Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

Caster Semenya and the Issue of Gender Ambiguity
Scientific American ^ | August 21, 2009 | Larry Greenemeier

Posted on 08/23/2009 10:36:19 AM PDT by Marc Tumin

The controversy over South African athlete Caster Semenya's gender has given the public a view into the complexities of gender. At first blush, the issue should be fairly straightforward: a person is either a male (with an X and a Y chromosome) or a female (with two X chromosomes). But the reality is that a number of conditions can blur the gender line.

After her 800-meter final on August 19 at the World Athletics Championships in Berlin, the International Association of Athletics Federations announced that they had asked Semenya to undergo tests to verify that she was female, with IAAF spokesman Nick Davies describing the tests as "extremely complex, difficult," according to the journal Nature http://www.nature.com/news/2009/090820/full/news.2009.850.html. (Scientific American is part of the Nature Publishing Group.)

Some people with two X chromosomes can develop masculine characteristics, whereas others with one X and one Y chromosome never develop masculine characteristics, Nature reports. Still, others (most notably, males who are XXY) defy conventional thinking of gender along the lines of XX females and XY males.

Some people with two X chromosomes have medical conditions that elevate androgen levels (which stimulate or control the development and maintenance of masculine characteristics); other people born XY fail to develop as men because of androgen insensitivity syndrome. Whereas XX individuals with plenty of androgens develop male characteristics, XY individuals who are not sensitive to it may grow up with female characteristics. This androgen-insensitivity makes gaining an athletic advantage through these conditions unlikely in most cases, Myron Genel, a pediatrician and expert in sexual development disorders at Yale University, told Nature.

About one in 4,500 babies show ambiguous genitalia at birth, such as a clitoris that looks like a penis, or vice versa, Scientific American reported in a 2007 article. In that story, geneticist Eric Vilain of the University of California, Los Angeles, noted that, lacking the Y chromosome, an embryo will follow the "default" genetic pathway that leads to ovary development, although "antimale" genes are required to make functioning ovaries.

The controversy has also spotlighted the taboos associated with someone who might share both male and female characteristics. (The IAAF has asked Semenya to undergo a number of complex gender tests, according to The Los Angeles Times, so any judgments about her gender are premature at this point.)

Semenya's case is not without precedent. At the 1996 Olympics Games in Atlanta, eight female athletes were determined to have XY chromosomes and were not allowed to compete, The Los Angeles Times reports, adding that further studies showed that they were physiologically female even though their genes said they were male, and they were reinstated. The Times article includes several examples of how genetics and gender don't always match.

© 1996-2009 Scientific American Inc. All Rights Reserved.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: athletics; castersemenya; dna; gender; genetics; science; sexdifferences; sports

1 posted on 08/23/2009 10:36:20 AM PDT by Marc Tumin
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: Marc Tumin

Sure looks like a man to me, even when running side by side with other thin muscular fit black female runners. Caster has five O’Clock shadow and deep male voice.


2 posted on 08/23/2009 10:38:02 AM PDT by buffyt (As Mark Steyn said on Hannity last night, the whole system would be a death panel.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Marc Tumin

Slightly off topic, has anyone noticed how mannish in appearance some lesbians are? I think there could be something genetic about lesbians and about these female athletes whose female identity is questioned.


3 posted on 08/23/2009 10:38:09 AM PDT by Dilbert San Diego
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Marc Tumin
"Some people with two X chromosomes can develop masculine characteristics, whereas others with one X and one Y chromosome never develop masculine characteristics, Nature reports. Still, others (most notably, males who are XXY) defy conventional thinking of gender along the lines of XX females and XY males."

Diversity is our strength?

4 posted on 08/23/2009 10:39:53 AM PDT by Flag_This (No, Massoud, there are no men left in Washington.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Marc Tumin

Its a man. - that voice alone tells the tale


5 posted on 08/23/2009 10:40:19 AM PDT by bill1952 (Choice is an illusion created between those with power - and those without)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Marc Tumin

Caster is a freakazoid.


6 posted on 08/23/2009 10:40:43 AM PDT by IbJensen (If Caltholic voters were true to their faith there would be no abortion and no President Obama.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Marc Tumin

Look at the "package" and the calves and knees. Looks more like a young football player than a female runner.

7 posted on 08/23/2009 10:42:40 AM PDT by buffyt (As Mark Steyn said on Hannity last night, the whole system would be a death panel.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Dilbert San Diego

Some gay guys are very feminine and some lesbians are very masculine. I have also known three people who were born both male and female. And I knew a gal with two uteruses and another one who was born without one.


8 posted on 08/23/2009 10:46:56 AM PDT by buffyt (As Mark Steyn said on Hannity last night, the whole system would be a death panel.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: buffyt

Tetragametic chimerism
Tetragametic chimerism is a less common cause of congenital chimerism. It occurs through the fertilization of two ova by two sperm, followed by the fusion of the zygotes and the development of an organism with intermingled cell lines. This happens at a very early stage of development, such as that of the blastocyst. Such an organism is called a tetragametic chimera as it is formed from four gametes — two eggs and two sperm. Put another way, the chimera is formed from the merging of two nonidentical twins in a very early (zygote or blastocyst) phase. As such, they can be male, female, or hermaphroditic.

As the organism develops, the resulting chimera can come to possess organs that have different sets of chromosomes. For example, the chimera may have a liver composed of cells with one set of chromosomes and have a kidney composed of cells with a second set of chromosomes. This has occurred in humans, and at one time was thought to be extremely rare, though more recent evidence suggests that it is not as rare as previously believed. Most will go through life without realizing they are chimeras. The difference in phenotypes may be subtle (e.g., having a hitchhiker’s thumb and a straight thumb, eyes of slightly different colors, differential hair growth on opposite sides of the body, etc) or completely undetectable. Another telltale of a person being a chimera is visible Blaschko’s lines.

Affected persons are identified by the finding of two populations of red cells or, if the zygotes are of opposite sex, ambiguous genitalia and hermaphroditism alone or in combination; such persons sometimes also have patchy skin, hair, or eye pigmentation (heterochromia). If the blastocysts are of the same sex, it can only be detected through DNA testing, although this is a rare procedure. If the blastocysts are of opposite sex, genitals of both sexes are often formed, either ovary and testis, or combined ovotestes, in one rare form of intersexuality, a condition previously known as true hermaphroditism. As of 2003, there were about 30-40 documented human cases in the literature, according to New Scientist. Since hermaphroditic chimeras would be expected to be the one half of all chimeras, with purely male and purely female chimeras being one-quarter each, this would suggest that the condition is not particularly common.

Natural chimeras are almost never detected unless the offspring has abnormalities such as male/female or hermaphrodite characteristics or skin discolouring. The most noticeable are some male tortoiseshell cats or animals with ambiguous sex organs.

Chimerism can be detected in DNA testing. The Lydia Fairchild case, for example, was brought to court after DNA testing showed that her children could not be hers, since DNA did not match. The charge against her was dismissed when it became clear that Lydia was a chimera, with the matching DNA being found in her cervical tissue. Another case was that of Karen Keegan.[1]

The tetragametic state has important implications for organ or stem-cell transplantation. Chimeras typically have immunologic tolerance to both cell lines. Thus, for a tetragametic human, a wider array of relatives and other persons may be eligible to be an organ donor.[citation needed] Chimerism also shows, under a certain spectrum of UV light, distinctive marks on the back resembling that of arrow points pointing downwards from the shoulders down to the lower back; this is one expression of the Blaschko’s lines mentioned earlier.[2]


9 posted on 08/23/2009 10:49:54 AM PDT by buffyt (As Mark Steyn said on Hannity last night, the whole system would be a death panel.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 8 | View Replies]

To: Marc Tumin

This article confused the hell outta me. By the end I was trying to remember which gender was xx and which was xy.


10 posted on 08/23/2009 10:50:23 AM PDT by NotSoModerate (Report dissenters to snitch@whitehouse.gov for a $4,500 tax credit)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: buffyt
The kneecaps are male. Very prominent and wider than a woman's. And the hips are clearly male - much narrower than the shoulders.

He/she may be one of those gender-ambiguous people that do occur from time to time.

11 posted on 08/23/2009 10:51:54 AM PDT by AnAmericanMother (Ministrix of ye Chasse, TTGC Ladies' Auxiliary (recess appointment))
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 7 | View Replies]

To: Marc Tumin

“She’s” more masculine looking then Perez Hilton.


12 posted on 08/23/2009 11:01:59 AM PDT by JimC214
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: buffyt

Excellent read. Thanks for the info. There are some things you just cannot make up.


13 posted on 08/23/2009 11:04:49 AM PDT by Lucretia Borgia (I will be happy to show Obama the same respect the Democrats gave Reagan, Bush, and Palin.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 9 | View Replies]

To: NotSoModerate

14 posted on 08/23/2009 11:17:00 AM PDT by billorites (freepo ergo sum)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 10 | View Replies]

To: JimC214

“She’s” more masculine looking then Perez Hilton.

MOST females are more masculine looking than Perez Hilton!


15 posted on 08/23/2009 11:58:16 AM PDT by Oldpuppymax (AGENDA OF THE LEFT EXPOSED)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 12 | View Replies]

To: Marc Tumin

btrl


16 posted on 08/23/2009 1:29:02 PM PDT by Mrs. Don-o ("It's no exaggeration to say that the undecideds could go one way or the other." George Bush)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794
FreeRepublic.com is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson