Monday, January 25, 2010

Jan 26, 2010 - My Reaction to International Olympic Committee's so-called Gender Summit Results

Earlier this month, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) met with their team of so-called gender experts to apparently review and create new policies with regards to intersexed and transsexual athletes. The following news release summarizes their key decisions: IOC Statement on Gender Test Centres.

In short, nothing has changed. The IOC continues to hold the values that intersexed athletes are 'disordered' and will require 'treatment' before they are allowed to compete in the Olympics. Even worse, they did not release any type of polices or guidelines. Instead, stating that evaluations would occur on a case by case basis upon complaint or request. So essentially, intersexed athletes have no idea what the rules are and they must risk being subjected to cruel scrutiny and violating test procedures in order to even have a chance at competing.

Not surprising, the Coalition of Athletes for Inclusion in Sport (an organization of experts who recently submitted a policy amendment proposal to the IOC, based on scientific research and human rights law) have responded with harsh criticism, which is definitely just, as the IOC will continue to operate with no rules, except when a crisis occurs and they will create ad-hoc rules on the spot, without informing anyone up front of what they are.

I am highly upset at the IOC's blatant disrespect and disregard for human rights, human respect, human dignity, organizational protocol, and the spirit of inclusion at the Olympics. I feel equally as disappointed as there appears to have been no progress made on the issue.

Furthermore, I find it even more disappointing that at this so-called gender summit, that they did not review or make any revisions to the seriously-flawed Stockholm Consensus, which I gather will remain in place as their official protocol for the classification of trans athletes.

This drastically affects me, as although I am not anywhere near being considered an Olympic-hopeful, the same Olympic policies, are often adopted at the provincial and local level, which is where I compete.

To review, the Stockholm Consensus document outlines the criteria that transitioned athletes must meet in order to be accepted into their new category:

- gonadectomy must have occurred at least 2 years ago
- cross sex hormones must be administered and hormone levels must be consistent with new sex norms for 2 years
- full sex reassignment surgery (genital modification) must be completed
- legal recognition of sex change must be validated by athlete's country's government officials

While I tend to agree with the appropriateness of the second, there are cases where the first one might not be necessary (explained later), and the last 2 are completely irrelevant and absurd.

Becoming female in terms of athleticism is about hormone levels, which directly affects body fat and body muscles. Gonadectomy is ultimately what this is all about. in my case, it is generally understood that it takes 2 years to both demasculinize and feminize a male body. removing testicles and taking estrogen artificially on a daily basis for 2 years will render me sufficiently demasculinized and feminized so that my athletic potential would be on par with other female athletes. (Interestingly enough, what isn't mentioned is the fact that transwomen are at an added disadvantage by nature of having to maneuver the heavier male skeleton with only female muscle levels, but that's another story in itself.)

Whether one has their scrotum and penis turned into a vagina and clitoris will have no affect on athletic abilities, muscles, or hormone levels. Furthermore, whether or not one's government agrees to amend a birth certificate record equally has no bearing on one's athletic potential.

So what does this mean? In my case, I have had the gonadectomy, but not the vaginoplasty. and without the vaginoplasty (which I can't afford at this time, given that my province's health care system is unwilling to fund the procedure on the basis of a recommendation from my team of doctors), my birth province will refuse to amend my sex on my birth record. so ultimately, come the 2 year anniversary mark of my gonadectomy, I will be sufficiently demasculinzed and feminized to the point where it would be deemed appropriate for me to compete as a female, but due to these other irrelevant rules, I wouldn't be allowed to compete, nor will anyone else in my position.

To take this even deeper, the transgendered athlete who does not identify as transsexual will never have a gonadectomy, and would it be fair to exclude them from competing for life? Or is there a way to equally demasculinize and feminize the body through the use of testosterone blockers? Probably so. Therefore, there's got to be a way to include them at the Olympics too.

Ultimately, the way things stand now, it is safe to say that most transsexual and intersexed athletes will feel discouraged from getting involved in sports, as they do not wish to be set up for ridicule, humiliation, or a violation of privacy rights and/or human rights. I'm thinking that the only way to bring about change will be either athlete revolt or athlete legal action.

To go back to the Coalition, one of their questions raised is regarding the appropriateness of using gender as a method to segregate athletes. Gender is a state of mind, and quite franky, has nothing to do with athletics. Sex is biological and physiological, but is far from binary. Ultimately, in a perfect world, all human beings, would be given the opportunity to compete in the Olympics, without any surgical requirements. One argument is that to require surgery would be the same thing as asking a tall basketball player to have surgery to become shorter because their height gives them an unfair competitive advantage.

Specifically, intersexed athletes who contain both male and female sex organs, should be allowed to take part. But the big question then becomes, how to do you classify them? Likewise, how do you classify a transsexual athlete who is only part way into their transition?

My solution, which I successfully lead to implementation at the 2009 World Outgames in Copenhagen, Denmark, was to have a 3rd category created: a category that would be specific to athletes who do not identify with either man or woman gender, and/or athletes who do not meet the criteria to be classified as male or female; and/or athletes who have some sort of biological and/or self-identity reason to reject being classified male or female.

Now, some would suggest that it is a bit of a joke to award a Gold Medal to an athlete who is the only one in the category. And furthermore, some would say it is a joke that a marathon time of 4.19.53 was a gold medal winning time, but hey, you gotta start somewhere. The first Boston Marathon had only 15 participants! I'm sure there are other athletes out there would identify as trans or intersex who are quite capable of running faster marathons, but they all had their chance and none of them showed up! They all decided to stay home in their closet.

If the Olympics were to open the doors to a 3rd category, I'm sure there would be a long line up of athletes interested in being involved. This would likely lead to qualification standards. Most importantly, it would bring transpeople and intersexed people out of the closet and into mainstream society. It would help society better learn to understand and overcome transphobia; and it would shine a spotlight on the best interesexed and trans athletes in the world. Ultimately, it would appear to be the only way to ensure that all athletes have an equal chance to be a part of the olympics.

Think this idea is crazy? Well, it's case study time... Let's fast forward ahead to the 2012 summer Olympics. Think about Caster Semenya. Her 800m time still stands as a female world record. This time would not likely get her even qualified for the Olympics if she were classified as a male. If these rumours turn out to be true about her having male sex organs, and if a decision is ever made that she is not allowed to compete as a female unless she has these organs removed, and observes the 2 year demasculinizing waiting period, then would it be fair to leave her out of the Olympics? Probably not! She is a world class athlete. And besides, people want to see the best at the Olympics. This would be a huge story. Yes, Olympics is about winning to a certain extent, but it is mostly about the spirit of participation. If Caster is not deemed allowed to run as a female, I really think the Olympics should consider having here there anyway and running under some other category, if she wants to be there, that is. Anything would be better than telling her to stay at home.

So, C'mon IOC. It's time for change before you get yourself into trouble with human rights lawsuits and privacy law suits, and time for change before your reptutation gets destroyed anymore than it already is! and time to revisit your book of values, specifically the value about the spirit of inclusiveness. Why not do something good for the trans and interesexed community; especially after all the harm you have done? I say invite Caster and invite me! If not primarily for our athletic talents, invite us because we are strong people who have fought and overcome so much scrutiny, discrimination, and hatred. Include us because we are athletes who deserve a fair chance and deserve some recognition for the hard work we do on and off the track!


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