Author Topic: When a "she" is really a "he"  (Read 5348 times)

mgriffin

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When a "she" is really a "he"
« on: September 10, 2009, 10:25:26 AM »
Not sure how many people here follow track and field at all, or if this story has worked its way outside track and field media to the mainstream.  It seems I remember the "controversy" resulting in a story on yahoo news a couple weeks ago.

The World Championships of track and field were last month, and one of the most surprising results was that an entrant in the women's 800 meters, an 18 year old virtual unknown who has only been running for about a year and suddenly sprang upon the scene with world class times only this summer, upset the best women's half-milers in the world to easily win the World Championship gold medal going away, and coming close to a decades-old world record set by a Czech woman runner who herself was pumped up on steroids.

The accusation in this case is not performance enhancing drugs, but that this runner, Caster Semenya, may actually be a man.  The unbelievably quick improvement from beginning runner to World Champion, as well as the individual's masculine appearance and mannerisms (chest-thumping, bicep-flexing, and so on) lead some to assert this runner may either be a man, or at least some sort of hermaphrodite or "intersex" individual with such strong male characteristics as to constitute an unfair advantage against women. 

As an individual track and field fan, I'd say the way Semenya totally demolished the best female 800 runners in the world, running away from them with apparent ease and winning by a huge margin, bore no resemblance to fair competition among equals.  It made Usain Bolt's victories in both last year's Olympics and these same World Championships seem hard-fought.

Counterbalancing the outcry of unfairness, there's been a near-equal riot of people asserting that the accusations are unfair.  Some say gender is not an "either/or" thing but a sort of continuum, and if so, who is to determine at which point on the scale a person is "woman enough" to compete as a woman?

Most recently, this story says the runner has no ovaries or uterus, but does have testicles.  This is in addition to the already-released information that Semenya has three times the level of testosterone level of average women.

Tests show world champion runner Caster Semenya is a hermaphrodite



http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/world/tests-show-world-champion-runner-caster-semenya-is-a-hermaphrodite/story-e6frev00-1225771726260

There have been numerous other stories in athletics of female competitors being revealed or "outed" as either actually male, or in some way "intersex."  I think, despite the tendency toward political correctness in all areas, the reason we separate sports into men's and women's divisions is to give women a fair chance to compete among equals.  If a person is born with male and female sex characteristics constituting something like "mostly male-ness" and yet chooses to live and compete as a woman, it is unfair.  That individual has a choice whether to not compete at all, or compete at a slight disadvantage among men.

Any thoughts about this, aside from the inevitable snickers and wisecracks?  Every time I feel this is just sort of an odd joke, I think about the women who train their hearts out, only to end up beaten by 30 meters by a teen-age beginner at their event, and to finish in second place when in fact they are the fastest woman in the race.
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judd stephens

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Re: When a "she" is really a "he"
« Reply #1 on: September 10, 2009, 11:11:31 AM »
I've got the Crying Game song in my head all of a sudden...

Since this is a rare exception, you could handicap the player or players with the advantage.  So if Semenya is competing with females, Semenya starts a little later, or farther away... I'm not a fan by the way so I'm not sure of the exact way all the races are conducted.  And if Semenya runs with the males, the males are handicapped.  Any attempts to make it fair could bring up a lot of controversy no matter what, it would seem, and each individual hermaphrodite is different; some are more female than male and vice versa, apparently.  Maybe the handicap could be performance-based, on previous races or trials.

When a person such as this competes "at a slight disadvantage" with the males, well, I do know enough about most sports that any slight disadvantage would mean all the difference.  Especially in Olympic-type sports where races are often determined by tenths of a second, I tend to think that would be equally unfair. 

I'd guess there's no simple solution, and therefore, no real solution to make anyone happy- except the winner of course  ;D.

 

judd stephens

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Re: When a "she" is really a "he"
« Reply #2 on: September 10, 2009, 11:17:28 AM »
Just to change my opinion a little on the races being decided by "tenths of a second", realizing this is track and field.... Well my basic point is still the same.  Even if it's decided by a few seconds, or more or less, a disadvantage is still a disadvantage, no matter what the margin. 

mgriffin

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Re: When a "she" is really a "he"
« Reply #3 on: September 10, 2009, 11:23:22 AM »
Track doesn't work that way.  You can't have one runner starting behind the others, or back from the line.  A person is either equal to other competitors, or not.

There is definitely precedent for this, when it has been discovered that a female is actually male, either physically or genetically.  In these cases, the IAAF (International Amateur Athletic Federation) does not allow them to continue competing.  There have been cases in which a woman is found to have certain male factors but is allowed to compete, I suppose because it is deemed not to be an advantage.

But no, there's no chance at all that they would have Semenya compete with women but make her start 3 meters behind, or 4 seconds later... nor that they would start Semenya with the men with a headstart.  If any action is taken, the WC gold medal will be stripped and Semenya will be barred from competing as a woman -- and certainly would not compete as a man.  1:55 is amazing for a female 800m runner but it's merely a decent small college men's time.  Top female 800 runners usually run just under 2 minutes, while top men run around 1:45.  Pardon the pun, but Semenya is in a sort of "no man's land," too fast to reasonably be considered a female (at least, unless she had developed up to this level gradually, but she was running 2:11 just a year ago) and not nearly fast enough to just run with the men.

I really can't think of any fair outcome that will leave everyone happy.  If a person is born with advantages over other women, barring them from competing is really the only option and it's kind of a bummer for the competitor who didn't really cheat, but was just born different from others.
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lena

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Re: When a "she" is really a "he"
« Reply #4 on: September 10, 2009, 11:29:29 AM »
Wow, so Semenya is basically a boy with no penis, then? Oh my gosh, that poor person! At first I thought this was all going to turn out to be another case where they were trying to sneak an actual male into female competition and I was mad about it, but this... I feel so bad for them...  :(
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judd stephens

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Re: When a "she" is really a "he"
« Reply #5 on: September 10, 2009, 12:16:05 PM »
Track doesn't work that way.  You can't have one runner starting behind the others, or back from the line.  A person is either equal to other competitors, or not.

Well if that's the case, then it's pretty clear.  Semenya doesn't belong in either.  Period.  But, normally, Biology doesn't work that way either....  

So if the Organization isn't willing to let this person compete, I would say, at least let Semenya compete with the men.  That way it's more of an underdog story if the person wins than an outrage, as it is currently perceived.

If we could just remove the testicles out of the equation somehow, I think this would make much more of interesting discussion...

lena

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Re: When a "she" is really a "he"
« Reply #6 on: September 10, 2009, 12:52:31 PM »
Quote
If we could just remove the testicles out of the equation somehow


 :D

(I'm sure everyone involved in getting Semenya into female competition wish they could do the same thing.)




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mgriffin

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Re: When a "she" is really a "he"
« Reply #7 on: September 10, 2009, 12:58:25 PM »
If they would have removed the testicles before puberty, maybe that would be OK.  But Semenya has had the "benefit" of masculinized development through his/her teens and even if this were treated now it's too late to remove the advantage.

And I don't think Semenya would have any interest in competing as a man.  I mean, there's no precedent of any of the previously "banned as female" athletes deciding to compete as male.  As I mentioned, 1:55 is nowhere near world class for men, even for an 18 year old man.  Not only is it not world class, it wouldn't get you a track scholarship to a decent college, as a male I mean.
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Wayne Higgins

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Re: When a "she" is really a "he"
« Reply #8 on: September 10, 2009, 01:13:02 PM »
so, could she qualify to compete as a man? :-\
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lena

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Re: When a "she" is really a "he"
« Reply #9 on: September 10, 2009, 01:23:13 PM »
Well, "she" isn't really a female, (no uterus or ovaries, and I'm suspecting no actual vagina either.) "She" is actually way more male, (unless you want to believe that since there's no penis that makes them female by default, which it doesn't.)
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mgriffin

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Re: When a "she" is really a "he"
« Reply #10 on: September 10, 2009, 01:35:01 PM »
so, could she qualify to compete as a man? :-\

Presumably.  Nobody has ever been disqualified from competing as a man due to questions about gender.  Maybe there would be a problem if performance enhancing drugs came into play, but "Hey, that's no man!" accusations aren't going to prevent you from competing as a man.

The reason such qualifications exist on the women's side is because women are generally weaker and slower in sports than men, so while it's easy to see why a man (or intersex individual somewhere on the spectrum between man and woman) would wish to compete against women, the reverse does not hold true.

In other words, if Caster Semenya came out next week and said "All the hassle is not worth it, let me race against the guys" nobody would stop her.  But she wouldn't even qualify for the South African team in the 800 meters as a man.  I mean, the male winner of the WC 800m was from South Africa too and he ran more than 10 seconds faster than Semenya.
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judd stephens

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Re: When a "she" is really a "he"
« Reply #11 on: September 10, 2009, 01:54:57 PM »
So, then Semenya is significantly inferior to the male competition, but also has a huge advantage over the female competition.  

If you leave Semenya out, it pulls on the heartstrings as some type of discriminiation.  If you handicap the field (I realize that's not done, but if it were), then whenever someone like Semenya wins, the other competitors will be all too tempted to want that person out.  

It's really a no-win situation, and winning of course is what is valued over all else.

mgriffin

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Re: When a "she" is really a "he"
« Reply #12 on: September 10, 2009, 02:02:37 PM »
Well, other competitors wanting you out because you're superior isn't enough to get someone banned.  Even having a masculine appearance or a deep voice isn't enough to really make a difference, though it will cause people to whisper and gossip.

There are objective, official standards (though specifically what they are is not clear) to determine whether someone is eligible to compete as a woman.  It's a rather sad situation that the South African athletic officials knew suspicions existed about Semenya well before the World Championships and either did not test her at all, or only gave her the most superficial of tests, or tested her properly and buried the results.  National athletic federations have been known to lie and cheat in order to try to produce results (see the government sponsored drug programs in East Germany and Czechoslovakia in the 80s, China in the 90s, and Russia more recently).  Yes, they got their gold medal, but what an awful spectacle.  I sincerely feel sorry for Semenya, who really does seem to consider herself a female in her daily life.
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lena

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Re: When a "she" is really a "he"
« Reply #13 on: September 10, 2009, 02:43:32 PM »
Quote
I sincerely feel sorry for Semenya, who really does seem to consider herself a female in her daily life.

Me too... :(
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mgriffin

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Re: When a "she" is really a "he"
« Reply #14 on: September 10, 2009, 03:08:30 PM »
Whatever the case, imagine the balls it takes to try to pull off something like this.
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judd stephens

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Re: When a "she" is really a "he"
« Reply #15 on: September 10, 2009, 10:06:59 PM »
Well, other competitors wanting you out because you're superior isn't enough to get someone banned.  Even having a masculine appearance or a deep voice isn't enough to really make a difference, though it will cause people to whisper and gossip.

             

My scenario was that it was a given, and well known that this person was hermaphrodite, and thus superior, or inferior, depending on female or male opponents.  Therefore there was a handicap in one direction or the other.  I'm just saying with all fairness intended even with a handicap in place to account for the differences, if Semenya wins with the handicap, people will cry foul... so it's                   
like solving one problematic issue with another.

Whatever the case, imagine the balls it takes to try to pull off something like this.

I'd rather not  ::) ;)

Seren

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Re: When a "she" is really a "he"
« Reply #16 on: September 11, 2009, 04:43:22 AM »
We have a case here - saw it on BBC website very recently but can't find it now to post link - a guy in prison, for offences including rape, wanting gender reassignment.

He can't have that unless he lives for a period of time as a woman so he wants to be transferred to a women's prison - has been to court and under human rights the court agrees with him.

He is in in the protected part of the male prison but would have to be in solitary in the female one too. Prison authorities object to it. They say it will cost more to isolate him in the women's prison, could not see any mention of the emotional effect on the women prisoners.....

Seren

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Re: When a "she" is really a "he"
« Reply #17 on: September 11, 2009, 04:46:26 AM »
It's a bit like the recent hype over the story of the man giving birth.

It was a woman undergoing gender reassignment to male, who had decided to have a baby before the process was completed.

I appreciate the level of feelings that make someone want to change their sex but portraying the story as a man about to give birth is a little misleading to say the least....

jim brenholts

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Re: When a "she" is really a "he"
« Reply #18 on: September 13, 2009, 08:39:54 AM »
Whatever the case, imagine the balls it takes to try to pull off something like this.
or lack thereof.
all the best and God bless
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cromag

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Re: When a "she" is really a "he"
« Reply #19 on: September 13, 2009, 04:13:17 PM »
I'm not a sports fan, so my take on this is a little ... remote.

Genetic diversity conveys legitimate advantages and disadvantages in sports.  The most skillful basketball player, if he's 4 feet 8 inches tall, will be at a huge disadvantage when playing even an average player who is 6 feet 8 inches tall.  Someone with a strong, broad skeletal structure has a built in advantage in American football and a built in disadvantage in track and field.

The problem is, our system operates on the assumption that sexual reproduction is as accurate as an automated (artificial) process.  It's not.  Sometimes chromosomes don't group properly, sometimes genes get deleted or damaged in the process.


I don't have an answer -- I'm just watching to see what kind of answer the powers that be come up with and how they justify it.
Science News, Vol. 175, No. 9, April 25, 2009, page 1 -- "New mapping of the human genome shows none of us are normal."