It all started with arguments over transgender athletes and whether men who “identify” as women should be able to compete against actual women. The bizarre compromise they reached was to say yes, but they had to suppress their testosterone levels below a certain point. (As if that’s the only difference between the genders when it comes to competitive sports.) But now the debate has spilled over into an entirely new level of crazy. Rather debating what to do about gender dysphoria competitors, one international sports organization has declared that the actual women will have to be tested for naturally occurring levels of testosterone in their systems (yes, women actually produce testosterone, just a lot less of it) and suppress it if it’s too high. (WaPo)
Elite female track and field athletes, who naturally produce above-normal amounts of testosterone, received disheartening news Thursday. To be eligible to race in future international competitions, they could be forced to take medication to lower their testosterone levels or, if they don’t want to alter their body’s chemistry, compete against men.
The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) announced new regulations that could prevent female athletes who have a condition called hyperandrogenism from competing in events ranging from 400 meters to the mile unless they reduce their blood testosterone level by taking hormonal contraceptives, such as birth control. Athletes will not be required to undergo any type of surgery to meet eligibility requirements, the governing body said in a statement.
Many of the sport’s fans and other athletes were outraged by the announcement, arguing the regulations are discriminatory and target accomplished female athletes, such as South Africa’s Caster Semenya, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 800 meter. Semenya, who has hyperandrogenism and specializes in a race that falls within the restricted events, would probably be affected.
It’s easy to see why some of them would be focusing on Caster Semenya, who we’ve written about here before. Back in 2009 when she became a world champion runner, the pictures of her left many people (including me) seriously thinking that she was actually a guy, meaning she was cheating. But she wound up taking a genetic test and passing. She just has a condition which causes her to produce a massive amount of testosterone.
So now for the big question. If a competitor has an XX chromosome in the 23rd pair and is legitimately a biological female, is it fair to try to cap how much naturally occurring testosterone is in her system? It’s generally agreed that competitors can’t engage in doping by shooting up additional hormones, but everyone’s levels are different to some degree. The top performing male athletes generally have more than the rest of us even without doping. We don’t regulate them.
It seems to me that everyone should be able to compete with their own God-given gifts. If some of the women are XX and produce more testosterone than normal, that’s just how they’re built. This doesn’t answer the question of what to do about any competitors who are among the .01% who have abnormal XX or XY structures, but that was never going to be an easy puzzle to solve.