Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Just Drop Your Pants

Have you ever seen the Saturday Night Live sketch with the androgenous Pat? Was Pat male or female? We'll never know. As it turns out, answering the question can be a lot more difficult than having the person drop their pants (although that will usually suffice).

The question comes up in sports like track and field where men and women compete separately because of the significant difference in performane potential between the sexes. Occassionally men are caught cheating by entering women's events in "drag" so when a woman comes along with broad shoulders, narrow waist, heavy muscles, and a deep voice and proceeds to blow away everyone in elite competitions, the questions inevitably arise. Is "she" a he, or is she just incredibly juiced like the East German women used to be? Or is something else going on?

The problem surfaced during this year's IAAF Track and Field World Championships when suspicion fell on Caster Semenya when she dominated the women's 800m final. Her win fell under a cloud of suspicion and protest and I wondered why a quick trip to the showers didn't solve the problem.

The short answer is because that wouldn't necessarily answer the question.

The IAAF did genetic testing for a while for gender. They checked for a gene that only exists on the Y (male) chromosome. Amazingly (to me) there were 8 of the 3000 females tested in the 1996 Atlanta olympics that tested positive as being genetically male. They had a Y chromosome. So doesn't that make them male? If so, then why were they allowed to compete?

This excellent blog post at "The Science of Sport" gives a great explanation. A condition called androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS) can cause a male embryo to develop testes and not ovaries or a uterus, but to not develop the rest of the physical traits of a male. The external genetalia may be ambiguous and the physical appearance doesn't match the genetic sex. Other conditions can result in ambiguous genetalia and intersex conditions where the person is neither male nor female.

So, the result may be very interesting and counterintuitive (to me at least). Caster may indeed be genetically male, have internal testes, no uterus or ovaries, but be allowed to keep her world championship and continue to compete as a female. And, the controversy may actually save her life because internal testes need to be removed because they can quickly become cancerous and in her case are not needed.

Of course, Mormons have this all figured out as witnessed by this excerpt from The Family: A Proclamation to the World:

All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.

So there you have it. The Lord's prophets have declared that male/female is an intrinsic, eternal, essential characteristic. So, I wonder if they would ordain Caster to the priesthood even though she, her family, and friends all believe she is a woman. Does her genetic identity trump? It's great that the Mormons have a prophet to sort out and address such issues. Perhaps she can get a patriarchal blessing to not only declare her lineage, but also her gender? Or perhaps in a Mormon family she would be forced to be male although she has no penis and feels like a woman. Perhaps it's her burden to be an eternal male destined to pass mortality feeling like a female.

Or perhaps even on topics so apparently easy to deal with, such as gender and sexuality, the world is much stranger and more complicated than we ever imagined.

I'm not holding my breath for the church to come out with anything reasonable on this because it doesn't fit neatly into their black/white world and would to easily transition to other questions of sexuality for which they aren't known for being terribly understanding or reasonable.

Nope, God has made it all so simple to understand.


Anonymous said...

Although it is quite rare, I think that Tetragametic chimerism is particularly troublesome for the proclamation on the family. This condition occurs when the zygotes or blastocysts for non-identical twins fuse into a single embryo. The result, at birth, can be an individual in whom some cells have one set of chromosomes and other cells have a different set. If the two twins that fused were of opposite sexes, some of the individual's cells are genetically male and others are genetically female.

I'm a gay man, and the church's current superstition about me and others like me is that we will be "fixed" in the next life by being made heterosexual (no thanks). What will happen to a mixed-sex chimera? Will they be split into two individuals in the resurrection? If so, what about chimeras formed by fusion of two same-sex twins?

The Proclamation on the Family is an embarrassment on many levels.

Tom said...

Love the post! Here are some videos that it reminded me of...

Anonymous said...

I am LDS though a very disallusioned one married to an UBER TBM husband.
I am 30 yrs old and found out I have androgen insensitivity syndrome when I was 19 after I failed to start menstruating. Up until that point, I believed I was a normal female. My parents had no clue. It is not clear if the doctors were aware and never said anything to them as I looked normal at birth. I had a hernia a 7 months old in my groin area which my parents were told was part of my bowel which had swollen and caused he lump. I had another one at 8 yrs old on the opposite side. I now believe these were testes. At 19 when I went to my doctor, I was sent to a consultant and eventually told I have AIS. I had my ovaries removed so it would appear I had both male and femal internal organs. But no uterus.
I have never told anyone about this condition. Not my family, friends or husband. I was worried he would not want to marry me if he knew the truth.
I told him I couldn't have kids. I had to be fair on that and he was Ok with it.
For a long time, I felt dirty, freakish. Was I really a man not a woman. What would happen if people knew? Where would Heavenly Father want me to go in the next life. Should I confess to the Bishop?
But over the years, I have come to realise this is not my fault. I am a woman. I look good. Men are attracted to me. I have a tall, slim body and long glossy hair. I have a physique most of my friends are envious of. I have the necessary parts to enjoy a healthy sex life and unless you did a DNA/chormosome test on me, you would know no difference.
But it has made me realise that what the church teaches is not for me. I do not believe it. I do not want it. The family promclaimation excludes me. when the bishop comes into relief society to encourage us to sign a petition tothe government against gender equality. When I read of the church's stnace on prop 8 in the USA and a thousand comments people make all around me at church every week, I realise I would never be accepted there if they knew the truth. So I continue to hide the truth but luckily I explain or try to explain my disaffection of the church to my husband based on historical issues with the church, tithing, time commitment, the temple. I want out of the whole thing.
I apologise for this long and rambling comment, and for it being somewhat graphic in detail.

I love your blog by the way. It was one of the first things I found when I began my journey away from the church on line.