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Science

How To Prove Someone Is Female? 1091

Posted by kdawson
from the who-can-replace-a-man dept.
krou writes "Caster Semenya won the 800m at the World Athletics Championship in blistering style, leaving her competitors in the dust, but she has been thrown into the midst of a scandal amidst claims that she's not really a woman. According to the many press reports, she's believed to shave, is flat chested, has a very masculine physique, previously preferred playing physical games with boys, and shunned traditional female activities and clothing. Questions about her gender have dogged her entire career. Previously, acceptance that she is a women relied on simple inspection of female genitals. But now the IAAF claim that they want to conduct further tests to see if 'she may have a rare medical condition that gives her an unfair advantage.' An IAAF spokesmen noted that 'The [testing] process was started after Semenya made her startling breakthroughs — a 25-second improvement at 1500m and eight seconds at 800m, just some weeks ago.' I'm curious what the Slashdot community thinks: what can be considered proof of someone being male or female? Is it simply a case of having the right genitals, or are there other criteria that should be used? Is the IAAF right in claiming that someone should be prevented from competing because they have a rare medical or genetic advantage?"
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How To Prove Someone Is Female?

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  • by packeteer (566398) <packeteer&subdimension,com> on Saturday August 22, 2009 @06:04PM (#29158035)

    You know that some people with XXY chromosomes are identified as female right?

  • by chill (34294) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @06:12PM (#29158125) Journal

    [citation needed]

    Every reference I could fine indicated that Klinefelter's Syndrome was considered "males born with extra chromosome". Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] is just one, but everything else I found thru Google on "xxy chromosome" referred to the people born with this condition as "male".

    Can you site a reference otherwise?

  • Re:Medical advantage (Score:5, Informative)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @06:25PM (#29158297)

    because it's already based entirely on the assumption that to be "fair", we ought to first do some genetic segregation

    They allow M2F transgendered persons to compete as women provided they've been on hormone therapy continuously for two or more years -- because it's been proven that hormones have a far greater role in athletic performance than genetics. So genetics is really not the issue here.

  • Distance Racers (Score:3, Informative)

    by arizwebfoot (1228544) * on Saturday August 22, 2009 @06:29PM (#29158329)

    I watched the women's 1500m race today and saw not one woman who wasn't flat chested or nearly so.

    I believe (from Mary Decker Slayne) that this is typical of women who train hard and as this young lass is just now 18 it would make sense that her hormonal changes were or are going to happen latter.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 22, 2009 @06:38PM (#29158413)

    If you haven't looked in to the -how- of a sex change, you probably should. It's fascinating.

    Turns out its almost all about the action of estrogen and testosterone on the body. Here's how it works:

    Before birth: genetics (not the action of testosterone or estrogen) drive the construction of male or female genitalia along with testicles, prostate, uterus and ovaries. The bodies otherwise develop pretty much exactly the same.

    Before puberty: still nothing. Get a boy and a girl both five years old, cut their hair the same and dress them in the same clothes. You won't be able to tell which is which. Except for the genitalia, their bodies are virtually identical.

    Puberty: Boys and girls begin producing significant quantities of testosterone or estrogen. Under the action of testosterone, boys gain an extra several inches of height.

    Any time: under the action of testosterone, the voice deepens, facial hair appears, body hair becomes coarse and soft tissues redistribute and redevelop towards the abdomen in particular and towards what's considered to be the male figure in general. Under the action of estrogen, the mammaries develop, body hair becomes soft and soft tissue redistributes towards the thighs and the so-called "hourglass figure." And of course if she actually has a uterus then she begins to menstruate.

    Note that if you artificially introduce testosterone and estrogen before puberty, the changes start early, typically to the detriment of the girl or boy whose body isn't yet ready.

    The appearance of facial hair, the voice drop and the development of the mammaries are permanent features. Skeletal height is also permanent after puberty; you won't add inches by introducing testosterone in your 30s. Once developed these characteristics can only be surgically altered. The soft tissue distribution and body hair character alters under the effect of the two chemicals, so if you change the chemical balance those features will alter.

    Post menopause/ed: in the absence of significant amounts of testosterone and estrogen, body hair and figure tend towards a neutral configuration. That's why grandma and grandpa start to look alike.

    So, someone undergoing a sex change takes two daily pills: one to block the action of the undesired chemical (estrogen or testosterone) and one which provides the missing chemical. Do this for about a year and 90% of the change is accomplished... From a fully clothed perspective you generally can't tell the difference except that the woman is oddly tall or the man oddly short. In fact, given the expense and risk of the final SRS surgery (versus the sub-$50/month cost of the pills), more than a few trans simply stop there, satisfied with an outward appearance and lifestyle that matches their self-image.

    Now apparently the sports officials suspect something more unusual than just tampering with body chemistry is going on here. There's a very rare birth defect in which an individual who is genetically male incorrectly grows female genitalia. They lack ovaries and a uterus. The testicles are still connected but they're up in the abdomen and mostly non-functional. Generally the first time anyone even suspects the individual isn't genetically female is when they reach puberty and the testicles start putting out testosterone. The girl adds 6 inches in a growth spurt, spouts fuzz on her face, loses an octave in her voice and pads her bra. Very embarrassing.

  • Re:Nerds? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Targen (844972) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @06:52PM (#29158567) Homepage
    No self-respecting biologist would ever [wikipedia.org] so much as suggest it's that simple, especially not in this sort of situation of ambiguity.
  • Not so damn easy (Score:3, Informative)

    by BlueParrot (965239) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @07:10PM (#29158713)

    I suspect there will be a bunch of posts suggesting a simple genetic test will determine somebody's gender, but these tests were abandoned precisely because there are numerous cases where they fail. To mention a few examples:

    Complete Androgen Insensitivity:
    There's a number of people with XY chromosome genotype for which teh cells don't respond to testosterone. These individuals develop as women, and because they don't even respond to the very slight amount of testosterone women have they can actually be more feminine in physical terms than XX women. Many don't even know about their condition especially sicne the sign that usually reveals it ( lack of menstruation ) is easily mistaken as being caused by the exercise many athletes undergo.

    Chromosome variations:
    Not all peopel are XY or XX in chromosomes. There's Klinefelter ( XXY ) , Mosaics ( where some cells have one chromosome setup and some another ), and chimeras ( where different cells not only had different chromosome setups but the entire genotype can vary from cell to cell ).

    Hormonal Variation:
    Genetics is only part of what determines your sex. Even if you have XY chromosomes that only really affects the pre-puberty development of your genitals. The other sex differences ( secondary sex characteristics ) are down to hormonal influences. This is why transsexuals that go on hormone replacement therapy and have their gonads removed through sex reassignment surgery develop characteristics similar to tehri desired sex ( breast development in Male-to-female transsexuals, facial hair and muscle growth in Female-to-male transsexuals etc... ). This of course brings me to the next point...

    Transsexualism:
    Just like people can develop ambiguous genitals or chromosomes, some people develop a psychological gender similar to the opposite biological sex. It's not known exactly why this occurs, but it is currently believed to be neurological in origin ( i.e you could have people with a male brain in a female body or the other way around ). Often these individuals will undergo hormone replacement therapy in order to make their bodies more congruent with their psychological gender ( the only known effective treatment, attempting to resolve the situation with psychotherapy typically fails and has frequently resulted in suicides ). Male to female transsexuals tend to lose upper body strength while on hormones, female to male ones gain it. Thus classifying these individuals on the basis of genetics rather than their hormonal status would stick people with male muscle development among female competitors and vice versa.

    Essentially your performance in sports is more closely linked to hormonal factors ( and how your body respond to them ) than genetics, and thus a karyotype test is a rally poor way to classify competitors. Believe it or not but you get people with XX chromosomes that have more testosterone than the average man, and conversely XY individuals with female Oestrogen and progesterone levels. What is more is that in some cases the individual in question is not even aware of their genotype and it has happened before that female athletes have been shocked to find out they have Y chromosomes.

  • Re:Easy (Score:5, Informative)

    by jeff4747 (256583) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @07:17PM (#29158775)

    It's not so simple.

    It's possible to be born with both an X and Y chromosome, but have all the physical traits of a female. There's a few ways a Y can be "defective".

    It wouldn't be fair to force such people to compete with the men, because they've got the body mass/strength/endurance/etc of typical XX humans despite having a Y.

    As in most things in life, the edge cases make it really hard to come up with a simple rule that's fair to everyone involved.

  • Re:Simple Test: (Score:3, Informative)

    by BlueParrot (965239) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @07:18PM (#29158795)

    Kick them in the nuts really hard. If they don't fold over in pain and whimper an octave higher, they're female.

    As a transsexual I can inform you that destroying/removing the the testicles does not result in your voice going higher in pitch once it has dropped. The larynx grow bigger under influence by testosterone, but it does not shrink again when testosterone is removed, nor does it do so under influence of oestrogen. Furthermore the difference in pitch between men and women is less than a full octave, which is why many transsexuals are still able to achieve a reasonably passable voice through voice training.

  • Re:Awesome (Score:3, Informative)

    by earthbound kid (859282) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @07:27PM (#29158869) Homepage

    Urban legend. No basis whatsoever [snopes.com].

    On subject of TFA, there's also no evidence that Jamie Lee Curtis is a hermaphrodite either [snopes.com].

  • Re:Awesome (Score:3, Informative)

    by Artifakt (700173) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @07:32PM (#29158905)

    You're better off. Richard Gere didn't do anything. A person who looked (sort of) like him was admitted to a mid-western hospital with an embarrassing situation, and a rumor got started that it was Richard himself. That rumor has followed the poor man for over 20 years, despite being traced to its origin. That's probably what will happen in this case. The sports officials will run tests until they get to some sort of conclusion, and the rumors will fly until nobody knows what the decision actually was.

  • Re:Bloody difficult. (Score:5, Informative)

    by this great guy (922511) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @07:53PM (#29159109)

    "Someone who is XY or XX" is also not well-defined. Mosaicism [wikipedia.org] is a condition where an individual has some XY cells, and others XX. Where do you draw the line for the individual to be a male? Does "he" have to have 50+% XY cells, 90+%, 99+% ?

    And what about the XYY syndrome [wikipedia.org]? Some question whether the term "syndrome" is even appropriate because most individuals with XYY cells don't even know it as they appear to be regular healthy males. They don't have to take drugs, which defeats your first argument. Given that 1 in 1000 boys have this syndrome, it is probable that some athletes who won "male" competition have this syndrome. If we were to have these persons genetically tested today, would you retroactively strip them from their titles?

    This whole male/female question is not as trivial as it looks like.

  • Re:Simple Test: (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anti_Climax (447121) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @08:04PM (#29159165)

    I think they were referring to the comical voice pitch change done in movies following a kick in the testicles, not a permanent change in voice caused by their destruction/removal.

  • Re:Easy (Score:5, Informative)

    by Rei (128717) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @08:09PM (#29159193) Homepage

    Indeed. In fact, for example, XY women with CAIS (Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome) are not only phenotpically female, but tend to be *weaker* and *less* masculinized than normal XX women.

    It's not the X chromosome or Y chromsome that's the key. There's this whole cascade of reactions that lead to prenatal masculinization/feminization. This is started off by the complex SRY (Sex Region Y), which is normally found on the Y chromosome. But it can be defective. Or it can migrate to the X chromosome. And even if it's perfectly normal, what about each subsequent step in the cascade? For example, AIS women produce androgens, but their body just ignores them.

    And then there's some of the really weird cases, like 5 alpha reductace deficiency syndrome. It's also called "guevedoche" in the parts of the Dominican Republic where it's unusually common. Guevedoche means "balls at twelve", and yes, it's like it sounds. A child is born, sometimes phenotypically intersexed, but sometimes seemingly a perfectly normal female. But when "she" hits puberty, "she" grows body hair, testes descend, the clitoris develops into a micropenis, and on and on. They usually develop a male gender identity, and in some cases, they can even father children.

    Gender is not as simple as we'd like to pretend. Did you know that your average man can lactate? I'm dead serious. Men have undeveloped breasts, including undeveloped mammary glands. Take estrogen for a year or two (to trigger breast development), then take a large dose of domperidone for two weeks. Domperidone inhibits dopamine levels (outside the brain; it doesn't cross the brain-blood barrier, so it doesn't lower brain dopamine). Dopamine inhibits prolactin production, so dropping its levels stimulates the production of prolactin, which stimulates the production of breast milk.

    We're all made of the same body parts, just with different degrees of development and activation of them.

  • Re:Easy (Score:5, Informative)

    by Thinboy00 (1190815) <thinboy00&gmail,com> on Saturday August 22, 2009 @08:18PM (#29159237) Journal

    What they need is not called a DNA sequence, it's a karyotype [wikipedia.org]. In other words, they look at her chromosomes, without looking at the actual sequence of base-pairs. That's better than a DNA sequence b/c you're only looking at what her chromosomes are, not what her actual genes are--and it's a hell of a lot more private than asking her to show people her genitals.

  • Re:Bloody difficult. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Rei (128717) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @08:25PM (#29159305) Homepage

    Yes, in fact, women with AIS tend to be *less* masculinized than normal women. They're XY, and yet athletically disadvantaged compared to your average XX woman.

    And an XX man who has a migrated SRY on one of his X chromosomes, in the GP's system, would be competing against women. Testosterone and penis and all.

  • Re:Easy (Score:5, Informative)

    by ToreTS (811203) * on Saturday August 22, 2009 @08:29PM (#29159341)
    Actually, I imagine they would be doing a PCR assay looking for the SRY gene on the Y chromosome, which is what gets things going in the male direction during foetal development. This would have a greater chance of detecting any abnormalities since in some rare cases, the SRY gene can end up on the X chromosome, giving an XX male. This would not be detected by a karyotype, but would show up on a PCR assay. Also, PCR is heavily automatised and probably easier to do than a karyotype, which involves a lot of human work. There are also other conditions that could cause something to go wrong, such as being a XY male with some defect in testosterone synthesis/sensitivity. Anyways, if she has the SRY gene, then that is a pretty strong indicator that her genes intended for her to be a man, but that something happened during foetal development to make things go another way.
  • Re:RIP FloJo (Score:4, Informative)

    by mouseblue (1602125) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @09:00PM (#29159593)

    I lost all interest in "world class" athletes when FloJo died of a heart attack due to steroid abuse at a young age.

    Are you sure it was a heart attack? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florence_Griffith-Joyner#Death [wikipedia.org]

  • Re:Easy (Score:3, Informative)

    by Rei (128717) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @09:07PM (#29159655) Homepage

    It's short for "huevos a los doce".

  • Re:Easy (Score:5, Informative)

    by kimvette (919543) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @11:14PM (#29160389) Homepage Journal

    What if it turns out she is in fact intersexed? Should she be banned from competing as a woman?

    Intersexed people are not so rare. XXY, XX males, and XY females do exist. True hermaphrodites are less common, but again, not as rare as you would think. In my case, I am a true hermaphrodite, have CAH and both XX and XY genes (genetic mosaicism), which leads doctors to believe I absorbed a twin in-utero. As I get older I am unfortunately becoming more androgynous.

    I had severe migraines my whole life, was ALWAYS hungry (I could eat an entire sub, a large candy bar, drink a coke, and still be hungry) - and could not gain weight no matter how much I ate. I went for all kinds of testing and one doctor mentioned my adrenals "are a little off" and when I asked what that meant he said it's not a big deal. Years later, I went through a very stressful situation and my adrenal glands finally decided to really act up. I gained 60lbs within six months and developed facial hair growth. I hated doctors by that point (being intersexed they wanted to use me as a guinea pig and get published, making names for themselves) so I didn't get checked out until a couple of years went by and things got so bad I was getting 3-4 migraines a week, went from bad-tempered to downright bitchy (read: batshit insane! ;)), and had severe heart pain. I finally got checked out by a cardiac physiologist friend (who had been telling me I have adrenal issues all along and had to get all soy out of my diet) who checked with a specialist friend of his after pulling my medical records, and confirmed the CAH suspicions. Why didn't my doctors catch that? The problem is now that my adrenals are functioning so poorly I gain weight easily.

    Within a couple of days of eliminating soy from my diet, the jaundice, migraines, fatigue, insomnia, heart palpitations (and resultant pain), and my behavioral issues disappeared completely. Now I don't get migraines unless I accidentally (or on rare occasion knowingly) ingest soy (vegetable oil, vegetable protein, vegetable shortening, etc.. all contain soy proteins). My mood changed and I no longer had a quick temper. It turns out I had a slight soy allergy and a severe intolerance. The intolerance comes from the SW/CAH.

    For my adrenal condition now doctors want to put me on corticosteroids, which will make me even more andgrogynous. I won't do that. So, what I decided to do instead was to adjust my diet to include a LOT more cholesterol, and a lot more salt (for the electrolyte imbalance). The extra cholesterol provides my adrenal glands with more cortisol precursors so that they can manufacture a little more cortisol, eliminating the need for injections.

    Taking in a lot more cholesterol eliminated the kidney pain (my adrenals were irritating my kidneys), and eliminated the constant hunger feeling. Before then, I never knew what it was like to not feel hunger pangs.

    Doctors often coerce parents to choose one sex over the other, in the name of profit. Peforming those "corrective" surgeries on infants is profitable, and they encourage parents to hide it from their children. In many cases, doctors don't even inform the parents of the causes of the intersex condition, and/or don't describe it as an intersex/hermaphroditic condition but as an "anomoly" which is intentionally vague. Unfortunately, in the case of children with CAH or PAIS, hiding those problems and not informing their children of their health condition can often lead to future health and societal problems.

    Had I known then what I knew now (I knew of the cosmetic situation when I was a child, but was never informed of the underlying causes - and neither were my parents) I'd have known to avoid soy, keep my electrolytes up, and eat extra cholesterol. On top of that, avoiding the temper issues would have allowed me to advance my career even more quickly than I did before I left the corporate life (I had a severe dislike for corporate politics because it irritated me. Now I'd welcome it and play the game, knowing

  • Re:Easy (Score:3, Informative)

    by hardwarefreak (899370) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @11:38PM (#29160499)

    X-gene? I think you mean the Y-chromosome.

    Kratisto can't be a geek. "Mutant X gene", Kratisto, as in the X-Men movies. Please drop off your geek badge on the way out the door.

  • Re:Easy (Score:3, Informative)

    by dbIII (701233) on Sunday August 23, 2009 @02:03AM (#29161251)
    There are a lot of situations where the testing didn't work - including such a spectacular failure as a woman that later gave birth to children failing the test. There has also never been an imposter revealed by these tests. Here's a short article on the history of sex testing in sport:
    http://www.playthegame.org/knowledge-bank/articles/the-major-medical-blunder-of-the-twentieth-century-1090.html
    It has certainly destroyed a few careers, for instance Santhi Soundararajan.
  • Re:Bloody difficult. (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 23, 2009 @02:10AM (#29161277)

    A case of true hermaphroditism with 46, XX/46, XY karyotype is reported. The propositus, reared as a male, showed ambiguous external genitalia with perineoscrotal hypospadias, and internal genitalia represented by bilateral ovotestes, normal uterus and tubes. Periodic menstrual bleedings appeared at puberty. The endocrinologic data demonstrated the secretory activity of both the ovarian and the testicular tissue. The analysis of red cell, lymphocyte and serum markers, done on the propositus and on his parents, failed to show any evidence of double fertilization. On this basis, the origin of the XX/XY condition (mosaicism versus chimerism) and its developmental consequences are discussed.

    From http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/991437

  • Re:Easy (Score:2, Informative)

    by KDR_11k (778916) on Sunday August 23, 2009 @06:27AM (#29162323)

    Chromosomes aren't bits. You can theoretically have any number of chromosomes in your cells, most combinations just aren't viable and lead to a miscarriage or severe defects.

  • Re:Easy (Score:5, Informative)

    by Elledan (582730) on Sunday August 23, 2009 @08:45AM (#29162873) Homepage
    Right now a similar investigation is taking place in my case as well. I was born intersexual, have a female build, but male genitals, possibly female too (no two radiologists seem to agree on the MRI images). I really hope that the genetical testing will tell me once and for all why I ended up like this with a body that is clearly neither male nor female, even if anyone who meets me on the street, at the pool, or at the gym, will call me female, and my ID card keeps getting (nearly) refused all the time.

    Worst is that the law here in the Netherlands doesn't allow me to have my official name and gender changed (I'm currently registered as male) due to the law only being focused on transsexuals (gender reassignment surgery requirement, which is impossible for intersexual people).

    You can find more info on my case at my site, www.mayaposch.com [mayaposch.com].
  • by russotto (537200) on Sunday August 23, 2009 @12:03PM (#29164013) Journal

    Close, but just let men and women compete equally. head to head, no men's leagues or women's leagues. Then all of this silliness just goes away.

    Except that men and women aren't equal, physically. The top men are much better than the top women at most physical activities, and the effect continues well down the ability ladder. So if you get rid of that separation, you will get essentially no women at the top levels of competition.

  • Re:irrelevant (Score:3, Informative)

    by CTachyon (412849) <chronos AT chronos-tachyon DOT net> on Sunday August 23, 2009 @07:19PM (#29167307) Homepage

    The SRY gene is responsible for only a small proportion of direct masculinization: it causes the gonads to develop as testicles, it causes production of anti-Müllerian hormone, it causes production of androgens (i.e. testosterone), and it causes some tiny changes in the brain. All the remaining primary and secondary characteristics are the result of either AMH or testosterone.

    Supposing a 46-XY subject with CAIS (Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome), note that AMH is still effective at de-feminizing the internal genitalia by triggering the reabsorption of the Müllerian ducts: no fallopian tubes, uterus, cervix, or upper vagina. However, because the androgen signal cannot be received, Wolffian ducts do not form: no efferent ducts, epididymis, vas deferens, or seminal vesicle. Also, the brain is not fully masculinized, as the bulk of brain masculinization is androgen-induced, not SRY-induced.

    The final CAIS result is external female genitalia, a shallow vagina, active testes producing male gametes, male-normal androgen levels, and no internal genitalia (male or female) beyond the testes and vagina. The testes may remain undescended, or may descend into the labia majora (homologous to the scrotum) where they are easily palpable. Gender identity is most frequently female, due to largely absent masculinization of the brain. Secondary sexual characteristics are frequently hyper-feminine: in contrast to a CAIS individual, a typical woman express some androgen-induced characteristics (albeit vastly reduced from the same in a typical man). In particular, CAIS individuals frequently have little to no body/pubic hair, and highly feminine facial bone structure. For this reason, there is a disproportionate positive correlation between CAIS and supermodels.

    PAIS (Partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome) is much less sharply defined, as it runs the gamut from nearly-CAIS-woman to man-with-micropenis, including everything between the two (depending on how badly impaired the androgen receptors are).

    Note that the athlete in the article clearly does not have androgen insensitivity, either complete or partial, so this line of discussion is irrelevant to that topic. My best guess (as a well-educated layperson) is 46-XX, absence of SRY, with abnormally high testosterone production. The facial bone structure suggests high androgen exposure during puberty, which for reasons of exposure consistency would tend to rule out steroids or an androgenic endocrine tumor, and the female gender identity and (presumed) presence of external female genitalia rules out fetal androgen exposure from testicular tissue (e.g. chimeric absorption of a 46-XY twin brother). Perhaps some genetic disruption of the regulatory regions involved in testosterone production (more likely), or an abnormally strong response to female-typical androgen levels (less likely). My conclusion: in essence, an unusually butch woman.

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