The difficult problem of intersexuality and athletics

I could be wading into murky waters here, and in fact I am, but I have no opinion on the issue of intersexuality and sports, and am just writing this post to solicit opinions—partly to help formulate mine. And forgive me for any errors I make below (but do correct me), as there’s a ton of literature to wade through, and I’ve only skimmed the surface. The issue is one that involves our conceptions of gender, of humans rights, of fairness, and of athletic competitions.

The issue is, of course, the competition of athletes who are transgender or have conditions that increase the levels of testosterone in their bodies, which adds strength so long as the body is not testosterone-insensitive. Over the years, a number of people who have competed as women have been, or have been accused of being, hermaphrodites, intersexes, or of having other medical conditions that increase the level of effective testosterone. (The reverse situation is not a problem, since in most strength sports males score higher than females.) It’s not a problem of duplicity, as I’ve never found a case of a “normal” male masquerading as a female to gain an advantage.

Rather, we have cases like that of South Africa’s Caster Semenya, who won the 800-meter race in this year’s Olympics. Semenya is what we call an “intersexual” individual. While she identifies as female, she has a rare condition of having the “male” XY chromosome constitution, external female genitalia, no ovaries, and internal testes that produce testosterone. There’s little doubt that that added testosterone has given her an added advantage, since after rules stipulating an upper limit of testosterone in female athletes were put in place (and presumably Semenya had to reduce her testosterone through drug therapy), her performances dropped sharply.

In 2015, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), under a ruling from the Court for Arbitration for Sport (CAS), dropped the testosterone-threshhold limit, so there was no longer a limit to the amount of testosterone an athlete self-identifying as female could have. Semenya has almost certainly taken advantage of this rule, and is now virtually untouchable in middle-distances races.  Some women athletes without this “hyperandrogenism” condition feel this is unfair. Others claim that testosterone is simply one of many biologically varying factors that could affect performance (see below), and shouldn’t even be considered.

In November, the International Olympic Committee produced a consensus document on hyperandrogenism and transgenderism, recommending that for both situations, to compete as a woman, “the athlete must demonstrate that her total testosterone level in serum has been below 10 nmol/L [nanomoles per liter] for at least 12 months prior to her first competition (with the requirement for any longer period to be based on a confidential case-by-case evaluation, considering whether or not 12 months is a sufficient length of time to minimize any advantage in women’s competition).”

This upper limit was based on average testosterone levels of some women competing in the 2011 and 2013 World Championships. The testosterone levels were measured in women athletes who already had elevated testosterone from having Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, and then the upper cutoff was set 5 standard deviations above that level. There are medical ways to reduce the testosterone of those above the limit who want to compete as women.

These guidelines, as far as I know, have not been officially adopted by the Olympics, and were not in place in Rio.

As expected giving the current controversies and confusions about gender, reactions to female-identifying hyperandrogenic athletes being allowed to compete as women has been mixed and acrimonious. Here’s a small sampling of opinion from both sides:


And we can get into a whole debate about male-vs-female athleticism, but as it stands, Semenya is, for all intents and purposes, a female. That’s how she was raised. That’s how she identifies. And that’s how she competes.

Ross at The Science of Sport:

I do not believe that women with hyperandrogenism should be competing unregulated.  I believe that the divide between men and women exists precisely to ensure fairness in competition (as far as this is ever possible), and I think that if you respect that division, then a policy that addresses hyperandrogenism must exist.  I think CAS made a ludicrous decision, and I think it is damaging to women’s sport.  Saying that men and women are different is a biological reality, and in sport, the difference has obvious performance implications.  It does not mean “inferior”, but different, so spare me any “patriarchy” nonsense on this (I’ve heard it said, for instance, that women’s performances are slower because of the “fucking patriarchy”.  If you think that, let me save you time and tell you to stop reading now, and save us both the aggravation).

Joanna Harper (a transgender woman athlete) interviewed by Ross (same article):

While human rights advocates are deliriously happy over the CAS ruling, those who love women’s sport are mortified.  Those Intersex athletes who previously used medications to reduce their T [testosterone] are now off of those medications, and are running faster. Allowing these athletes to compete in women’s sport with their serious testosterone-based advantage threatens the very fabric of women’s sport.

. . . If one believes that women’s sports are vitally important, and one has little regard for the rights of a small segment of humanity, then suggesting that women’s sport should only be for those who are 100% female is not unreasonable.

On the other hand, if one is passionate about the rights of marginalized minorities such as intersex or transgender women, and one is not as invested in the benefits of sport to all women, then it is not unreasonable to suggest that anyone who considers herself female should be allowed to compete as nature made her.

Since I believe in both the vital importance of women’s sport and the rights of intersex and transgender women, then I am forced to consider a compromise position, one virtually identical to that espoused by the IAAF and the IOC. [JAC: the new IOC guidelines stated above.]

. . . While there is some validity to the argument that the rights of the many outweigh the rights of the few, I would counter that we can still maintain the integrity of women’s sport if we allow only those intersex and transgender women who compete with typical female T levels into women’s sport. Any advantages that intersex or transgender women might still maintain after lowering their T, are small enough that they will not create an overly unbalanced playing field.

Silvia Comporesti at The Conversation:

But even if testosterone did confer an athletic advantage, this advantage would not be unfair. This is because setting a limit on hyperandrogenism and singling it out from other biological variations that may confer an advantage is – at best – an inconsistent policy. There are plenty of other variations – biological and genetic alike – that are not regulated by the IAAF and, even though advantageous for athletic performance, are not considered unfair for competition.

More than 200 genetic variations have been identified that provide an advantage in elite sport. They affect a variety of functions including blood flow to muscles, muscle structure, oxygen transport, lactate turnover, and energy production. Endurance athletes in particular have been shown to have mitochondrial variations that increase aerobic capacity and endurance. An increasing number of performance-enhancing polymorphisms (genetic variations found at an increased frequency only in elite athletes and that make them who they are) are identified by sports geneticists.

So then why is hyperandrogenism singled out as a biological variation that makes competition unfair? It is singled out because it challenges our deeply entrenched social beliefs about women in sport in a way that other variations do not.

I don’t know enough about this issue to have strong opinions, as it involves negotiating a complex welter of issues, including scientific ones (how strong is the evidence that testosterone gives one an advantage?), philosophical and social ones (should we allow some to self-identify as one gender or another without testing? Is external female genitalia, as in Semenya’s case, sufficient to allow her to be identified as a women?), and moral ones (Should everybody be allowed to compete, and, if so, how many classes of competition should we have?). The only question I’m pretty firm on is that everyone should be allowed to compete, even if there are hormone thresholds. It would be horrible if someone who wanted to be an athlete couldn’t compete simply because of biological accidents of birth affecting their primary and secondary sexual characteristics.

So here are the questions at hand:

  • Should there be any testing of athletes, or should they simply be allowed to compete based on self-identification of gender? (This would, of course, mostly affect women’s sports; some say it would destroy women’s sports.)
  • If not, how many categories of competition do we want? The traditional men’s and women’s sports, or an intermediate category? (The latter would, of course, cause huge problems.)
  • If we don’t accept self-identification and want to retain traditional “men’s” and “women’s” sports, how do we determine the category in which an athlete belongs?
  • If the identification is based on hormones, can we set limits, as the IOC has done, to demarcate the classes? If we don’t use hormones, how do we classify?

And with that I open the discussion to readers.


Caster Semenya


  1. Todd J Morgan
    Posted August 23, 2016 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    I think the ‘fairest’ solution would be to eliminate the categories. Everyone competes against everyone else. Not sure what else could be done.

    • Posted August 23, 2016 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      But that can’t work, can it? In many areas women would simply be shut out of sport.

      • GM
        Posted August 23, 2016 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

        It would in fact be in all areas, except for rhythmic gymnastics and synchronous swimming.

        But that is where this is going — if they allow M2Fs to compete with women, there is no point in having a separate competition, no real woman will be competitive, and it will turn into having a men’s competition and a trans competition

        • Cindy
          Posted August 23, 2016 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

          Trans women can now compete against women without removing their male genitalia, as long as their testosterone levels remain artificially lowered – but still higher than what is permitted for natal females. I can’t find the story now, but I remember reading that a certain trans woman athlete was suing to have the lowered-testosterone requirement removed completely, as that = discrimination.

        • mc
          Posted August 23, 2016 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

          Except that the population of cisgendered women grossly outnumbers that of trans women and intersex individuals.

          • GM
            Posted August 23, 2016 at 5:16 pm | Permalink


            Which is why we should be excluding the trans and intersex people and not the regular women. Someone will suffer inevitably, so it is better that it is the 0.5% of the population rather than the 49.5% of it.

        • Geoffrey Howe
          Posted August 23, 2016 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

          I agree. First off, all ‘natural’ M2F will start dominating the womens competition.

          But then things would get even worse. Men who are good, but can’t win ‘mens’ medals, will attempt to just barely meet the requirements to compete as a women. A sort of weird reverse-doping.

          Men will be pressured to undergo whatever hormone therapy is necessary to qualify for competing as women, and women will be shut out entirely.

          “It would be horrible if someone who wanted to be an athlete couldn’t compete simply because of biological accidents of birth affecting their primary and secondary sexual characteristics.” – PCC

          Well, they would still have a choice. Hormone therapy, or competing in the olympics. While that might be a hard choice, option 2 isn’t an option for all that many people. It’s unfair, but then being born with the right genes to be able to compete in the olympics is also unfair. It’s not like those genes are available to everyone.

          Furthermore, it’s not an either/or decision. They can avoid any kind of disqualifying treatment until they compete and are done competing, and once they are out of the olympics, they can have the treatment done then. It’s a decision about whether or not it’s worth merely deferring, rather than abandoning.

          Now, on the case of someone like Caster… well that’s a special case. One of the people Jerry posted talked about how all athletes are genetic supermen or mutants in some way or another. And I’d agree. You don’t make it to the olympics with everyday ordinary genes. You’ve won a genetic lottery, and some of the ‘rewards’ might be previously unknown mutation that simply make you a superior specimen with regards to a sport. In most cases, that’s fine. Let ‘mutants’ compete.

          However, Casters abnormality is one regarding a primary classification of the olympics. Having a gene for super-speed is different from being born with a normal mans testosterone production facilities, but the external body of a woman. We divide by gender, and she doesn’t neatly line up with that division.

          Now, I’d need to know a lot more about sports and biology to proffer an opinion, but if she were a “Man in womans clothing” so to speak, then she should be forced to compete with men. If she has all the biological advantages that are normal to men, and absent in women, then it’s probably best to re-classify her.

          However, I wouldn’t mind so much if she was allowed to continue to compete as a woman. This is a rare condition, and is not one that can be deliberately adopted. Unlike with transgendered competitors, there is no real slippery slope wherein all women competitors will start to have testes surgically implanted in order to compete. Caster could reasonably stand as a one-off anomoly, whereas Transgendered individuals would be a recurring case.

    • $G
      Posted August 23, 2016 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think this works. There are even divisions within the ‘men’ and ‘women’ separation, such as weight classing. Since we recognize that large enough physical differences within the sexes warrant separation, we can’t then ignore other differences *between* the sexes.

      I mean, it’s not wrongheaded to just want the olympic pool to be divisionless, but it also should be acknowledged how it would pit physically different athletes against one another, often unfairly. I don’t know how fair it is to dedicated, hard working female competitors to ask them to travel across the world and compete against another athlete who identifies as a woman but still retains physical traits (and advantages) from being a man.

  2. Posted August 23, 2016 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Keep it simple. XX and XY, easy to test. Sorry for those XY that identify as a woman: you simply have too many male characters.

    • CJ
      Posted August 23, 2016 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

      Found this paragraph from Nick Lane’s book “Power, Sex, Suicide”:

      “Interestingly, 1 in 500 female Olympic athletes carry a Y chromosome, substantially more than the general population, implying there might be some kind of physical advantage, albeit not hormonal. A relatively high proportion of models and actresses also carry a single Y chromosome. It seems to promote a long, leggy physique, ironically attractive to heterosexual men. Conversely, some men carry two X chromosomes but no Y chromosome; in their case, one X chromosome usually incorporates a tiny fragment of the Y chromosome, bearing a critical sex-determining gene, which stimulates development as a man, but this is not always the case: it’s possible to develop as a man without any Y chromosome genes at all. Rather more common (about 1 in 500 male births) is the XXY combination, known as Klinefelter’s syndrome. Strangely enough, men with this combination would once have qualified for the women’s Olympic Games by the same test that disqualified Maria Patino – the second X chromosome marks them histologically as women, even though they are not. Various other unusual combinations are also possible, some giving rise to hermaphroditism, in which the organs of both sexes are present, for example both ovaries and testes.”

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted August 23, 2016 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

      Can’t respond point by point but I agree with this ^^^^ – I think – males vs. males, female vs. females.

      If Semenya has a certain genetic makeup then so be it. its worse to take drugs to work against a natural genetic makeup.

      … in the cold room. My my, that is good.

  3. Posted August 23, 2016 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    What does science say about the marginal effect of testosterone on athletic performance?

    There are all sorts of advantages people are born with that lead to superior athletic performance. Testosterone is just another, assuming that it is indeed the biggest contributor to male superiority in athletic performance. My intuition says that testosterone is just one of the many advantages that males have.

    Let’s say a hypothetical woman has much higher RBC count (one on par with males) than the rest of the female population and she becomes a great athlete, would we question her suitability to compete in the women’s category?

    • GM
      Posted August 23, 2016 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      What does science say about the marginal effect of testosterone on athletic performance?

      1) Steroids are universally banned as PED, and are in fact the most common doping used in sports.

      2) The main reason males are vastly superior athletically relative to females is testosterone.

      3) The Semenya case is a perfect illustration of the advantage testosterone confers. When she was on testosterone suppressants, she could not crack the 2-minute barrier. While there is widespread suspicion that the main reason she did not break the world record in Rio and did not run the 400m too (where she would have won easily) is because she did not want to generate controversy.

      BTW, the 800m WR was set by Jarmila Kratochvílová in 1983 and is the longest standing record in all of athletics.

      Google pictures of Jarmila Kratochvílová and you will see why that is.

      • Posted August 23, 2016 at 5:12 pm | Permalink


      • dabertini
        Posted August 23, 2016 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

        But the high t is occurring naturally!! Who cares? She should be allowed to compete as a women. Imagine she was forced to take meds to reduce t. Big surprise!! Her results suffered. Yet ped’s are banned. So it is ok to use meds to prevent an athlete from performing at a high level but not for enhancing performance. What next? Ban all bball players who are too tall? Ban all distance runners who have too many slow twitch muscle fibers? Ban all sprinters with too many fast twitch muscle fibers? Where do you draw the line?

        • GM
          Posted August 23, 2016 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

          She is not really a “she”, it’s a genetically male individual with no womb, internal testes and high T that is a result of him/her being genetically male.

          There are women who have naturally high T. It is nowhere near the levels we’re talking about here.

    • darrelle
      Posted August 23, 2016 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

      There is no doubt that steroids are significantly effective at increasing physical performance in several respects. It isn’t a faint signal, it’s very clear. There certainly are sports for which steroid therapies wouldn’t offer any advantages, perhaps darts is a good example, but for most sports they are a clear, significant advantage.

      • FiveGreenLeafs
        Posted August 23, 2016 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

        Indeed. Testosterone is an incredibly “powerful” hormone with wide ranging effects, well beyond the purely physical domain, into the neurological and cognitive domain.

        And it is not only the baseline levels that are highly relevant, but also the dramatic rise in levels (in “men”) in situations of competition, but also historic levels of testosterone during development and fetal life.

        For example, prenatal testosterone levels have (if I understand the science correctly) also a significant impact on the development (and future capacity) of the heart and cardiovascular system…

  4. Petrushka
    Posted August 23, 2016 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps a handicapping system can be figured out, as in golf. Sports have always had age brackets. And Boxing has weight brackets. Perhaps technology will eventually provide other ways of bracketing competitors.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted August 23, 2016 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      Indeed. I looked at chess, which I am familiar with, in another comment.

      Chess do not have gender divisions – they are harmful – and age divisions is more to ease youngsters in than strictly necessary.

      Ratings could also either accept or exclude natural and/or artificial enhancements, as long as they are known so can affect ratings, solving another sports problem.

      At least as long as a separate system looks at health issues of enhancements (allowed or not), which should be the major concern. Today the concern is geared towards the interest of games, not the interest of competitors.

      And that is sick.

      • Posted August 23, 2016 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

        But Chess does have women’s tournaments, ratings, and titles. Of course, women can also compete in open tournaments with men and get the same titles as men. It’s also not a good example because in most sports men have a huge advantage is strength. I’m not someone that thinks men have an inherent advantage in chess, so I think you will start to see more women in major tournaments in the future as more women play chess.

      • FiveGreenLeafs
        Posted August 23, 2016 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

        I think the crucial point is that with a handicap system, you basically compete against yourself (or rather your earlier performances), but, you do it (socially) together with other people.

        But when Usain Bolt and Co line up on the starting block in the Olympic stadium, they compete against one another.

        And it is this blunt naked competition (I would dare say) that makes us watch with our pulses racing in anticipation, today, as in ancient Greece…

  5. GM
    Posted August 23, 2016 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    since in most strength sports males score higher than females.

    It’s not in most, it’s in all.

    It’s also in pretty much all sports that do not require strength — male darts players obliterate women even though darts is the most unathletic sport one can think of.

    Regarding Semenya:

    The case is a lot less ambiguous than people make it to be. She is genetically a male and derives an enormous advantage from that. Biological fact. She should not be allowed to compete unregulated.

    What will happen if this madness continues is something analogous to the situation with the Muslim immigrants and sexual violence in Europe — the push by various scientifically illiterate feminist activists to “protect” one special identity minority will end up hurting their primary identity group (regular women).

    Note that while here we’re talking about “intersex”, i.e. people who are genetically male but developed as something more like woman (Semenya isn’t really a woman, she has no womb and internal testes), there is a further level of insanity this can be taken to and it is allowing transgender M2F (male-to-female) individuals to compete with women. There are enough crazies pushing for this, and it has in fact happened in real life (there was an M2F MMA fighter who was allowed to fight against women and completely destroyed them). In those cases we’re talking about people who have gone through puberty as males, and have the body structure and bone density of males. And their muscles can only be weakened with hormonal therapy. Which will not be required if M2Fs are allowed to compete with women while T levels are not regulated because of the intersex individuals.

    You can easily see where this will go if allowed — there will be no actual females who are competitive in women’s sports.

    The question is whether this will be allowed.

    Fortunately, we’re not talking about a decision internal to the “West” here — the Olympics are international and there is hope that such decisions will be blocked by the Russians, Chinese, the Latin American countries (once again, sane rational people will be forced to become allies with Catholics as much as they don’t like it), Muslim countries, etc. But on the other hand, the “West” has a disproportionate amount of influence over international sports, so it might pass…

    • GM
      Posted August 23, 2016 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      since in most strength sports males score higher than females.

      That should have been a quote (from the OP), I messed up the formatting😦

    • Posted August 24, 2016 at 1:32 am | Permalink

      + 1

    • slpage
      Posted August 25, 2016 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      “In those cases we’re talking about people who have gone through puberty as males, and have the body structure and bone density of males.”

      This is exactly the case – there really is no denying it. I am 100% in favor of accepting transgendered people in society, no discrimination at all. But athletics truly is a different case – in society, we are all (or should be) equals. In athletics, as has been clearly pointed out by many (and by numerous real-life anecdotes), there really, really is a difference, a ‘benefit’, if you will, in being male (versus female).
      Gender identity does not and cannot trump the very real physical and physiological differences between an anatomical male and an anatomical female (and by anatomy here I include karyotypes as one of several factors) in sport.
      This may be a taboo position to take, but we have to be realistic, not idealistic, in some instances.

  6. Jacob
    Posted August 23, 2016 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    Apologies if this question seems ignorant, but I am ignorant: what does it mean to “identify” as a certain gender? I understand that there are unusual cases as described above, where both X and Y chromosomes are present and female genitals, but I’m not sure I understand what it means to identify as a gender.

    Why is “identifying” necessary? It seems like there are more than two categories, why is that a problem if it is fact?

    Can a man with no unusual characteristics, XY, etc. “identify” as female?

    Again, not meant to offend here, but I just am ignorant of the biology and looking to learn.

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted August 23, 2016 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      Identifying as female means that you feel you are either male or female, regardless of your biological sex. You can either be cisgender (identify as the same sex you are biologically) or transgender (identify as a sex other than what you are biologically).

      If you are transgender you can if you wish obtain medical assistance in becoming as biologically close to the gender you identify as you can such as hormone therapy, surgery etc. Although this is not necessarily the what all transgender individuals choose to do.

    • J.Baldwin
      Posted August 23, 2016 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      “Identifying” with a particular gender isn’t a biological question for those who believe gender is a social phenomenon. Sex is a biological issue, gender a socio-cultural one.

      If Semenya identified as a male, there’d be no problem. The issue arises when a biological male socially-identifies as female.

      • Grania Spingies
        Posted August 23, 2016 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

        I don’t think Semenya would have an easy time of it identifying as a male either – her external genitalia are female, not male. She is in a situation where she literally can’t win either way. Whatever happens, she has shown incredible dignity throughout this whole 8 year saga, even though this must have been traumatic for her at times.

        • Posted August 24, 2016 at 1:35 am | Permalink

          So far, she has won a lot, by taking advantage of her rare condition to blow up normal female competitors.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted August 24, 2016 at 1:45 am | Permalink

            If the rules allow it, she can’t be blamed for taking advantage of them.

            That’s a quite different issue from whether the rules should be changed to prevent anyone from doing that.


            • Posted August 24, 2016 at 6:04 am | Permalink

              I do not blame her, but I would disagree that, by using a loophole to earn things, she showed “incredible dignity”.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted August 24, 2016 at 7:30 am | Permalink

                I think Grania was referring to the way Semenya had conducted herself throughout the controversy. With which I agree.


            • GM
              Posted August 24, 2016 at 7:09 am | Permalink

              Which is why the rules should not allow it

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted August 23, 2016 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

      What Grania said. Also there are people who don’t entirely identify as either male or female, but rather something in between. Also, I think some will oscillate, where they feel like they are female for maybe a year, then slowly change their self-identity towards male.

      • Cindy
        Posted August 23, 2016 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

        The term is ‘non-binary’

        There are actually 97 genders, with more being added every day:

        Egogender: a gender that is so personal to your experience that it can only be described as “you”

        Genderwitched: a gender in which one is intrigued or entranced by the idea of a particular gender, but is not certain that they are actually feeling it

        Hydrogender: a gender which shares qualities with water

        Multigender: the feeling of having more than one simultaneous or fluctuating gender; simultaneous with multigenderand omnigender

        Systemgender: a gender that is the sum of all the genders within a multiple or median system

        Vapogender: a gender that sort of feels like smoke; can be seen on a shallow level but once you go deeper, it disappears and you are left with no gender and only tiny wisps of what you thought it was

        Just a sampling…

        • Posted August 23, 2016 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

          Much like when someone is black, culturally they can be treated like a “spokesperson” for the category being discussed. I’m gay and when someone asks me a question about non binary sexual expression, I tell them I have a headache.

    • Jacob
      Posted August 23, 2016 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for the interesting replies.

      • rickflick
        Posted August 23, 2016 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

        Isn’t this site fascinating?

        • Jacob
          Posted August 24, 2016 at 2:53 pm | Permalink


  7. Johan Richter
    Posted August 23, 2016 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    I do not know why we have women’s sports at the elite level, as opposed to just having open competitions. For kids, once you accept that participation in sports is good for girls, there are plenty of reasons for why the kids and their parents want gender-segregated competition but it is not obvious they apply to adults at the elite level. (Where sport is realistically for the amusement of spectators, not the benefit of the athletes.)

    I suppose one reason is that girls and women want some athletic heroes of their own to look up to, and prefer to have some female heroes. From that point of view, the question would be whether they can identify with inter-sex persons as easily.

    Ultimately, for me it is not a moral question, just a matter of taste. I do not think it is subject to rational debate, anymore than we can have a productive debate on whether they should run 100 meters or 100 yards.

    • darrelle
      Posted August 23, 2016 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      There are women’s sports at the elite level because women wish to compete at sports at an elite level. Precisely the same reason(s) that there are men’s sports at the elite level.

      • Diane G.
        Posted August 23, 2016 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

        Indeed. Why is that not obvious?

      • Johan Richter
        Posted August 25, 2016 at 4:59 am | Permalink

        That some women want to compete at an elite level hardly of itself explains why people are willing to watch and pay for it. Many seniors also might want to compete on an elite level, and senior level competitions are arranged, but they do not get nearly the same attention as the age-unrestricted competitions.

        All I am saying is that it would have been totally reasonable to say that women can compete at the elite level if and only if they compete with the male athletes.

    • Posted August 23, 2016 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      That’s an interesting line of thought. If the presence of sport in this instance is to have women compete on relatively equal grounds for the sake of entertainment- then aren’t biological outliers who obliterate any hope of vibrant competition undermining the spirit of the entire endeavor? It’s not about choice really- if the investigation into the “bladerunner” guy revealed that those prosthetics significantly boosted his performance over human limbs- he would not have been allowed to compete. We never even acknowledged the obvious that he did not choose to be without legs, because it didn’t factor in. Yet, at the same time- it bothers me that in some such public endeavors, people by accident of birth are excluded. Tough problem to sort through all around.

    • Kevin
      Posted August 23, 2016 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

      Athleticism is moving into aesthetics. Divisions between elite competitors are largely genetic determined already. It’s only going to get more enhanced with a greyscale of abilities based on chemical or physical traits sought after generation after generation.

      I don’t know what the birth rates are of transgenders. If it’s always constant there may just be a steady but very small percentage of competitors with this advantage (i.e., XY trans).

      Recall that despite most advantages (steroids, EPO, tech suits, etc.) hard work is still about 95-99% of what makes the athletes who they are.

  8. Anthony Macchiarulo
    Posted August 23, 2016 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Silvia Comporesti seems to have it right. For instance, consider Michael Phelps body structure. He is 6′ 4″ with huge palms, size 14 feet (attached to extremely flexible ankles, which work like fins–similar to a shark), and his body produces only half the lactic acid that his rivals do, which reduces recovery time. A combination of genetics and training has produced the greatest swimmer to date. The same can be said about Usain Bolt and other elite athletes. Should they be disqualified because they were born that way? Caster Semenya was born that way, should she be punished for her genetic makeup?

    • GM
      Posted August 23, 2016 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      It’s a very different situation.

      The advantage that genetic variation within a normal male or female phenotype is dwarfed by the advantage males have over females. An advantage largely due to differences in testosterone levels.

      Which is why there are separate competitions for men and women.

      • FiveGreenLeafs
        Posted August 23, 2016 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

        I find it amazing that many people seem to be unaware of the truly massive differences in for example upper body strength in men relative to women.

        The sexual dimorphism in some of these variables are comparable to the sexual dimorphism in physical size in gorillas, i.e. close to 100%

        The average difference are in some instances up to 3(!) standard deviations.

        There exist several (published) studies done, where they have compared average random male and female university students and female elite athletes in for example grip strength, and the strongest elite athlete (in judo and handball) barely matched the average male university student.

        Men Are Stronger Than Women (On Average)

        • GM
          Posted August 23, 2016 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

          I find it amazing that many people seem to be unaware of the truly massive differences in for example upper body strength in men relative to women

          I’ve noticed that too.

          And I also find it puzzling.

          It’s not as if we’re talking about some issue where you need relatively sophisticated scientific studies to show that common intuition is wrong. Human sexual dimorphism is right there in people’s faces every day all day. As the old saying goes, feminism ends when the furniture has to be moved up a few flights of stairs.

          I just can’t figure out what kind of bubble such people are living in…

          • Cindy
            Posted August 23, 2016 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

            I just can’t figure out what kind of bubble such people are living in…

            The leftists who spout this bs are ‘showing that they care’. They deny the existence of sexual dimorphism in order to spare the feelings of those who suffer from gender dysphoria – the same reason that they will state that race is a social construct.

            Since people can potentially be harmed by acknowledging reality, they prefer to deny reality. I think that in a lot of cases their hearts are really in the right place, but in the end more damage, than good, is done.

            Oh, and here is trans woman athlete Gabrielle Ludwig with her team-mates:

            I showed this photo to some SJWs, hoping to make my point, and they went straight into denial mode, stating that ‘some women are tall’, ergo, Miss Ludwig here did not have any advantage over her natal female team-mates…

            • FiveGreenLeafs
              Posted August 23, 2016 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

              Since people can potentially be harmed by acknowledging reality, they prefer to deny reality.

              And I would say, that it is only when you have the courage and wisdom to face up to reality, that you will ever gain any true control of you life, and your future happiness…

              This is (in my eyes) truly sad!

              On a side note, the image is fantastic!

            • Posted August 24, 2016 at 4:24 am | Permalink

              “The leftists who spout this bs are ‘showing that they care’. ”

              Are you going to call Trump-supporting Caitlin Jenner a leftist?

              • Cindy
                Posted August 24, 2016 at 6:37 am | Permalink

                It is primarily the regressive POMO left that is repeating this nonsense that everything is a social construct…

                Caitlyn Jenner has turned out to be a huge disappointment to regressives because she is acting as an individual and not as a trans woman who should be grateful to the left for supporting trans rights. She opposes gay marriage, for example…

                “”identity Politics Fail: why LGBT are abandoning the left”

                By Michelle Catlin, a trans woman.

          • Aaron Logan
            Posted August 23, 2016 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

            I imagine the bubbles are the (American?) cities that seem to be designed and engineered so that no physical strength or physical exertion is required. From drive through everything to motorized grocerty carts.

          • FiveGreenLeafs
            Posted August 23, 2016 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

            As the old saying goes, feminism ends when the furniture has to be moved up a few flights of stairs.

            That’s exactly what my old granny used to say as well… her frank appraisal (late in life) was that the modern day feminists had completely “lost their minds”.

          • Grania Spingies
            Posted August 23, 2016 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

            As the old saying goes, feminism ends when the furniture has to be moved up a few flights of stairs.

            That’s a bit of an flippant and unhelpful comment. Feminism is about equality for women in law and in society. It is not about claiming that women are biologically identical to men.

            You can’t complain about excesses of political posturing done by some misguided and somewhat ignorant feminists and then try to dismiss feminism using a variant of the exact same argument as you just disagreed with.

            • GM
              Posted August 23, 2016 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

              Well, women are equal in law.

              So I don’t know of what use feminism can be there.

              They are also clearly not equal, and never will be equal in sports, and in general, in everything that involves physical strength and speed.

              So there is no use for feminism there either.

              Then we are left with “society”.

              But then we have a problem — how is that objectively assessed and what does it even mean? And even if it could be defined, how do you achieve it without pushing for further legislation? Because if women are already equal in law, which they are, then any further legislation to increase the status of women automatically becomes legal discrimination against men. One has to be very careful not to overstep that boundary.

              Feminists have not been at all careful.

              It should be easy to see how that generates resentment.

              Then there is postmodernism and all of its absurdities.

              You can repeat the mantra that those are a bunch of isolated crazies, who are not representative of feminism as a whole, as much as you want, nobody will believe it, because it isn’t true — the major figures touted as intellectual leaders of feminism are mostly closely associated with postmodernism, and have provided abundant examples of outrageous anti-scientific stupidities in their “works”.

              Again, it should be easy to see how that first, makes it difficult for people to take feminism seriously as a legitimate intellectual activity, and second, can generate well earned resentment from people concerned about the intellectual health of society. Which is not good to begin with and more nonsense masquerading as profound thought is the last thing it needs.

              • Posted August 24, 2016 at 4:23 am | Permalink

                “Well, women are equal in law.

                So I don’t know of what use feminism can be there.”

                If nothing else, it took feminists to fight for that equality, which barely existed in most first world countries a century ago, and doesn’t exist at all in many countries.

                law is one thing and practice another e.g. pay equality.

          • Kyuss
            Posted August 25, 2016 at 7:29 am | Permalink

            Human sexual dimorphism is right there in people’s faces every day all day.

            It is obvious in sport too. There is no competitive sport that I am aware of, anywhere on the planet or in any culture, that directly pits men against women. The closest example that I can think of is in Mixed Doubles Tennis. Even then, by rule, men don’t serve against the women.

            I blame Billie Jean King vs Bobby Riggs.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted August 25, 2016 at 8:28 am | Permalink

              “There is no competitive sport that I am aware of, anywhere on the planet or in any culture, that directly pits men against women.”

              Probably a considerable number of forms of motorsport.

              In special stage rallying, for example, there is no bar to women competing on exactly the same terms as men.

              That said, very few women actually compete, a fact which rather puzzles me, since competing requires an extremely high level of concentration, great skill in car control, considerable stamina, a fair ration of nerve, but not a great amount of physical strength.

              The best result by a woman was the great Michele Mouton who finished second in the World Drivers Championship in 1982, driving the fearsome Audi Quattro. Which just proves it can be done.

              She also won the Pikes Peak hillclimb outright in 1985 in record time.


            • Diane G.
              Posted August 25, 2016 at 1:46 pm | Permalink


        • Posted August 23, 2016 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

          The same people who dismiss sexual dimorphism on the grounds that some women are taller, faster or stronger than some men will still hold that a gender pay gap means that all men earn more than all women.

    • J. Quinton
      Posted August 23, 2016 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

      The only difference is that the advantages Phelphs has are endogenous and, for the time being, cannot be artificially recreated.

      What Semenya has — more T than a biological female — is something that *can* be recreated artificially (e.g., steroids). If Semenya can compete with her advantage, then other women should be able to do steroids to compete with her.

      Either that, or create a “testosterone level” class like there are weight classes in other types of sports.

      • darrelle
        Posted August 24, 2016 at 6:46 am | Permalink

        “If Semenya can compete with her advantage, then other women should be able to do steroids to compete with her.”

        I doubt that can be taken as a given. Having developed starting from a blastocyst with a male hormone profile vs taking performance enhancing steroids for some time during adulthood is unlikely to be equivalent. Some outliers will exist of course, but even at the top levels of sports such as powerlifting woman who use steroids are not competitive in the men’s category.

    • eric
      Posted August 23, 2016 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

      I agree (with you and Silvia)

      Besides which, we’ve actually been dealing with transgender professional athletes since at least the 1970s: look up Renee Richards. Her presence didn’t kill women’s tennis, or cause a rash of people ‘pretending’ to be women just to win competitions. Heck, even with the biological edge she didn’t even break into the top 10.

      IMO what her case shows is that world-class athletes are rare; transgenderism is rare, transgender world-class athletes are thus extremely rare, and on top of all that, the idea that a non-transgender person would live that life just to get an edge in sports is empirically not supported. Renee Richards competed, did well, and no non-trans person saw this as sufficient reason to “cheat”. Didn’t happen then, and IMO it won’t happen now.

      I would probably accept some sort of time-based delay just to prevent bad feelings between all competitors; i.e., for the first year you identify as trans, you compete as your original gender. If someone self-identified as a woman just before their Olympic trial, I think the other athletes would rightfully be suspicious and angry.

      I also think we need to worry about the possibility of some of the more authoritarian regimes forcing their athletes to claim transgenderism when they aren’t. That would be a terrible thing for the individual. I don’t have a solution to that, though obviously if some large percent of the North Korean weightlifting squad suddenly come out as women, I don’t think we should necessarily accept the claim at face value; in that case, I think we do the athlete a favor by rejecting the claim.

      But with those two exceptions in mind, I don’t really think transgender athletes will break or even be a problem for the current organization of sports into men’s and women’s leagues. Cynics may expect ‘cheating’, but just like for the case of ‘cheating’ to be a bathroom stalker, the fear is unfounded and the empirical evidence is that nobody actually does this.

      • Posted August 24, 2016 at 6:30 am | Permalink

        Transgender athletes will not be a problem, because everyone to whom they are a problem will be told that they are bigots and should accept their second-hand status and shut up. Same with the bathroom situation. Cis females are told that trans females, including ones with penises, will be allowed to invade every single place reserved for females because they feel bad about sharing places with males. Nobody asks cis females how THEY feel about sharing places with people with male genitalia, and if they protest, they are called bigots, problem solved.

        • eric
          Posted August 24, 2016 at 6:45 am | Permalink

          In grad school (decades ago) one of the dorms had a single, big, shared bathroom area for men and women. There were both shower and toilet stall walls of course, for privacy (though they did not reach to the ceiling; in fact the shower stall walls were only about 4-5 feet tall), but men and women used the same room. I dated someone living there. I will admit, it took a few days for me to get used to it. The first week or so, using it and seeing women in it weirded me out. After that, though, I was fine. So (obviously) were all the cis-men and cis-women residents, because they used it far more often than I did.

          So while I think you are right that many cis-women of this generation will feel strange about sharing space with biological males, and that’s okay, they are certainly allowed to feel strange without being considered bigots, I think like many social taboos and cultural norms, that’s going to change. Its going to fade and your children and children’s children simply won’t be upset at this particular thing that upsets you.

          • Cindy
            Posted August 24, 2016 at 6:49 am | Permalink

            University of Toronto alters bathroom policy after two reports of voyeurism
            One college at the university is cutting back on gender-neutral bathrooms after two residents of Whitney Hall became the victims of voyeurism via cellphone.


            And a trans woman was recently caught in a Target store filming a woman as she changed…

          • Posted August 24, 2016 at 7:08 am | Permalink

            Maybe indeed this is a solution, to make bathrooms common. But what is currently being pushed in the USA, that is, keeping the gender segregation while allowing people who claim to be transgender to go anywhere they want, seems to me a very bad idea.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted August 24, 2016 at 7:48 am | Permalink

              I agree there.

              I think it’s caused by the legacy of prudishness (shared I might add by most countries) colliding with PC-inspired overindulgence of a minority.

              The two conflicting interests have never been weighed and balanced in any reasoned logical way. More an accidental situation than intentional. Which is why no sensible solution has been found.


  9. allison
    Posted August 23, 2016 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    I am somewhat surprised that I have not yet heard any regressive leftists proclaim that the Olympics (and sports in general) are “misogynist” because they tend to reward those with the most testosterone – the strongest, the fastest, etc. “Where are the lavish quadrennial celebrations of estrogen’s effects on the human body? Let’s face it – the Olympics are really the Bro-lympics”.

    Maybe just because I haven’t checked in on FreeThoughtBlogs lately….

    • GM
      Posted August 23, 2016 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

      The regressive leftist are not very interested in sports.

      Which is why you don’t hear much about it.

      But given them time.

      In any case, there was this from The Guardian today:

      Where we have this immortal piece of stupidity:

      To be clear: the policy harms all women athletes. But it’s no secret that it disproportionately harms black and brown women from the global south.

      Ugh, no, this has nothing to do with “black and brown women”, it is about an XY individual with very high testosterone levels competing with actual females. Which has absolutely nothing to do with race.

      And yes, it does hurt actual women…

  10. Carolina Curmudgeon
    Posted August 23, 2016 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    1. Should there be any testing of athletes, or should they simply be allowed to compete based on self-identification of gender? (This would, of course, mostly affect women’s sports; some say it would destroy women’s sports.)

    Obviously self-identification wouldn’t work because, as you note, it would destroy women’s sports.

    2. If not, how many categories of competition do we want? The traditional men’s and women’s sports, or an intermediate category? (The latter would, of course, cause huge problems.)

    Again, quite obviously, there should be, and can only be, two. Nothing else will work. Do we really want to destroy women’s sports by having just one category? And having a third category would be not only impractical but bizarre.

    3. If we don’t accept self-identification and want to retain traditional “men’s” and “women’s” sports, how do we determine the category in which an athlete belongs?

    The crux of the issue. Reasonable people can differ, but some rule has to be applied, and it should be related to a biological characteristic that differentiates the huge majority of females from the huge majority of males and that is related in a direct or indirect way to sexual dimorphism itself in humans. My guess is that T levels are as good and fair a criterion as any that are likely to be suggested. Whatever, the criterion, some will be disadvantaged, but all disadvantage cannot be eliminated without devolving to a single category (which almost nobody wants). Thinking that there is a solution that is fair to everyone is a delusion.

    • eric
      Posted August 23, 2016 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

      Obviously self-identification wouldn’t work because, as you note, it would destroy women’s sports.

      Renee Richards did it in the ’70s, and after ~40 years, it hasn’t even impacted women’s tennis let alone ‘destroying women’s sports.’

      I think the fears that non-trans people would identify as trans just to get the edge is unfounded. IMO its our attribution bias at work (i.e. we think most other people are less honest than us).

      • GM
        Posted August 23, 2016 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

        It wasn’t fashionable to be trans in the 1970s.

        Now it is.

        Big difference

        • eric
          Posted August 23, 2016 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

          AIUI, transgender individuals suffer rape, assault, and murder at rates one or more orders of magnitude higher than non-trans individuals. That’s hardly consistent with “fashionable.” Fashionable within closed and safe liberal circles? Maybe. Broader society? Not so much.

          • Posted August 24, 2016 at 4:30 am | Permalink


            And it wasn’t fashionable to be a equality-seeking woman in the 1870s.

            Being able to articulate identities and attain opportunities denied in repressed societies is not seeking to be fashionable; it’s seeking self-fulfilment.

        • eric
          Posted August 23, 2016 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

          Besides which, your post doesn’t explain the lack of transgender individuals in women’s tennis. Since it’s been legal since the ’70s and you claim its fashionable now, where are they?

          At some point the “cheating will happen” claimants will have to grapple with the evidence that it isn’t happening. Yes there are sincere transgender athletes, but there is no evidence of insincere ones.

          • GM
            Posted August 23, 2016 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

            Tennis is not a good example, because it is still a skill-based sport.

            And let’s face it, the trans population is not exactly enriched for highly athletic specimens (exceptions such as Bruce Jenner aside), they have too many issues with themselves to sort out to able to train as hard as one should to reach the top.

            The problem is most acute in sports where skill plays a minimal role.

            Note that the 800m race is actually the best suited for domination by an intersex athlete among all the events in the Olympics.

            The throwing events are highly technical and it takes people years to master the optimal technique in order to get the best results (it is common to first enter the elite only in your late 20s/early 30s because of that — it takes a long time to learn the fine details).

            The jumps are quite technical too.

            The same is true for weightlifting (which does not mean all competitors in the women’s categories are actual women, just look at the pictures).

            The sprints are primarily about raw power but also about technique (people don’t quite realize that, but running the right way in a sprint takes a while to master).

            Same with swimming.

            The long-distance events favor people who are lightly built. Which is one reason why the advantage that males have in running actually goes down with distance (there have been studies on this).

            The 800m is kind of in between all that — it is short enough for raw power to matter a lot yet not long enough for the advantage of having a light frame to manifest itself.

            Thus if you are an intersex athlete of non-exceptional talent, the 800m is where you gain the most advantage over regular females. So we end up with a Semenya-Niyonsaba-Wambui top three.

            The point is that if the rules remain as they are now, and if it is clear to everyone that they will remain so for the foreseeable future, you can be sure that countries will be actively looking for intersex and trans athletes within their populations and with time they will displace regular women in most sports and disciplines.

            • eric
              Posted August 24, 2016 at 6:54 am | Permalink

              The problem is most acute in sports where skill plays a minimal role.

              Empirically, there is no problem. There are no gender cheaters you can point to. Not in running. Not in swimming. Not in any other sport, regardless of how much skill it takes or doesn’t take.

              You anticipate a problem, and you want to prevent trans people from competing according to their chosen gender now because of your anticipation. All social justice or equality issues aside, that is just bad and biased empiricism; we should let the experiment run and see if a problem actually occurs. If it does, we can certainly start talking fixes like you prefer. If it doesn’t, we don’t need to stop trans people from competing.

              • GM
                Posted August 24, 2016 at 7:06 am | Permalink

                The experiment was run this year.

                We saw the results.

                Three half-males won the medals in the 800m race, no woman really had a chance to compete.

                Now what was the cost of the experiment?

                The Olympics are held once every 4 years. So everyone else trained hard for 4 years (and many years prior to that) without actually having a chance to compete fairly (and without knowing that, the decision to lift the restrictions on T was a year ago).

                These athletes are not going to get their years of training back, and they are not going to magically become younger and do it all over again. If a few years their careers will be over anyway because they will be too old.

              • eric
                Posted August 24, 2016 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

                So everyone else trained hard for 4 years (and many years prior to that) without actually having a chance to compete fairly (and without knowing that, the decision to lift the restrictions on T was a year ago).

                You are moving the goalposts and also arguing circularly.

                Moving the goalposts: we started discussing whether trans participation would lead to ‘gender cheating’ with the implication that such cheating would break the mens/women structure of sports. My point was that there is no evidence of such cheating. You can’t really answer that point (because there isn’t evidence of such cheating), so you’ve shifted to a discussion of whether even participation by sincere trans athletes count as ‘unfair competition’

                Circular: yes if you assume transgender participation is unfair, you will end up with the conclusion that transgender participation is unfair. That’s pretty much what you’ve done in the above paragraph. But if your point is to argue that this is unfair, you haven’t shown why.

                Lastly, I do think your point about significant rules changes immediately ahead of a major sporting event is reasonable, and I agree with it. Yes changing the rules just before a competition can be a problem, especially if everyone expect the change to help one competitor over another. I think this sort of ‘untimeliness’ should be avoided whenever possible. Now, for instance, is a great time for the IOC to tackle the issue of transgender participation in the summer Olympics. If they sit on the issue until March 2020 and then suddenly change the rules, they will have done a serious disservice to the community of athletes, both cis- and trans.

              • GM
                Posted August 24, 2016 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

                Circular: yes if you assume transgender participation is unfair, you will end up with the conclusion that transgender participation is unfair. That’s pretty much what you’ve done in the above paragraph.

                This is complete nonsense.

                You have be in complete denial of basic human biology to claim that M2Fs do not have an advantage over actual females.

                We proceed from there.

            • darrelle
              Posted August 24, 2016 at 6:56 am | Permalink

              A fine example of rationalizing your belief. But none of it is convincing.

        • Posted August 24, 2016 at 1:43 am | Permalink

          + 1

  11. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted August 23, 2016 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    In the spirit of Cromwell, test them all on some highly motivating task to get a measure of innate strength, then use that measure to group them into divisions for competition.
    For example, as a classifying test, let them hang on a rope above a pit of hungry alligators (other ravenous crocodilians are available) until they fall in – the time they stay out of the alligators is your metric of strength vs weight vs fear of death. Then run the rest of the competition as normal.
    My games master was effective at beating interest in competitive sport into me with a stick. I return the compliment.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted August 23, 2016 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

      Nope. Post-alligator, they would qualify for the Paralympics.


      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted August 24, 2016 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

        Quoth Cromwell – partially eat them all, then let god sort them out. Including how to categorise the shot-put performance of different corpses.

  12. Posted August 23, 2016 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    I suspect if nothing is done some countries will begin seeking out individuals like Caster Semenya, and start training them from an early age.

  13. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted August 23, 2016 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    There are examples of natural biological advantage that do not involve steroids.

    A skier with gold medals in his blood: In endurance sports, a plentiful supply of oxygen to the muscles is vital to success. Ruth McKernan on a family blessed by a mutant gene

  14. darrelle
    Posted August 23, 2016 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    The T levels at the moment, or within the past 12 months may be significant, but I’d bet that differences in development due to male / female hormonal differences are more significant.

  15. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted August 23, 2016 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Agreed that there are many genetic factors that can give one physical advantages in sports, but I think production of testosterone and sensitivity to it probably is the single most potent factor. As such I am going to stick my neck out, maybe, by saying that it is not a question of all genetic variables being equal. Testosterone stands out.
    That said, and if true, then I propose that participation in elite sports be divided by T levels. If ones’ levels are below, say, 10 nmol/L, then they compete as a woman. This can be done by artificially lowering T levels if they are too high. If they are above that figure, then they compete as a man. In this system it does not matter what is between your legs or your identity. But no one should be restricted from competing.

    • Posted August 23, 2016 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

      This is an interesting proposition, and one that I think I agree with. Although, I think it would be near impossible to get a system like this broadly accepted without societies at large shifting how they think about gender. Much of the controversy around gender currently seems to come from the social and personal aspects of the word, not the biological. If people can start to think about the idea as a biological gradient, then such a competition system could work, and work quite fairly I think. Probably a long ways off though.

  16. mikeyc
    Posted August 23, 2016 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    As a former competitive runner, I’ve followed this debate a bit.

    Since you asked…IMO, T limits can be and should be set. It won’t be fair to people like Ms. Semenya but there is no way to make any factor that limits who can compete completely fair, especially to those who possess them. Ignoring the role testosterone plays would trade an unfairness that impacts a few competitors with one that impacts all.

    Here’s why I think there should be a limit to T;

    “So then why is hyperandrogenism singled out as a biological variation that makes competition unfair? It is singled out because it challenges our deeply entrenched social beliefs about women in sport in a way that other variations do not.”

    This is false. HyperT is not singled out because of the bad menz and The Patriarchy ™, but because high T has direct and significant effect on athletic performance. Hyperandrogenism is NOT like other biological variations as it critical to the one biological factor that no one disputes should distinguish who can compete; biological sex.

    The argument against T limits rests on a false equivalency; one biological factor is like any other so in the interest of fairness innate biological differences should be worked out on the track not in the rules. For some factors that makes sense; things like O2 transport, lung capacity, femur length, muscle energy efficiencies, etc all biological factors that distinguish competitors. So why not T levels? Because it is one biological factor that is critical to fairness in sport; women simply cannot compete with men in most sports.

    To me it makes no difference which sex one “identifies” as – if someone possesses the biological characteristics we call “male”, they compete as a male. There are various ways “maleness” can be defined (having a penis is not necessarily one of them). As we know that testosterone levels directly affects athletic performance, producing testosterone within a definable range we assign to “males” is one biological factor that should be subject to rules.

    • Paul S
      Posted August 23, 2016 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

      Since there are traits like high T that have definitive advantages, those should be the criteria for speperating athletes.
      Just drop categories based on gender and don’t make it a choice for anyone. If you have high T you compete in class A, if you have low T you compete in class B.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted August 23, 2016 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

      I think that’s a good summary. And about the only workable answer.


      • Posted August 24, 2016 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

        A physiological psychology professor I remember at UBC also suggested this could even allow for another class, corresponding to hormonally male but with additional doping, so those who didn’t want to risk health by using the extras could compete fairly against others with the same “natural” amounts.

  17. Heather Hastie
    Posted August 23, 2016 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    I think the IOC consensus document is a good one. I wouldn’t want to ban anyone from competing, but without limits such as those proposed, women’s sports would become a farce. Women without the level of testosterone that Semenya has have no hope of surpassing her.

    If other situations arise relating to natural variations in the population, then we can deal with them at the time.

    If a natural genetic variation like Semenya’s was to become more common, then I think there would need to be another category of athletes (in addition to men and women). As it’s currently very rare, we need to find a way to be inclusive and I think the IOC consensus document is a good compromise.

    • Alpha Neil
      Posted August 23, 2016 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      Do we need another category? If you just rename the men’s category “High T” and the women’s category “Low T” then the problem of gender identification goes away.

      If a third category is created I think it should be the “unlimited” category with no testing of any kind. Let’s see what kind of insane feats are possible when people are allowed to destroy themselves to accomplish them. Now that’s entertainment!

      • Paul S
        Posted August 23, 2016 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

        Should have read this before I posted.

  18. wdbailey
    Posted August 23, 2016 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    There’s a lot of discussion in the world of sports about things as innocuous as TRT in older male athletes. The fact is that T is huge, early development with male genetics is huge, and an attempt to make a gender blind level playing field is anything but level and it severely hurts women’s sports. Here’s something that many don’t realize, once a male athlete has used steroids to train and develop there will be permanent effects that will carry over even when he goes natural again. These intersexed and transgendered “females” are really very different from women and it’s impossible to have a fair competition with them

  19. Posted August 23, 2016 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps the heart of the problem is that we presently split sports into “male” and “female” categories, which corresponds only imperfectly to the biologically motivated division we actually want to make. Instead, we should split sports into “high-T” and “low-T” categories. High-T athletes would be mostly, but not entirely, males, and low-T athletes would be mostly, but not entirely, females. Those whose gender identity is complicated, such as Semenya, would be free to choose which category they wished to compete in, as long as their T levels fit the mandated range for that category, and would be free to artificially raise or lower their T levels in order to meet that requirement. It’s not perfect, but it seems like the most just solution. And as an added bonus, talking about high-T and low-T sports instead of men’s and women’s sports would bring a lot of awareness to things like trans rights, and would make conservatives’ heads explode.

    • wdbailey
      Posted August 23, 2016 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

      the last thing that sports needs is some confused mess to make a statement about trans rights. The high T versus low T is in fact patently ridiculous. It’d be a simple thing to stay up late for a few day drinking and training hard and bingo, your T drops low enough to be in the natural female range. That’s not even taking into account the developmental edge that the Y chromosome and T gives.

      Frankly, trans and intersexed should probably be banned from competitions with the naturally gendered the same as steroid abusers are banned now regardless of whether their condition is birth or unnaturally induced

  20. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted August 23, 2016 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    Speaking as someone who doesn’t ‘get’ sports competitions, I am amazed at the discriminatory system. Whether or not enhancement inducing substances, natural or unnatural, should be allowed should be a matter of health, not sports.

    So what can regulate this? It has long been a fact that chess tournaments and their rating system guarantee a) fair games and b) weak ‘athletes’ can meet strong ‘athletets and c) equally strong ‘athletes’ can meet. “In the Swiss style, players are paired with opponents who have done equally well.[30] ” [ ; ] Chess tournaments do not allow enhancement drugs at the competition, but if such are used systematically the rating system could pivot results based on drug tests.

    So that places categories like gender, perceived or not, on a level field of mixed tournaments. To keep the interest of youngsters, there is age classes though it wouldn’t be strictly necessary.

    But of course that is a solution that doesn’t “compete” well against centuries of division. I am just noting that the problems that come from gender (and ability) separation, here as elsewhere, can be fixed in a manner of sportsmanship.

    • GM
      Posted August 23, 2016 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

      There is no women who would ever even get into a major competition against men in most sports.

      The men’s WR in the 100m sprint is 9.58, and gold medals at worldwide competitions are won with ~9.80.

      The women’s WR is 10.49, nearly 30-years old, and in fact quite dubious, because the second best result is 10.64. Gold medals are usually won with ~10.80.

      So that’s a full second difference in the sprint.

      It’s the same with pretty much everything — at least a 10% difference in favor of men, which may not look like much until you realize that the difference between first and last within men is often just a couple percent.

      It’s even worse in other sports. Let’s take weightlifting, for example.

      In the 69kg category (which I am picking because it is matched for both men and women), the WR for men is 166 kg in the Snatch, 198 kg in the Clean & Jerk, and 359 in the total. The corresponding numbers for women are 128, 158 and 286. A 20% difference.

      Then there are team sports.

      National teams for adult women often practice against U-15 or U-16 boys teams (and not even the national ones, but club sides) and are happy if they don’t lose by a lot. It’s very good practice for them, because these are the best opponents they can face. Again, the best adult women in a country against a club’s boys team, most of whom will never become professionals.

      The difference between the sexes is absolutely massive in pretty much everything.

      Chess is a very very bad comparison.

      • FiveGreenLeafs
        Posted August 23, 2016 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

        National teams for adult women often practice against U-15 or U-16 boys teams

        Yes. For example, in May, the Australian Women National Soccer team, the Matildas, lost 7-0, against Newcastle Jets under 15(!) team.

        What happened to girl power? Australia’s national women’s soccer team the Matildas lose 7-0 to an under FIFTEENS boys’ side

      • PS
        Posted August 24, 2016 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

        National teams for adult women often practice against U-15 or U-16 boys teams (and not even the national ones, but club sides) and are happy if they don’t lose by a lot.

        Are you sure? In many of the countries where Chess is popular (Russia, China, US, countries of the former USSR, India, etc.), the top women are all GMs or IMs, and will beat any amateur club sides handily.

        • GM
          Posted August 24, 2016 at 3:39 pm | Permalink


          I’m talking about athletics and team sports, you’re bringing up chess…

          • PS
            Posted August 24, 2016 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

            Sorry, I confused your comment with the one just above it, which also makes some inaccurate claims about chess. For example, the “Swiss” system is not used at the most “prestigious” chess tournaments.

  21. Posted August 23, 2016 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Although this is an important issue, it kind of pales in comparison to the massive doping involved in these events, particularly Russia’s state run doping efforts. But the IOC chose not to impose a blanket ban.

  22. Posted August 23, 2016 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    Who cares who wins? It’s just sport, really. Get two people to do an activity and one will always win, based on some arbitrary assessment. Balancing 17 rulers on your nose? = Olympic champion or some such.

    They all should get a medal and a fresh dose of performance enhancing chemicals. In the future we’ll have the images of digitally constructed super athletes doing impossible things, accompanied with journalistic gossip about their simulated love lives, etc. Sounds like fun.

    • Posted August 23, 2016 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

      Who cares who wins? It’s just sport, really. Get two people to do an activity and one will always win, based on some arbitrary assessment.

      Who cares? The competitors, fans, sponsors. (I am NOT a big sports fan.)

      Speed is not arbitrary. Jumping height is not arbitrary. Etc.

  23. Posted August 23, 2016 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    You aren’t going to get an entirely fair outcome for all.

    Either you have to accept that a very small number of people are going to be disadvantaged, or that half the world can put in as much training as they want, they are still going to get trashed at sports.

  24. kelskye
    Posted August 23, 2016 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    What problems we create for ourselves when we try to put human nature into purely biological terms! This seems a problem of our own creation – they didn’t worry about this 50 years ago, though there would statistically have been athletes with these issues. This is one case where trying to align scientific knowledge with notions of fairness is only muddying the waters.

    • GM
      Posted August 23, 2016 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

      It’s actually exactly the opposite — there has been a concerted movement by various postmodernist types to deny the biological nature of humans, and this is how we’ve ended up in this absurd situation (and it might get even worse in the future).

      50 years ago they would have gender-tested Semenya and kicked her out of the competition because of the Y chromosome.

      We know that this is what they would have done because it is what has been historically done in the few such cases from the more distant past.

      It would have been over quickly, and there would not have been endless debates about. The fact that people don’t know about those past cases is evidence for that.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 23, 2016 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, well, 80 years ago Jewish athletes were kept from competing at the Olympics. Seventy years ago major league baseball was lily-white, and we had separate “negro leagues” for “colored” players. Fifty years ago, before the enactment of Title IX, women’s athletics were a backwater. And 40 years ago there had yet to be a non-Caucasian head coach or manager in any major American sport. We ought to keep those facts in mind before we go pining for the good old days.

      Athletic competition, at its best, is a great leveler, rewarding natural talent and hard work, which is why it has generally been in the vanguard of social progress. (Jackie Robinson integrated baseball a decade before the Supreme Court desegregated American schools, two decades before the nation managed to pass its first Civil Rights Act; the University of Alabama desegregated its football team after Southern Cal, starting an all-black backfield, came to Tuscaloosa and kicked the Crimson Tide’s ass up and down the gridiron.)

      I have confidence that sports can find a solution (as imperfect and evolving as it may be) to the issue addressed in this post, one that will accommodate scientific advances and social progress. No reversion to the bad old days required.

      • darrelle
        Posted August 24, 2016 at 7:08 am | Permalink

        Thank you Ken.

      • Posted August 24, 2016 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

        Interestingly, I remember an episode of Taxi where Tony explains that social mobility and the “doing your own thing” is why he got into boxing. I wonder if that reflects Tony Danza (the actor)’s own motivation.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted August 24, 2016 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

          Boxing has always been the sport of the upwardly mobile underclass in America — from the great Jewish and Irish fighters of the early 20th century (like Benny Leonard and Barney Ross; like Jack Dempsey and James J. Braddock) to the great Italian and then African-American fighters of the mid-20th century (like Jake LaMotta and Rocky Marciano; like Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson) to the great Latino fighters toward century’s end (like Roberto Duran and Julio César Chávez).

          So, yeah, maybe “Tony” from Taxi (whether the actor or the character) was on to something.

  25. Posted August 23, 2016 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    The equation of T-level with other genetic variation is a red herring.

    Those other genetic variants are available to all women. T-level is not.

    If someone wants to say testosterone does not improve athletic performance (at the top levels – most amateur women athletes would kick my sorry ass), they should examine the performance records (again, some major exceptions such as gymnastics — but men’s and women’s gymnastics have different events in many cases). Normalize based on body size if you like.

    Seems to me testing is justified — to protect women’s sports.

  26. Christopher
    Posted August 23, 2016 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    I have trouble making sense of the issue, honestly. All I know is that it’s complicated.

    Is testosterone the only “edge” that should be tested for? Do we set up extra categories, like weight classes in wrestling and boxing? what about height categories for basketball? what about the wealth edge? How many people are good at their sport simply because they had a generally good physical ability but were able to use the money of mom and dad to get the best coaching, best equipment, move to the best area for practicing, using the best gyms, and so on? And then what about measuring someone’s percentage of the so-called fast-twitch vs. slow-twitch muscle fiber? I that not a major advantage that gives an additional edge? Maybe I would have been an Olympic athlete if I had been raised in an area where fencing was popular and had parents who encouraged me and paid for lessons and private training…

    I got it, let’s just give out Gaylord Focker 9th Place ribbons to everyone and call it a day.

    • GM
      Posted August 23, 2016 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

      Once again, there is a major difference between the advantage that a male has over a female and the advantage that a taller male basketball player has over a shorter one, also male.

      It is not comparable at all.

      The current system works perfectly fine — males and females compete separately, we have weight categories in the sports that require raw power, team sports usually involve some sort of specialization allowing for different body types to reach the top level (thus while not everyone is Wilt Chamberlain, a huge number of people can be good PGs and SGs), plus they are also about skill rather than purely about raw fitness.

      The areas where genetic variation is decisive are athletics and swimming — pretty much all stop sprinters are of West African descent, pretty much all top long-distance runners are from the region centered on Kenya and Ethiopia, top swimmers have a certain fairly rare body type, etc.

      We accept that as a fact of life.

      Allowing men to compete with women in disciplines that are entirely about athleticism is a completely different story and breaks the system.

  27. colnago80
    Posted August 23, 2016 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    This is not something new. Consider the case of Renee Richards some 40 years ago, who underwent gender reassignment surgery to become a woman and who sued to be allowed to compete on the woman’s tennis tour. The case was decided in her favor but her age was sufficiently advanced so she had no particular advantage.

    However, consider the hypothetical of Bruce Jenner deciding to transition after winning the decathlon in the 1976 Olympics and then demanding to be allowed to compete as a woman. Clearly, she would have had a massive advantage if allowed to do so as she was the greatest male athlete in the world at the time.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 24, 2016 at 12:16 am | Permalink

      And Ms. Richards was welcomed by her fellow tour players thanks to such forward-looking leaders as Billie Jean King (though I sometimes wonder if BJK’s welcome would’ve been quite so warm if RR had started sweeping grand-slam titles from her🙂 ) Women’s tennis also merits mention for its enlightened attitude toward players who came out of the closet like Martina Navratilova.

  28. Posted August 23, 2016 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    However you turn it, when a top athlete is a second faster than the competition, then this second is easily covered by genetic advantages. In many sports, there are tiniest fractions that, if not covered by genetics, come down to good form on the day or luck (e.g. momentary wind direction in ski jumping). As we measure out every aspect of humans, and athletes must conform to ever stricter regimen and schedules, the genetic- and luck-based effects will play an ever increasing role.

    Sports of that type are obsolete. It made sense to have individuals compete in this way, under the sun of ancient Greece. It still works in an amateurish fashion, where normal people compete. But it doesn’t on a highly professional, olympic level, where every supplement taken at the right time, every tweak and high tech is used. Where athletes sleep for 8:23mins because it was calculated to be optimal.

    Such sport competitions should be discontinued on the top level. The only good sports involve several of these: teamplay, technique, tactics, strategy and adaption to notably changing situations, or something else beyond a battle of genetics, doping and luck.

    Admittedly, I have no idea why anyone would want to watch someone running fast, and suspect the fascination has nothing to do with the performance, but with gambling. It’s analoguous to watching the ball dance over the spinning wheel and hoping it lands on red.

    In the future, such sports may be outright unethical, if they aren’t already verging in that direction thanks to the extreme requirements. Such athletes already cannot live a normal life. Questions as those Jerry posted suggest that such sport competitions are fundamentally broken, and cannot be fixed.

    Also, whatever threshold is put into place, everyone will max it out, such is the Golden Rule of PVP confirmed a million of times in games of all shapes. It only shows adaption to rules, almost like natural selection. If high T produces winners, then over time high T’s will “survive”. I believe it was Taleb who wrote that people think swimming gives you a nice body, when it might be the other way around: those with nice bodies are good swimmers and keep doing it, hence you see them swimming.

  29. Merilee
    Posted August 23, 2016 at 6:06 pm | Permalink


  30. Carolina Curmudgeon
    Posted August 23, 2016 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    >>Should there be any testing of athletes, or should they simply be allowed to compete based on self-identification of gender?

    Imagine self-identified female Caitlyn Jenner competing as a woman at ’76 Olympics. She would have won every single event. Would that have been “fair”?

  31. Posted August 23, 2016 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    Why do we have a category for female athletes? The reason, I think, is that the extreme female outliers are not as fast nor as strong as the extreme male outliers.

    The “female” category is, in effect, a restricted category. So whatever is chosen, to compete as a female, the person must fit into that “box”, so to speak.

    In my opinion, the 800 meter runner in question should be required to compete in the “open category”…(i. e., the male category). If this runner as at a disadvantage, well, so are the other 3.5 billion men who don’t have Olympic caliber genes.

  32. Wildhog
    Posted August 23, 2016 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    Ultimately, the problem is that competitive sports is irrational, and they’re trying to devise rational ways to manage it.

    Its obvious that males tend to be athletically superior to females, so the two are traditionally separated for competition. But what about when one male (or female) naturally has twice the testosterone of another? Or more red blood cells? Or more dense bones, or a better fast twitch / slow twitch muscle cell ratio for the given sport, and so on? Isn’t that the same thing? A biological advantage?

    If the goal is to identify the most genetically gifted competitor, why bother to train? In fact, don’t let them train at all. Let them compete with no training and the most genetically gifted will win.

    On the other hand, if the goal is to find out who can train the hardest, then competitors should only compete in groups that are biologically identical in every relevant aspect. That would involve an awful lot of metrics and result in an awful lot of categories, requiring an awful lot of competitors to fill them.

    We evolved to be competitive creatures and to feel good when we win, but once we start measuring hormone levels and so on in a quest to eliminate unfair advantages, the whole thing crumbles into the dust of irrationality.

    • GM
      Posted August 23, 2016 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

      But what about when one male (or female) naturally has twice the testosterone of another?

      We’re not talking about natural variation here.

      They’ve set the limit of testosterone at 5 standard deviations above the mean. More than generous.

      However, Semenya’s levels are much higher than even that limit.

      • Wildhog
        Posted August 23, 2016 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

        I confess Im not that up-to-speed on Semenya in particular. I thought her condition was natural. If its not, what about a woman with the same testosterone levels whose condition is natural?

        And the line between natural and artificial enhancement is often blurry or senseless. For example, athletes are not allowed to get blood transfusions to get more red blood cells (“blood doping”), but they can travel to high altitudes to train which accomplishes the same thing. And now, they can even buy a “high altitude tent” to train in which accomplishes the same thing without the travel:

        • GM
          Posted August 23, 2016 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

          Semenya’s condition is natural.

          But her testosteron is not natural for a woman, because she isn’t a woman, she is intersex — a genetically male individual, developed with female external genitalia, but has no ovaries and no womb, and has internal testes pumping out testosterone (not that no official reports of the tests and exams they carried out have been released, but this is what the usually presented summary of the case is).

          Thus the controversy — without testosterone suppression (after the regulations were lifted last year), they are basically allowing a half-man to compete with women.

          But it does not end there — there is a push to allowed M2F trans individuals are allowed.

          Which is a horrible idea on its own — one does not gain advantage just from current T levels, if you grew up as a male, you have the body structure and bone density of a man, even if your T level has been suppressed.

          But it gets even worse there is a possibility of letting M2F trans individuals compete with real women while having the restrictions on T levels lifted. And that will mean that women’s sports will descend into a complete farce.

          • GM
            Posted August 23, 2016 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

            Edit: there is a push to allowed M2F trans individuals are allowed.


            *there is a push to allow M2F trans individuals to compete as well.

    • John Taylor
      Posted August 23, 2016 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

      I like this idea. I might win something in the skinny, but not too skinny, legs category!

  33. eric
    Posted August 23, 2016 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    If you’re going to limit the natural testosterone limit (or range) in women’s sports, seems only fair to limit it in men’s too. Analyze the distribution of level among men, take the 3-sigma limit above that, and set the mark there. If you’ve got more, no Olympics for you.

    Oh, what a hue and outcry that would cause! And yet, that’s the proposal for women.

    • Shwell Thanksh
      Posted August 23, 2016 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

      Should people with better than 20/10 vision be excluded from archery?

    • Posted August 24, 2016 at 2:04 am | Permalink

      I thought that elevated testosterone level in men is regarded as an indication of doping use.

  34. W.Benson
    Posted August 23, 2016 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    Oh my, Oh my. I’m just going back to reading my book. Imagine, fighting over SPORTS!

  35. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted August 23, 2016 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    Women’s sports exist precisely because top women can’t match top men, physically, and to allow persons with male levels of testosterone (or even more absurd, males self-identifying as women) to compete just makes a complete nonsense of the whole raison d’etre for womens’ sports.

    The T-level limit seems the best compromise.

    Excellent article by Joanna Harper which PCC linked to, by the way:

    She changed genders, the hormone therapy added 5 minutes to her 10km time – which left her as competitive as a woman, as she had previously been as a man. (Obviously, if her only change in gender had been ‘self-identification’ she would have obliterated the competition).


  36. Wayne Tyson
    Posted August 23, 2016 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    We should all wear conundrums.

  37. Karen Welsh
    Posted August 23, 2016 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    I’m female. In my thirties I was put on the anabolic steroid, Stanozolol, for six months to stop my periods. Endometriosis had ravaged my innards and rendered me infertile. When the six months were up and I got my period back the idea was I’d get pregnant. (I didn’t)

    Here’s what I DID get over those months. HUGE, HUGE muscles in places I had no idea you could have them. I was SO strong, had tons of energy, was far more aggressive. I could run the 100 metres in 9.79 seconds (Canadian joke).

    The advantage? I built an entire rock garden on those things. I was so strong I could lift those heavy rocks myself. So, I have first hand experience of being a woman on testosterone.

    I don’t care what the reason is that you have more testosterone in your body than you should, natural, or for medical reasons, or you are doping. Excess testosterone = an unfair advantage = cheating.

    No one is banning these women from competing but they should only be allowed to do so if they take the medication that lowers the levels to normal. Normal = no unfair advantage = not cheating.

    At the end of those six months I couldn’t wait to get off those steroids. I self-identify as a woman. Why would I want to look like a man?

    • Posted August 24, 2016 at 2:06 am | Permalink

      Thank you for telling about your first-hand experience.

  38. lonefreethinkers
    Posted August 23, 2016 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

    Simple create a separate ‘gender’ for others to compete who are trans/intersex problem solved.

  39. chuckster2.0
    Posted August 23, 2016 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

    I find it appalling that when it comes to debates about autonomy, gender, sex, personal identity, the obligations of a society to individuals, and the obligations of individuals to society, sports somehow factor in. It seems that a significant portion of the population of global civilization, is completely distracted by problems and concerns which take place in activities which are by definition, forms of recreation and entertainment.

    Sports offer very little in terms of return on investment. Sure, orthopedic surgeons, nutritionists, neurologists, engineers, architects, filmmakers, as well as many other occupations probably learn a little more than they would otherwise, but professional sports are almost never economically beneficial. There is at bottom, a contradiction between the value we place on sports and the value they actually have.

    If there is any controversy over whether or not a person with Caster Semenya’s condition should be allowed to run the length of 8 1/2 football fields, it’s because she is in a competition in which $18 billion was spent to build new structures, repair old ones, create new lines of clothing and equipment, new shops to sell those items, and generally create an entire infrastructure for just two weeks of activity. She is in competition with other women who have probably spent the past two years controlling their diet, spending money on doctors appointments, working out several hours every other day, turning down jobs, dates, classes, vacations, weddings, and educational opportunities, just to run the length of 8 1/2 football fields over the course of two weeks.

    You aren’t wading into murky waters, you’re wading into a murky puddle. When Caster Semenya retires from running, within the next 15 years, she will have at least 40 years of life left to live. She is enrolled at a South African university, which did not deny her entry on the basis of her skin color, her gender, or her sexual preference. Is there any reason to think that her life would somehow be less valuable, if she did not compete in the Olympic Games?

    Let me put this another way. Imagine a championship basketball game which takes place at the Staples Center in Los Angelos. The place is packed and there are nearly 20,000 spectators in attendance. Several million people are watching the game on television. All their jerseys are new and thousands of dollars were spent with various design firms to develop their brands. But there’s a controversy, one of the athletes, a center, is nearly 7 feet tall due to the effects of a recently discovered pituitary adenoma which will to be removed a few months after the game. Many people think that the player shouldn’t be allowed to play because he is significantly taller than the other players and can very easily reject the shots of other players as well as dunk the basketball. Other people think that he should be allowed to play because he obviously had no control over the growth of an adenoma on his pituitary gland and really likes to play basketball. Legions of internet users on Facebook and Twitter are getting into battles over whether or not the he should be allowed to play. Various media outlets and news organizations are covering the controversy and have conducted numerous interviews with the player, his teammates, the opposing team, as well as a number of ticket holders. Imagine if the game was being played by 10 13-year-olds.

    What detail of the situation I just described sounds the most ludicrous to you? That 13-year-olds would want to play basketball? That one of them is nearly 7 feet tall? Or that 20,000 people would pay thousands of dollars to watch them play? How about spending thousands of dollars on their uniforms? To me, the only differences between the above situation and the controversy surrounding Caster Semenya, is the age of the athletes, the medical condition, the cost of the event, and identity politics. Why do we spend so much time, effort, money, and breath, on something which should in the end, be frivolous?

    It cost 13 billion dollars to find the Higgs Boson, 3 billion to sequence the human genome, 700 million to take pictures of Pluto, 2 billion to build the Hubble Space Telescope, 620 million to detect gravitational waves. These accomplishments have all taken place within the past 30 years. The accomplishments of even the greatest Olympians are pathetic when compared with the history of life, or even with the history of humanity. No species in the history of life on Earth has ever accomplished what humans have in the past 30 years. None of these accomplishments required that anyone involved had to run 800 meters in 1 minute and 55 seconds. If we wish to continue making progress, we need to decide to care about real problems, not manufactured ones.

    Sometimes, the best position to formulate on a controversy, is the position that the controversy is a meaningless distraction from matters of actual consequence.

    • kieran
      Posted August 24, 2016 at 3:34 am | Permalink

      Agree with this sentiment.

    • darrelle
      Posted August 24, 2016 at 7:31 am | Permalink

      Disagree with much of this sentiment. I don’t disagree about the “gaming of the system” that is all about people finding ways to make money, which also results in big money being spent. That sucks. But that is the case for virtually every human endeavor, not just sports. This is not a good reason to not do sports. It is merely a good reason to fight corruption.

      That you don’t like sports is not a good reason for others who do to not do sports. Many people enjoy sports, both participating as athletes and watching others do so. I can’t think of any good reason why people shouldn’t participate in sports if they enjoy doing so but I can think of many reasons why they should.

    • J.Baldwin
      Posted August 24, 2016 at 7:46 am | Permalink

      Why do we spend so much time, effort, money, and breath, on something which should in the end, be frivolous?

      Now that’s a very interesting question, why indeed do humans attend so strenuously to such things? We could extend your argument to all kinds of frivolities, like literary and cinematic fictions, video game play, the consumption of pornography, etc…etc….

      Perhaps something deeply human is going on that deserves an evolutionary explanation given that the attention to such frivolities appears to be at some level a human cultural universal.

  40. Cindy
    Posted August 23, 2016 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

    Trans men are allowed to compete with zero restrictions. Because , even with testosterone, they still cannot compete with male athletes. They usually come in last.

  41. Posted August 24, 2016 at 2:07 am | Permalink

    I agree with Joanna Harper.

  42. Hassan Ali
    Posted August 24, 2016 at 3:44 am | Permalink

    This is a difficult issue. As other commenters have noted, Semenya will not be able to hold her own in the male category. She finished the race at 1:55.28. Whereas the 8 male finalist were in the range of 1:42.15 to 1:42.93. Even in the heats the slowest time in the male competition was 1:54.67 (clocked by a Refugee Olympic Athlete). Perhaps we need a third category. But that, as noted, would create more problems than it would solve.

    In any case, it seems unfair to let her compete in the women’s category.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted August 24, 2016 at 5:42 am | Permalink

      The answer would be to reinstate the maximum-testosterone limit as discussed extensively above. Semenya would then have to take (approved) drugs to get down to that limit, and it would remove much of her advantage over other women.

      As Joanna Harper has done.

      Or she could choose not to do that and compete with the men – unsuccessfully as you note.

      I would feel some sympathy for her losing her fortuitous advantage but there’s no way around it.


  43. chrism
    Posted August 24, 2016 at 5:13 am | Permalink

    I think our difficulties come from conflating and confusing the desire to be fair and even-handed towards intersex people with our obligation to be fair to all the other competitors on what was supposed to have been a level playing field. It is unthinkable that one could suggest that competitors with a testosterone level 5 standard deviations above that of polycystic ovary syndrome are not getting an advantage from it. Tp privilege their right to compete over the that of the far higher number of women to have a fair competition is nonsensical.
    None of this is helped by the confusion in the public’s mind that intersex people are in some way related to the fashionable politics of trans issues. Being born intersex is a real tragedy. Gender dysphoria hasn’t gained any respectability by being adopted by the regressive left as a pet cause, but rather the reverse as they push the desires of a few bearded-ladies to use the washroom of their choice. I would feel rather sorry that intersex athletes are being used by the trans lobby as if they are somehow the same issue. It’s not.

    I don’t see a way round this except to say that to compete in the Olympics you must have the correct chromosomes, and any endogenous anabolic steroids like testosterone in your bloodstream ought not to exceed 4 standard deviations of the mean of the general population of your sex. This excludes the intersex individuals who have been assigned as female when they are actually genetically and biochemically male. Given that over 99% of us are excluded from the Olympics by our genetic unsuitability, I don’t see why that is so dreadful. We can’t all grow up to be princesses, or live our dreams. The real world is not Disneyland.

  44. Sigmund
    Posted August 24, 2016 at 6:22 am | Permalink

    I think the previous compromise solution that involved testosterone inhibitors, while non-ideal, was the fairest overall.
    I’m not sure people have thought through the consequences of the current, non-compromise situation where there is no attempt to regulate testosterone levels.
    For example what would this mean if applied to non-intersex individuals. If we allow an intersex woman who has testes and produces testosterone to compete without testosterone suppressants in womens events is there any logical reason to deny the same right to transgendered women who have not undergone gender assignment surgery or hormone treatment?
    I don’t see how you can allow one but not the other. Both groups will have the same physical advantages over XX women and I don’t see transwomen as being less woman than Caster.

  45. nicky
    Posted August 24, 2016 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    A separate female competition was created because, particularly in ‘power sports’, male physionomy (caused by hormones such as testosterone, in turn caused by the Y chromosome) gives an automatic -and huge- advantage.
    Now *if* we want to maintain a female category in these sports a Y chromosome and a very high testosterone level ( not just ‘now’, but some prolonged exposure at a stage of development) should exclude an individual, not from competition, but from competition in the female category. (Yes, I know this is kind of simplified, what about say mosaics??)

    Caster Semenya’s case is quite simple, IMMO: (s)he is a male. Has a male physionomy, like chest, pelvis, etc.(except for lack of a clear penis and external testes, and probably a dead-end vagina), male genetics, sounds like male, behaves somewhat male-like, married like the majority of males, and indeed runs times like a male…
    I’m very sorry for all the tribulations and indignities (s)he has been put through, but (the dreaded but) (s)he should not compete as a female. That is pertinently unfair to the females competing in this category.
    Now “gender identification”, contrary to say sex chromosomes, is a real example of a social construct. It should not be taken into consideration here (again IMMO).
    It is a lose-lose situation, either you are unfair to Caster an individual who already had to endure a lot, or you are unfair to the female athletes.

    [trivia: if you toggle “Caster Semenya” it reads: “yes, a secret man”]

  46. barn owl
    Posted August 24, 2016 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    Full disclosure: I love watching the Tour de France and the Olympics, (Summer and Winter, popular and “oddball” events), and I’m an avid distance runner, cyclist, swimmer, and equestrian. So yes, sports are important to me, for both physical and psychological well-being, and I have no claims to being a disinterested intellectual.

    IMHO, so what if intersex women with high testosterone levels dominate the 800m race? It’s one event in the track and field discipline. Track and field is one of the few Olympic disciplines in which athletes from developing countries have any hope of being competitive with those from wealthy nations like the US, where the resources for training elite athletes seem to be endless. Caster Semenya wasn’t bred in a lab by South African scientists so that she could grow up to dominate at 800m – her condition occurred naturally, and she also happens to be a talented runner. Did intersex women dominate all other track and field events at the Rio Olympics? Ummm … no. In fact US women were, on the whole, very successful in track and field at the Rio Olympics. There just aren’t that many intersex women who are also going have the athletic ability AND the access to training and equipment at an elite level. This seems like a lot of butthurt over the women’s 800m: a real First World Problem.

    There are loads of other Olympic events for which intersex/transgender is not going to provide nearly as much of an advantage (and in equestrian disciplines, men and women don’t compete in separate events). However, access to training facilities and coaches, and in some cases to expensive equipment (bicycles, kayaks, sailboats, rowing sculls, etc.) or exceptionally bred and trained horses, as well as the opportunity and time to train for these sports, provide monumental advantages for those athletes. If you want to obsess about “fairness,” is Caster Semenya competing in the 800m more unfair than this global disparity in access to training and equipment? In my opinion, no.

  47. El Abogado del Diablo
    Posted August 24, 2016 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t read but a couple of comments, but reading the post and those few comments, I am under the impression that nobody is concern with anthropometrics. Men and women have different bodies, men run faster not because they have higher testosterone (or at least not just because of that), but because of the way their bones are configured and their “natural” musculature (I am aware there is a relation between this and testosterone, but performance is actually more directly related with anthropometrics than testosterone levels). People genetically XY with no ovaries, internal testis and a vagina and no penis (for example) that are anthropometrically male, have a definitive advantage over normal females. I believe it is definitely bad for women to compete against these athletes. The problem is that they are not really women, they identify as women (women as a label, not a biological entity, it has to do with mind, not body, and the body is the main competitor -different competitive minds with the same training and body would perform very similarly I presume). Even when talking about identity there is a difference between “feeling” female and being female. Being female is much more than feeling female, it encompasses a series of experiences like the first period (menstruation), with the accompanying pain, the hormonal cyclic fluctuations and the concomitant emotional rollercoaster (I mean it in a good way), even the fear of developing cervical, ovarian or breast cancer, among many others that “normal” women will experience. But I digress, I hope I made myself clear since I usually only talk and write in Spanish.

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