Hi all, I know it’s been awhile since I posted, but I thought I’d poke around on the intertubes for old time’s sake.
I wanted to share a link to Monday’s episode of Talk of the Nation on NPR that I caught on my way to the airport. The segment is called Op-Ed: Olympic Gender Testing ‘Bound To Fail’ and features professor Jennifer Finney Boylan. The segment is rather long, so here’s a quick summary:
Female Olympic athletes may be obliged to undergo a “gender test” if their gender is questioned. Male athletes are not, and have never been, subjected to these tests, but for quite some time all female athletes had to submit to gender testing. These blanket tests were abandoned in 1999, but local Olympic authorities are still permitted to require tests where the gender of a given female athlete is controversial. These tests include a physical examination (which, one could imagine, might be very humiliating) and a buccal smear to be tested for chromosomal material, among other tests.
These tests are supposed to level the playing field for all “legit” female athletes by preventing women who may test genetically male from “cheating” by competing with women who are genetically female, or at least this is the gist of the rationale behind the testing as I understand it.
The interesting thing about all this is that the Olympic committee makes exceptions for women who are transgender. So, openly trans women are allowed to compete unmolested by embarrassing tests as long as they have had full surgeries, two years worth of hormone replacement therapy, etc. That means that the women most negatively affected by this testing are women who are still transitioning, or women who may have lived their whole lives as women, but who test male when their chromosomes are analyzed (they might be XXY). Of course, many of the women who test male may have no idea that they have “abnormal” chromosomes, making these tests doubly invasive and humiliating. Professor Boylan also cites cases in which a physical examination has uncovered ambiguous genitalia in an athlete.
I am struck by several issues raised in this op-ed—the obvious injustice of testing only women is near the top of the list. But this piece highlights the problems with the gender binary in some pretty striking ways. Basically, the stance of the IOC is that one is not allowed to compete unless one can be determined to be either definitely male or definitely female. This means that women who test positive for XXY chromosomes or who are in the process of transitioning between genders have no means of qualifying. The IOC, in other words, does not recognize gender as a continuum. This is not exactly surprising; however, I think this story is particularly arresting because it involves such an invasive, scientific, and public inquiry into the gender of individuals in order, essentially, to disqualify and ostracize those who do not fit the binary.
Thoughts on this? I really recommend listening to the entire interview if you’ve got the time.