Friday, August 8, 2008

Gender Verification: Some Don't Know What "Masculine" and "Feminine" Are Anymore.

There is nothing more demeaning and denigrating than subjecting a female athlete to "gender verification" via a saliva test, also known as a "femininity" test.

Routinely administered at every Olympiad to ensure a level playing field, gender verification has had engendered considerable controversy. According to Myron Genel the most notiorious case revolved around Spanish hurdler Maria Patino, who was publicly outed after failing her femininity test during an event in Tokyo, at the cost of public disgrace and loss of her athletic scholarship. It would take two years and the active intercession of a number of medical authorities on behalf of Ms. Patino's behalf, whose test failing was attributed to androgen resistance, to be reinstated.

So-called "intersex" athletes -- those who have genital abnormalities, also faced public ostrasization, though these abnormalities were no fault of ther own. There is indeed some insidious cultural biases at work here. As Dr. Eduardo Hay stated in a 1974 report, "In certain cases, women athletes have derived advantages from certain anatomical anomalies...Such anomalies, without depriving her in any way of her social or psycho-social status, give the woman athlete endowed with these masculine anatomical conditions, an unfair and unlawful advantage over the anatomically normal woman athlete."

This is where code words like hermaphrodism, pseudohermaphrodism and intersexuality are thrown into the mix, adding a lot of cultural baggage into the equation. And then there's the issue of transgendered athletes and whether or not they should be allowed to compete on the same parity level as everyone else. This brings to mind a tasteless sex joke from a vintage late 1970's episode of the Shields & Yarnell variety show: "And now we present 'A Man and a Woman,' as performed by Dr. Renee Richards.

This is not just about keeping things "not only free of sin, but free from the appearance of sin" (to quote former TV game show host Jim Perry) and keeping the playing field level. It's about all the socio-political and cultural baggage that comes with it.

The redefinition of gender roles and what constitutes "masculine" and "feminine" gets more complex when sexual orientation and the accompanying "butch/femme" dichotomy is thrown into the Osterizer. This is highly relevant given that more and more openly gay and lesbian athletes are competing in the Olympic games. As Jim Buzinski points out in, "Of the 10,708 athletes who will march into Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Olympic stadium on Friday, Outsports is aware of only 10 who are publicly gay, on par with the 2004 Games. There is also a bisexual American softball player...Of the 10 publicly gay Olympians this year, only one is a man: Matthew Mitcham (Australia, diving). The out lesbians are: Judith Arndt (Germany, cycling), Imke Duplitzer (Germany, fencing), Gro Hammerseng and Katja Nyberg (Norway, handball and a lesbian couple), Natasha Kai (U.S., soccer), Lauren Lappin (U.S., softball); Victoria "Vickan" Svensson (Sweden, soccer); Rennae Stubbs (Australia, tennis) and Linda Bresonik (Germany, soccer)." Buzinski goes on to note that "The number for Beijing comes with a huge caveat and must be seen in context. There is no doubt there are many more gays and lesbians competing in Beijing, but these 10 are the only ones we can determine to be “publicly out,” having discussed their sexuality openly in some manner. For all we know, there is a gay rower or badminton player somewhere known as gay within his or her sport, but not in a larger public context."

This phenonemon is noteworthy for a number of reasons. There is discomfort about gay athletes about their sport being perceived as "queer" or "gay." Not only has the discomfort resulting in many staying deep inside the closet, but also in sham marriages with beards. It comes as no surprise that the need to pass is intense, and the cultural labeling only serves to exacerbates things even further.

Perhaps the best solution to all this controversy is this: let's just accept thse athletes for who they are and what they have accomplished, or will accomplish in the future. And speaking of gender verification, why don't we subject every male athlete to a femininity test, so that they can understand and appreciate what women athletes have to go through?

In the interests of "fair play" and keeping a level playing field, it's only fair, isn't it?

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