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Web Letter

The story of Caster Semenya is certainly sad and raises questions how to deal fairly with persons of unclear biological sex. But the article seems not to ask what is fair for those women competing against someone who is genetically male and has a male hormone profile (as I assume Caster does)? Biology indicates that, on the average, such individuals will have a clear advantage in a variety of sports where muscle mass and height are of importance. Based on biology, there is no reason to think that athletic ability in such sports is significantly related to gender roles, the superficial appearance of exterior genitals and the like.

True, certain American sports seemed to be designed for the most extreme of body types (football, basketball) compared to soccer or tennis, which could raise similar questions of fairness. Maybe putting the basketball hoop six feet off the floor would help.

Sam Pancake

Takoma Park, MD

Sep 24 2009 - 8:55am

Web Letter

Thank you so very much for this article, Dave Zirin and Sherry Wolf! If I was a religious person, I'd think you were God-sent! Our dear Caster Semenya needed you now more than ever, and the two of you came through with flying colors!

Kedren Reade Sitton

Bryan, TX

Sep 20 2009 - 11:05am

Web Letter

It's tremendously facile to sit in an ivory tower as the champion of gender-oppressed athletes. As easy as it is to sling mud at gendered sports institutions, it's equally as difficult to come up with responses and solutions.

The only solution I can glean from your article is to let everyone play in the same pool. Do you understand how devastating that would be for women athletes?! They would all be looking for other professions.

Yes, there's not yet a scientifically-accepted test to decide who's a "woman" and who's a "man." But to encourage fair-play, and more bluntly, the sustainability of women's sports, a decision has to be made.

You have a wonderful luxury of admonishing the powers that be for inquiring into the respective genders of its athletes; now let's see you come up with a solution.

Adam Korn

Chicago, IL

Sep 16 2009 - 11:37am

Web Letter

Great article! We don't even know the disorder that Caster Semenya has, so how can people post that she has an unfair advantage? If she has AIS, there is no advantage.

Excerpt from: "Am I Not a Woman? How to perform a gender test," by Melonyce McAfee, on Slate:

Someone with this condition (known as "androgen insensitivity syndrome") might be XY, and she might develop testes. But she'll end up a woman, because her body never responds to the testosterone she's producing.... Since testosterone helps in building muscle and strength, a case of androgen insensitivity syndrome wouldn't give an XY-female athlete any kind of competitive advantage; if anything, it would be a liability. Seven of the eight women who tested positive for Y-chromosomal material during the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta had some form of AIS. They were allowed to compete.

My daughter has CAIS (complete androgen insensitivity syndrome): internal testes, no uterus, no ovaries. She is 100 percent female with an XY chromosome.

It is imperative that people know that surgery is not a necessity in most cases with AIS and according to the Australian News, "The sport's governing body, which has not decided whether or not it will strip Semenya of her 800m world championships gold medal in Berlin, will also advise the runner to seek immediate surgery, believing her condition poses significant health risks."

The parents on the AIS support boards are trying to get this information to Caster and invite her to the boards for support. Dr. Charmian Quigley is an expert in the filed of AIS and is on the boards with us to answer questions. You can go to www.aissg.org for more information on the subject. Quigley was on Medical Mysteries on ABC, with Eden Atwood. Also tonight, National Geographic Channel is having a special at 10pm EST on gender. One of our moms from the boards who is also a doctor has been on the Oprah intersex episode with her daughter who has CAIS.

We need the media to help us get info out there and enlighten the public so women with AIS aren't called freaks or hermaphrodites. Many of us need to be confidential because of the negative responses that we will probably get from friends and family.

We just found out about our daughter, and I also found out I am a carrier this year. They teach you in biology that the man determines the sex of the child but in my case I determined the sex. My husband gave her his Y, making her a boy, right? Well, I had a "good" X and a "bad" X (good without the disorder, bad with the disorder). I gave her the "bad" X, making her a girl, but if I would have given my "good" X she would have been a boy. Biology teachers don't teach the different route. I truly believe it needs to start with the teachers, but the media is powerful and can help tremendously!

Women with AIS aren't allowed into the military either, although some have been accepted into the navy. One of the girls on our boards is trying to get in and was turned down because of her AIS. It's infuriating!

One of the parents posted this article on our boards and we all agreed what a great article it was. Kudos to Dave Zirin and Sherry Wolf!

Shari George

Holland, OH

Sep 15 2009 - 7:58pm

Web Letter

Since the majority of this arguement has been so thoroughly debunked and there has been no deluge of female athletes pouring out support for this position, I am left but to sprint to the sidebar to question one obsession these authors obviously have. What is your problem with attractive women in sports?

I have some news for you. Sports is entertainment. Entertainment has stars. Sex appeal is often an aspect of stardom. Stars bring money into a sport so every athlete benefits. Tiger Woods does not look like me.

I assure you there are lots of women out there attending sporting events because they like to see hot guys sweat. I don't throw a purist hissy fit every time my wife comments on some guy's butt instead of knowing he just made a great play. Get over it, already! It's time for people to quit saying ugly things about beautiful athletes who raise everybody's paychecks.

May the memory of Flo Jo live on forever.

Robert Stephens

Flagstaff, AZ

Sep 15 2009 - 7:48pm

Web Letter

This article is way off the mark. I think the constant leaks are the result of mistrust that the country involved would do the right thing. The tests should have been done before the athlete was allowed to compete and then the results would not have made such big headlines. If the authors want ambivalent gender athletes to compete, then they can compete against one another.

Alison Raymonf

New York, NY

Sep 15 2009 - 2:19pm

Web Letter

A key guilty party in all of this that has been overlooked is the governing body in South Africa, the ASA. There were serious concerns by the IAAF and other outsiders over Semenya prior to the World Champs, and speculation over her genetic makeup stretch back quite some time. According to one source, the IAAF had even advised the ASA to with hold Semenya from competition until a compromise/solution could be reached, so she would be protected from the spotllight. But the ASA, in their zeal for a gold medal, twisted arms and pushed this poor person into the spotlight. Now, it is she who has to suffer the speculation and the ridicule. There are no winners here. She is humiliated by the experience, while other athletes were deprived of medals competing against someone with a significant advantage.

Frankly, the ASA invited this controversy, and now someone else gets to suffer for their greed. Shame on them!

Brian Rose

Shawnee, KS

Sep 15 2009 - 1:31pm

Web Letter

"Gender" is indeed a social construct, but sports are not segregated by gender; they are segregated by sex.

Sex is most definitely not a social construct. Sex is inextricably linked to reproduction and evolution. Biology produces physiological differences between the sexes. And no matter how many times the Chair of Harvard's Womyn Studies department screams it, men and women are not the same. The human sex organs produce different homones, which produce different reproductive organs, sure, but also other physiological differences and behavioral differences as well. The idea that we are blank slates that can choose our own destiny is poppycock.

The best male athletes always out perform the best female athletes. They are faster, stronger and have more endurance. The best female athletes are faster, stronger, and have more endurance that over 99 percent of the male population. Nonetheless, they always underperform the best male atheletes. Sports technology is allowing persons to push the absolute bounds of their genetics, and we are seeing genetic groups dominating sports. I've read that the 100 fastest times in the 100 meter dash are all held by people of West African heritage. Invariably, the best marathon times are held by people of East African heritage. The winner of the "World's Strongest Man" competition is invariably of Western European heritage.

World-class athletes need world-class drive and ambition (which is also has a biological component). We've gotten to the point where drive and ambition can be equaled. They also need world-class nutrition, which can also be equaled. The "tie-breaker" is, more often than not, biology. Sex makes a huge difference in biology. We segregate sports by sex because if we didn't, the men would have an unfair advantage because of their biology.

It is almost always the case that intersex persons are incapable of procreation without medical intervention. Their reproductive organs are not in harmony with evolution's mandates. Caster Semenya's biology is not female. She has an unfair advantage when competing against people whose biology is female. She is incredibly fast--faster than the best females, but not as fast as the best males.

Life isn't fair. Ms. Semenya was born intersex. That cannot be fixed by letting her compete against females.

Darin Zimmerman

Palo, IA

Sep 15 2009 - 12:58pm

Web Letter

If one of Kurt Vonnegut's comic novels had mocked unfair sexual stereotyping, he could not have come up with a better name for his lead character than Caster Semenya, evoking as it does images of castration and male ejaculatory fluid. The solution to the problem highlighted by the unfortunate incident involving Semenya is a very simple one, which I'm sure would be far more controversial than sex testing: eliminate the distinction between men and women in sports, as it should be eliminated in every other field. No more men's track and field or women's track and field, just track and field. No more men's basketball and women's basketball, just basketball. As the authors of this article correctly stated, "gender is at least in part socially constructed and far more fluid than the iron categories of male and female." So let's just stir up the fluid, savor the resulting mélange, and forget about the stupid and unnecessary distinctions that we keep allowing to mess up our lives.

Robert Austin

Seminole, FL

Sep 15 2009 - 12:18pm

Web Letter

Your article totally ignores the fact that the body of an "XXY" female functions differently from that of a normal "XY." They are likely to produce different hormonal mixes with very direct implications for sports competition.

If you try to ignore the above difference, you might as well have normal "XX" females competing with normal "XY" males and pretending that that is equal because both are human. We have reached the point where we can categorize scientifically for a fairer sports envirnoment.

John D. Froelich

Upper Darby, PA

Sep 15 2009 - 9:45am