This post is not about the Hall of Fame

Talk about an eye catching headline: Indian runner fails gender test, loses medal

Before following the link, I spent some time imagining the questions.
  1. True or False: Sex roles are innate, and do not vary between cultures or over time.
  2. True or False: Gender is a set of signs internalized, psychically imposed on the body and on one's psychic sense of identity.
  3. True or False: All binaries necessarily present false dichotomies.

Silly me! It was a medical test.

From the article:
The test reports sent to the Indian Olympic Association on Sunday said [Santhi] Soudarajan "does not possess the sexual characteristics of a woman," The Times of India reported.
An Indian athletics official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media said Sounderajan almost certainly never had sex-change surgery.

Instead, the official said Sounderajan appeared to have "abnormal chromosomes." The official also said the test revealed more Y chromosomes than allowed.

The most likely conclusion seems to be that Soudarajan[1] is an intersex person who identifies as female. Now, I understand that intersex persons face significantly more serious obstacles than being denied eligibility to participate in athletic competitions, but still, this sucks. Even if we exclude all of the effort Soudarajan put into training, her genetic endowment goes a lot deeper than the fact that she hapens to have an extra Y chromosone. Why is that particular abnormality grounds for exclusion from competition while Lance Armstrong's freakishly efficient (and apparently innate) respiration is hunky dory? Or how about Shaq's freakish size?

The answer, of course, is that those other genetic abnormalities don't blur the distinction between women's and men's sports. Fair enough. But the thing is, intersexuality isn't all that rare -- conservative estimates put the frequency of intersexual condition at about 1 per 2000 births. (By contrast, whatever confluence of genetic and environmental factors account for growing to a height of 7 feet are much, much, much, much, much, much rarer.) And if intersexuality isn't particularly rare, then the genetic distinction between men and women is already fairly blurry. In the face of that, insisting on a non-blurry distinction in sport seems wrong-headed.

1 Of the article's three spellings of the athlete's name, s-o-u-d-a-r-a-j-a-n seems most plausible to me, so that's what I'm going with.

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