What Sex Are You?

You’re a man, you say?  Well step right up and prove it.  No, no, keep your pants on, because visual evidence is not going to do it.  I need to see a report from your geneticist, your endocrinologist, and your psychologist.  Of course, as far as I know, men have never had to prove they’re men (except in the usual ways, one of which is being combative).  No, in real life, it’s women who have to prove they are women. 

Let’s say that you are (allegedly) a man, and you are in a footrace with another “man”, whom you secretly suspect is a woman.  You win.  Do you then say, I demand to know if my opponent was really a man?  Of course not.  You say, “I won!  Case closed!”  But what if “she” wins?  Do you then say, I demand to know if she is really a woman, because if she is, that gave her an unfair advantage?  Of course not–because that scenario would never happen.  Male runners will always outrun female runners, unless the male trips over his shoelace.  And that will never happen either, because that’s why God invented Velcro. 

In real life, it’s women who complain when they are beaten by men who are “pretending” to be women.  Which really would be an unfair advantage (see above, re:  “Male runners will always outrun…”).  But what if she isn’t pretending? 

The occasion for this topic is a blip of a snippet of a story I heard on NPR yesterday, concerning an 18 year-old South African woman named Caster Semenya, who on Thursday of this week won a gold medal in the 800 meters in the world championships in Berlin.  Some of her competitors complain that she is really a man, but it’s unclear whether it was them or someone involved in the specimen collection process for the anti-doping tests who officially raised the question of her gender.  (They watch you pee.  In person.  Naked–at least the peeing parts.)  So the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) is now investigating her gender.  Which it turns out is not as simple as it used to be.  It used to be that if you were found to have a Y chromosome, you were male, end of sentence.  As I said, it turns out not to be that simple. 

I will now refer you to two pieces I read today in the New York Times.  The first is an essay written by one Alice Dreger, “Professor of clinical medical humanities and bioethics at Northwestern University”, entitled “Where’s the Rulebook for Sex Verification?”  See it here.  In case you aren’t interested in reading the whole thing, I’ll quote an important paragraph:

“A little biology: On the Y chromosome, a gene called SRY usually makes a fetus grow as a male. It turns out, though, that SRY can show up on an X, turning an XX fetus essentially male. And if the SRY gene does not work on the Y, the fetus develops essentially female.

Even an XY fetus with a functioning SRY can essentially develop female. In the case of Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, the ability of cells to “hear” the masculinizing hormones known as androgens is lacking. That means the genitals and the rest of the external body look female-typical, except that these women lack body hair (which depends on androgen-sensitivity).”

Did you get that?  Yeah, me too. 

Now we turn to the second article, which is more factual, but first, let’s take a look at Ms. Semenya.  (So far I haven’t seen any jokes made about this, so let me be the first to say that it’s unfortunate that her last name begins with the word “semen”.)

Semenya

The second article is “Gold Is Awarded Amid Dispute Over Runner’s Sex”.  See it  here.  There are a couple of quotes from this article that struck me.  Here is one: 

“Chuene and some South African athletes suggested that there might be an anti-African bias at work. “The question I ask is if this were a European person, would these questions be raised?” said Ruben Ramolefi, a track athlete for South Africa. “It seems there’s hypocrisy behind it.””

Oh no.  Not THAT again.  Fellow blogger and now close friend Nick Hardy and I have extensively discussed the issue of looking for racism.  You are guaranteed to always find it.  The same holds for sexism.  If you start with the premise that it’s there somewhere, everything you see and hear will confirm for you that it explains everything.  That’s why I posted the picture first.  This woman (?) could have purple skin with pink polka dots and she would still look like a man.

But she thinks of herself as a woman, her family thinks of her as a woman, so who is to say?  What fascinates me about this that the professionals–the geneticists, the endocrinologists, the psychologists, and in her case, the gynecologists–may say whatever they will, but this is not a medical or scientific problem.  It’s a philosophical problem. 

I close with another quote from the second article: 

“We can get quite philosophical here — what does it mean to be male or female?” said Dr. Richard Auchus, a specialist in disorders of sexual differentiation at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

“For 99 percent of the population it’s easy to determine,” he added. “But one percent of the population have conditions that make it not so straightforward.”

Be glad that you are in the 99%.  Or are you?  Prove it.  Oh wait.  Isn’t this where we started?

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20 responses to “What Sex Are You?

  1. This is a dude. I will bet dollars to holes in a doughnut. http://bobbygee.wordpress.com/

  2. I’m with you, Bobby. No way your physique looks like that and you are female. On top of that, “she” beat her last year’s time by 7 seconds. When world records are broken by hundredths and tenths of seconds, 7 seconds is like a light year. I think maybe the testosterone kicked in…
    I don’t really have a horse in this race. I’m just interested in how the IAAF is going to decide it.

  3. LOL… My family was just talking about this. Reminds me of all of the former East German chicks in the Olympics. This isn’t about racism or sexism! It’s about one ugly broad that is probably on the juice!

  4. What? How dare you say that about her. Just kidding. This is why I love you. Neither of us really care a hoot about being politically correct. Except you..sometimes…lol.

  5. Please don’t comment about this again. It’s hard on the eyes to scroll down and get to the comments section. LOL

  6. I’ll accept any sex I’m offered! 😉

  7. You know, ee, I saw that comment yesterday and it took me until today to understand it. Some days I’m just more blond than others.
    And Anarchist, you might want to rethink that comment! Or maybe not lol.

  8. And totally off the subject, have you ever noticed that at the bottom of the screen when you comment on your own posts, it says “You are the author of this post”? Like you would forget? Which reminds me of a joke.
    Two elderly women, Alice and Maude, are out for a drive with Alice at the wheel, when Alice runs a red light. Maude decides not to say anything in case it was just a one-time lapse. But Alice runs the next two red lights as well. Now terrified out out of her mind, Maude decides she must speak up. “Alice, dear,” she says, “I didn’t want to say anything, but you’ve run the last three red lights in a row”. “Oh!”, says Alice, “Am I driving?”

  9. @ Anarchist, be careful, as someone on my Facebook page wrote, It may be Barney Frank calling.

    @ Fakename, people still name their daughters Maude?

  10. I don’t think so, Nick. Now it’s “Shaniqua”. Which reminds me, what ever happened to her?

  11. I think that she has her own reality show on BET.

  12. I miss her. I think it’s high time you updated us.

  13. I have no idea who Shaniqua is but Ebony Pearl is resting comfortably in Jacksonville.

  14. Shaniqua was one of the (fake) people in the Reckless Tortuga videos Nick used to post. It took me a while, but I finally found it: http://eehard.wordpress.com/2009/02/28/i-like-black-guys/
    I think we need to bring back Restless Tortuga!

  15. Oh my….breaking news (thanks to Fakesister). Semenya is a hermaphrodite.
    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/more/09/10/semenya.ap/index.html

  16. Well….I was right about the testosterone. But I feel terrible for her…

  17. And now more news and questions. See:
    http://sports.yahoo.com/olympics/beijing/blog/fourth_place_medal/post/Semenya-withdraws-from-race-amidst-reports-she-s?urn=oly,188930
    The guy who wrote this blog, Chris Chase, seems to me to be both cruelly unsympathetic and ignorant. The IAAF has already said they will not strip her of her medal because there was no intent on her part to deceive. Her future is indeed still in doubt, but if you have a shred of human feeling, your heart has to go out to her. You may say that at least her coaches should have known that something was amiss, but she is just a kid really. She had no idea, her family had no idea. She was just a kid who could run fast, and now her internal workings are the subject of international speculation and scrutiny. How humiliating must that be? Try to remember what it was like to be 18.

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