Solidarity With Athletes

I’m originally drafting this in September 2020, which is when the news of an update was announced, but this is being scheduled for November, specifically November 8th or Intersex Solidarity Day (aka Intersex Day of Remembrance). The ‘too long, didn’t read’ version is that I’m hoping to share a bit about how gender/sex policing as it relates to ‘sex verification’ in sports is a more immediately intersexist issue, even though it is harmful to perisex trans folks.

Yes, the implementation of who gets such a verification suggested is racist and aims to uphold a particular white Western sex-as-gender binary, but it’s not quite ‘just transphobia’ in a medical guise. Framing the issue as not accepting trans athletes isn’t quite the point when the women frequently mentioned in 2000s era cases are, to my knowledge, all cisgender (some intersex bloggers might use ‘ipsogender’). I’m not aware of them actively calling themselves intersex, but that doesn’t stop intersexism from being at play. Regardless, this is more of an intersex and trans solidarity issue with intersex women being affected regardless of how the rule-makers handle trans athletes. (Because men have not been the targets of sex verification, I can’t say intersexist rules will affect them in a similar manner.)

First, I kind of need to set the scene.

Officials in charge of who gets to compete in athletics, especially at the international level like the Olympics, have had a concern that supposed men might try to compete in the women’s events. Sex ‘verification’ tests go back to the 1950s and anti-Communist stuff, which means that early examples of athletes affected tend to be Eastern European. It started with ‘nude parades’ before a panel of doctors, switched to chromosome testing in 1968, revealed the amount of women who hadn’t known they had something considered intersex who “failed” the tests, and by 2000, had evolved into a case-by-case verification that often focuses more on hormone testing in the public arena (specifically, testosterone levels). (I’m not coming up with anything new, and the Sex verification in sports wiki page goes into more detail and has more sources.)

Due to no longer doing sex verification tests to all athletes competing in women’s events and only doing it when someone’s sex is supposedly called into question, examples of affected athletes from the 2000s on tend to be athletes of color who are (probably) evaluated under the premise of determining hyperandrogenism. From a 2014 OII Australia article sharing the news of a British Medical Journal report about four women “from developing countries” being forced to undergo ‘corrective’ surgeries in order to compete: “The authors note that issues of ethnicity, nationality and perceived masculinity are interrelated, and authorities ‘actively investigate any perceived deviation in sex characteristics’.”

I would like to note that these supposedly corrective surgeries included partial clitoridectomies or the removal of part of the clitoris, which are unnecessary to address hormone levels because the clitoris does not produce testosterone. The gonads – testes or ovaries – are involved, which would be an orchidectomy {BrE; an orchiectomy in AmE} or oophorectomy of some sort. A reduction in a clitoris deemed to be ‘too large’ by outside authorities has no bearing on athletic performance regardless of what they consider the source of the athlete’s hyperandrogenism. It’s not really subtle in some cases that ‘hyperandrogenism’ is a cover for the attempted correction of any deviation in sex characteristics, but back to the timeline.

Dutee Chand was disqualified from the 2014 Commonwealth Games due to hyperandrogenism regulations dating to 2011, which led to Dutee Chand vs AFI & IAAF going before the Court of Arbitration for Sport in 2015:

The Court of Arbitration for Sport […] questioned the athletic advantage of naturally high levels of testosterone in women and therefore immediately suspended the practice of “hyperandrogenism regulation” by track and field’s governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations. It gave the organization […] two years to provide more persuasive scientific evidence linking “enhanced testosterone levels and improved athletic performance.”

– “Dutee Chand, Female Sprinter With High Testosterone Level, Wins Right to Compete” (July 2015). This is also covered in this tumblr reblog chain that starts out with questioning gender/sex segregation in sports like archery, surfing, and chess.

I did not set out to try to write anything comprehensive about intersexism in sports, but now that I’ve finally reached the point where I can talk about the update about Caster Semenya, I’m tired of reading about bullshit regulations from the IAAF. She’s been dealing with public debate around sex verification testing, hyperandrogenism, and rules aimed at intersex athletes since 2009 with varying times when she could and couldn’t qualify for international stuff. (I’m not giving a blow-by-blow account. She has a wiki page with sources.) “Bias Against Intersex Olympics Athletes Is What’s Unfair – Not These Athletes’ Bodies” dates to 2016, and while it specifically addresses comments a fellow athlete made, it’s a pretty good explanation for the assumptions, fallacies, and just wrong shit that gets dragged into conversations about women with hyperandrogenism competing. This brings us to 2018.

In April, the IAAF announced new rules that required athletes with specific ‘disorders of sex development, testosterone levels of 5 nmol/L and above, and certain androgen sensitivity’ to take medication to lower their testosterone levels. (This seems a bit overly specific, y’know?) These rules would also apply to only those athletes competing in the track events that Caster Semenya competes in. (Like, they’re not even being subtle.) Understandably, she challenged that. From my understanding of 2019, there was a ‘nah, we’re not listening’ decision, an appeal higher up, a ‘we already told you to stop the DSD regulations’ ruling, and then a waiting game during which the rules were considered in effect. (“Ten ethical flaws in the Caster Semenya decision on intersex in sport” was published May 2019 around the time of upholding the DSD rule.)

In October of 2019, the IAAF got a new name, World Athletics, but the case before the Court of Arbitration for Sport is still Caster Semenya vs ASA & IAAF because it was filed in 2018. So, this brings us to September of 2020. Basically, Caster Semenya lost her appeal and still has switched the specific track events she’s in in order to compete without taking anti-androgens (or undergoing surgery) to reduce her testosterone levels. See: “With New Ruling Against Semenya Caster, Track and Field Upholds Restrictive Gender Norms Rooted in Racism”, “Caster Semenya loses appeal in Swiss court over restriction of testosterone levels”, and “Caster Semenya continues to be punished for simply being born”.

I honestly can’t say that any individual reading this blog can change what an international sports court has ruled, but I hope that it might be a little more clearer about why intersex focused blogs specifically talked about intersexim when Semenya lost her appeal and why some bloggers might not have been very keen on trans focused blogs subsuming this conversation within the lens of transphobia.

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