I have to be somewhat brief today.

1. Be sure to read E.J. Dionne's piece on Joe Wilson in the WaPo. It touches on yesterday's theme (the lack of civility) and questions what the hooray-for-Joe-Wilson reaction among half of the population says about us as a society. When did we become such assholes? It's a complex issue, in my opinion. Our society was more polite and we conducted ourselves with far more decorum 100 years ago. But 100 years ago society also thought burning black men at the stake was a suitable weekend recreational activity. Not to mention that whole separate-but-equal thing. Perhaps not so civil after all.

2. If you are even moderately interested in gender or sports, I highly recommend this piece on South African sprinter Caster Semanaya from the blog The Science of Sport by a pair of Ph.D.s from South Africa. It describes in great detail the complexity of the question of sex; not gender, mind you, which involves questions of psychological and social identities, but of "simple" biological sex. It's easy, right? Just drop trou and look at everyone's plumbing, right? Well, not really. Not at all. Semanaya is a perfect example of what athletic bodies have to deal with when they cannot produce an answer to that apparently simple question. The really interesting part is that this is not rare; genetic testing at the Olympics between 1972 and 1996 revealed that 0.3% of female competitors (28 out of 8600) failed the genetic test. That is, they had a "Y" chromosome. In every case the competitors were allowed to compete after additional examination. This isn't that uncommon, in other words. Perhaps not every case is as puzzling as Semanaya (who has male but not female sex organs, yet a "female" genetic makeup which leaves her body largely unaffected by the hormones her testes produce) but she is far from the first female athlete to produce a collective WTF from the IOC and IAAF.

I recognize the organizations' need to do some sort of verification to prevent men from simply disguising themselves as women to compete (and yes, it has happened). But once the question moves beyond blatant frauds of that variety and into these complicated questions of intersexuality – XXY people or athletes with "ambiguous" sexual organs/characteristics – the waters get very muddy indeed. On a positive note, I was pleasantly surprised to find that all of the female athletes who failed the IOC test were allowed to compete once it was determined that they were not simply men masquerading as women. It's good to know that they understand the substantial ambiguity that exists with this subject.

8 thoughts on “TAG TEAM”

  • Yeah ambiguity is a good description of the complex nature of huwomanity illustrated by the astounding Ms. Semanaya .
    Nothing's for sure anymore and that leaves us old farts gasping. In the 1950's, America was 'truth, justice and the American way', God was not dead or even ill and religious teaching was going strong. Boys and girls were mostly boys and girls. Americans were mostly white.

    The ambiguities of life have certainly become more pronounced.

  • We need to really start making the distinction between civility and decency. You can be a genteel southern racist who mourns the death of jim crowe but you can also be a foul mouthed blogger who uses dick jokes in an attempt to further pursue just causes.
    Fuck that give me decency, politely (see David Brooks) telling the poor people of society to please go fuck themselves is not in anyway decent.

  • Very good points, and above all, I appreciate that discernment is used in understanding the fine points of science, and that a spirit of generosity is used in dealing with the people whose lives are involved in the cases studied.

    But (as a former jock), let me ask: can we do away with separate teams for men and women? If there is truly a significant performance gap, call them something like "varsity" and "junior varsity", but don't segregate them by sex. There are women who can compete against men, but will never have the chance. If they can make the big team, why not let them? And skip the bio-testing altogether?

  • ladiesbane: I just posed that same question the other day. Someone argued that women would always lose. I didn't have the strength to argue back. I honestly don't know enough about sports or biology to make a sound case. However, I'm glad to see that same thought posed here.

  • 1. yes
    2. This is obviously a lot more complex than I realized. That said, I'd be fine with "Have a Y? Must compete as a male," even if that means we've made past mistakes.

    It may vary by sport, but here's my anecdotal info:
    I was the slowest distance runner on a Div. III college cross-country team. And I was the 2nd slowest 5000m runner on the track team. The cc team had an "A Team", and a "B Team". Together with my fellow slowpokes, we called ourselves the "Z Team"…at a Div III school. So you know that we're *distance* athletes, but not very good ones, and we're male.

    Our coach had extra "tickets" for entry into events at an invitational meet with Div. II and Div. III competitors.
    The Z team entered the 4×400 (a sprint—and we're distance runners).
    We beat the #1 womens 4×400 time, at the same event.
    The worst, male, distance runners beat the best, female sprinters…in a sprint relay.

    It stinks that some people will therefore find themselves ineligible to compete. Then again, it stinks that, based on my genetics, I never won a race in college. We all have our genetic burdens…

    XXY's will not be competitive as males. And probably not as females.

  • Hold on a second. We were more civil 100 years ago? Well, maybe exactly 100 years ago. I don't remember any major congressional outbursts in 1909. But if we go back further in history, shortly before the civil war, fights broke out in the congress. I mean literally fist fights. Before that we had duels. Hell, we fought a damn revolution, that wasn't a protest, that was a very uncivil and bloody war. Civility ebbs and flows based on the dynamics of the populous and their representatives. Fact is, we got a black liberal man as the president. It's bringing a lot of racists out of the closet. This will continue to build, oh yes it will. But how is this any different from the massive uncomfortable and uncivil tensions in the 60s? It'll settle back down. Every generation is more progressive than the last… short of some sort of theocratic takeover, that is.

  • 1. Ahahahaha. ANDREW JACKSON. That's all I can say about civility in public discourse. We just weren't able to youtube it a million times. I really wish I could find a Downfall meme video about Joe Wilson. Internet, can you please make that for me?

    2. I recognize the organizations’ need to do some sort of verification to prevent men from simply disguising themselves as women to compete (and yes, it has happened).

    Isn't there a Wayans brothers movie about this? Maybe I'm just thinking of "White Chicks."

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