5k fun run, giving a fake name/sex, winning a race, then disappearing into the crowd afterwards.

There have been accusations of countries engaging in age fraud (China) before as well as engaging in programs of doping (East Germany, USSR). So I guess maybe a smaller, less open country could decide to collude in a sex fraud program, too, for the purposes of national pride or something. It just seems so ridiculously unlikely to me. I doubt such a program could unlikely to hold up for any sustained length of time these days, either.
posted by skye.dancer at 7:45 PM on October 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


People are talking about two different things: one is whether, under the current system, someone who was assigned female at birth can be banned from competition unless she alters her body due to being found to be intersex; the other is a world in which there are binary sex groups for competition, but anyone can enter either category without any checks on at all on whether they identify with that binary sex or live in it. I don't mind considering the second, but it is not the same thing as the first, which is the situation Dutee faces.

Personally, considering the latter question, I think we use binary sex as a proxy for ability, and it's a weak one, and I'm with those who suggest actual ability categories, depending on the sport. But that's a large change that would take years of contemplation to implement. For intersex people today, all we are asking to make the system that stands fair is to stop testing people's genitals, chromosomes or natural hormone levels. If you were assigned a sex at birth, you have the right to compete in it, full stop. The question of how to handle gender transition is a separate issue (one that could be handled better than it is, to be sure).

You don't have to radically rework international sporting arrangements, just stop sex policing how closely bodies conform to binary ideals for people of a given birth-assigned sex. It can be done today. Then we can talk about how to rework the system to take binary sex out of the equation altogether.
posted by DrMew at 8:17 PM on October 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


Binary sex is a modestly weak proxy when you are viewing the population as a whole; it's an extremely strong proxy when considering the top athletes in any sport which is what we're talking about here.

I agree with you that we should immediately stop treating people crappily and can work out the details of the testing (if any) or whatever later.
posted by Justinian at 8:20 PM on October 2, 2014


I'm talking about men choosing to pass as women athletes so as to reap large financial and national prestige rewards.

You're talking about pink unicorns, in other worlds.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:35 AM on October 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


I simply meant this whole thing of testing to be sure. Nothing deeper or nasty or more snarky than a simple "oh, they are testing women for something again".
posted by infini at 4:27 AM on October 3, 2014


I'm talking about men choosing to pass as women athletes so as to reap large financial and national prestige rewards.

To become an athlete of any sort requires years of training - they are picked out when they are young and run for schools and counties and in youth athletics. So when these alleged "men who pass as women" are running when they are 8 - 14 years old, how are they categorised? This stuff is recorded. It would mean they would have to decide to carry out this deception when they were 10, and continue with it all their lives. The school they are at, the county athletics people, the Youth athletics people, the primary school they attended, and all their teachers therein, Sport England, UK Athletics federation - they would all have to be complicit in an ongoing deception lasting 50 years or more. What is it people say about keeping something secret when so many people know?

And as pointed out above, in the age of the internet, it would be extremely difficult to keep this under wraps -all it would take is the losing teams fans to start looking online, and if one or two of them are the sort of people who can dredge up personal info about people then the deception would unravel fast.
posted by marienbad at 7:33 AM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


I know I've spoken a lot in this thread, but as the only person here who has self-identified as intersex by birth, I do want to say one more thing.

A lot of the discussion in this thread has treated intersexuality as some abstract hypothetical--a thought exercise in which asking how should we treat intersex athletes is presented as on par with imagining an army of cis men taking over women's sports. But while some onslaught of cis men pretending to be women is an imaginary situation, the OP is about a real person, Dutee Chand.

And it's Dutee I think we really should be talking about. Her case illustrates what we are doing to real, live intersex athletes today. You can be assigned female at birth without controversy, grow up like any other girl, become an athlete, and be treated as a role model for admiring young women in your home nation. And then because of intrusive sex policing of natural hormone levels, it's discovered that you are intersex. People who learn that they are intersex as adults often find coping with this information traumatic, and grapple with it very privately. But due to IOC policies, Dutee has the information immediately shared with the world. Tabloid journalists ask relatives to describe her genitalia. She is forced to have a very detailed, quantitative gynecological exam at which her genitals--apparently never seen as cause for comment in the past--are declared abnormal. And she is told she can never run again unless she undergoes changes to her sexed body--taking drugs to change her natural hormone balance and having her genitals surgically reconstructed.

We are talking about our tolerating forced changes to people's genitals and hormones, taking place in real life today. Or at least, that's what I'd hope we would be talking about--respect for autonomy and privacy and embodied integrity of Dutee Chand.
posted by DrMew at 10:15 AM on October 3, 2014 [13 favorites]




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