Blah blah to Y and X

Beba cubralic (Australia / Bosnia, UWCM 10-12)

There are some values people are willing to die for; whether that in itself is a positive of negative thing is debatable, but most admire that degree of passion. When it comes to the topic of intersex people in sport, there are not enough people standing up and speaking out in support of them. Activists such as Cheryl Chase, as inspiring as they are, need more voices behind them to make the message louder and have greater impact.  This present silence has been devastating at best, with the failure to end gender verification testing; this silence has been calamitous at worst, propagating discrimination and exclusivity in both sport and society. Whilst all forms of discrimination are condemnable, the failure to recognise the plight of intersex people is horrifying. Understanding both the biological and social side to the issue will, hopefully, lead to a more welcoming culture.

Intersex is a term that describes an atypical combination of reproductive or sexual anatomical features that usually distinguish female from male. There are around twenty to thirty types of biological intersex conditions, each of them affecting the body in different ways. The sports sphere, unfortunately, does not acknowledge the complexity of the issue and only allows people to compete in two categories: female or male.  Definitions of male and female are in themselves problematic because the biological makeup of humans is not easily reduced to two sex categories. Medical science has long acknowledged the existence of millions of people whose bodies have chromosomal variations from the XX or XY of women or men. The dozens of variations of the X and Y chromosome has led to many geneticists criticising the gender verification test, whose purpose is to determine whether someone is female or male enough to compete in one of the categories.

The rules that exist in sports today regarding whom can compete and in which category were not designed to acknowledge the existence of intersex people; hence, they cannot possibly categorise them. Both historical and recent cases prove that the rules must change as there is no clear, natural way to determine ones gender. An example of the failures of gender testing is in the Polish sprinter Ewa Klobukowska who was stripped of her medals in 1967 and banned from competing for having an extra Y chromosome. Interestingly, in the coming years she gave birth to a boy. So she was female enough to carry a child to term, but too male to qualify as an Olympic female athlete.

The issue of intersex people in sport has become more prominent in the last few years. A contemporary case is that of Caster Semenya, the young South African athlete whose gender was questioned in 2009. After winning the 800 metre sprint at the Athletics Federation World Championship with an eight second improvement from previous competitions, it was alleged that Semenya was ‘not entirely female’. Forced to undergo a gender verification test, Semenya was found to be female enough to compete. Unfortunately, that clearance does not erase her memory of the humiliating gender verification tests. For others, such as the Indian athlete Santhi Soundarajan, the results were not as positive. Soundarajan failed the gender verification test at the 2006 Asian Games, leading to her being public ostracised and subsequently attempting suicide.

Those against the integration of intersex people in sports have argued that it would be unfair to let intersex people compete in sports as their gender would always be an advantage. If this is the case, and there is a demand for true equality in the sporting realm, then other inherent advantages need to addressed: on a national scale, the wealth of a country can be an advantage; on a local scale, access to sporting facilities from an early age can be an advantage. To an extent, it is impossible to prevent these advantages, and likewise, any possible advantages intersex people may have are not reason enough to prohibit them from competing.

Sex and gender are perplexing issues. What we have seen with the cases of Ewa Klobukowska, Caster Semenya, and Santhi Soudarajan is that they have been publicly humiliated because of their gender. I find this not only grossly unjust, but absurd, as we claim to have made a place for everyone at the table. We must establish a legitimate place for intersex people in society. It starts in sport, with us ending the ridiculous gender testing and allowing people to compete in whichever category they feel most comfortable. Whilst this suggestion is controversial and, admittedly, not ideal, it is important to start the inclusion process now. It then grows to a more accepting attitude where it is understood that not being male or female does not make you less human.

-United World College Student Magazine-


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