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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 xZgf6xHx2uhoAj9D (1160707) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @06:07PM (#29158071)
    Even more confusing, how would you classify a chimera [wikipedia.org] where some body parts have Y chromosomes and some don't?
  • Re:Medical advantage (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NoobixCube (1133473) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @06:13PM (#29158139) Journal

    To expand on what you said, if she's banned or pulled back because of her genetic condition, then you can probably expect your gold medal in the mail any day now. Treating people differently for their genetics has a very bad history so far, and sets a bad precedent for the future. Wake me up when the question is about whether someone genetically engineered to be better should compete in the same league as naturals. That's an interesting topic since genetic engineering could be construed as a performance enhancement.

  • Bloody difficult. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by El Jynx (548908) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @06:14PM (#29158147)

    Considering that there are plenty of creatures which can be hermaphrodites, and that there are rare genetic variations (YXYY, for example) where one is born with e.g. male characteristics while the sexual organs may be female, this is a difficult point. Where do you draw the line? I know of a few lesbians who, except for the chest, could easily pass for male: large arms and hands, low voice, etc.

    The sexual differences are fairly pronounced for "normal" men and women, but there are plenty of in-betweens. Methinks the only thing they can do is make an extensive study of all the differences between men and women, and say that if more than an x number of variables lean towards the one or the other, the person in question must be considered as being of the opposite sex. Either that, or you have to create the Hermaphrodite Olympics. They'll probably still have to investigate each case separately either way.

  • "Unfair" Advantages (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Cassander (251642) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @06:32PM (#29158345)

    I really hate this idea that people with any kind of advantage aren't allowed to participate in athletic competitions. What's the point, then? How far should we take it? Next thing you know, people will be rejected for the "unfair advantage" of simply having spent their life training for the event. (This actually already happens in the olympics to some extent with their ban on "professional" athletes in events like basketball).

    Our "world records" are quite meaningless when the individuals with the greatest chance of actually setting one aren't allowed on the field. I also think it's inappropriate to ban athletes that have subjected themselves to chemical augmentation. I would suggest keeping separate "augmented" and "non-augmented" records, but ultimately it's impossible to determine where to draw the line between augmentation and things like tailored dietary supplements. But our records are a joke. We have no idea who the fastest human runner on the planet is, because he's not allowed to officially compete.

    Cases like this also illustrate the ridiculousness of gender segregation in athletics. Does anyone with a basic science education actually still believe that there are only two genders? Should we have yet another segregated league for XXY athletes like M. Semenya? If we are going to acknowledge the tendencies for different genders to have different athletic abilities, why not acknowledge the tendencies among different races, age groups, cultures, shoe sizes, etc? I know, let's just put every individual in their own little athletic division and they can set records against themselves all day long. Imagine the profits for Guinness!

  • Re:Genetic (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@@@hackish...org> on Saturday August 22, 2009 @06:33PM (#29158351)

    Indeed, some more organized and large countries (China being the most effective current example) have programs to try to find people with particular genetic variants to recruit into sports. Want to dope people with testosterone but it's illegal? Find someone with abnormally high levels of testosterone naturally! Thinking of competing in a sport where HGH would help? Find a guy who naturally produces really high levels. Etc.

    I guess I don't find that process that interesting. Is there really anything better or more fair about a guy who produces abnormally high levels of HGH, vs. someone else injecting HGH? Why is one more interesting to watch than the other? It seems the only possible answer is attaching some sort of mysticism to the fact that one was "natural".

  • Re:Bloody difficult. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 22, 2009 @06:38PM (#29158411)

    And yet trans people can compete at an Olympic level if they meet specific requirements by way of medical status.
    So let me ask a bigger question. Why does it matter?

    Keep in mind that I ask as a trans woman myself... Why does it matter what her genotype is?
    There is no way that I could compete at that level with any of those women regardless of my biological history, and after 5 years on hormones and androgen blockers, I'm much closer to the strength of a cis woman than anything else, and I know many who are stronger than I.

    This effect is only enhanced when someone has SRS... testosterone production drops to near zero, and muscle density and power follows it down.

    So... the question is... So What?

    For further perspective, check this article: http://transgriot.blogspot.com/2009/08/black-female-athlete-dominates.html [blogspot.com]. This is not an isolated incident, this is a common accusation in sports.

  • Re:Medical advantage (Score:4, Interesting)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @06:46PM (#29158505)

    Assuming you're right (and I don't know either way), I imagine that such a rule would disappear quickly if these transgendered women started *winning* against the `real' women consistently. They would only allow something like that if it didn't actually make a difference. Once it made a difference, people would argue it was unfair and it would be thrown out.

    I'd have to say the entire idea of athletic competition is a farce. We say genetics don't matter, but we've got demonstrated proof that certain clusters of genes lead to better physical performance -- and that almost without fail, the athletes in the top 0.01% of their sport have some or all of those genetic markers. Arguing over who is more 'real' than others is an argument that goes against nature; Questions about how 'real' they were would never come up if they weren't in a competition. If they weren't being reduced from human beings into objects for us to cheer, dissect, and comment about.

    We're creating an arbitrary line in the sand -- telling people they can't take certain drugs, or that their hormone levels need to be a certain way, or that they need to be born in just such a fashion, or raised just so -- in order to pass for "real". Most of the debate on this forum is not intellectual discourse but a mere re-arrangement of our prejudices.

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @06:46PM (#29158511)
    *IF* they insist on dividing the competitions between males and females (and I admit that they usually have good reason for doing so), THEN they should strictly stick to their categories. XY for male, XX for female, with no significant genital "abnormalities" that may affect the outcome.

    At the same time, however, maybe they should consider an "other" category. Just so the minority is not left out. The "really special" Olympics, shall we say.
  • by Reemi (142518) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @06:56PM (#29158597)

    From wiki:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foekje_Dillema [wikipedia.org]

    "In 1950 Dillema was expelled for life by the Dutch National Athletics Federations. A gynaecologist concluded that Dillema was an intersex."

    "In 2008, a controversial DNA-test on dead cells from her clothing found that she may have been a Genetic Mosaic, having both 46XX (female) and 46XY (male) chromosomes in approximately a 3 to 1 ratio. "

  • Re:Bloody difficult. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Narcocide (102829) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @06:59PM (#29158623) Homepage

    As a trans woman yourself, do you mind if I ask you a serious question?

    Please forgive my ignorance as well as the fact I am going to ask in this same post without permission anyway; Do you think that we are doing the LONG-TERM future of competitive sports an injustice by not just completely removing gender segregation entirely from sports and finding a more fair type of skill stratification based on actual strength and endurance testing rather than naive and sometimes incorrect gender/chromosome-based assumptions?

  • Welcome to numbers (Score:3, Interesting)

    by holophrastic (221104) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @07:01PM (#29158643)

    This is pretty rediculous. This is what happens when silly people organize silly things, then orchestrate silly rules to keep the silly things from becoming too silly, then those silly rules forget the initial point.

    The reason men and women don't compete together is because "there will be a disparity between men and women". So they have been seperated. Now someone's saying that this person isn't slow enough to fall into the women's category. Well good news, your whole "split them up by speed" still works.

    There are many "marathons" these days. Just general fitness or charity "start here, move yourself across/around the city, end there". Often, you can walk, jog, or run. Obviously the ones walking don't beat the ones running. No one expects them to -- they are simply slower. But still all three "speeds" compete in the event.

    What's even more rediculous is that the entire concept of the split is purely for the observer. The woman still scored a 6, and the man still scored a 5. It really doesn't matter how the other women and men scored. That women is better than that man. Why is this a problem.

    Throw them all into the same pool. Let the faster ones finish first, and let the slower ones finish last. When all ten women are slower than all ten men, every observer watching from the stands or on TV will say that the best women came "first in her class" -- just like in auto-racing with multiple classes of cars. Hell, put stock cars, formula-1 cars, bicycles, men, women, teenagers, toddlers, infants, and embryos on the same track. I'll expect the formula-1 cars to be faster tha the embryos, it's ok, I can split them up into classes all on my own -- from the results.

    It's like I always say to servers in a restaurant who ask my party if we want seperate bills: "thanks, but I can divide a $20 lunch all by myself".

    So quit the grouping for no reason -- it's not like they're competing with each-other directly, it's only their scores that compete. When there's a large gap between number 6 and number 7 in the standings, I'll put my group seperation there. And when there isn't, I won't.

  • WTF? Sour grapes (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ritz_Just_Ritz (883997) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @07:02PM (#29158647)

    For fook sake...if someone is born with a vagina and they haven't taken drugs or gotten surgery to get there, they are a woman.

    To try to weed someone out of the athletic process because God (or whatever you believe in) has given them "a little extra" is absurd.

    Are we going to treat the Olympics like a dog show and start delving into genetics and "quality of their coat" and all the other BS nitpicks that people use to judge dogs in order to allow people to compete in sports? Absent an obvious attempt at cheating, I find this whole line of "testing" to be repulsive.

  • Re:Easy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Patch86 (1465427) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @07:11PM (#29158723)

    According to the venerable BBC report on the subject, it isn't as simple as all that. While the vast majority of us possess chromosomes in the traditional formations XX and XY, there exist some 25 OTHER possible arrangements, which, taking into account a variety of other factors, can lead to an even larger possible selection of physical effects and outcomes.

    The vast majority of us aren't in rigorous physical competition, and so might never know if we are one of these "intersex" conditions. If she of TFA does, how do you interpret the results?

  • Re:Bloody difficult. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Orion Blastar (457579) <orionblastar@noSPAm.gmail.com> on Saturday August 22, 2009 @07:34PM (#29158929) Homepage Journal

    Well then change how the Olympics and other athletic games are played.

    Have a Men's division for the XY chromosome.

    Have a Women's division for the XX chromosome.

    Have a Others' division for the different genetics that cannot be determined to be a male or female, or maybe be both or some genetic anomaly. Call it the MultiGender class.

    Yeah a simple DNA test, have all applicants submit DNA samples before they are classified to verify for each category. That way there won't be something like hormone therapy or performance boosting drug taken to medically treat the genetic disorder in the Men's and Women's division and the MultiGender class can be the one that that is legal for it as it is a medical condition.

    Either that or make it Andy Kaufman style and change it to the Intergender Olympics and Intergender Athletic and let anyone of any gender compete with each other.

  • Re:Genetic (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Sique (173459) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @07:34PM (#29158931) Homepage

    Persons who have the chromosome configuration XYXX tend to develop female genitals, even though they have an Y. So what are they?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 22, 2009 @07:42PM (#29159009)

    We probably need to change the Men's divisions to Open or Unrestricted divisions. These divisions are open to anyone regardless of gender but in reality will be almost entirely standard definition men with the occasional high-testosterone non-male. The Women's divisions will only be for those with the standard XX genetic configuration.

  • Re:Genetic (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Hungus (585181) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @08:23PM (#29159273) Journal

    Here you go in a nice logical format:
    the set "Proper Y" belongs to the superset "Y" or Yo -> Y
    the set "Defective Y" belongs to the superset "Y" or Y' ->Y
    Yo+Y' = Y
    Y -> male
    Y' -> male
    therefore the statement that "The only time such women typically discover they have a Yis when they discover they have fertility problems." is a nonsensical. Your statement should thus be:"The only time these men with female genitalia typically discover they have a Y is when they discover they have fertility problems."

  • Re:Easy (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 22, 2009 @08:48PM (#29159511)

    Easiest method: Females' pointer finger is longer than the ring, on males it's longer ring than pointer... test it out at home.

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

    by Estragib (945821) <estragib@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Saturday August 22, 2009 @08:56PM (#29159577)

    Your source disagrees with you. You probably cite this:

    According to the ISNA definition above, 1 percent of live births exhibit some degree of sexual ambiguity.

    But we're talking about this:

    Between 0.1% and 0.2% of live births are ambiguous enough to become the subject of specialist medical attention, including surgery to disguise their sexual ambiguity.

    [...]

    According to Leonard Sax the prevalence of intersex "restricted to those conditions in which chromosomal sex is inconsistent with phenotypic sex, or in which the phenotype is not classifiable as either male or female" is about 0.018%.

  • Re:Easy (Score:3, Interesting)

    by crmarvin42 (652893) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @09:01PM (#29159611)
    Anything that makes her develop into a woman is the result of the SRY gene being silenced.

    In this case Phenotype is more important than genotype. It'd be like a professional body building association requiring all body builders be tested for genes that result in superior muscling, which are very rare. Something like the Double Muscling genes. Ultimatly the Constitution lied and we are all not "Created Equal". Some of us a genetic predispositions to excel in various endeavors. She shouldn't be punished. If she has female phenotype, then she is a female. Regardelss of whether or not the SRY gene is present anywhere, it's not being expressed.
  • Re:Easy (Score:2, Interesting)

    by brizzadizza (1195159) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @09:15PM (#29159705)

    Kudos to you on your excellent post. Its refreshing to see you didn't get defensive at the "Fucking Moron" thing. That said, I believe, although this may be an unwarranted assumption on my part, the GP meant to suggest that even though a person could be chromosomally male or female they could in fact be gendered in other ways. And this is before considering things like Turner Syndrome or other sex chromosome related syndromes. We would most likely all agree that a developmentally standard individual should be sexed according to their external genitalia, but what of androgen insensitive males who were raised as females (a practice that used to be common) or women with Turner Mosaicism wherein many of her cells would exhibit XO and others would exhibit XX. Aneuploidy is a heady subject with some interesting implications for our understanding of sex and gender. Course, I could be way wrong about the intention of the GP, he seems kind of like a dick.

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

    by jamesh (87723) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @09:36PM (#29159879)

    If your body, for whatever reason, allows you to outperform others without the interference of artificial performance-enhancing substances, congratulations. You win.

    Not so fast there Mr/Ms everything-is-either-black-or-white. The whole point is that we separate mens and womens competitions so that each body type can compete on a (more) level playing field. If her body type better belongs in the mens competitions (genetics aside) then she really should be competing there instead.

  • Re:Easy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nbauman (624611) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @11:46PM (#29160541) Homepage Journal

    Not only is the genetics of sexuality complicated, scientists haven't even identified all the genes.

    Even worse, they identified a lot of genes that turned out to wrong.

    Remember USP9Y? That's the gene that's supposed to be responsible for loss of sperm production in deletions of the AZFa region -- the balls of the AZFa region, as it were.

    The New England Journal of Medicine had a report last February of a man who had the whole USP9Y gene deleted, and still was able to produce sperm. In fact, his father had the same USP9Y deletion.

    You can divide the genes that determine human sexuality into two groups. One group determines the form that genitals take. The other group determines all the other physical and psychological aspects of sexuality. Conceptually, it's easy to see how someone could develop with female genitals and everything else male. That doesn't mean that anyone has identified it as a syndrome, much less the genes and protein-level mechanisms.

    I assume they'll give Caster Semenya a karyotyping, FISH, and test for every known gene involved with sexual development. Maybe they'll find an abnormality, and maybe they won't.

    But that won't answer the question. Is somebody female because she has female genitals, XX karyotype, some arbitrary sex-determining genes, female hormones, female body type, or female reproductive ability? Gender is a social construct, not a lab test.

    (BTW, I think the New Scientist had an article on this subject of sex tests for athletes a few years ago.)

  • Re:Easy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CronoCloud (590650) <cronocloudauron@gma i l . c om> on Sunday August 23, 2009 @12:32AM (#29160807)

    Even more important: unlike trannies (no offense intended to any TG folk reading this), we intersexed people do not choose to be in the situation we are in. I

    Interesting post you wrote. I'm transgendered, and I, meaning I personally, didn't choose to be trans. Trans is something I am, not that I pay attention to those HBSers who call themselves brain-intersexed that annoy you IS people so much. I didn't choose to be trans, but how I respond to trans and act upon my trans...that is the choice.

    I've been touched by IS too, and my genito-urinary system has given me trouble since I was young. Had a nice perineal urethrotomy in late spring to bypass all that. But I don't identify as IS, since, again, I know how IS folk feel about what they see as some transfolk trying to appropriate the IS identity and I had read about transgender stuff before I even knew I was IS. Doctors had never explained my problems to my parents and never ever used the word hypospadias. I was curious when my problems started getting worse a few years back and went back to the hospital and asked for my old records as a kid (when they tried to fix my recurring meatal stenosis and urethral strictures....twice)

  • Re:Easy (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Trillian_1138 (221423) <slashdot@frMENCK ... com minus author> on Sunday August 23, 2009 @03:20AM (#29161617)

    I'd like to echo CronoCloud's sentiment, as another trans /.er: Being trans isn't something anyone chooses to be.

    I totally understand and respect the more understandably medical situation that intersexed people are in and, for you, the issues that required a particular medical/biological solution. Likewise, if I'm misunderstanding what you wrote, kimvette, I apologize. All that said, I read, "It's not like we're cheating. We're dealt an unusual hand and society often punishes us for it because we do not conform to the norm." as implying A) trans people are cheating and B) trans people - and any who don't fit into nice, simple, gendered boxes - aren't also dealt an unusual hand, and punished accordingly for it by society.

    (I'm realizing as I reread your post that it's entirely possibly you mean "It's not like we're cheating" in reference to the original issue of the athlete in question. If that's the case, scratch the above paragraph.)

    I don't want to get into an Oppression Olympics, and I'm not for a second trying to deny the very real issues that all intersexed people, and you specifically, have faced. But I hope it's possible to express your experiences without feeling the need to justify them by calling into question the validity of trans experiences.

    -Trillian

  • by sqldr (838964) on Sunday August 23, 2009 @06:28AM (#29162327)

    On the face of it, this sounds like the best option, but when you get down to the dirty details, it gets a bit more complicated.

    I can't remember the name of the individual, but a women's football swedish striker was signed for an italian team, in what was originally described as a publicity stunt. It eventually caused controversy when one player, who was obviously into "traditional" values voices his concerns about tackling, basically saying he was nervous about doing "rough" full-contact tackles because of fear of harming her.

    You could just explain to the guy that she has signed up and agreed to do it, and if she breaks her legs then that's her own stupid fault, but this is a prevalent opinion in a lot of players, and could turn the game into a farce.

  • Re:Easy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kt.foss.zealot (1442361) on Sunday August 23, 2009 @09:27AM (#29163015)

    I too am a transgendered slashdotter,
    And as I see it, being transgendered is not a choice, just like being born with any condition is not a choice, if someone has gender dysphoria, it's there, there is no choice about that. While technically choosing to transition IS a choice, to me it's kind of like the choice between fleeing a burning building or letting it engulf you in flames.

    I don't really understand your need to use transgendered people as a way to validate yourself to slashdotters or society, as I too have been "dealt an unusual hand and society often punishes us for it because we do not conform to the norm." Surely you understand that gender dysphoria is not something anyone chooses?

    As for sports, If I were even interested in competing, I would compete as a woman and I would not feel like I was cheating, I have been on HRT since before puberty so I don't understand how I would have an unfair advantage. Though I would rather see sports not segregated by sex at all, just let everyone compete together, OR have seperate leages based on bodysize/musclemass/whatever.

  • Re:Genetic Advantage (Score:3, Interesting)

    by selven (1556643) on Sunday August 23, 2009 @10:08AM (#29163289)

    I like this. Instead of countries picking their athletes, we could randomly pick people to go. Would be much more interesting.

  • Re:Easy (Score:2, Interesting)

    by p-k4 (113223) on Sunday August 23, 2009 @11:04AM (#29163611)

    One of the most surefire way is to see if her gametes can play their respective roll. If they can manage to form a viable embryo from her egg, case closed.

    On a practical side you would never get this past any ethics committee. They would laugh you out of the room for proposing to create a new human life to determine gender.

  • Re:Easy (Score:2, Interesting)

    by It's Pat (677564) on Sunday August 23, 2009 @02:03PM (#29164919)
    Maya, thanks for sharing. I've read your blog and it sounds like life is very difficult for you. Hang in there! The comments here have helped me understand the full spectrum of possible sexual outcomes. It makes sense: when we are all created from the same parts, then differentiated in the womb based on various genetic and biochemical reasons, it is only logical that there will be a variety of possible outcomes. My point is that you are human as we all are, but you are unaccepted based on our ignorance of your situation and others like you. Your blog and the information you share helps to educate others, so please keep it up. I have no way to understand how difficult life must be for you, and I suppose it must be easy to despair living in a world that judges books by their cover's rather than their content. There are many in this world who know how to look deeper, I hope that you have found some of these folks or that you will find them soon.
  • Re:Easy (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 23, 2009 @03:33PM (#29165581)
    Not sure if they can really answer the "why".

    From the site, I gather you prefer to keep your body more female in appearance but keep the male "bits" still around?

    If that's true, I don't blame you, I'm rather attached to my male bits ;).

    But that's probably why Netherlands has a problem with declaring you a female. With the male bits about, they might be reluctant to let you declare yourself female. A factor is probably how comfortable the more normal females would be with you in a female-only toilet etc.

    FWIW, I suspect more guys are able to cope gracefully with girls (or female looking humans) in a guy-only toilet than the other way round.

    That said, allegedly there was a case where a number of guys were grumbling about a particular female-looking guy allegedly trying to peek at guy's male bits in the toilet. Most guys aren't quite as accepting of that...

    Anyway, I hope you manage to resolve this to your satisfaction (and long term satisfaction too).

    On the bright side, I've heard that for many female humans there often isn't a refractory period after orgasms, unlike for most males (apparently some lucky guys don't have a refractory period).

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