The Humiliating Practice of Sex-Testing Female Athletes
One day in June 2014, Dutee Chand was cooling down after a set of 200-meter sprints when she received a call from the director of the Athletics Federation of India, asking her to meet him in Delhi. Chand, then 18 and one of India’s fastest runners, was preparing for the coming Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, her first big international event as an adult. Earlier that month, Chand won gold in both the 200-meter sprint and the 4-by-400-meter relay at the Asian Junior Athletics Championships in Taipei, Taiwan, so her hopes for Scotland were high.
Chand was raised in Gopalpur, a rural village in eastern India with only intermittent electricity. The family home was a small mud hut, with no running water or toilet. Her parents, weavers who earned less than $8 a week laboring on a government-issued loom, were illiterate. They had not imagined a different life for their seven children, but Chand had other ideas. Now, as she took the five-hour bus ride to Delhi from a training center in Punjab, she thought about her impending move to Bangalore for a new training program. She wondered if she would make friends, and how she’d manage there without her beloved coach, who had long been by her side, strategizing about how best to run each race and joking to help her relax whenever she was nervous. She thought little of the meeting in Delhi, because she assumed it was for a doping test.
Chand had no idea that her extraordinary showing in Taipei and at a national championship earlier that month had prompted competitors and coaches to tell the federation that her physique seemed suspiciously masculine: Her muscles were too pronounced, her stride was too impressive for someone who was only five feet tall. The doctor would later deny that the ultrasound was a response to those reports, saying he ordered the scan only because Chand had previously complained of chronic abdominal pain. She contends she never had any such pain.
Three days after the ultrasound, the federation sent a letter titled “Subject: Gender Verification Issue” to the Indian government’s sports authority. “It has been brought to the notice of the undersigned that there are definite doubts regarding the gender of an Athlete Ms. Dutee Chand,” the letter read. It also noted that in the past, such cases “have brought embarrassment to the fair name of sports in India.” The letter requested the authorities perform a “gender verification test” on Chand.
Shortly after, Chand says, she was sent to a private hospital in Bangalore, where a curt woman drew her blood to measure her level of natural testosterone, though Chand had no idea that was what was being measured. Chand also underwent a chromosome analysis, an M.R.I. and a gynecological exam that she found mortifying. To evaluate the effects of high testosterone, the international athletic association’s protocol involves measuring and palpating the clitoris, vagina and labia, as well as evaluating breast size and pubic hair scored on an illustrated five-grade scale.
The tests were meant to identify competitors whose chromosomes, hormones, genitalia, reproductive organs or secondary sex characteristics don’t develop or align in the typical way. The word “hermaphrodite” is considered stigmatizing, so physicians and advocates instead use the term “intersex” or refer to the condition as D.S.D., which stands for either a disorder or a difference of sex development. Estimates of the number of intersex people vary widely, ranging from one in 5,000 to one in 60, because experts dispute which of the myriad conditions to include and how to tally them accurately. Some intersex women, for instance, have XX chromosomes and ovaries, but because of a genetic quirk are born with ambiguous genitalia, neither male nor female. Others have XY chromosomes and undescended testes, but a mutation affecting a key enzyme makes them appear female at birth; they’re raised as girls, though at puberty, rising testosterone levels spur a deeper voice, an elongated clitoris and increased muscle mass. Still other intersex women have XY chromosomes and internal testes but appear female their whole lives, developing rounded hips and breasts, because their cells are insensitive to testosterone. They, like others, may never know their sex development was unusual, unless they’re tested for infertility — or to compete in world-class sports.
When Chand’s results came in a few days later, the doctor said her “male hormone” levels were too high, meaning she produced more androgens, mostly testosterone, than most women did. The typical female range is roughly 1.0 to 3.3 nanomoles of testosterone per liter of blood, about one-tenth that of typical males. Chand’s level is not publicly known, but it was above the 10-nanomoles-per-liter threshold that the I.A.A.F. set for female competitors because that level is within the “male range.” As a result, officials said, she could no longer race.
This is the problem with this kind of invasive testing. It's to limit competition, not encourage it. Nobody starts handwringing about "unfairness" to women and girls until somebody who doesn't conform to the Barbie phenotype starts losing.
As long as the odd-girl loses, they're fine with it. When she starts winning, they look up her dress with punitive intent. Voyeurs like Glennfs are of this same mentality.