On January 20th, 2010, the International Olympic Committee officials told the Associated Press that it was recommending the creation of special medical centers that would handle sex-verification cases for Olympic athletes. They also called for the establishment of guidelines to determine gender eligibility on a case-by-case basis, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.
Last August, Caster Semenya, won a gold medal in the 800 meters at the Berlin World Championships. Sex testing was ordered after athletes complained that she looked “too masculine.” No one knows if she will be allowed to compete as a woman in future races, but she was allowed to keep the gold medal.
Experts are noting how messy it is to determine biological sex, particularly among individuals who may be knowingly, or unknowingly, intersex. Genitalia may be ambiguous. Do they compete as male or female? This is what happens when the inexact spectrum of gender meets the arbitrary gender restrictions of the gender binary. Chaos ensues.
According to the New York Times, many athletes have complained that sex testing can be invasive and traumatic. Can you imagine getting your sex verified before going into work? Intersex individuals have been humiliated, have lost opportunities, scholarships, friends, partners, and athletic records.
If you look at the history of gender-verification in the Olympics, it isn’t pretty. Physical exams have been required for a long time for the female athletes (guess they don’t think women will pose as men). Then there was chromosome testing, but a Y chromosome wasn’t a foolproof gender marker. In the late 1990s, athletes were required to urinate in front of an observer so genitalia would be readily observable. But what about individuals whose observable genitalia look ambiguous? The Endocrine Society has advocated against the use of medical tests but advocates, instead, for using how the person was raised. Others note that elite athletes inherently have inborn advantages over the rest of the population anyway.
Since 2004, transsexuals have been allowed to compete but only after meeting three stringent requirements. It is questionable, however, if there is sufficient evidence that any competitive advantage exist for transsexual athletes over typically-gendered athletes.
The blog The F Word notes, “The only thing about sex and gender that the Olympic committee know for sure is this: the only women who are undeniably 100% women are royalty, as Princess Anne was the only female athlete who didn’t have to have to submit a sex test at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. And of course it had nothing to do with the fact that she was the daughter of Canada’s Head of State, Queen Elizabeth II.” I am old enough to remember that controversy. If this testing is too invasive and undignified for a princess, shouldn’t it be too invasive and undignified for anyone?