Gender Testing and Women’s Sports

Elisabeth Garber-Paul

Testing 18-year-old South African athlete Caster Semenya to determine whether or not she is female is the latest demonstration of the way societies are unable to accept that gender is fluid and people are not always "one or the other."

Testing 18-year-old South African athlete Caster Semenya to determine whether or not she is female is the latest demonstration of the way societies are unable to accept that gender is fluid and people are not always "one or the other." Or so says Dave Zirin and Sherry Wolf’s article on The Nation’s website.

According to the article, the track and field star is being publicly humiliated–forced to undergo "gender testing" to determine whether or not her genetic makeup is that of a female. This, as the authors point out, is shameful enough.

But what’s interesting is they made the leap to discuss the fact that the condition of being "intersex" — not having the usual XX or XY chromosomal makeup — is surprisingly common.

Many of these "intersex" individuals, estimated at one birth in every 1,666 in the United States alone, are legally operated on by surgeons who force traditional norms of genitalia on newborn infants. In what some doctors consider a psychosocial emergency, thousands of healthy babies are effectively subject to clitorectomies if a clitoris is ‘too large’ or castrations if a penis is ‘too small’ (evidently penises are never considered ‘too big’).

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Not to say that Semenya is intersexed–there is absolutely no evidence that she is–but it shouldn’t matter either way. It seems to me a person has lived her entire life as a female, she would be entirely entitled to participate in women’s sports.

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