Essentialism, gender and Caster Semenya

by Gracie Remington

After hearing that Caster Semenya has gone into hiding and is receiving trauma counseling in the wake of the firestorm of publicity surrounding her gender verification tests, Peggy Orenstein’s piece in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine seems much more immediate and intriguing. In an article titled “What Makes a Woman A Woman?,” Orenstein details her own struggle with the concept of femininity when faced with the prospect of a double masectomy and the removal of her ovaries due to a genetic predisposition to reproductive cancers, tying it to the current hubbub surrounding Semenya’s gender. Orenstein talks candidly about her experience, recalling various moments of uncertainty regarding her gender following her diagnosis: “I began to fret: without breasts or hormone-producing ovaries, what would the difference be, say, between myself and a pre-op female-to-male transsexual? That seemed an awfully thin straw on which to base my entire sense of womanhood. What, precisely, made me a girl anyway? Who got to decide? How much did it matter?”

Orenstein details her own struggles with these questions in the article, and connects it with Semenya’s current plight, arguing that “identity is not simply the sum of our parts.” Indeed, while the nature of the controversy surrounding Semenya is essentialist, reducing womanhood to a series of biological traits that can be tested and analyzed, very little discussion has surrounded the essentialism surrounding gender identity, and instead has focused (rightly as well) on the questionable leaking of the test results (which now may not be the actual results) and racial and gender politics. What Semenya’s situation does bring up, and what should be discussed more thoroughly as her case continues to unfold, is the way in which we as a global society choose to define gender, and why we must use such reductionist methodologies to establish someone’s womanhood. Why does the alleged presence of a greater amount of hormones in her body make Semenya less of a woman? How should biological differences be accounted for in competitive sports? How should we talk about gender? What actually makes a human being a woman? Semenya’s case, and Orenstein’s article, bring to light all of these questions that need to be discussed, in both the context of athletics and society as a whole.

Orenstein, for her part, concludes that her womanhood derives from her own assertion and acceptance of it, claiming that regardless of her biological condition (she elected to forgo surgery, after all), she is female “merely because… [she says] so. And maybe that will have to be enough.” Maybe it will have to be enough, both for Orenstein and for the rest of the world. While the existence of gender tests in athletics is understandable, perhaps the world of sports, along with our global society as a whole, needs to re-examine the concept of gender and decide if essentialist doctrines surrounding sex are beneficial and useful after all.

79 comments for “Essentialism, gender and Caster Semenya

  1. September 14, 2009 at 7:43 am

    The one issue I’m not seeing as feminist bloggers ask these questions is: How then do we preserve women’s sports? I’m interested in practical answers. It seems like the wrong answer to desegregate or let those who have the biological traits we associate with men to compete, because what that would functionally mean is the end of women in sports. Women simply cannot compete at the highest levels with individuals whose bodies have masculine strength, height, and power.

    The IAAF handled this badly, and they acted like Semenya cheated. They may have a too stringent line for what is “female”. But a line, where everyone is competing against everyone else, female athletes by and large would fall off the map. It would be a shame, for instance, to have people like the Williams sisters languish in obscurity because they simply can’t break into the top ranks of players if they’re forced to compete against men.

    None of this discredits the critiques you’re offering. I’m simply interested in your practical response. How do we accommodate the problems you outline without desegregating and ending women’s sports?

    • September 14, 2009 at 10:16 am

      Amanda,

      It seems like the wrong answer to desegregate or let those who have the biological traits we associate with men to compete, because what that would functionally mean is the end of women in sports. Women simply cannot compete at the highest levels with individuals whose bodies have masculine strength, height, and power.

      1. Are the people you’re referring to as “those who have the biological traits we associate with men” intersex women? Because if so, you seem to be calling intersex women not women, which is, er, problematic to say the least. If you’re not referring to intersex women there, who are you referring to?

      2. As other people have pointed out on threads before me, I’ve yet to see any actual data that intersex women have greater strength, endurance, and overall better performance than women who are not intersex. I see a lot of people referring to “testosterone” but very few people referring to Semenya’s actual condition. And the only other evidence I’ve seen is anecdotal, and self-fulfilling, because only women who perform very well are tested. I can’t claim to understand the science on this subject very well at all, which is why I’m looking for data to back up this assertion that people keep making. And I have yet to see very much.

  2. September 14, 2009 at 7:53 am

    I don’t agree with gender tests in athletics in the least little bit. Athletes bodies are different and yet it is only when it comes to gender we have a desire to stigmatize. I didn’t see anyone saying Phelps should be banned for having size 14 feet that act like fins propelling him through the water. What about Lance Armstrong and his enlarged heart making it easier for him to cycle? Does he not have an edge over other cyclists? The fact is Semenya has been beaten in races before and she will be beaten again. This is nothing but a desire on our part to maintain a strict gender binary because it gives some bodies privilege over others.

    Semenya is a woman because she says she is. No amount of testing is going to change that. The fact that they have publicly shamed her is disgusting. Honestly, I don’t know how the IIAF sleeps at night.

  3. Stancel
    September 14, 2009 at 8:23 am

    It seems like they are trying to make it seem like men are superior by claiming all this is cheating. They think she’s a “man” (she’s an intersexual woman, not a man) so to a lot of people that’s like taking steroids. they imagine some man pretending to be a woman so “he” can beat all those slow women. But also, there are other elements, such as trans hating, gender norms, etc….

  4. Persia
    September 14, 2009 at 8:25 am

    My heart just bleeds for Semenya. She’s eighteen, how can the treat anyone so young like this. Total agreement with Renee– I don’t know how they sleep.

  5. September 14, 2009 at 9:34 am

    Here is a key point, Orenstein’s assertion that “she is female ‘merely because… [she says] so. And maybe that will have to be enough.'” That is a key point that many trans people have been articulating, that deeply held feelings are just as key to gender and to sex as are parts of the body. I wrote more about Ms Semenya here: Stop Policing Caster Semenya’s Gender: http://tinyurl.com/lc2hwn

  6. September 14, 2009 at 9:35 am

    Uh, wait …

    So I began to fret: without breasts or hormone-producing ovaries, what would the difference be, say, between myself and a pre-op female-to-male transsexual? Other than that my situation was involuntary? That seemed an awfully thin straw on which to base my entire sense of womanhood.

    First of all, there’s the privilege inherent in a cis woman thinking that the worst thing in the world that could happen to her is that she might have anything at all in common with a trans woman … but is Orenstein also saying here that trans people are “choosing” to be trans? And then saying that trans women aren’t really women (because “the awfully thin straw” she seems to be referring to is the false “difference” she lays out between herself and trans women)? Because I’m pretty damn sure that she is.

    Good morning, transphobia.

  7. Li
    September 14, 2009 at 9:45 am

    Cara, I agree with the points you raised about Orenstein’s suggestion that trans is a voluntary position, but I think the quote states that she felt her body would match that of trans men, not women. Though that’s pretty confusing too: She seems to exclude top surgery from her construction of op, or her identifying with them on their shared lack of breasts gets really nonsensical. I’m just a bit confused, tbh.

    • September 14, 2009 at 9:52 am

      Ah, you’re right. Apologies, I misread. (I have a way of transposing words. In very small addition to the very major fact that most trans people seem to prefer them, I prefer the terms trans man and trans woman also for this reason.) So I guess that largely just leaves the idea of being trans as a choice … and my rather extreme confusion over the fact that she considers a trans man who does not have ovaries or breasts to be “pre-op” (which probably also significantly aided my misread!).

  8. ginasf
    September 14, 2009 at 10:05 am

    Orenstein, for someone who writes a lot about gender, seems to be pretty ignorant about any kind of trans or intersex-related issues. What she really writes about is cisgender-women’s gender and not the subject as a larger, more complex whole. What actually bothers me about Peggy Orenstein talking about gender identity (and yes, writing about it as though it’s some mysterious, tenuous entity… as though people haven’t studied it for many decades) is that here is someone who’s actually seemed to given it little hard thought to it and she gets the privilege of writing a poorly-conceived piece in the Sunday NY Times. What about all the people who’ve written very eloquently about different aspects of the Semenya case (including Monica Roberts) who didn’t get a that exalted space to ‘inform’ us about this thing called gender identity. How about actual members of the Intersex community? I know Orenstein meant well and agree with the ultimate aim of her essay (but NOT its clumsy forays in to transphobia) it just annoys me we’re all supposed to somehow take her opinions on this topic more seriously because she comes from a place of cisgender entitlement.

  9. Little Sara
    September 14, 2009 at 10:29 am

    I understand Oreinstein to be talking of a post-op trans woman rather than a pre-op trans man.

    Even most post-op trans men still have a womb. All pre-op trans men that aren’t also intersex have one. While only a few pre or post-op trans women have wombs or ovaries (intersex but raised as male).

    I’m intersex, but have no womb or ovaries. My breasts are my own, but they are definitely small and I’m no doubt lucky from starting transition so young in that regards (had I been bigger, my breasts would look insignificant).

    I do think she is saying that a trans woman chooses to be trans, in that she might understand surgery to be the choice itself, not the state of being trans which she might not understand.

  10. Little Sara
    September 14, 2009 at 10:37 am

    Absence of a womb and ovaries in a woman points to Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. Testes have either not been detected (internal) or have been removed at birth or near birth.

    Over-production of testosterone as compared to average women points to lower-grades of AIS or to Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia. CAH, however, doesn’t involve the absence of mullerian structures.

    My condition is most likely AIS myself. I was raised as male, and produced normal male leves of testosterone. Had I been tested for it, it would come up with high levels of it (pre hormones anyways), although little of it had any actual effect on my body.

    When someone considers hormonal levels, one also has to consider hormonal sensitivity. Some people are immune to testosterone, some people resist it, and some people are more easily affected than average by it. This will influence what potential hormones have in developing muscles, physical structures (bones, muscles, metabolism) and such. The degree to which someone resist hormones is hard enough to measure that it’s very rarely done, and very poorly done (no clear-cut results) unless you see someone with Complete AIS or very-evident Partial AIS (XY chromosome but female phenotype).

  11. September 14, 2009 at 10:44 am

    Orenstein’s comment does seem to reduce gender to biological traits. I don’t think there’s any magic to such definitions, and believe that if one identifies as female, one is female.

    But I think Amanda makes a good point. It’s possible to distinguish a female identity from the need to draw some kind of gender-related lines in sports.

    Intersex women who have significantly higher testosterone than the average for women have significant advantages in building muscle and strength.

  12. Little Sara
    September 14, 2009 at 10:55 am

    I’d like to point out that people like me, who have low level AIS (male phenotype at birth) are all but ignored unless they grow very big breasts at puberty, or complain of infertility (I was infertile but never sought help for it).

    I can’t be sure what condition Caster has, or might have. I’m just pointing out that whatever condition she has, it doesn’t determine her gender, only she can do this. The media has removed this privilege from her by exposing her so much worldwide.

    The Germaine Greers of the world (read Pantomine Dame chapter in The Whole Woman) are doing a disservice to trans and intersex women by calling them frauds. The world over is too bent out of shape out of determining the genital shape and even internal structures of people, to determine what role they might have.

    Parents and close family typically all want to know the sex of a newborn to be able to inculcate said child in “the right way”. It’s also not only based on one being inferior or superior, but on the categorized view of the world we humans have.

    We say men are this, women are this, knowing full well we are speaking of averages, medians, generalities that might be true or not. But we (society) seem to forget we are speaking of statistics when it comes to determining someone’s role, someone’s gender.

    Not all men or women can procreate. Not all men produce semen, not all women bear eggs. Not all men are hairy, and not all women are hairless in the face. Not all humans have armpit hair. Not all women are sopranos and not all men are bass or baritones in voice. And if we get cultural, the difference is even more pronounced. Not all men like dull colors and not all women like vivid colors.

    I like pink, but I like to think that this is an individual difference, it does not make me more of a woman, or less of a man. It’s just part of what I like.

    If a majority of the world could understand this, stop forcing people into molds based on a birth-chance, then maybe, the world could be a better place.

    We can’t get rid of the categorization (of gender), what we can do instead is accept that categories are not prescriptive, they are only descriptive.

  13. Little Sara
    September 14, 2009 at 11:03 am

    “Intersex women who have significantly higher testosterone than the average for women have significant advantages in building muscle and strength.”

    Like I said above, hormonal sensitivity has to be taken into account. I might have had 10 times normal female testosterone levels for nearly all my life, I don’t got much to show for it. I’ve had acne for 8 years, I have minimal facial hair. That’s about what I can show for it though (I’ve been lucky).

    You could say I’ve had an unfair advantage, and you might be right, but to what extent? That’s what sensitivity is supposed to determine. And that’s not readily visible usually.

    If you want to make a competition of women and men who only have similar testosterone levels, your competitions will be small. The variance of men’s levels is 10 to 30 nmol/L. Some men have thrice the testosterone of other men in their bodies. I don’t see “low testosterone” and “high testosterone” competitions though. I had 19-20 nmol/L and wasn’t able to compete at all, despite being lightweight and a fast runner.

    Measuring hormones is not enough to determine if someone has or has had an unfair advantage, there are other factors, and most people wouldn’t want to be subjected to tests measuring those factors (which would include detailed diet, frequency of physical activity in a very detailed way from years before etc).

  14. September 14, 2009 at 11:09 am

    I repeat Amanda’s query — how do we keep women in sports without gender distinctions?

    re Cara sub. 2: You want intersex strength data. This is totally relevant to drawing a better line between men’s and women’s athletics. But the line is inherently arbitrary. At the margins (and competitive female athletics presses as near the margin as possible), gender is a distinction at war with sport itself: if certain people can win the contest too easily, then they are disqualified as “too good”. But this painful contradiction may be worth it . . .

    In many sports, and especially at the highest levels, women cannot compete with men. So while we howl about awful costs of the line-drawing exercise of gender distinctions in sports, this is the price we pay to let women play.

    The small answer is to continue to soften and to refine the line. And we should do so. But this is duct tape on Amanda’s bigger question: how can we keep women in sports without the painful distinction?

  15. Gordon
    September 14, 2009 at 11:13 am

    Equal Writes said, “While the existence of gender tests in athletics is understandable, perhaps the world of sports, along with our global society as a whole, needs to re-examine the concept of gender and decide if essentialist doctrines surrounding sex are beneficial and useful after all.”

    As a lifelong existentialist, I have always questioned to what extent essentialist doctrines are ever beneficial or useful. Granted, they are sometimes useful approximations, but when people start insisting they are more real than reality, as here with gender, they sooner or later come to grief.

    Thanks for the concrete example, Equal Writes. It is a pity Caster Semenya had to be caught in the middle of this. My heart goes out to her. I had a lab mate in college long ago who was XXY but anatomically female who had to deal with some of the same issues. Now, 35 years on, I would have hoped we had made some progress, but I wonder.

  16. September 14, 2009 at 11:49 am

    @octaglaore

    I think that your argument is divisive in that it reduces the category of woman. To say that intersex women cannot compete is discrimination to favor those that society has determined to be biologically female.

    • September 14, 2009 at 12:01 pm

      BY THE WAY

      Deliberate misgendering is not going to be tolerated, nor will referring to another human being as “it.” Such comments will be deleted. I just thought I’d let you know, as it will save you the trouble of writing a comment that will not be posted, and me the trouble of having to read more obnoxious and offensive bullshit.

  17. September 14, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    You know, when I start seeing women’s track finals where the competitors are mostly intersex, I’ll start worrying about this. Until then (and perhaps not even then), no, I don’t think letting Ms. Semenya compete spells the end of women’s sports.

  18. Q Grrl
    September 14, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    What frustrates me is the current conflation of gender with biological sex – something that universally is happening on all sides of this discussion. One cannot test for “gender” when what one is trying to prove is the presence or absence of biological factors (in this case, testosterone). I find it to be a rather myopic blurring of concepts.

    We’re also tending towards a conception of gender which, when used to discuss the tension between trans and cis, portrays gender as a 50/50 type situation, as if “man” and “woman” have similar weight in our social consciousness. It seems to me that in order to outline the privilege with which cis folks walk through life, we have unwittingly created a platform of gender which, from the outside, looks like a level playing field between “men” and “women”.

    Gender isn’t so much about how one feels inside – although it can be. Gender is that part of society that says: given X amount of money in the public schools, the schools will fund boy’s sports more readily and heavily than girl’s sports. Gender is the part of society that says: men’s athletic wear will remain discreet but ultimately functional (perhaps even aiding in function), women’s athletic wear will primarily serve the audience, not the athlete. Gender is the part of society that says: if you are male athlete your body is a temple to exalt, and therefore very little that happens to it will be perceived as wrong, no matter how many testicles you might sacrifice along the way (i.e Armstrong); but if you are a female athlete your body is not your temple, it is someone else’s, and therefore there are social limits on what might otherwise naturally occur. Get too big? Hell, we’ll just “gender” test you then. Get too muscular? You need to marry NOW! and have babeez! You know, while you still can.

    So does it matter if Ms. Semenya competes as a man or a woman? No and yes. Should it matter? No. But we won’t be able to come up with a solution, or a new conception of competition, until we are able to do away with the harm that “gender”, as practiced as a social modifier, causes to those we deem to be female children.

    If resources and acceptance were truly 50/50, then we wouldn’t need the split anymore. As to the age old connundrum: can women compete on the same level as men? Well, we won’t know until gender no longer constricts the earliest physical expressions of those that are most close to the female end of the biological spectrum that runs between male and female

  19. Q Grrl
    September 14, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    IOW: you could restructure competition so that the Gold, Silver and Bronze medals didn’t go to the top 3 male athletes in the 800m. Instead the Gold, Silver and Bronze could represent categories of speed, so that every human who ran above a certain mark would compete for the one Gold medal, every human that ran between X and Z times would compete for the Silver, etc.

  20. Paloma
    September 14, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    I was a track star in high school and the first two years of college. I can tell you from personal experience that I would not have had a chance with Caster because I do not possess the strength and endurance she has. It is a distinct disadvantage to female competitors to have to compete with someone who is naturally made for higher performance.

  21. J
    September 14, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    @Paloma

    I don’t mean to be rude, but did you even bother reading the comments on this thread, or the previous one on Caster before commenting?

  22. September 14, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    It is a distinct disadvantage to female competitors to have to compete with someone who is naturally made for higher performance.

    Ignoring the fallacy of “made for”:

    When I was a high school swimmer and water polo player, I was competing against other men who were up to a foot taller and several pounds heavier than me. It was a distinct disadvantage to have to compete against them.

    We have set up sport to reward the “genetic lottery” as well as skill. So why say that this departure from the norm is “good genes” and this other departure from the norm is an “unfair advantage”?

  23. September 14, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    @Renee
    “To say that intersex women cannot compete is discrimination to favor those that society has determined to be biologically female.”

    You’re right, it is “divisive” of women, as such. But the division is not arbitrary. The whole point of keeping men and women apart in sports is to “discriminat[e] to favor those that society has determined to be biologically female.”

    I’m not defending the ugly practice, but it takes on a different caste in relation to its purpose: permitting women to play. Without some rule, it is impossible to keep men and women apart. And since the underlying purpose of the rule is to permit women to compete. Then if some women (here, allegedly, intersex women) are able to compete with men, they don’t need to be kept apart.

    So Renee is right that Octogalore’s suggestion does, in a sense, divide women. But it’s a division that tracks the purpose of the line being drawn.

    I’m not sure how workable it is to try and line-draw around “able to compete”, but that’s the task.

    (Moreover, if divisiveness itself is a drag, we could focus less on drawing a better line and more on how to do without a line. But I don’t think our culture is mature enough for that.)

  24. shah8
    September 14, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    /me rubs his noggins…

    /me puts on the science cap…

    /me states in a stentorian voice…

    Intersex conditions do not confer athletic advantages.

    /me takes breath…

    Paloma wasn’t going to have a chance with Marita Koch, let alone Caster Semenya. Paloma probably couldn’t even beat Christine Arron right now (let alone FloJo) in an 800m event. That’s sort of the point. When they’re better ‘n you, they’re just better ‘n you. What’s more, intersex people compete as men and women. We only care about it now because we’ve had a bit of a Mean Girls moment when an intersex woman beat the pants off the competition. It’s a traditional Mean Girls thing to deny obvious superiority with lack of womanhood. The Williams sisters are dealing with another explosion of They ain’t wimmin comments as the Caster saga goes on.

    And, oh…

    Yes, I do favor giving the opportunity to *all* people to compete. Don’t you?

  25. Li
    September 14, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    Paloma, since Caster Semenaya is an international standard athlete, I’d say, no shit you don’t have a chance competing against her. But you also wouldn’t have a chance with any other international standard runner.

    Secondly, I’m tired of the bullshit that Caster Semenaya is “naturally” made for higher performance. She’s a fucking athlete, and I’m going to suggest that she trained a bunch to get to the standard she’s at. Intersexuality is not a superpower. It is a heterogenous category of people’s actual bodies and lives.

    Moreover, there seems to be this massive cis scare campaign that there’s this huge alliance of intersex and trans folk out there preparing to destroy women’s sport, and we just have to hold closed the floodgates. Jfp has it dead right.

    Also, on practical solutions? How about picking whether we’re doing the women/men divide or the male/female divide first. Then, if we go with women/men, we can just suck it up when people come along who aren’t cis. The genderqueer kids will get to flip a coin or some shit. Or we go with cis male/female and own the whole cis-dominance thing instead of pretending it’s just the fault of other people for disrupting our precious categories.

  26. liz
    September 14, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    In #1 Amanda said, “Women simply cannot compete at the highest levels with individuals whose bodies have masculine strength, height, and power.”

    To me, this just reads “only the sports where these qualities provide an advantage matter.” It feels like giving in to sexism to accept that.

    But besides that, considering how absolutely artificial modern professional athletics are, I’m gonna agree with jfpbookworm’s standard for deciding when there’s a problem (#20). If we were really concerned about making things fair and representational, we’d start setting limits on training routines, funding, etc.

  27. jz
    September 14, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    @Renee,
    Intersex athletes could create their own sports league, analogous to Special Olympics.

  28. Josh Jasper
    September 14, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    @ JZ – Or we could consign the Olympics to the dustbin of history and all go and create a world sports community that doesn’t have it’s head up it’s ass.

  29. z
    September 14, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    The flipside of the question Amanda put forward has some hidden assumptions in it. Are we interested in “How then do we preserve women’s sports?” where women means intersex women, trans women, and cis women? Or only two of these, or only one?

    Naturally, preserving women’s sports with a narrow definition of “woman” means excluding other women — this to me is a very ugly thought indeed.

  30. ginasf
    September 14, 2009 at 5:17 pm

    JZ:”Intersex athletes could create their own sports league, analogous to Special Olympics.”

    Wow, JZ, that’s so… so… generous of you. I’m mystified why Intersex people would be loathe to be public about their conditions when there is such graciousness towards them such as you’ve shown here. :-|

  31. September 14, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    @JZ or if they decide not to all of you are so desirous of maintaining cis privielge can take your ball and go home and allow those interested in competition to carry on.

  32. September 14, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    @Renee #18 — yes, it is divisive — the question isn’t what the perfect solution is, but what’s the lesser of evils? Saying any group cannot compete isn’t fair to that group, so no solution will be fair. However, unless it can be demonstrated that there is no testosterone advantage — and I think based on the research, this is unlikely — the fact remains that the number of xx women is probably hundreds of times higher than the number of xy women.

    Additionally, if you were to allow xy women, the anti-doping argument would be more difficult, and sophisticated trainers would figure out how to dope so as to simulate naturally-occuring testosterone. This would be a problematic situation on a number of levels.

  33. Bill
    September 14, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    Would the best solution be for anyone who self-identifies their physical sex as female to be given the option of entering a female-only competition, and everyone would be given the option to enter an open competition?

    Gender, in this case, would not matter.

    Because Castor Semenya identifies her sex as female, she would be welcome to enter the female-only competition.

  34. jz
    September 14, 2009 at 8:34 pm

    @Renee,
    Without fairness of competition, women sports will die.
    The issue of fairness trumps inclusion.

    I’m dead serious about establishing your own league. I mean it as no offense. There are enormous benefits for athletic competition for trans- and intersex people.

  35. Noir
    September 14, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    Yeah, people! Let’s be fair! Because a cis-woman is totally in disadvantage over a intersex woman!

    -Sports. You need discipline, training arduously and without losing focus, health. You need a lot of mental health.

    -When you are a cis woman? You don’t have the whole world over you. We don’t live in a parallel universe, people. In this universe everyone crucifies you if you are intersex, specially if you are an intersex woman competing in sports. If you are cis, every win you have won’t be attributed to “YOUR MAGIC HORMONE POWARS!!” even if you don’t react to those hormones.

    Use your damn wits people. I just saw Juan Martin del Potro barely win against Roger Federer at the US Open. Del Potro had already lost seven times against Federer. Del Potro height is 1,98 m, he towers overs everyone. He has the advantage of height in service. He didn’t won due to his height, and he isn’t the best of the world, but he is very good and his height has little to do with that. Of course is an advantage, but I don’t see people claiming he shouldn’t compete against shorter people, or ripping off his trophies. And it would be stupid if they do. Right?

  36. Noir
    September 14, 2009 at 9:01 pm

    Oh, and as Melissa from Shakesville said, the separation of men and women sports will still be there for a long time. So stop obsessing over that and start thinking on a human being being disrespected.

  37. Q Grrl
    September 14, 2009 at 9:08 pm

    “I’m dead serious about establishing your own league. I mean it as no offense. There are enormous benefits for athletic competition for trans- and intersex people.”

    And isn’t this why we have “women’s” sports in the first place? It isn’t that women aren’t capable of competing on “men’s” levels in sport; it’s that men have historically insisted that women neither have the place nor the right to compete with men when, afterall, they can form their own leagues.

    Women’s sports won’t die. That’s an absurdity. There will always be women competing, and if the level of competition increases, so will the individual skills of the women involved. And by women here, let me be clear, I mean cis, trans, intersex, dyke, etc. Women.

    When I was 15, in 1983, there was little thought given to equating a girl’s athletic talent with a future in athletic competition. What we did when we ran around the track was a hobby, a pasttime. It was cute that we took it so seriously. I ran a time of 2:28 for an 880 (yes, we were still running in yards, not meters). I would say that I had some raw talent. In hindsight. But at the time it didn’t mean anything. It didn’t translate into a college scholorship or international competition. What I’m trying to get at with this little anecdote is that we *still* don’t know what women’s athletic competition really looks like. We’re starting to, as more and more girls start out at a younger age and as competitive futures open up for them. But overall? We really aren’t qualified to say that “intersex competition is unfair, oh noes!” We need several generations of girls raised to understand the gifts and limits of their physical bodies before we start splitting the hairs of which girls have more testosterone than the others.

    As for me? I’ve always been exceptionally strong and athletically talented. My testosterone levels? Lower than the average female. Go figure.

  38. Q Grrl
    September 14, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    @Noir

    “-When you are a cis woman? You don’t have the whole world over you. We don’t live in a parallel universe, people. ”

    In athletic competion? Are you kidding me? Maybe you need to re-read your feminism 101 a little? Sexism’s little ol’ heart goes right on a beating whether you are cis, dyke, or trans. And see above where I pointed out that yes, when women excel at sport, that excellence is most often met with suspect, ridicule, and the questioning of hormone levels. Often with social messages that imply that excellent women are faulty on a social level and therefore excellence is perceived as a defect.

    (okay, maybe I didn’t say that so much, but that’s where I was going).

    “Cis” women are competing where they can.* Where they are allowed to. I don’t think we benefit by pretending that they are free to compete how, where, and with whom they desire. I think that we are intelligent enough to discuss the rights of intersex/trans athletes without dismissing the sexist/homophobic roadblocks that all women athletes must defeat.

    *I put quotes around this because Noir seemed to form a dichotomy between intersex and cis athletes which left a gaping hole into which all the lesbians and dykes fell.

  39. Cristy
    September 14, 2009 at 9:48 pm

    Setting a line defining women in in women’s sports is practically arbitrary, we all get it in a qualitative sense, but we’re to stupid to quantify it and trying is futile. We’re talking about a sporting competition not a beauty pageant! What would ppl do to Jackie Joyner Kersee turned out to be an intersexed woman, gasp or what about the Williams twins? Is Kersee no longer the record breaking runner she has always been. It is the same with Ms. Caster, she might not win Miss Universe, but i don’t care she is a track runner. She is a woman, not a man if she had lost that race we wouldn’t have subjected her to the stupid tests. I can’t believe that we can actually believe a woman is too good at a sport and hence MUST be a man. Really, really… I love sports, I love embarrassing boys in the gym whenever I can, but I’m still a woman, just one who happens to be a hard-ass rugby player!

  40. shah8
    September 14, 2009 at 10:26 pm

    octagalore, the entirety of your comment at 35 is break-my-mind wrong. No one needs to argue against your assertions backed by a rather mistaken batch of “facts”. Especially when you lay the burden of explanation on others, when the demostrated harm is nebulous. I mean, fear of an intersex planet, neh? Armies of superior intersexed women of enhanced masculinity out there to snatch what rightfully belongs to a woman with all of the plumbing that a woman is “supposed” to have? No woman could possibly compete against such abnormals! They need some cast-off, poorly funded league of their own, so they be right where we can watch ’em.

    Damn, Jamie Lee Curtis is a damned sympathizer! She’s part man so men like her better than Julia Roberts! How wrong is that?! She needs to let *real* women play the lead sex interest, and go make movies about intersex people for her funny intersex friends and leave us alone! And don’t bug me about “rumors”! We all know she really half a man!!!11!

  41. Kristen J.
    September 15, 2009 at 12:17 am

    These comments….they make by head hurt.

    Let’s get to the heart of this “woman” thing shall we? What’s the fear? What is the harm in including all women, self-defined, in women’s sports?

    It seems to me there are two fears that people are latching on to.

    1) Non-intersex (or cis, my apologies for not knowing the best term here) women cannot compete “fairly” against intersex women.
    2) “Women’s” sports can’t survive without line drawing because then the intersex women of the world will take over all of winning!!

    To which I say….

    1) Define fair. As others have mentioned…lots of people win the genetic lotto. Some women are genetically more athletic than my tiny self. Shall I consider them NOT WOMEN because in my definition of the gender everyone must be under 5’3″, have big boobs and poor hand-eye coordination? Oh wait, that’s what the patriarchy already does…it defines what is feminine and treats those who don’t conform as complete pieces of shit…

    Sports aren’t about fair, and if you think they are, then you are living in some strange alternate privilege filled universe. Sports is about genetics and money. Period. Thus, it is its own little microcosm of privilege.

    In short, I don’t see the difference between some woman with genetically longer legs kicking my ass and some women with testes kicking my ass and longer legs kicking my ass. The universe has seen fit to make both women genetically better than me at a specific activity.

    2) So what if intersex women win a lot. The implication of this fear is that these women are somehow “cheating”. That there is some way to game the system by being intersex. That intersex women have an unearned advantage that somehow is different from the unearned advantage of the genetic lottery described previously.

    What do you think is going to happen? That athletes are going to decide to be intersex women?? Ridiculous.

    So what happens if we don’t police these gender borders? What is driving the need for a gender binary? Is it the fear that men are going to become trans women solely for the purpose of winning a gold medal? You tell me, because, it doesn’t make a bit of sense.

  42. Jill
    September 15, 2009 at 6:44 am

    “What do you think is going to happen? That athletes are going to decide to be intersex women?? Ridiculous.”
    Some people in this thread have suggested that all it should take to compete as a woman is to call yourself one. It doesn’t take a genius cis-male athlete to work out that their bottom line would be better served by competing as a record-breaking woman rather than a mediocre man. My boyfriend lifts weights as a very casual hobby. If he chose to say that he was a woman, he would compete at the highest professional levels very easily. It seems, to me at least, naive to think that nobody would do this, considering the money and sponsorship involved.

    Perhaps I’m wrong. It is easy to put on an outraged voice and say “anyone who says they are a woman are”. And politically, I might even agree, but as a question of sport this raises issues that no one’s really addressing.

  43. September 15, 2009 at 10:13 am

    Although I identify more as Trans, technically I’m Intersexed. I’m dichogamous, meaning having a natural sex change. In humans it’s incomplete, and really rare, but in other animals quite normal. My gender identity was always female though, and having a male-looking body was hellish. Good job I didn’t go into athletics…

    But I’m also a researcher in this area. Here’s what Prof Sidney Ecker recently wrote to me. It echoes much of what’s been said by the better informed contributors:

    Hi Zoe,
    After reading the Daily Telegraph of London, I read some of the 299 comments and per usual everybody has an opinion about something they know nothing about. All speculative!

    As a Urologist, who lectures on this very subject to medical doctors, let me tell you what I think I know from reading the AP from Pretoria, SA. Caster Semenya has a probable genetic Disorder of Sexual Development known as Partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, probably Grade 5 or 6, where the external genitalia are female-like and the internal genitalia are vestigial testes, which produce Testosterone and Estrogen.

    I say probable because we cannot know if she has any ovarian tissue mixed with the testis tissue until these vestigial organs are examined under the microscope by a pathologist. This will probably never happen, unless it is presented to her as a condition for receiving female hormones. At this moment everyone is assuming she is an XY woman.

    Now somebody said she had three times the normal female Testosterone level, which according to this one lab gives her less than their normal male values. Now every lab has its own normal values and we have not seen any numbers. So here are the values from just one lab, not her testing lab.

    http://www.bloodindex.org/normal_laboratory_values.php

    Determination Normal Reference Value
    Testosterone: Conventional units SI units
    Female 6–86 ng/dl 0.21–3 nmol/L
    Male 270–1070 ng/dl 9.3–37 nmol/L

    But it doesn’t matter what her serum Total or Free Testosterone is because the definition of PAIS implies that the cells which receive T cannot utilize it because their Androgen Receptors will not bind the T effectively. That’s why she has female external genitalia at birth. Interestingly the research in this area is so complete that the Chromosomal mutation on the Androgen Receptor can be identified. Usually these women and I say women, because that is how they have been raised and gender identify as female, are diagnosed in their teens because they cannot menstruate or conceive. Now in truth I know no more about her physical condition than what I read in the newspapers. Is the London Daily Telegraph a tabloid or the cousin to the New York Daily News? Poor Girl !!!!

  44. Li
    September 15, 2009 at 10:34 am

    Jill, I get where you are coming from, but consider : It doesn’t take a genius cis man athlete to work out that their bottom line would be better served by not exposing themselves to the violence and bullshit associated with identifying as a trans person rather than a cis person profoundly privileged by cissupremacy.

    I’m actually pretty concerned by the suggestion that accounting for intersex women so undermines cis women’s identities that cis men will be able to co-opt them. This reads very heavily as cis scare-mongering. I don’t really get what you are arguing.

  45. September 15, 2009 at 10:49 am

    It doesn’t take a genius cis-male athlete to work out that their bottom line would be better served by competing as a record-breaking woman rather than a mediocre man. My boyfriend lifts weights as a very casual hobby. If he chose to say that he was a woman, he would compete at the highest professional levels very easily. It seems, to me at least, naive to think that nobody would do this, considering the money and sponsorship involved.

    Feministe Jill here: Other Jill, that sounds a lot like the “OMG letting trans women into the women’s bathroom will mean that dudes will put on dresses and go in and rape the real women!” argument that gets tossed around a lot in the Great Bathroom Debates. I think your concerns are misplaced.

  46. Amanda in the South Bay
    September 15, 2009 at 11:42 am

    @#45 Jill

    There’s an awful lot I find problematic in your post, and I just want to address one tiny little point. Are you even remotely aware of the effects of hormones and testosterone blockers on a body that has been poisoned by testosterone for so many years? The actual experience of many trans women testifies that you do indeed lose a significant amount of muscular strength. Lets see your boyfriend go on HRT for 6 months and see how well he’s faring then…

  47. Noir
    September 15, 2009 at 11:44 am

    QGrrl. I was talking in comparison to non-cis women. Cis women don’t get the shit that intersex or trans women get in sports. Cis women get a lot more shit than cis men do, we know that.

    Maybe you should check your privilege. cis = all women. And what the hell the “cis”?

  48. Noir
    September 15, 2009 at 11:58 am

    cis =/= al women*

  49. Sailorman
    September 15, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    Many of the vast increases in athletic opportunities for females have happened at the lower level: girl’s sports are basically a prerequisite for high level women’s sports.

    And as the level of participation increases, the number of competitors declines, almost exponentially it seems. As an example:

    Gazillions (sorry, no exact number) of girls play soccer as youths.
    Fewer play for/during middle school.
    Fewer play for/during high school.
    Even fewer make a college team.
    Even with all that filtering, there are something like 18,000 female college soccer players in the U.S.
    But the US soccer team has less than 0.002 of those, and less than 0.001 of them are starters who get most playing time.

    Most of the women and girls playing sports are doing so at a level where there is NOT enforcement of gender/sex beyond the most basic methods, and there is certainly no testing. There is no cis/trans distinction in lower level sports. And most of the people playing are hugely benefited by the recent last-few-decades growth in sports for girls and women.

    As a result, the “gender split” mode of separating people by sex appears to have a significant benefit for a very large number of girls and women both cis and trans, while it appears to have a cost for a relatively tiny number of trans women: only those who make an elite status and who fail testing.

    So while it would be nice to attempt to figure out a way to avoid disadvantaging those trans athletes who fail gender testing, we should be careful that those changes do not change the success gained generally across the field.

  50. shah8
    September 15, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    Again, where are all these trans people dominating women’s sport? The cross-dressing men? If this is a matter of future happenstance, at least give me some sort of developed plausible narrative beyond duh, easy to get gold medals. Sailorman, that means you, demostrate the fucking case that the harm exist, before you dismiss that the “cost” is so low…

    Oh, and the whole “gender split” isn’t the genesis of funded women’s sport. It’s fucking Title IX. It’s basic access to a sporting life that allowed women’s sport to proliferate, not some mythological have to seperate women for their own good crap.
    A basic primer of women’s sport.

    My god…The rolled eye to the side and a murmur of It Could Happen is just pure idiocy. Can’t the people who are so sure this is something we have to worry about just, uh, know that it’s just a nightmare?

  51. shah8
    September 15, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    Oh, and how could I have ever forgotten…

    One of the reason youth women’s sports have developed this way, with leagues of their own is precisely the issue with Caster Semenya.

    When they’re better ‘n you, they really freakin’ better ‘n you. And your typical suburbanite parent couldn’t stand the notion that their precious little boy getting their asses whipped by some other little girl with air beneath her heels as often as not.

    Olympic level women will kick the asses of most non-international competition level men.
    Here’s another link that might provide food for thought.

  52. Persia
    September 15, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    Sports aren’t about fair, and if you think they are, then you are living in some strange alternate privilege filled universe. </em.

    Yes, this, exactly. Michael Phelps' giant feet: normal. Extra testosterone: OMG FETCH THE GENDER POLICE. I can't believe some of these comments are serious.

  53. Sailorman
    September 15, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    [shrug] I know Title 9, I’m winding up for a potential suit against a school district as we speak.

    I have no particular reason to think that trans inclusion will ruin womens sports. But i think that women’s sports are so valuable that it would be crucial to be certain they are not harmed. If you aren’t willing to consider the possibility of harm, and the avoidance of harm… well, you’re not really focusing on the largest group, made up of trans and cis alike.

    As for the “Olympic women trounce all non Olympic men” part… Er, no. In track and field, for example, the best high school boys in the U.S. are generally able to beat women holding the Olympic world record. A quick scan of the high school records and the records should be enough to prove that. High school girls are a lot slower than the women and high school boys are a lot slower than the men, but the boys are generally faster than the women. In college, that disparity increases as you would expect.

    See:

    http://www.nbcolympics.com/trackandfield/records/index.html

    http://ezinearticles.com/?USA-High-School-Track-and-Field-Records-And-The-Current-Best-2008-Performances&id=1200511

  54. Gina
    September 15, 2009 at 2:50 pm

    @#46 Zoe
    Thank you. I love when people who are smarter than me contribute before I open my mouth.

  55. shah8
    September 15, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    Sailorman, I was actually speaking of generalities, first of all.

    Second, if you don’t think including trans/intersex women will ruin women’s sport, then you *do* need to demostrate potential harm. You still haven’t done that. Nor are you weighing that harm to hitherto unknown and unobjectionable intersex women fairly at all. It’s avoidance at the expense of people’s ability to participate. This sort of attitude is usually associated with some pretty unjust actions.

    Thirdly, there is no biological reason (that I’m aware of) to believe, despite the claims of people who aren’t familiar with any flavor of biology, that intersex people actually enjoys an advantage over women. You really need to provide some sort of proof that they do.

    Again, and I keep saying this, where are the legions of not-really-women out to dominate the unfortunate gendered sports?

    Fourth, the only time people ever cares about this, is when some “inappropriate” woman crushes the competition. If you can’t get her on actually being a man, then you get her for steroids. What do you think is going to happen to the next black woman to crush white women? The exact same shit Serena and Venus Williams has always endured, and what Semenya is enduring now. The only difference is that Semenya actually *is* intersex.

  56. September 15, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    In #35, I said if it “can be demonstrated that there is no testosterone advantage” then Semenya should compete with women, although I said there I thought this was unlikely — which is a guess based on muscular development for an 18 year old, and speed of improvement for the 800m, a record set many years ago, unusual at that age.

    Based on what ZoeB, who knows a helluva lot more than I do on this, says in #46, if indeed it can be demonstrated there’s no testosterone advantage, then it appears that based on the rules for intersex and trans athletes, as well as common sense and fairness, Semenya should be able to compete.

    So it seems like there are some guidelines that attempt to balance the equities here — hopefully it will work out happily for Semenya.

  57. Sailorman
    September 15, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    Shah8,
    Out of order:

    Again, and I keep saying this, where are the legions of not-really-women out to dominate the unfortunate gendered sports?

    Why would there be legions? You keep saying it but it makes no sense.

    This is a rare condition AFAIK, and it only would get known on occasion w/r/t sports. Not only do you have to be intersex, but you also have to grow up in the right place at the right time with the right parents and the right coach and the right interest in the right sport. And you have to be lucky enough to get good and grow better at your sport without getting injured. And you have to be lucky enough to win, and unlucky enough to get tested.

    Frankly, I haven’t any idea what proportion of intersexed individuals who compete in women’s sports are dominant in their respective field, at their respective ages. I don’t even see how we COULD know other than for people at the acme of their sport who happen to get tested, which only happens when they win.

    Second, if you don’t think including trans/intersex women will ruin women’s sport, then you *do* need to demonstrate potential harm. You still haven’t done that.

    Well, I’m probably a bad person to argue that point, then.

    I am NOT saying “intersex people will ruin sports!”

    Rather, I am saying supporting intersex people is all well and good. Go for it. But intersex people who are or have been barred from competition seem to number in the double digits while female athletes number in the millions or tens of millions. So if you plan to try to alter the rules of sports to include intersex people, be sure that your changes don’t harm the other 99.999% of female athletes.

    Nor are you weighing that harm to hitherto unknown and unobjectionable intersex women fairly at all. It’s avoidance at the expense of people’s ability to participate. This sort of attitude is usually associated with some pretty unjust actions.

    Sure I am. It’s just that I give greater weight to the statistical part than you do.

    There are, say, 100 intersex athletes who get barred from competition. There are, say, ten million women who play sports, as a very very conservative estimate.

    That’s a difference of 100,000.

    *IF* (and I’m not saying it would) there is any negative effect of a rule change, then when you multiply the cost by 100,000 it may well outweigh the benefit. So it would behoove us to be very careful in the analysis.

    Thirdly, there is no biological reason (that I’m aware of) to believe, despite the claims of people who aren’t familiar with any flavor of biology, that intersex people actually enjoys an advantage over women. You really need to provide some sort of proof that they do.

    I am not so sure that we fully understand that one way or the other.
    The general reason to believe it to be possible is that we know men are on average vastly superior in certain sports as a result of biology, and we know that intersex women have more male characteristics than do non-intersex women.

    Fourth, the only time people ever cares about this, is when some “inappropriate” woman crushes the competition. If you can’t get her on actually being a man, then you get her for steroids. What do you think is going to happen to the next black woman to crush white women? The exact same shit Serena and Venus Williams has always endured, and what Semenya is enduring now. The only difference is that Semenya actually *is* intersex.

    Actually, that’s not true at all; people really care about this type of thing across the board.

    Google “Mark McGwire” if you would like to see an example of steroid accusations for a white man, and the result thereof. Or “Floyd Landis.” Those are two of only the most recent and VERY highly publicized scandals.

    The feminist blogs, obviously, don’t cover that type of news. But men routinely get tested when they win, and defrocked and punished if they are found to be “enhanced.” Congress held an investigation about steroid use in baseball, which was stupid but sorta debunks the “this never happens to men or white people” theory.

    There’s all sorts of racism here in how this case is being handled publicly, but the fact of testing athletes is pretty widespread. It’s not as if they test Serena Williams but don’t bother testing the recent winner of the US open, whoever she was. The intersex part only happens to women, of course, because nobody cares if intersex people compete as men.

  58. Li
    September 15, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    Seriously, the cissexism here’s pretty spectacular.

    @octo, who was the last but not the only person to do it: Caster Semenaya IS a woman. That her body does not accord with what you think is acceptable for a woman to have, for a woman athlete to have, is just too freakin’ bad. If you want a women/men divide in sports, then you need to accept the fact that women’s bodies are heterogenous. So what if the testosterone her body produces makes here a better athlete or not? If however, you want a (cis) male/female divide in sports, accept that such a divide is innately going to exclude a number of people, and that you’re no longer making a men/women divide.

    @Sailorman: How the crap do you fail a gender test (which, btw, seems actually to be a sex test, and not a gender test at all)?

    Here’s a practical suggestion: How about since mystical T powers may or may not be an advantage in sport, we just throw out a handicap for those with them, like, I dunno, a massive level of social stigma, stress and media attention on their deviant bodies. That’ll even out the playing field right? Oh wait…

  59. shah8
    September 15, 2009 at 6:03 pm

    AGAIN,

    PROVE THAT THE 100 INDIVIDUALS YOU SPEAK OF ACTUALLY CAUSES HARM.

    is that not too much to ask? instead of saying, oh, the pain those 100 people will feel is miniscule compared to the security of 100 million “women” and “girls” from the possible masculine advantages of those intersex athletes.

  60. bethrjacobs
    September 15, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    There is no comparison. What has been done to Caster Semenya is unforgiveable. What other job is best suited but athletics and there is no proof that the “condition” she supposedly has actually increases her skill that the ‘testosterone’ is absorbed .And she is much too poor to be able to pay for an independent exam. Please check out these links and see my point.
    http://feministlawprofs.law.sc.edu/?p=992
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sRbF1kZQLjA
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=URl70KylKZg

  61. bethrjacobs
    September 15, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    Finally the times between male and female athletes is very minimal with a huge amount of financial difference allowing the men to be able to afford more doping which even the Olympic comity says it is not sophisticated enough to test for. So “sailor…” whatever… if you think you are so much faster I know quite a lot of women who would be happy to put you in your place and what are you doing here bullying the “weaker sex”…obviously you know you are wrong and trying to force your hand. In fact I would say most men would find you as in the same vain as :rapists and child molesters not as bad but a male trying to push around women for your own entertainment to make you feel strong because you are not strong enough to hang with the men. I put up some links above in the comment box check them out and weep baby weep and remember in prison “real men” do not like men that push around women….I’m guessing this is not your first or most serious attempt at abuse.

  62. bethrjacobs
    September 15, 2009 at 6:34 pm
  63. Li
    September 15, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    Sailorman, I am trying very hard to understand what you are trying to say but it’s very very difficult. What rule change are you arguing would harm women athletes?

    You have stated repeatedly that harm is being/ will be caused by the inclusion of intersex women in women’s sports, but I don’t know WHAT harm you are saying will be caused or HOW that harm will be caused. I don’t get what this nebulous harm to women’s sport is meant to be?

    On the other side, I think the harm being caused to Caster Semenaya and that has been historically be caused to intersex athletes is quite clear. It’s also important not to decontextualise this: Intersex people are constantly pathologised and exposed to medical violence in attempts to invisibilise them. The context of arguments about Semenaya’s testosterone levels is the suggestion that should she wish to compete she should take hormones to feminise her body, like all the good trans athletes do before we let them compete. This HAS BEEN SUGGESTED. It is also something that intersex athletes and intersex people in general have historically (and are still currently) pushed to do.

    So while you seem to compare harm on majoritarian bases, I prefer to look at the difference between the theoretical harm you say MAY OR MAY NOT EVEN OCCUR and the psychological, political and bodily harm that IS being inflicted on many intersex people, and on Caster Semeneya (who I don’t actually know is intersex at all) in particular. On this basis, the statistical proportion between intersex and non-intersex woman could be a fucking googolplex and it wouldn’t matter, because the types of harm being compared are not actually the same.

  64. Jill
    September 16, 2009 at 1:23 am

    @Li 47
    My post didn’t say anything about intersex people. Read > comprehend > post.

    @other Jill 48
    Sure, it does follow a similar line of reasoning. In both cases, it’s an empirical question; are men really likely to do this, and has it happened in the past? If rape by crossdressing men was something that often happened, I think raising those concerns would be more justified than in fact it is. We look down upon that comparison because we don’t think a significant number of men actually do that, not (presumably) because there’s anything wrong with that reasoning in theory. My reasoning for this was based on the fact that gender testing was introduced for a reason; there were doubts at Olympics in the 60s about men masquerading as women. I wrote that last post when I was under the impression those doubts were justified, but since researching this I have no idea whether they were or not. Perhaps it is a less realistic fear than I had thought, perhaps not. I have no idea where to get data on this.

    @Amanda 49
    Distressed to hear about your problems with my post. Presumably the biggest one was actually reading it as I said absolutely nothing about trans people let alone HRT. My point was about people like Renee saying that any gender test other than asking “are you a woman?” is “disgusting”. Like I said, that’s a view I sympathise with politically. But in sport, if cis men with no genuine intention or commitment to being transgender are allowed to compete as women just by ticking the F box, that has the *potential* to utterly destroy women’s sport. It entirely depends on whether cis men who are not seriously transgender or intersex are actually willing to do that. Clearly some people, for example Jill, think they’re not likely to. I just don’t know. Perhaps the only answer is to allow it and see what happens.

  65. Jill
    September 16, 2009 at 1:28 am

    @ beth
    “Finally the times between male and female athletes is very minimal”
    This is simply not true.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/800_metres
    Let alone, like I said, weightlifting, where males lift around half as much again as females.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clean_and_jerk

  66. September 16, 2009 at 9:19 am

    Li, as life’s short, I’ll refer you back to my last comment. Your statements make two assumptions that are directly contradicted by the comment.

  67. Sailorman
    September 16, 2009 at 9:57 am

    Er… bethrjacobs? WTF? If you want to accuse me of lying about athletes, do me the courtesy of looking at my official links to high school and world records first. I’m not going to dignify the other ad homs with a response.

    Shah8,

    Well, we seem to be talking past each other. Let me try again.

    First of all, I hope we can agree that “woman” IN THE CONTEXT OF GENDER SEPARATED SPORTS has a very different definition from “woman” in other contexts be they social, legal, criminal, academic, etc.

    Second of all, I hope we can agree that the definition difference is probably unavoidable. So long as you are trying to definitively separate men and women, you need to draw some sort of line, somewhere. And because you don’t want to be accused of using your discretion to deny people their rightful place in the sports annals, then you would actually want to make the line (wherever it was placed) extremely clear, and very detailed.

    There will always be people who are close to the line; some will and some will not fall within whatever classification you use. No matter where you put the line, you will always have someone who wants to be on the other side.

    SOCIALLY the man/woman divide can be and is flexible, and can vary by year, country, town, day of the week, personal choice, whatever. But sport rules /= social rules. They are arbitrary games with arbitrary rules and one of those arbitrary rules is that of relatively unchanging status.

    If you fiddle with the dividing line it probably won’t make much of a difference in this case. It seems likely that Caster will either pass the existing test, or that she is only slightly over the line on the “wrong” side as per the arbitrary test. So it’s not as if you would have to move the line much for her, if at all, I suspect.

    But if you move the line for her, you’ve got to move the line for the next person, too. There will always be someone who is “just over the line,” no matter where that line is. Sexuality is a spectrum not a binary; there is no arbitrary line which will work in all cases.

    So then what? Do you want to have, as some suggested, no enforcement other than what the athlete says? We know that in that case, people cheat. That won’t work.

    Or do you want to move the line just for Caster, and then stop? Where do you stop? How do you move the line to let some people in and then tell the next group they’re out of luck?

    And if you keep moving the line to be fair, how long before you have moved it quite a bit? And at that point can you really argue the move has no effect?

  68. shah8
    September 16, 2009 at 10:56 am

    You know…

    You do realize that slippery slope arguments are a fallacy, don’t you?

    I certainly do, and I also did not fail to notice that you still refuse to show harm other than vague and dubious intimations of cross dresser cheating.

    Admit it, you’re just phobic, is all…

  69. Sailorman
    September 16, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    It’s not a logical fallacy in this case because all the steps are explained.
    1) There is a line.
    2) The only intersex people who will attempt to move the line are those who are trying to get on the side of the line which would arbitrarily classify them as women. Therefore the pressure on the line will occur only w/r/t moving the line to include more intersex people classified as women.
    3) because gender is fluid and on a continuum, there exist a constant flow of people who will provide such pressure. there will always be someone “just on the other side of the line.”
    4) because there will be constant pressure from one direction only, the line will continue to move.
    5) because the line will continue to move, it will eventually move far enough as to create a significant disparity in the abilities of people who are arbitrarily classified as women.

    Solving that problem isn’t so hard. Just don’t move the line. Or move it, but decide on a new immovable line and deal with the fallout of refusing to move it in the future.

    You keep ducking all those issues.

    In fact, do you realize that you have so far failed to respond to any of my arguments, and that you simply continue to repeat yourself?* (If you want to talk fallacies, one of them is that you are assuming without justification that you hold the initially correct position. You’re the one arguing for a change. You’re the one arguing that the change won’t affect the majority of the population. You apparently don’t even want to be extra-careful based on the fact that it MIGHT affect 99.999% of the population. Where’s your justification for that?)

    I have a feeling that you’re basing your arguments on the same sort of thinking as Li, who said:

    On this basis, the statistical proportion between intersex and non-intersex woman could be a fucking googolplex and it wouldn’t matter, because the types of harm being compared are not actually the same.

    If that’s how you feel, we’ll simply never agree. I like numbers and I think they’re important.

    So I react very differently when there seems to even be a small possibility of affecting tens of millions of people for the benefit of a hundred people. That same level of possibility wouldn’t bother me at all if the ratios were different. It’s not phobia, it’s math.

    If you don’t take that sort of thing into account then I don’t think this conversation will ever be productive.

    *You’re not even responding to facts. You make a factual statement, I post a link which disproves it, you move on and do it again. That’s not a conversation, it’s a soap box.

  70. Li
    September 16, 2009 at 8:55 pm

    Sailorman, you keep conflating sex and gender. Woman =/= female. The fact that you keep suggesting that Caster Semenaya isn’t really a woman underlines this. Yes, I agree that we have a fundamental disagreement about the sources of our ethical responsibilities. It reads to me that in this case you feel that the numerical prevalence of non-interex people justifies cissexism. And to be clear, a woman/man divide which conflates sex and gender and which seeks to medically police that division is cissexist.

    I do not. I do not agree that a non sex-regulated man/woman division in sport will harm cis women. I do not agree that such a divide will innately fall down into where’s the fucking line omg my arbitrariness is failing. I can see how such a change might undermine elements of cis privilege, but I draw a distinction between loss of privilege and harm.

    I believe my ethical responsibilities in this case are driven by the actual violence and harm actively being done to intersex people. I think that a change to address sex-regulation of sports is of benefit to intersex people in the sense that it would be of benefit to someone if I stopped kicking them in the face.

    @Jill 61. It’s in a post about intersexuality and sport. I’m sorry if you wanted to make that argument outside of the wider context of the discussion. I didn’t pick up on that.

  71. Kristen J.
    September 17, 2009 at 6:54 am

    Sailorman,

    Two things:

    (1) Justify the existence of the line. Assuming your rationale isn’t itself cis-centered, draw the line to include the largest number of people.

    (2) You are assuming that there is pressure for intersex persons to “masquerade” as women when they are (honestly) self-identified men. Provide proof of that assumption. Your belief that people would live as a different gender, knowing the physical and emotional risks of that decision, for the purpose of pursuing a career in sports seems to me to be laughable.

  72. Sailorman
    September 18, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    Li says:
    September 16th, 2009 at 8:55 pm – Edit

    Sailorman, you keep conflating sex and gender. Woman =/= female. The fact that you keep suggesting that Caster Semenaya isn’t really a woman underlines this.

    What makes you say that? I have said, multiple times, that the man/woman divide in sports is entirely arbitrary and is not the same as social, legal, medical, or other definitions which may conflict. There is no single objective truth here and it seems silly to say “but she’s a woman!” without accepting the sports definition. “Woman” as defined by sports just means “person who meets the classification which we have decided to draw boundaries around on some criteria.”

    it reads to me that in this case you feel that the numerical prevalence of non-interex people justifies cissexism. And to be clear, a woman/man divide which conflates sex and gender and which seeks to medically police that division is cissexist.

    Are you saying that numerical prevalence is irrelevant?

    You seem to be taking the extreme individual rights position. To use an example outside of gender, it’s as if you were arguing for spending as much money as necessary to try to do everything possible to save a single person’s life, without regard for the fact that spending all that money might have a negative effect on hundreds of thousands of other people. You’re focusing on the issue before you but you’re not seeing the forest for the one tree.*

    I will state this generally, without reference to cis, trans, male, female, or anything else: In my opinion, if you’re balancing a harm/benefit to a tiny number against a benefit/harm to a huge number, then the huge number wins most of the time. It would be REALLY helpful if you can clarify whether or not you disagree with this.

    From my perspective, the only way in most cases to justify being protectionist of a tiny group of intersexed people would be to value them MORE HIGHLY than everyone else. Why on earth would I do that, if you would agree the reverse was improper? There are going to be exceptions, but they get rarer and rarer the larger the difference in populations.

    *This is human nature. We are generally more likely to overvalue things that we know about (the beggar right in front of us; the intersexed person we’re reading about) and more likely to undervalue things out of our attention (the kid dying of malaria on the other side of the ocean; the 20,000,000 cissexual kids who aren’t in the paper.) We’re also horrible at dealing with numerical differences (balancing a huge harm to 100 against a potential harm to 20,000,000, etc.)

  73. Sailorman
    September 18, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    # Kristen J. says:
    September 17th, 2009 at 6:54 am – Edit

    Sailorman,

    Two things:

    (1) Justify the existence of the line. Assuming your rationale isn’t itself cis-centered, draw the line to include the largest number of people.

    That’s where we differ. I draw the line to try to get the largest BENEFIT, not the largest INCLUSION.

    (2) You are assuming that there is pressure for intersex persons to “masquerade” as women when they are (honestly) self-identified men.

    Wait a second–are you moving the goalposts?

    So far we have been discussing a tiny tiny tiny fraction of the population, namely world class athletes. Nothing I am saying would be generally applicable to anyone else–and in fact, i have no doubt that there are a variety of intersexed athletes at lower levels of competition, who might fail the IOC-type gender test but who will never in their lives be forced to take it.

    Provide proof of that assumption. Your belief that people would live as a different gender, knowing the physical and emotional risks of that decision, for the purpose of pursuing a career in sports seems to me to be laughable.

    OK, we’ll just have to differ. Men have competed as women before and certainly would again. The desire to win, much less to be world famous, appears to outweigh the physical and emotional risks, at least for some folks.

  74. Li
    September 18, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    Sailorman, we are done. The only reason for me to continue to engage with you would be to further demonstrate your cissexism, but I feel you’ve done a pretty good job of that yourself. I have no interest having a generalised academic discussion about utilitarianism. Dullest derail evah.

  75. bethrjacobs
    September 19, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    And in closing gender testing was stopped precisely because as the article in the Time says it didn’t prove a dam thing. There is no actual proof that having extra male anything increases skill and even with her three times the regular level for testosterone this female runner is well with in the normal range of testosterone for a women; And as many articles have stated and which the sports world new all along and allowed for this to happen any way. The poor thing doesn’t have the receptors to utilize the testosterone and as in the past these tests only prove to humiliate the person being tested. Those three white bitches that all of this is in the name of whom this fine young athlete beat will never have to run against her again. I think they should be told to stop taking the “pill” then we will see what real athletes with out extra feminizing really look and act like.

  76. bethrjacobs
    September 19, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    Jill 68 and Sailorman I assume you are just here as harassment. If you looked at my quote/links they are not Wikipedia .There is a female in the little league hall of fame and to female race horses who won major races against male horses. The times between male and females in most racing sports is minutes at most and I reiterate that even the Olympic committee acknowledges they can’t test adequately for doping and since there is more money available for male sports then female and more backers there’s more doping available to males. I myself in the past have run with the males at least a little bit and female horses are routinely run with males across the world. And if you are female “Jill 68” you’ll find out soon what this is really all about if they win and this female runner can’t compete any longer. Hope you have a good sugar daddy.

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