Wednesday, September 02, 2009

That's A Man*

One of the things that hasn't been talked about yet is the devastating effects of these gender tests on the people that fail them.

Imagine that one day for whatever reason, athletic competitions, et cetera, you take a medical test that you expect will confirm what you know and have deeply felt since birth. You were raised as female, you have no doubts about your gender identity, and your body and your reflection in the mirror confirm that.

Now imagine how you would feel if the results of that gender test aren't quite what you expected.

In 1967 Ewa Klobukowska was preparing to compete in the European Cup Championships being held in Kiev. She was the co-holder of the then women's 100m world record at 11.1 seconds. She'd won a bronze in the 1964 Tokyo Games along with a relay gold medal.

Then her chromosome test came back. Because she had "one chromosome too many," she was a man*.

She was stripped of her world record, her Olympic medal and barred from international competition.

A year later it was Erika Schinegger's turn. In 1966 she'd become the World Cup skiing champion and subsequently a national shero in that skiing mad country.

Schinegger was one of the favorites to win gold at the upcoming 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France until her gender test came back with results shocking to her.

Turns out Erika was chromosomally male due to an intersex condition. That condition was missed at birth and she was raised as a girl. After discovering this information, Erika transitioned to become Erik, competed on the men's skiing tour for a few years, married in 1975 and now runs a ski school.

Spanish sprinter Maria Jose Martinez Patino arrived in Kobe, Japan, in 1985 to compete at the World University Games. She'd passed previous genetic sex-determination tests, but in this instance she'd forgotten her Certificate of Femininity and had to retake the test.

She failed it after discovering she had androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS) and was a woman with 46XY chromosomes.

The failed test had devastating and humiliating consequences in Patino's life. Not only was she barred from competing for several years, she lost an athletic scholarship, watched her boyfriends walk out of her life and ultimately, the chance to compete in the 1992 Olympics being hosted in her country.

Patino lost time during her peak athletic competition years fighting to regain her eligibility. It cost her a chance to qualify for the Barcelona Games as she failed to qualify for the Spanish team by hundredths of a second.

Patino retired from athletics, picked up her PhD and is now an university professor.

Santhi Soundarajan was an up and coming runner who held the Indian national record in the 3000m steeplechase and was the 800m silver medalist at the 2005 Asian championships.

Her world as she knew it came to an end after she repeated her silver medal winning performance at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, Bahrain. She underwent a gender test and failed it.

She went from being a potential medalist at the Beijing Games to being stripped of her Asian Games silver medal. Despondent over the test, she reportedly attempted suicide in September 2007. She regrouped and became a successful running coach in India.

So as South Africa's Caster Semenya and the world awaits the results of the gender test, it is with this backdrop of negative history what her potential fate will be if it comes back with a negative result. At the same time, it also lets her know that there is life after a adverse gender test.

But it points out once again that in humans, there is a extremely fine line hormonally that separates male from female.

It's past time we recognize that.

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