Monday 12 October 2009

What kind of activities in sports should transgendered and hermaphrodite athletes perform in?

First of all, let me explain what is meant by transgendered. The word ‘transgender’ is a general term applied to a variety of individuals, behaviors, and groups involving tendencies to diverge from the normative gender roles such as male and female. ‘Transgender’ does not imply any specific form of sexual orientation since transgender people may identify themselves as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, polysexual, or asexual.

Transgendered people are those people who were born with male or female sex organs but who feel that this is a false or incomplete description of themselves. Some people born with male sex organs feel that they really are females and vice versa applies to females. Transsexual people identify as, or desire to live and be accepted as, a member of the sex opposite to that assigned at birth.

I suppose this could partly because of their environment. For example, a boy brought up in a family of women and girls may feel comfortable in dressing up as a girl and playing with dolls. A girl brought up with a family of men and boys may end up acting like a tom boy. But there are men and women who sincerely believe that although their sex organs clearly show what sex they are, they want to live the lives of the opposite sex.

Nowadays, this can be brought about by surgical means and drugs and there have been many such transformations in the past for many years.

Of course, this can cause problems to those wishing to be transgendered, especially if their birth certificates show that they were born sexually different than they are when they apply for a passport. It has also been a problem for quite a few years when it came down to what gender was performing in sports, especially in the Olympics.

In 1932, at the Olympic Games held in Los Angeles, Canadian sprinter, Hilda Strike won the silver-medal for her performance in the 100-metre race. Nearly 50 years later, it was revealed that gold medallist Stella Walsh, running for her native Poland, was a hermaphrodite. (a person with both males and female sex organs)

Relatives of Olympic silver medallist Hilda Strike, who finished second in the 100-metre sprint at the 1932 Summer Games in Los Angeles, are upset.

Strike's granddaughter, Cheryl Morris, says she is angered that female athletes today could be deprived of medals because a competitor has male characteristics that may provide an athletic advantage – just what happened to her grandmother more than 75 years ago.

Montreal-born Strike made history at the 1932 Olympic Games when she lost a gold medal to a hermaphrodite. It looked like Strike had the 100-metre final within her grasp until Poland's Stella Walsh made a late surge and edged past Strike at the finish line. Although the judges clocked both runners at 11.9 seconds, they decided to award Walsh the gold.

Nearly 50 years later, on December 4, 1980, Walsh, who had lived most of her life in the U.S. even though she competed for her native Poland, was shot and killed during an armed robbery at a Cleveland store. She was 69. An autopsy revealed that Walsh, born Stanis{lstrok}awa Walasiewicz, was a hermaphrodite, having both female and male sexual organs, including a small penis. While gender tests weren't instituted at the Olympics until 1968, Walsh, who had set more than 18 world records in sprinting and jumping events, probably would have been disqualified from competing as a woman had officials known of her status during the 1930s, says Olympics historian David Wallechinsky. "There really weren't any rules dealing with that at the time. It was not something they anticipated in 1932."

After Walsh's autopsy results were made public, the International Association of Athletics Federations acknowledged that Strike was entitled to consider herself the world's fastest woman in 1932. But Strike's grandchildren, lobbying the IAAF and IOC, were told no new gold medal would be awarded.

Now controversy swirls over recent reports that world 800-metre champion Caster Semenya of South Africa is a hermaphrodite. Reports with respect to the testing of South African, 19-year-old runner, Caster Semenya, it was discovered that she has male and female sexual organs. This has have triggered outrage in South Africa and dealt a blow to her family, who may have been unaware of their child's reported condition. Newspaper reports from Australia said testing determined Caster Semenya has internal testes, meaning the runner herself may have also been unaware of such a condition.

The International Association of Athletics Federations, which ordered the gender tests, said in a statement it is reviewing the test results and will issue a final decision in November.

This discovery poses an ethical and political quandary for world track and field's ruling body.

After extensive examinations of the 18-year-old runner which was ordered by the International Association of Athletics Federations, it has been determined that she is technically a hermaphrodite. Medical reports indicate she has no ovaries, but has internal testes, which are producing large amounts of testosterone. After dominating her race at the world championships in Berlin last month, Semenya was given blood and chromosome tests as well as a gynecological examination. These tests seek to assess the possibility of a potential medical condition which would give Semenya an unfair advantage over her competitors. There is however, no automatic disqualification of results in a case like this.

The IAAF has said Semenya would probably keep her medal because the case was not related to a drug matter. But the Herald said an alternative possibility was to award a second gold to the runner-up, Janeth Jepkosgei from Kenya.

Perhaps what tipped the world track and field's ruling body that something was amiss, was her appearance, deep voice and radically improved performance.

Semenya is a hermaphrodite, a term that was commonly used to describe any person incompatible with the biological gender binary, but the term has recently been replaced by the term ‘intersexual’ in medicine. Humans with typical reproductive organs but atypical clitoris/penis are called ‘pseudohermaphrodites’ in medical literature.

The problem facing world sporting authorities is the issue of whether or not it is proper to let transgendered althetes and hermaphrodites compete against female performers.

Let me say right now that I am against them competing against women. Let me explain why I feel this way.

Testosterone is the principal male sex hormone and an anabolic steroid. An adult human male body produces about forty to sixty times more testosterone than an adult human female body. This in effect, gives the male more strength than the female. Testosterone may be administered to an athlete in order to improve performance, and is considered to be a form of doping in most sports. Anabolic steroids (including testosterone) have also been taken to enhance muscle development, strength, or endurance. They do so directly by increasing the muscles' protein synthesis. As a result, muscle fibers become larger.

It is convievable then that a hermaphrodite has the means (even if the testes are hidden inside the body) to produce more testosterone in the hermaphtodite’s body than in a woman’s body, thereby giving the hermaphrodite a physical edge over the women in any competition requiring strength and endurance.

Although a person who gets a sex change from being a man to being a woman loses his testes and therefore cannot produce the same amount of testosterone as before, the transgendered person’s muscles have nevertheless previously been strengthened. To permit such a person to compete against women would be no different than permitting a man who took steroids to improve his muscle mass and then stops taking the drugs, to compete against those male competitors who never took the drugs in the first place. It would be an unfair advantage against those who didn’t take the drugs to enhance their own muscles.

It may be unfortunate that such persons, transgendered and hermaphrodites alike should be denied the opportunity to compete against women but they can compete against other men. Or perhaps, there could be special competitions for them but unfortunately, if that were to happen, it might single them out and subject them to extreme embarrassment.

This issue is one that isn’t easily solved but I will keep my eyes open for the decision of the world track and field's ruling body and keep you abreast of it.

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