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American Women Athletes Part Two: How intersex athletes are punished by the gender testing system

The first thing that we are going to need to know, is, what exactly is Intersexuality?

Then we are ready for the history behind sex testing. Transgriot starts off with Gender Drama at the 1936 Olympics

Robert Ritchie, John Reynard and Tom Lewis continue with Intersex and the Olympic Games

In the following 30 years, the sporting media speculated that several other female athletes had DSDs because they possessed physical attributes which would generally be associated with the male sex. Still without formal gender verification, these rumours remained as such, fuelled by the media who were fully aware that there would be never be any scientific evidence to disprove them. Thus, journalists reported that genetically male Eastern Bloc athletes were binding their genitals and competing as females. Gender controversy also surrounded Irina and Tamara Press, two Russian sisters (Figure 2) who were dominant in a variety of female track and field events during the 1950s and 1960s. They won 26 world records and six Olympic gold medals.
As media hype [eyeroll] reached fever pitch, compulsory gender verification in the form of a gynaecological examination was introduced prior to the 1966 European athletics championship. In these so-called ‘nude parades’, athletes were forced to stand naked in front of a committee and were subjected to an inspection of their external gentalia. 243 women attended for examination and no abnormalities were reported. Neither of the Press sisters attended and they were never to appear in athletic competition again. Their absence was widely interpreted as evidence they both possessed abnormal external genitalia. It is still not known whether the Press sisters deliberately misrepresented their gender or, as seems more likely, they both had a DSD.


Notably, gender testing in athletics has never identified an individual deliberately misrepresenting their gender.11,12 Testing has, however, created controversy and embarrassment for a significant number of female athletes competing, often unknowingly, with some form of intersex disorder. Indeed, there is no evidence that female athletes with DSDs have displayed any sports-relevant physical attributes which have not been seen in biologically normal female athletes.6,12 MORE

EDIT: In the above article, there is a use of the word “psuedo-hermaphrodite” which I missed the first time. It is offensive, and I do apologize for not catching it and pointing it out. I am currently on the look out for another article that makes the same point without the offensive language.

Need a couple of examples of athletes who have been fucked over by this ridiculous system? I am so glad you asked! Thats a man:Ewa Klobukowska, Erika Schinegger, Maria Jose Martinez Patino, Santhi Soundarajan More on Santhi Soundarajan.

But there is more to it than that, although, frustratingly, I missed my chance to present it to you. There is an essay that was online up to last week. It is one of the best essays on the history of this topic that I have read, The Olympics: The Early Days of Gender Testing, by Patrica Nell. Unfortunately, she has taken it down. It is in her anthology, though, and I for one think that that essay alone is worth the book price.
Let me give you a hint. Pay attention to the bit on the Cold War

Sociological Images out with a great post The question of Caster Semenya’s sex

If you were to try to decide what qualifies a person as male or female, what quality would you choose?
I can think of eight candidates:

1. Identity (whatever the person says they are, they are)
2. Sexual orientation (boys dig girls, vice versa)
3. Secondary sex characteristics (e.g., boobs/no boobs, pubic hair patterns, distribution of fat on the body)
4. External genitalia (e.g., clitoris, labia, vaginal opening/penis and scrotum)
5. Internal genitalia (e.g., vagina, uterus, and fallopian tubes/epididymis, vas deferens, seminal vesicles, prostate, etc)
6. Hormones (preponderance of estrogens/androgens)
7. Gonads (ovaries/testes)
8. Chromosomes (XX/XY, the SRY gene)

Most of us assume that these criteria all line up. That is, that people with XY chromosomes have testes that make androgens which creates a penis, epididymis, vas deferens etc… all the way up to a male-identified person who wants to have sex with women. We also assume that these things are binary (e.g., boobs/no boobs), when in reality most of them are on a spectrum (e.g., hormones, also boobs, likely sexual orientation).

But these criteria don’t always line up and sex-linked charactertics aren’t binary. Examples of “syndromes” that disrupt these trajectories abound (e.g., Klinefelter’s syndrome). And all kinds of practices, including surgeries, are sometimes used to force a binary when there isn’t one (e.g., intersex surgery to fix the “micropenis” and “obtrustive” clitoris and breast reduction surgery for men).

If these criteria don’t always line up, then we have to pick one as THE determinant of sex. But any choice would ultimately be arbitrary. MORE

Indeed. As links, Where’s the Rulebook for Sex Verification?

HHMI BioInteractive website takes you inside a gender test, with lots of information along the way. (Click particularly on the brief history of gender testing link.)It felt pretty creepy and invasive to me, though, so be warned. The Gender Test

The Third Lane: Intersex and the Modern Athlete contains more info about the different variations in our bodies that challenge the binary that society has, until now, clung stubbornly to.

Because of society’s assholishness in dealing with this issue, it is very hard to find a good list of intersexed athletes currently competing, or having competed until recently. That said, here are a couple:

Edinancni Silva, Brazilian judo, Sarah Gronert, Tennis (That headline writer needs to be hit with several clue by fours, by the way. It was the best article I could find, however. sigh. ) Rob Newbiggen, boxer Just decided to transition to female, hopes to get a female boxing license. You all have anymore to add?

Finally, have you noticed something with these athletes so far? One of their biggest problems come when they beat their opponents…and the opponents promptly accuse them of being men. (by the way, seriously, do read the articles. because they will state that there is NO scientific evidence that any intersex athlete has any advantage over their other competitors.) For a case of tragic schadenfreude, see Nigerian gender chickens coming home to roost: The case of Intersex football (what you all call soccer) striker Bessy Ekaete Boniface

Thats it for today, folks! Next week: Transgender female athletes.

10 thoughts on “American Women Athletes Part Two: How intersex athletes are punished by the gender testing system”

  1. LDR says:

    Thanks for writing this. I read somewhere that the Olympics no longer requires compulsory gender verification (probably because it doesn’t really “prove” anything.) Is that true?

    1. unusualmusic says:

      yes. they stopped requiring it in 1999 I think but will do it if concerns are raised. China for instance had a lab set up for this purpose.

  2. Pingback: Interesting posts, weekend of 9/6 « Feminists with Female Sexual Dysfunction
  3. Trackback: Interesting posts, weekend of 9/6 « Feminists with Female Sexual Dysfunction
  4. Atmel says:

    There exists more than two sexes. It is necessary to take into account some factors which change genetic or gonad’s sex, namely also a hormone sex. The women having inherent hyperplasia of cortex of adrenal glands (it lead to increased levels of androgenes) have a male’s body constitution and have the reduced female sexual attributes. So, the levels of testosterone about 6 nanomol/litres at female weightlifters were found out, though the norm is 0.6-3.1 nmol/litres. Such women in fact are not the females, and also represent intersexual deviant forms.

  5. Pingback: links for 2009-09-09 « Embololalia
  6. Trackback: links for 2009-09-09 « Embololalia
    1. Atmel says:

      For Embololalia:
      do read the connents –
      “the given statement concern “COMPLETE ANDROGEN INSENSITIVITY SYNDROME” (cAIS) when androgenes of the genetic male do not act on body and brain.”
      Do you think that male’s organism don’t have a physical advantage over female’s? You are naive. Higher level of androgenes give more quantity of erythrocytes (which carry oxygen) and the energy begining 12-15 y.o.

      Also see Pubmed

      Tables of Comparison of male’s and female’s collegiate american records

      and so on

  7. shah8 says:

    nbc sports is reporting that she has testes in place of ovaries.

  8. Seth Owen says:

    (by the way, seriously, do read the articles. because they will state that there is NO scientific evidence that any intersex athlete has any advantage over their other competitors.)

    I find this hard to believe. There is gender segregation in most sports because men have apparently inherent advantages in size and strength that would make mixed competition unfair. To the extent that an intersex athlete has male characteristics it would seem unfair to allow that person to compete against women who don’t have those advantages.
    I understand that gender disorders bring difficult questions and that drawing a clear line is necessarily arbitrary, while nature doesn’t concern itself with definitions.
    It would seem more fair on the whole that intersex athletes compete against male competitors rather than females.

    1. Atmel says:

      I dare say the given statement concern “COMPLETE ANDROGEN INSENSITIVITY SYNDROME” (cAIS) when androgenes of the genetic male do not act on body and brain. They develops as typical women and really don’t have a physical advantage which has those who has normal androgene sensitivity. Females with adrenal glands cortex hypertrophy which secrete androgenes and kortisol has more physical advantage than females with cAIS.
      see more:

  9. seelenlos says:

    thanks for the hint to the aol article re: sarah gronert, didn’t know that one yet (though the pundits quoted are partly almost as stupid as the title, “disorder”, “condition”, go away!) and included it in my stab at the topic.

    justice for santhi soundarajan!
    ioc, oca, give santhi her medal back! NOW!!

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