They didn’t choose their sex. They choose their sport.

In Beggars in Spain, when one of the Sleepless is denied to compete in figure skating because they have such a large advantage, it reminded me of an article I had read last year in my Human Sexuality class (PSY 252).

Caster Semenya is a world-record runner from South Africa who was born with AIS, Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. It is a very complex disorder, but roughly broken down, these children are born genetically male but do not develop physically male due to androgen (hormones like testosterone) receptors inability to react in the presence of androgens. Since androgens are the most crucial hormone in control of male external development, these boys never get developed male parts, but, since they are genetically male they do not have the female hormones in their body developing the female parts, so they do not develop any reproductive systems. A bit complicated, but here’s the kicker: since the “default” development plan for the body is female and the androgens “disrupt” the default plan in order to make a guy, these AIS males usually grow up identifying and living as girls. In fact, the disorder is not usually identified until puberty when the person doesn’t  menstruate as they would if they were genetically a girl.

By the time Caster had found out that she was in fact a male, she had already broken the female world records for two track events. There was an uproar in anger in the sports world with many various opinions. Some said that she should be competing with other genetic males. Here’s a picture of her with the children of her village. You can see the ambiguous sexuality of her features.

Caster Semenya, hermaphrodite, with her village

Here’s where I see the similarities between Caster’s story and the Sleepless’. Caster certainly did not choose to be ambiguously sexed. Neither did the Sleepless choose to be Sleepless. I can’t help but think, despite the huge advantage both bring to their arena, they may just have such a love for what they do that they would choose not to have that advantage and to just compete for the sake of competing and advancing.

Should these sorts of people be in their own category? The category of “they love the sport but they’re entirely over qualified and so let’s pit them against themselves?”? The Battle of the Genetically Advanced? I understand the need for categorizations in sports, but should these category walls be rock solid?

It seems like they are: Caster is not allowed to compete with other women now, despite this expert claim. ““She’s born a female, raised as a female through puberty. Whatever is found, with the exception of deliberate substance abuse, she’s going to have to be allowed to compete as a female,” said Dr. Myron Genel, a professor emeritus of pediatrics at Yale University who was part of a special panel of experts the IAAF convened on the subject. Women like Semenya who are born and raised as females before the onset of puberty “should be allowed to compete in women’s events, period, end of discussion,” Genel said. He said there’s a separate issue for people who change gender after puberty.” NBC Sports article on Semenya

Then again, someone chose for the Sleepless to not sleep, it wasn’t a random occurrence, like Caster’s. So is that what it should be left up to? Chance? That doesn’t seem rock solid at all.

– Maggie D.

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~ by insomniac on April 3, 2010.

One Response to “They didn’t choose their sex. They choose their sport.”

  1. In Caster’s case, I see your point. She was created this way naturally. And you are right that the Sleepless did not choose to be sleepless. But they were enhanced unnaturally to have a “superior” trait. I think the genetic enhancing issue is that someone is playing God. That we aren’t letting things happen naturally.

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