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Sexual Orientation & The Olympics

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    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 30, 2008
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      By Emine Saner
      The Guardian
      July 30, 2008


      For more than a year, officials in Beijing have been designing a special
      laboratory to determine the sex of any athletes taking part in this year's
      Olympic games. "Suspected athletes will be evaluated from their external
      appearances by experts and undergo blood tests to examine their sex
      hormones, genes and chromosomes for sex determination," says Professor Tian
      Qinjie. The tests will not be conducted on every female athlete, but will be
      required if serious doubts have been raised about an individual competitor
      -- invariably one competing in the women's events. "The aim is to protect
      fairness at the games while also protecting the rights of people with
      abnormal sexual development," he says.

      The International Olympic Committee (IOC) introduced sex testing in 1968 at
      the Olympic games in Mexico City, after the masculine appearance of some
      competitors, many pumped up by anabolic steroids, had started to raise
      questions about the gender of athletes in female events. Unsurprisingly,
      gender-determination tests were seen as degrading, with female competitors
      having to submit to humiliating and invasive physical examinations by a
      series of doctors. Later, the IOC decided to use a supposedly more
      sophisticated genetic test, based on chromosomes. Women usually have two X
      chromosomes; men an X and a Y chromosome. So, according to the rules of the
      test, only those athletes with two X chromosomes could be classed as women.
      However, many geneticists criticised the tests, saying that sex is not as
      simple as X and Y chromosomes and is not always simple to ascertain.

      It is thought that around one in 1,000 babies are born with an "intersex"
      condition, the general term for people with chromosomal abnormalities. It
      may be physically obvious from birth -- babies may have ambiguous
      reproductive organs, for instance -- or it may remain unknown to people all
      their lives. At the Atlanta games in 1996, eight female athletes failed sex
      tests but were all cleared on appeal; seven were found to have an "intersex"
      condition. As a result, by the time of the Sydney games in 2000, the IOC had
      abolished universal sex testing but, as will happen in Beijing, some women
      still had to prove they really were women.

      Transsexuals, who have had a sex change from male to female, can compete in
      women's events in the Olympics, as long they wait two years after the

      The following are some of the more famous instances when female athletes
      were caught in the gender trap.


      Santhi Soundarajan

      One of the most tragic recent cases is yet to reach a conclusion.
      Soundarajan, a 27-year-old Indian athlete, has had to endure public
      humiliation after she was stripped of her silver medal for the 800m at the
      Asian games in 2006. Soundarajan, who has lived her entire life as a woman,
      failed a gender test, which usually includes examinations by a
      gynaecologist, endocrinologist, psychologist and a genetic expert. The
      precise results of the test have not been made public, but it has been
      reported that the likely cause is a condition called Androgen insensitivity
      syndrome, where a person has the physical characteristics of a woman but
      whose genetic make-up includes a male chromosome. The Canadian cyclist
      Kristen Worley, who has undergone sex reassignment surgery, is one of a
      number of people who are calling for Soundarajan's medal to be reinstated.
      "It should never have been handled in such a gross manner, amounting to
      public humiliation because of their ignorance of her condition," Worley has
      said. "The Olympic movement has been dealing with intersex people since the
      1930s. You'd think they would have got the hang of it by now." The
      humiliation and prospect that her career may be over has taken its toll on
      Soundarajan. In September, Indian newspapers reported that she had survived
      a suicide attempt.


      Edinanci Silva

      Born with both male and female sex organs, the Brazilian judo player had
      surgery in the mid-90s so that she could live and compete as a woman.
      According to the IOC, this made her eligible to participate in the games and
      she competed in Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000 and Athens in 2004. In Sydney, she
      beat the Australian judoka Natalie Jenkins, who raised the issue of Silva's
      gender in a press conference, constantly referring to her as "he". "I have
      never fought that one before. My plan was not to grip with her, she's --
      he's -- very strong," she said. Silva gave a mouth swab to officials, which
      proved she was female.


      Dora Ratjen

      In the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin, Adolf Hitler wanted to show the world
      the supremacy of the Aryan race -- and he needed German athletes to win.
      Ratjen, notable for her deep voice and her refusal to share the shower room
      with the other female athletes, was Germany's entry for the women's high
      jump. She came fourth. Britain's competitor, Dorothy Tyler, who won a silver
      medal, remembers her. "I had competed against Dora and I knew she was a
      man," she says. "You could tell by the voice and the build. But 'she' was
      far from the only athlete. You could tell because they would always go into
      the toilet to get changed. We'd go and stand on the seat of the next-door
      cubicle or look under the door to see if we could catch them." Tyler held
      the world record for the high jump, but when officials wrote to her telling
      her that Ratjen had broken it, she wrote back. "I said: 'She's not a woman,
      she's a man,'" she says. "They did some research and found 'her' serving as
      a waiter called Hermann, so I got my world record back again." Dora, who had
      been born Hermann Ratjen, had in fact been a member of the Hitler Youth and
      said that the Nazis had forced him to enter as a woman.


      Stella Walsh

      At one point, Walsh, a Polish-American sprinter, was the fastest woman in
      the world. Born Stanislawa Walasiewicz in Poland in 1911, she grew up in the
      United States, although she represented her country of birth at the 1932 and
      1936 Olympics, winning gold and silver medals respectively for the 100m
      sprint. During her long career, she set more than 100 national and world
      records and was inducted into the American Track and Field Hall of Fame in
      1975. She lived her entire life as a woman, and even had a short-lived
      marriage to an American man. In 1980, Walsh was killed by mistake during an
      armed robbery at a shopping mall in Cleveland, Ohio. The postmortem revealed
      she had male genitalia, although this did not prove that she was a man as
      she was also found to have both male and female chromosomes, a genetic
      condition known as mosaicism.


      Heidi Krieger

      It is believed that as many as 10,000 East German athletes were caught up in
      a nightmarish state-sponsored attempt to build a race of superhuman
      communist sports heroes and force-fed cocktails of steroids and other
      performance-enhancing drugs. One of them was Heidi Krieger, a shot putter.
      When she was 16, her coach put her on steroids and contraceptive pills and
      she gained weight, built muscle and started to develop body hair. By 1986,
      aged 20, she was European champion. Her overdeveloped physique had put a
      huge amount of pressure on her frame, causing medical problems, while the
      drugs had caused mood swings, depression and resulted in at least one
      suicide attempt. By the mid-90s, Krieger underwent gender reassignment
      surgery and changed her name to Andreas. She had already been confused about
      her gender, but felt that the drugs had pushed her over the edge. "I didn't
      have control," Krieger told the New York Times four years ago. "I couldn't
      find out for myself which sex I wanted to be." At the trial in 2000 of
      Manfred Ewald, the East German sports official and architect of the doping
      regime, Krieger said "They just used me like a machine".


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