Normalizing Gender for Olympians

An opinion piece in the New York Times by Jennifer Finney Boylan, “The XY Games”, explores the practice of gender testing in the Olympics to determine that female athletes are in fact female. The author discusses the history of this testing, its faults, and the ambiguity of sex and gender. Amongst some of the things that one might want to discuss is the following:

“So what makes someone female then? If it’s not chromosomes, or a uterus, or the ability to get pregnant, or femininity, or being attracted to men, then what is it, and how can you possibly test for it?

The only dependable test for gender is the truth of a person’s life, the lives we live each day. Surely the best judge of a person’s gender is not a degrading, questionable examination. The best judge of a person’s gender is what lies within her, or his, heart.”

With the reaction to even the possibility that Oscar Pistorius would compete with “normal” athletes (see the comments on this news story for example), it’s hard to imagine folks being content with the “only dependable test for gender” that Boylan proposes in the context of maintaining the kind of sexual segregation that characterizes sporting competitions.

For more on the story of Maria Patino, the Spanish hurdler who was banned from the 1988 Olympics in Barcelona for a Y chromosome turning up on her smear, see here; the biologist and feminist Anne Fausto-Sterling also has a more extended discussion in ch.1 of Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality (Basic Books 2000).

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