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Medicine Science

The Tricky Science of Olympic Gender Testing 559

First time accepted submitter erdos-bacon sandwich writes "Gender tests may be the most controversial obstacle the athletes face. The London Games tries a new approach based on testosterone. Of all the obstacles athletes have had to overcome to compete in the Olympics, perhaps the most controversial has been the gender test. Originally designed to prevent men from competing in women's events, it is based on the premise that competitors can be sorted into two categories via established scientific rules. But the biological boundaries of gender aren't always clear."
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The Tricky Science of Olympic Gender Testing

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 02, 2012 @03:05AM (#40852979)

    Answer: yes.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 02, 2012 @03:16AM (#40853033)
      Trouble is, sometimes the answer is no.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by drinkydoh ( 2658743 ) *
        That's true. Theravada Buddhism agrees that there are more than two genders. SEA is area with prominently open approach to ladyboys (transponders) and people who do not want to be the gender they were born with.

        However, you must also understand that some (most? I'm not that clear on the subject) don't believe to be women. They don't believe to be men either. They believe they're 'third' gender.

        And they should have the right to be.
        • by drkim ( 1559875 ) on Thursday August 02, 2012 @04:12AM (#40853271)

          SEA is area with prominently open approach to ladyboys (transponders)

          My ladyboy usually squawks 7000.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 02, 2012 @04:15AM (#40853283)

          Except categories in sports are defined by sex not gender so what they believe to be does not matter when it comes to decide in which category they can compete.

          • by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Thursday August 02, 2012 @09:00AM (#40854847)

            So define that? It will not be easy.

            Do you base it on sex organs? Genetic tests, which may not match sex organs? Levels of certain hormones in the blood?

            All of these methods have edge cases.

            • by mcvos ( 645701 )

              Didn't they decide recently that it's about your testosterone levels? Testosterone is the entire reason that men tend to be stronger than women. Is your testosterone higher than a certain level, you compete with the men; is it lower, you compete with the women, no matter what's between your legs.

          • by David Chappell ( 671429 ) on Thursday August 02, 2012 @10:14AM (#40855685) Homepage

            Except categories in sports are defined by sex not gender so what they believe to be does not matter when it comes to decide in which category they can compete.

            Not sure what distinction you are trying to draw between sex and gender. It can be confusing because "gender" now means what we used to call "sex". You have likely read books written before 1950 in which characters use expressions such as "a member of my sex", "the battle of the sexes". The statement "I want to talk about sex." would likely have been understood to mean "I want to talk about the social implications of being male and female."

            I have here a dictionary written in 1955 which under "sex" gives the meaning of maleness or femaleness and "the attraction of one sex to the other". It doesn't even meantion that it could mean the sex act. This meaning appears to have become popular in the 1960's. With sex now being a word that made small boys titter, those who wanted to talk about the social implications of sex (maleness or famaleness) borrowed the term from grammar. It would be too embarrasing to say that one was taking "Sex Studies" in college, so they called it "Gender Studies".

            Having thought about the above, you think you are saying that the problem is deciding who is female biologically as opposed to who can function as a female in society. The problem is that a small but significant part of the population displays testable physical characterisics of both sexes. For example, there are persons who are genetically male, but have female bodies. The IOC is thrashing around trying to find a definition of a female body.

            I think the reason they have dropped testing of all athelets who claim to be female is that once you select women with strong, athletic bodies, you increase the likelihood that some measure of their bodies will be closer to that of male bodies. If you then disqualify them as "technically male", you create a scandal and humiliate them. If, when her picture appears in news stories, the public perceives her as being a member of the female sex, you then look ridiculous as well.

            On the other hand, if you test no one, soon the women's division of sports requiring strength will be filled with men without beards and underdeveloped genitals.

        • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Thursday August 02, 2012 @05:51AM (#40853733) Homepage

          However, you must also understand that some (most? I'm not that clear on the subject) don't believe to be women. They don't believe to be men either. They believe they're 'third' gender.

          Those who don't consider themselves to be either would be lumped into a category like "genderqueer" rather than "transsexual". It's interesting how culture plays into gender identity and sexuality, too. Each society has different "bins", categories people can fall into, and you only get a sort of revolution, a breaking of the norms, when the limits of said categories are too confining for enough of the people in the society. The standard of course, at a minimum, is straight male and straight female. But many societies have had more. Two examples among thousands:

          1) Historic (and to a very tiny degree, modern) Albania had the "sworn virgins". These were people born as woman who would swear an oath to never sleep with a man. They then would live in men's clothing, could marry women, had men's property rights, and so forth; they were legally treated as men. There was no reverse situation. The concept was created to deal with families who only had female heirs, and the person would often swear at a young age, but some people would swear later in life, so there's some mix between "obligation" and "wanting" in the concept.

          2) The Samoan Fa'afafine is people who are anatomically male but live as women and are fully treated as women by society. It's so accepted that it's rare for parents to try to discourage an anatomically male child from living as a Fa'afafine. It is a much more informal concept.

          When you look at societies like that, you find that a lot of people living as the third gender identify specifically as the third gender. Some, however, do not, but said "third gender" is the closest that's accepted in their society to how they feel - for example, a person who is simply gay, or simply transsexual but not attracted to members of the same anatomic sex, is put in a bind. In some cases, being seen specifically as a member of the opposite anatomic sex, rather than a third gender, is very important to the person. And of course, rarely in societies do you see matching pairs of concepts - there may be an accepted third gender for anatomic males or anatomic females without an equivalent for the other.

          A really extreme example of people being forced into specific categories from modern society can be found in modern Iran. Transsexuality is accepted in Iran - not to a great degree (although to a surprising degree) among the populace, but fully accepted within law (actually, it's handled better in Iranian law than in most western nations). Homosexuality, however, is punishable by death. So there can be significant pressure for gay individuals to physically alter their sex.

        • by metrix007 ( 200091 ) on Thursday August 02, 2012 @07:16AM (#40854091)

          Gender is generally considered a separate thing from sex. This article about determining an athletes sex, in which a ladyboy would be considered male, whether they like it or not.

      • by ArsenneLupin ( 766289 ) on Thursday August 02, 2012 @03:52AM (#40853185)

        Trouble is, sometimes the answer is no.

        ... and sometimes, the answer is "both"...

        • by JasterBobaMereel ( 1102861 ) on Thursday August 02, 2012 @08:35AM (#40854649)

          Try Lydia Fairchild she gave birth to three children that were hers biologically, but blood tests showed she was unrelated to ... she is a Human Chimera and has two sets of DNA and chromosomes

          It is therefore possible that the two sets could be different genders... and the answer could really be both ...

          • Try Lydia Fairchild she gave birth to three children that were hers biologically, but blood tests showed she was unrelated to

            Not quite right. The blood tests said she was not the mother, but they were related. The genome they attempted to match was in fact the aunt of the children (and the results showed that degree of relatedness) because her two chimeric genomes were fraternal twins (which is generally how this rare condition works).

    • Really tho, it's only funny due to a plethora of mislabeled porn.

    • by billybob2001 ( 234675 ) on Thursday August 02, 2012 @09:46AM (#40855327)

      The London 2012 Olympics has already definitvely tested all of the athletes, during the opening ceremony.

      Near the end of Paul McCartney's performance of Let It Be, in the singalong "Na-na-na-nah" part, he made some subliminal audience participation requests:

      "Just the men", followed by "Now just the women" - and a host of cameras trained on the athletes recorded who sang along to which section.


  • by Anonymous Coward

    TFA makes a bit of a mess of it by consistently using the term "gender" where they are really talking about "sex". Gender is what your head feels you are, sex is what the body makes you. There is absolutely no rule against a physically female athlete participating in a women's race if she phychologically identifies herself as male. The latter is gender, the former sex.

  • by G3ckoG33k ( 647276 ) on Thursday August 02, 2012 @03:32AM (#40853101)

    Chimaeras ( must be tough.

    First as athletes

    Second for the gender test

    Having every other cell mixed at random shouldn't be all that fun in the long run

  • These grey areas have a potential for a lot of bigger problems than just sports competitions.

    See the sad case of Indian female athlete being accused & arrested for rape [] and actually being manhandled and mistreated by male police officers for 25 days till court granted her bail. []

  • by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Thursday August 02, 2012 @01:47PM (#40858491) Journal

    Many of the posts I read here are missing the point.
    Many seem to argue histrionically that it's not 'fair' to force people into false binary categories, it's not "just", it's archaic, etc.

    The point is this: do you ever want women to win or not?
    Women's athletics were created because of the simple (oh-so-politically-incorrect!) fact that men outperform women in MOST athletics. They are stronger, faster, can throw further, jump higher, etc. It's just physiology.
    So womens athletics was created as a category so they could compete against their peers.

    Now we have edge-cases in determining who is what gender, and we're forced to defend the arbitrary segregation of women into a lower-performing category of their own.

    The simple fact is this:
    - have everyone compete together, and women will pretty much never win most athletic events.
    - let people declare their own gender (a creation of the politically-correct modern age in which 'everybody's choice is valid'), and again, women will pretty much never win most athletic events. The obvious exploitabilty of this system, coupled with the fact that cheating where possible is endemic to modern top-level competitions like the Olympics, should be self-evident.
    - set a test that declares who is female (and thus can compete in the 'easier' category), everyone else is male: the result is that there will ALWAYS be some boundary-cases that indeterminate or go around the test (through biological variation, or deliberate cheating). Some "women" will through their biology get declared "Men" and be unable to compete successfully. Some "men" will likewise get certified as "women" and dominate their field for a while.

    Those are your choices. Personally, I love that reality doesn't bow to political correctness, there's no 'legislating away' this conundrum.

    FWIW I *don't* see the point in gender-split categories like mens and womens table-tennis or chess. There doesn't seem to be any reason for the division except inertia.

  • by debest ( 471937 ) on Thursday August 02, 2012 @04:12PM (#40860557) []

    Princess Anne of Great Britain competed in the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal (equestrian). Unsurprisingly, she happens to be the *only* female competitor to not have to submit to a "sex test" at that games.

  • by Tokolosh ( 1256448 ) on Thursday August 02, 2012 @05:29PM (#40861503)

    Maybe the ancient Greeks were on to something?

    On the plus side:
    Gender assignment by audience applause
    No silly controversies over beach volleyball bikinis
    Beach volleyball

    On the negative side:
    Shot put
    Dangerous hurdles for men

Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards. -- Aldous Huxley