Monday, October 25, 2010

Transgendered Persons and Professional Sports

Famed Action Transvestite Eddie Izzard

Wow. Talk about a gray area. Typically, professional sports (particularly in international competitions) are separated into two major categories: men's and women's. So what if you don't fit squarely into either category? Chaos, apparently.

In 2009, South African 800-meter runner Caster Semenya showed some tremendous improvements in a very short time span. The times she was running were, frankly, amazing for a woman of her age with relatively little pro competition experience. At the World Championships, she beat out some of the world's finest 800m specialists by over two and half seconds, which prompted officials to finally request a gender test. Unlike many of her fellow competitors, Caster was tall, had broad shoulders, higher-than-average muscle mass, and heavily manly features.

Initial gender tests appeared to confirm some suspicions. I believe the official results are still being kept private, but some media channels have reported that Semenya is actually a hermaphrodite. This would explain the unusually high levels of testosterone that were found in her body (approximately three times the norm for females).

But what is the IAAF (governing body of Track & Field) supposed to do now?! Allow her to keep competing as a female, even though she has an unfair chemical advantage? Bar her from competing and invite international scorn? Even her own country is a bit unsure about how to proceed...

Case number two: what if a man purposely got a sex change and tried to then compete as a woman? Enter "Lana Lawless." Initially, Lana's story sounds like the plot of another bad Eddie Murphy.Rob Schneider movie. (Or "Ladybugs" if you remember that God-awful film. RIP, Jonathan Brandis. I'll always remember you fondly as the second, better Bastian.)

When Lana was refused participation in the LPGA Challenge, she accepted the decision as fair and that this was an inevitable result of her personal decision to change her gender sued them. Not to mention that she's also suing Dick’s Sporting Goods, Re/Max and CVS.

Now, you could certainly make a case that the LPGA's "female at birth" policy is discriminatory. But I just can't feel as bad for Lana Lawless when she made a personal choice to change her gender and then expected to compete with the physical attributes she'd enjoyed as a man. That's unfair and it seems pretty ridiculous (yet, sadly, somewhat expected in this day and age) that she'd just go suing people right and left for upholding rules they've had in place for decades.

As LBGT issues become more prevalent and we, as a society, become more sensitive to these persons and the issues they face, should pro sports be redefining their rules? Or, out of necessity, will we continue to stick to our definitions? For example, think of how record-keeping would have to change if there were suddenly more categories. Now, apply this same issue to high school and college athletics: if kids are born with a chemical makeup that isn't clearly male or female, where do they fit?

I certainly don't have the answers and this is certainly a new area of thinking for me, so I won't offer anything else besides this open-ended post. I do, however, look forward to seeing how governing bodies handle these gray-area issues in the future.

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