What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
We first reported this story on Dubsism in 2009. Six years ago, we used the Caster Semenya story to demonstrate the absurdity happening in international sports concerning gender identity. The problem is what was once was clearly folly is becoming a reality.
The gender identity issue gives us the most recent example of something which began with legitimate roots, then transmogrified into a twisted version of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” See, the latest installment of the Caster Semenya story comes to us in the form of the Rio Olympics, and the fact that once again, an issue which really should be about competition is being convoluted into something completely different.
Don’t be surprised this garbage came from USA Today. They don’t bother at all to hide anything…it’s right there in the headline:
2016 Games likely to be a ‘trial by fire’ for IAAF, IOC
To really do this justice requires another of our patented Dubsism “break-downs” of this story, because it has more twists than a bag of Twizzlers.
Caster Semenya is a South African runner who could emerge as one of the most compelling figures of the Rio Olympic Games. She is favored to win gold at 800 meters while perhaps breaking track’s longest-standing world record, even as her stunning speed is leading to uncomfortable controversy at the uncertain intersection of gender and athletics — and of human rights and athletic fairness.
There’s the first “politically-correct” buzzword; “fairness.” telling you some heavy-duty bullshit is coming. Not to mention, did you ever notice that whenever we talk about “fairness,” somebody else is about to get screwed?
Semenya has never said she is intersex — a word preferred to the stigmatizing hermaphrodite — but speculation follows her around the globe, her private parts a mortifying matter of public debate. (Intersex is an umbrella term for people who are born with sex characteristics “that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies,” according to a definition by the human rights arm of the United Nations.)
Buzzwords two and three:
“Stigmatizing:” Get ready for a wholesale obfuscating of fact, because that is the first needed step to sell a false narrative. The textbook definition of “hermaprodite” pretty much nails together the framework of the discussion; a person or animal having both male and female sex organs or other sexual characteristics, either abnormally or (in the case of some organisms) as the natural condition.
“Natural condition” is important to note here, because that is exactly how this applies to Semenya, who was born with both primary male and female sex characteristics. Semenya has also failed various “gender tests” given at various times and under varying criteria. The one thing Semenya proves at this point is the UN is finally right about something, there is very definitely a “non-binary” condition in play here.
I find it majorly troubling that the very same UN human rights people who criticize the U.S. for its “human rights record,” while saying NOTHING about slavery, human trafficking, and the outright murder of homosexuals in Africa and the Middle East are the ones now defining “gender.” This will be important later.
The next “buzzword” is “intersex.” This term exists so the stark, scientific, and factual definition of “hermaphrodite” can be softened. Once you blur the lines, it becomes much easier to construct an argument downplaying the fact that biologically, Semenya is male AND female. The dead give-away for that comes in the next paragraph, and it also foreshadows where this is really headed.
Track observers believe Semenya is hyperandrogenous, meaning her body naturally produces high amounts of testosterone, the hormone that helps build muscle, endurance and speed. The International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF), track and field’s governing body, has rules limiting the amount of naturally occurring functional testosterone allowed for female athletes. But today those limits are in limbo.
Did you catch that? Other than the use of a female pronoun earlier in the story, that’s the first time somebody refers to Semenya as feminine. Did you also notice the people doing so aren’t medical professionals or scientists? They are track officials.
Why is that important?
Because what’s happening here is the people making the argument that Semenya is in fact female don’t want anybody to ask the question I’m about to…If Semenya is neither male nor female, and if an argument can be made Semenya is female, why can’t the inverse of that argument also be true…meaning why can’t Semenya also be male? Keep that in mind as you continue reading.
Get ready to watch these people get all wrapped around their own axle.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) suspended them last summer, citing insufficient evidence that high levels give female athletes a boost in performance. The IAAF has until next summer to make a case for its regulations or the court will abolish them. The Rio Games, meantime, fall during an interregnum where the rules don’t apply.
Elevated levels of testosterone don’t improve performance? The entire concept behind doping is to elevate the levels of hormones in the body that build muscle, endurance and speed. Are you really expecting me to buy the idea that now all of a sudden after 60 years of international athletics being awash in artificial hormones that now women are immune to it?
Do they realize they are peddling that nonsense at the same time everybody is up in arms over the Russian doping scandal? Again, there’s a reason why this is so convoluted.
“This is a huge human rights victory,” intersex studies expert Joanna Harper tells USA TODAY Sports, “but sports, not so much.” Harper, chief medical physicist of radiation oncology at Providence Portland (Ore.) Medical Center, means that some intersex athletes may have hormone-fueled advantages over other female competitors in Rio.
First of all, the fact this argument exists suggests there’s more at stake here. Think about it. Why now are we interested in blowing up 6 decades of substantiated knowledge in order to create such a false narrative?
“Fairness.” That’s what “huge human rights victory” means. Remember what I said about “fairness;” somebody is about to get screwed…and here it comes.
Maria José Martínez-Patiño refers to it as a “free-for-all.” She was the world’s most famous intersex athlete in the mid-1980s when, as an elite hurdler for Spain, so-called gender testing found that she had XY chromosomes. She soon learned that her outwardly female form hid internal testes. She lost her place on the national team, her scholarship, her fiancé, her privacy, her sense of self.
“Everything taken away,” Martínez-Patiño says in Spanish, “as if I never existed.”
That’s not the screw-job I’m talking about, but it does serve a purpose for this story. Martínez-Patiño is an honest-to-goodness victim; there was no prior knowledge of the presence of internal testes. But that’s where the difference with Semenya exists. That’s where the case for Semenya as a sympathetic character falls apart. From day one, there was knowledge about Semenya’s anatomy; there’s been years of gender tests involved here.
To understand where Martínez-Patiño is coming from, you have to look at where she’s been.
Maria José Martínez-Patiño sees gender testing from two different lenses, one as a former athlete who fought major adversity and now as a professor and advisor to the International Olympic Committee. Today she is a professor of science education and sport at Spain’s University of Vigo and an advisor to the International Olympic Committee’s medical commission.
And she is strongly in favor of the since-suspended limits on testosterone.
“The reality of sports is someone will always have an advantage,” she says. “It’s very difficult to establish who has it and who does not. We need to have a rule that applies to everybody.”
Here’s is where this is going to get ugly. The production of certain hormones in certain levels is a primary gender characteristic. That fact means in order to have “rules that apply to everybody,” you need either a strict definition of gender which is strictly enforced, or the complete absence of a gender distinction with absolutely no enforcement. I understand there is a school of thought which espouses just such an absence of gender, but stop and think about what happens if that applies to athletics. Without a distinction or enforcement, athletics will become an anatomical “wild west.”
Doubt that? Look at where we are now with nebulous guidelines. Martínez-Patiño’s story exemplifies that.
Martínez-Patiño testified in favor of the IAAF’s upper limits before the arbitration court. That case was brought by Dutee Chand, India’s first female sprinter in 36 years to qualify for the Olympics 100 meters. She was suspended for high levels of testosterone in 2014 — echoes of Martínez-Patiño, who won an appeal of her own decades ago.
Martínez-Patiño was dismissed from the Spanish team ahead of the 1988 Seoul Games because of her sex chromatin test. She appealed based on a condition called complete androgen insensitivity syndrome, which prevents her body from responding to testosterone, negating any advantage. She won her appeal and regained her status. But she failed to make the 1992 Spanish Olympic team; her moment had passed.
“It’d be easy to believe because of the difficulties of that past that I would be opposed to any rules,” Martínez-Patiño says. “That’s not the case. That would not be fair, not be ethical. I understand the positions of other people. I am in favor of rules.”
The difficulty, she says, is balancing the human rights of “intersex” athletes with the competitive rights of other athletes.
There’s that pesky “human rights” term again. See, the trouble is I’m old enough when “human rights” meant ALL humans. That was before we separated everybody artificial groups and decided culturally that anytime somebody didn’t get their way, somehow their “rights” were violated. And therein lies the rub.
Go back to Martínez-Patiño’s statement about “the reality of sports is someone will always have an advantage.” That’s the sticking point here, and for more than one reason.
First, go back to “fairness.” “Fairness” is at best an ephemeral concept which lives in the hothouse of political correctness. The best way to demonstrate that is to point out the theme of the Kurt Vonnegut short story “Harrison Bergeron.” For those of you who didn’t get treated to this gem in ENG LIT 102, it’s all about enforced “fairness,” and while it was written in 1961, it’s prophetic in terms of where we are headed.
In short, it takes place in the year 2081, and amendments to the Constitution dictate that all Americans are fully equal and not allowed to be smarter, better-looking, or more physically able than anyone else. A government official called the Handicapper General is responsible for the enforcement of equality laws by forcing citizens to wear “handicaps,” such disfiguring masks for those deemed to be too attractive, thought-scrambling devices implanted in those deemed to be too intelligent, and tying weighted sacks around the necks of those determined to be too strong or athletic.
Nay-sayers and “fairness” advocates will scoff at that analogy, but if you continue throughout this quoted article and don’t see it, it’s because you don’t want to.
British marathoner Paula Radcliffe made news this month when she said on the BBC that if Semenya is guaranteed to win the 800 “then it’s no longer sport.” She later said in a statement that audio snippets did not capture the complexity of her overall point: “I tried to get across how difficult and complicated the situation is and how finding a solution where nobody gets hurt is pretty much impossible.”
That’s a loaded statement, especially in today’s politically-correct culture. It’s also directly on point, because the reality is this is every bit as much a doping issue; it’s just disguised as a gender issue. The next paragraph is the dead give-away for that (emphasis mine):
The IAAF said in a statement to USA TODAY Sports that it does not comment on individual athletes: “On Hyperandrogenism Regulations, the IAAF has publically confirmed that its regulations were suspended for two years by CAS in 2015 until more evidence is provided as to the precise degree of performance advantage that hyperandrogenic female athletes enjoy over athletes with normal testosterone levels.”
Here’s the problem. First, the argument requires the acceptance of a non-binary gender condition. That obviously exists. Second, we have a system, flawed as it may be, which determines which condition applies to a given individual. But, those conditions are not “multiple choice.” That what happens when you grow from a binary state. “Binary” means “on/off” or “black/white.” The division in athletics is “male/female.” That’s about as binary as it gets, there is no “all of the above.”
So, how did we get here? When Semenya burst on the scene back in 2009 by winning the won the 800 meters at the World Championships with a stunning time of 1:55.45, questions were immediately raised about doping and/or gender. The picture is self-explanatory as to why.
Ever since then, Semenya has been at the center of what has become an honest-to-goodness farce involving the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). At the beginning of this piece, I warned you about serious bullshit to come, and you know it’s here when you have that many acronymed agencies involved; all because they are tap-dancing as fast as they can over “human rights and athletic fairness.” What have I been saying all along about “human rights” and fairness?
The IAAF’s and IOC’s vague policies on gender verification at the time considered testosterone levels, though that was only part of it. After Semenya’s case, the IAAF developed a rule that specified female athletes could not compete with functional testosterone levels above 10 nanomoles per liter, an upper limit determined to be three times higher than 99% of the women who had competed at recent world championships.
With that paragraph, we have proof that a) athletic divisions are now, and are going to continue to be “binary” b) there is at the very least an organization belief in such a structure and c) we are simply discussing where the boundaries are.
The IOC adopted the IAAF rule in time for the London Games, where Semenya won silver at 800 meters, behind Russia’s Mariya Savinova, since caught in her nation’s state-sponsored doping scandal. Semenya was performing at an elite level, but well shy of the promise of her astonishing performances in 2009. Harper says short of surgery that medication — typically Spironolactone and external estrogen — is the most likely way to reduce naturally high testosterone levels.
Semenya has been subjected to gender tests for obvious reasons. We know they’ve told us Semenya possesses primary sexual characteristics for both male and female. At last year’s World Championships.Last year, Semenya failed to advance past the semifinals in the 800 at the This year, coincidentally in the absence of testosterone limits in female athletes per the CAS ruling, Semenya’s performances improved dramatically. She won the 400, 800 and 1500-meter runs at the South African championships…all on the same day. Her time of 1:55.33 in the 800 is the world’s best since 2008.
Now, as the French would say, “J’accuse!”
That’s why Harper believes Semenya is now competing with elevated levels of testosterone, calling her “untouchable” and suggesting her 200 splits and lordly demeanor on the track make her a near-certain bet to win the Olympic 800, with a chance to break the world record of 1:53.28 set in 1983 by Jarmila Kratochvilova of what was then Czechoslovakia. (Allegations of doping against Kratochvilova were never proven).
Here’s where it all comes together…the reason why this is all so convoluted, the “screw job” I was warning you about, and the politically correct farce this story has become. Semenya is biologically not female; by strict definition, Semenya is a hermaphrodite. On top of that, there’s a very real possibility Semenya is doping anyway.
Go back the the question I raised earlier. If an argument can be made Semenya is female, why can’t the inverse of that argument also be true…meaning why can’t Semenya also be male? There’s a couple of good reasons why Semenya would rather be considered female.
The first reason is told by the hands of a stop-watch. Semenya’s world-shattering time of 1:55.33 in the 800 last month is over fifteen seconds slower than the men’s world record. That’s a difference of over 10%, and precisely why there is a division between male and female athletics.
But it also begs a question. In a “binary” world, Semenya and other athletes in a similar condition are either going into competition as “inferior” males or “superior” females. In other words, if “intersex” athletes produce testosterone naturally, isn’t that just another genetic advantage like height in basketball, or long arms in swimming? This is where Harper get’s forced off the fence between “human rights” and “athletic fairness.”
“We allow certain amounts of advantage” in sports, Harper says, “but not overwhelming advantage. For instance, left-handed baseball players against right-handed baseball players. But we don’t let 200-pound boxers get in the ring with 100-pound boxers. At some point, advantages become too great and we need two categories.”
“The reason why women can’t excel against men is a testosterone-based advantage,” Harper says. “The essence of dividing sport is largely based on the testosterone advantage. Using a testosterone-based divide (for women’s sports) is the best that we can do. It’s a compromise of trying to protect female athletes and also giving intersex and transgender athletes the chance to compete. There’s no perfect solution. It’s very difficult. It’s absolutely not the same case as being a very tall or very fast athlete.”
There you have it. The bottom line is Semenya produces too much testosterone to be female, and not enough to be male. On top of that, Semenya has every incentive to complete as a female. She has an advantage, and won’t be tested for enhancing that advantage. “Transgender” athletes who transition from male to female are eligible to compete in the Rio Games without gender reassignment surgery. However, they are required to maintain certain testosterone levels, while “intersex” athletes do not have such restrictions.
“If you were born ‘female,’ then any natural advantage is perfectly legal,” Harper says of Rio. “There’s no testing, no regulations.”
UCLA human genetics professor and chief of medical genetics Eric Vilain sees that as an unfair contradiction. “I’d fully expect a transgender athlete to challenge the rule,” he says.
The important part to understand is testing can tell the difference. Vilain says biological testing can differentiate between natural testosterone produced by an “intersex” athlete and injected testosterone from doping. If the CAS reinstates the IAAF rule next year, stadards and testing return”intersex” athletes will once again face surgery or medication to alter their bodies in order to compete. That’s what Dutee Chand’s attorneys and gender activists argue is fundamentally unfair.
The original headline called this a “trial by fire.” To me, it looks more like a game of ‘hot potato.” Nobody wants to keep their hands on this long enough to end up being the one who has to make the decision as to what the “non-binary” athletic divisions look like. That’s why they are willing to let a bunch of hypocrites like the UN do it.
Honestly, this is a perfect example of political correctness making a bad situation worse. No matter who makes the decision, no matter what the decision is, somebody is going to be excluded. That’s when the cries about “human rights” and “fairness” start all over again.
And that’s where the “big” screw-job comes from. By trying to please everybody in a situation where that simply isn’t possible, this has the potential to create a world in which there are no female athletics, just a “gladiator class” of athletes who are varying degrees of male via genetic, surgical, and/or chemical alterations; or we can heed the timeless words of Mr. Spock…”the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”
While that may not satisfy somebody’s definition of “fairness,” nobody ever said life was fair.