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Medical How to determine gender

  1. Aug 23, 2009 #1


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    There's been a story in the news lately about a runner from South Africa who has been requested to submit to testing http://sports.espn.go.com/oly/news/story?id=4409318". I don't know enough about the story background to know exactly the reason why her gender is in doubt. She does look lean, but all athletes look lean.


    I took a psychology class a long time ago that addressed gender issues. As I recall, when a baby is born with ambiguous gender, the current treatment is to observe the child for some years and assign gender based on behavior (is this still the case?).

    Apparently there has been some examination of this woman and her genitals are female. So if she says she identifies as a woman, and her sexual characteristics apparently are female, doesn't that pretty much make her a woman?

    How does medicine determine gender?
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
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  3. Aug 23, 2009 #2


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    The New York Times had an interesting article on this subject a few days ago. It goes over some of the interesting cases that can occur where a person's gender is not so obvious. For example, someone could have a Y chromosome but appear female due to their cells being unable to respond to male hormones (this is unlikely in Semenya's case because women with this condition would likely be less masculine than the average female). Another situation could be that Semenya is XX but produces an abnormally high amount of male hormone (perhaps giving her underdeveloped male genitalia in addition to her female genitalia). The article basically argues the point that there is no simple definition of gender and no single criteria that can be used to judge one's gender (especially in the context of whether it gives an individual an unfair advantage in competition).

    Personally, given the information you posed above (female genitals and self identification as a woman), I would tend to agree with the classification of her as a woman, even if it turns out that she has some strange genetics underlying the condition.
  4. Aug 24, 2009 #3
    her "gender" is what she thinks it is, female. they want to know her sex, which is more of a genetic question.

    if there's something really weird going on, like chimerism, they might not even find it.
  5. Aug 24, 2009 #4


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    There has been at least a couple of cases where an athlete that THOUGHT she(he) was a woman turned out the man, i.e. they were not actually trying to cheat.
    As far as I remember the criteria is simply that XX=female, XY=male regardless of appearance and self-identification.

    There are of course a few other (rare) possibilities but I don't think that has ever been reported (most of people with e.g. extra chromosomes are severely disabled, although I guess it could happen in e.g Paralympics).
  6. Aug 24, 2009 #5


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    what about an XXY person?
  7. Aug 24, 2009 #6


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    You are correct on the distinction, but from reading the article, I'm confused as to what exactly they are testing. A simple genetic karyotyping would determine sex, and in this day and age, isn't difficult or time consuming. That they are involving psychologists, endocrinologists, and gynecologists in the process seems odd...unless she's genetically female but identifies as male and a competitor is trying to use that against her/him? If there were allegations of doping, I could understand including an endocrinologist to rule out or in a possible endocrine disorder vs. cheating.

    That person would be genetically male. In humans, sex is determined on the presence or absence of the Y chromosome...have one, and you're male, don't have any and you're female.
  8. Aug 24, 2009 #7
    i suspect some of it is because of this

  9. Aug 24, 2009 #8


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    The fact that the International Association of Athletics Federations has no formal rules or testing procedures to determine gender complicates things a lot. This would be a very simple case if the IAAF stated that the presence of a Y chromosome disqualified someone from competing as a female. However, no such ruling has been made, in part because there are legitimate cases where individuals with a Y chromosome can develop physiologically as females. Hopefully this situation will bring about defined rules and testing procedures to determine gender.
  10. Sep 11, 2009 #9


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    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090911/ap_on_re_af/ath_semenya_gender_test [Broken]

    I hope I'm not alone in that, while rules should be upheld and/or created to address these rare instances, THIS IS NOT THE BUSINESS OF THE PUBLIC. We have NO right to know this information, and the press should NOT be allowed to invade the medical privacy of an individual in this manner. (And profiting off of it of which I am certain)

    This kind of press makes me sick to my stomach.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  11. Sep 12, 2009 #10
    You can always test for testosterone levels in the body. If the Y chromosome isnt as active as a normal male's, then the level of testosterone would be lower. Although thats not to say that someone cant make something that masks testosterone detection. Very interesting little thing for chemists to play with
  12. Sep 28, 2009 #11
    She could genetically be a female and produce an abnormally high amount of testosterone. It would be unfair for her to compete with other women who have normal levels of testosterone. Essentially, if she does have a high level of testosterone it would be the equivalent of doping.
  13. Sep 28, 2009 #12
    but if it were natural, it would be fair. i don't think there's anything at all normal about athletes at the elite level of sport. that's why they're elite, they're not like the rest of us.
  14. Sep 29, 2009 #13
    There is particular reason that they have Men and Women divisions of sports, one is genetically designed to be superior in physical activities, its like apples and oranges. Athletes are revered because of their dedication to the sport and the countless amount of time and effort they spend trying to get better at their sport; not because they are genetically superior(Although some are superior).
  15. Sep 29, 2009 #14
    then i guess it is superior work ethic that allows east africans to dominate long-distance running, while west africans dominate sprinting.
  16. Sep 29, 2009 #15
    And we celebrate which east african trains the hardest and puts the most effort into long distance running and we celebrate the west african that trains the hardest and puts the most effort into sprinting.
  17. Nov 5, 2009 #16


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    so what about Jamie Lee Kurtis? Would she be allowed to run as a female?
  18. Nov 5, 2009 #17
    not if the rumors are true. i don't think it's ever been confirmed, tho.
  19. Sep 5, 2011 #18
    Here's an update: http://sports.yahoo.com/top/news?slug=ap-worlds-semenya [Broken]

    I'm not sure why they don't release the results. I've read reports she has un-descended testicles. If so, wouldn't a Y gene have to be floating around in her mix somewhere? And if it is, then how can she be cleared to compete as a woman? One's hormone levels alone do not make one a woman.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
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