I have never heard of a “gender test.” But that is what star runner Caster Semenya of South Africa will undergo to prove she is a woman:
Facing questions about her gender, South African teenager Caster Semenya easily won the 800-meter gold medal Wednesday at the world championships. Her dominating run came on the same day track and field’s ruling body said she was undergoing a gender test because of concerns she does not meet requirements to compete as a woman.
About three weeks ago, the international federation asked South African track and field authorities to conduct the verification test. Semenya had burst onto the scene by posting a world-leading time of 1:56.72 at the African junior championships in Maruitius. Her dramatic improvement in times, muscular build and deep voice sparked speculation about her gender. Ideally, any dispute surrounding an athlete is dealt with before a major competition. But Semenya’s stunning rise from unknown teenage runner to the favorite in the 800 happened almost overnight. That meant the gender test—which takes several weeks—could not be completed in time.
Before the race, IAAF spokesman Nick Davies stressed this is a “medical issue, not an issue of cheating.” He said the “extremely complex” testing has begun. The process requires a physical medical evaluation and includes reports from a gynecologist, endocrinologist, psychologist, internal medicine specialist and gender expert.
South Africa team manager Phiwe Mlangeni-Tsholetsane would not confirm or deny that Semenya was having such a test. “We entered Caster as a woman and we want to keep it that way,” Mlangeni-Tsholetsane said. “Our conscience is clear in terms of Caster. We have no reservations at all about that.”
I have never heard of a gender test. I Googled it, and most of the top sites are all about Caster Semenya. The other top sites are about predicting your baby’s gender. This is probably a rare thing. I’ll even bet there is no such thing as a “gender test,” except for in the minds of the IAAF. I’ll bet the IAAF improvised this thing called a “gender test.”
This raises all sorts of interesting questions: When is a female not a female? At what threshold does a woman become a man? Why does breaking world records in women’s events prompt suspicion that women cannot plausibly run that fast? What if someone has no functioning genetalia whatsoever? In what competition category do they compete? What if Semenya fails the so-called gender test? Will the IAAF have a separate category for like-gendered people? What to do with athletes who had a sex change operation? Are they not who they were surgically altered to be?
The name “gender test” is interesting choice. Gender is considered a social construction, not a sexual category. Gender refers to all of the social traits of a person that pertains to their perceived sexual category. When referring strictly to biological characteristics, the term “sex” is used. Some use the term interchangeably, though sex is not necessarily a social phenomenon.