Thursday, August 10, 2017

Too much testosterone; girls just want to play too

Actually I'm not thinking (right this instant) about the two childish heads of state currently threatening human and other life while bumping imaginary (limp?) dicks. If we last long enough, I'm sure I'll get to that.

The most succinct description I've seen of I've seen lately of the trouble with testosterone came from David Rothkopf (and his subject wasn't our toddlers-in-power either):

Testosterone is the most effective solvent for human brain tissue. Just a drop or two can render a perfectly functional human cortex completely stupid. As evidence, I offer all of human history.

No, let's think today about testosterone in sport, a subject I last wrote about at length during the Rio Olympics.
Dutee Chand is an Indian sprinter, a sort of mid-level elite -- that is, she doesn't win top level international races outright, but she's a better runner than most everyone in her sport.

She also has higher testosterone levels than most women, levels closer to those usually associated with men. The International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) tried to bar her from competition in 2015, but their order was "put on pause" by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) which demanded more scientific evidence that high T levels correlate with exceptional athletic performances. Chand and the South African 800 meter specialist Castor Semenya, who also may have natural testosterone levels higher than most other women, competed without hindrance in Rio; Semenya won her event.

Accordingly to a comprehensive Statnews article by Catherine Caruso, the IAAF has begun producing studies to take back to the CAS which they assert prove their position. The IAAF wants a blanket ruling that athletes competing as women who show T levels above the 10 nm/L level typical of men are competing unfairly -- ultimately, though perhaps "hyperandrogenic," they are not really women. So far their studies show only a small competitive advantage for women with high T, but at the elite level, even a tiny boost is a lot. Women competitors without that T naturally don't want to compete against someone born with more. But are they truly asking for fairness?

Since the last round about this, many discussions of gender have become more nuanced and additional voices are insisting on being heard:

Hida Viloria, chairperson of the Organization Intersex International [explains] ... “I think the elephant in the room is that even though on record these sporting bodies keep acknowledging that these athletes are women, they keep trying to make regulations based on the conception that they’re not,” s/he said. ...

[Dr. Katrina] Karkazis, [a medical anthropologist and bioethicist at Stanford University, opines] “It really is an open question about whether or not something is fair or unfair, leaving aside the science of it,” she said. “The science could still say there’s a link between [testosterone] and performance and we could still say, and that’s fine, it shouldn’t be understood as unfair.”

Juliet Macur who writes thoughtfully about sports at the New York Times weighs in with an observation from Dr. Myron Genel, a Yale professor emeritus and longtime consultant to the I.O.C.’s medical commission:

Hyperandrogenism can be a natural genetic advantage, Genel argued, in the same way Usain Bolt’s uncommonly long stride or Michael Phelps’s flipper-size feet give those athletes a winning edge. “I think all elite competition at an elite level is unfair, in one form or another,” Genel said.

But will it ever be perfectly fair? Could it ever be perfectly fair? Not when so many different qualities come together to make athletes successful. And not when gender distinctions are changing so rapidly.

At its core, the sports world — rigidly separating men and women — will perpetually struggle to adapt to increasingly nuanced gender distinctions. In June, the District of Columbia became the first jurisdiction in the United States to offer an “X” gender, signifying a neutral gender, on its driver’s licenses. In March, a transgender New Zealand woman crushed her competition in her first international weight-lifting meet, and a transgender boy won a Texas state championship in girls’ wrestling.

Not every governing body is equipped to rule on these kind of eligibility questions. Not every athlete fits into this box, or that one.

Meanwhile, girls just want to play. I'm giving three cheers to three soccer players with short haircuts from an under-11 club in Madison, WI who aren't taking any shit from opponents and parents who accuse them of being boys. Tom Blau, one of their parents, explained:

“[Our girls] are just physical and are playing the sport the way it’s supposed to be played. When we tell a parent on the other team that they’re girls they just say, ‘Yeah right.’”

If anyone misses the message, they have T-shirts that say, “Sixer Strong” on the back and “Try and Keep Up” on the front (with a nod to Title IX, too). ...

[Molly Duffy, the team’s coach] “For the lack of better words, my girls are bad ass,” Duffy said. “They’re faced with this kind of situation and they take on the attitude of: ‘You know what, we got this.’ They are confident in what they do.

1 comment:

Hattie said...

I've been soggy with estrogen, most of my life, although my T-levels are "normal." I'm not much of an athlete!

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