It’s the first summer Olympics since trans and gender-neutrality issues have come to the forefront of national discussions about sex and gender identity, duality, and exclusivity in the United States on the heels of legislation passed in several states to assign bathroom usage restrictions. The debate about the fluidity of sex and gender is at a pivotal moment that has yet to find any consensus, and not the least of which is apparent in regard to organized athletics.
Up through early 2016, the official strategy of the International Olympic Committee has focused on testing levels of “natural testosterone” which can lend to a diagnosis of “intersex” individuals whose combination of XX and XY chromosome mutations can lead to deviations that often go unknown to the individuals until they are tested. Aside from the tests being incredibly invasive and stigmatizing and leading to disruptive surgeries undertaken to “prove” these athletes are of a certain sex, the justification of the IOC stands on shaky ground ethically.
There are a few problems with this kind of discriminatory testing. The IOC argued that it’s necessary for women to have an even playing field that is not skewed in favor of those born with a certain level of hormones that is higher than others. But why is it just natural hormones that give someone an “unfair”advantage? What about a hurdler born with naturally longer legs, a runner with a naturally high lactate threshold, an Olympic weightlifter with naturally high creatine levels?
The truth is for as much hard work and dedication as Olympic athletes put into their training, the benefits of winning the genetic lottery play a bigger role than most of society cares to admit. Shaquille O’Neal wasn’t a great basketball player because he honed his skills through practice and could shoot the ball through the hoop. Not at all. He was a terrible shooter and once missed all eleven of his free throw attempts in one game. He was a great basketball player because he was enormous, and was born with the genetic makeup that made him so. The same is true of female athletes who excel in fields where uniquely high levels of testosterone prove beneficial. They should be discriminated no more than someone who won a 1996 gold medal in the Olympics with the help of his God-given traits…Shaquille O’Neal.