Why ask Y? Should hermaphrodites play in women’s sports?


This year’s NCAA women’s basketball tournament and 40-0 undefeated run by Baylor University has raised some gender-transcending questions in a gender-based sport.

Because of many masculine physical characteristics and general style of play, many sports enthusiasts speculate that Brittney Griner, the 6-foot-8 Baylor superstar who contributed 26 points, 13 rebounds and five blocked shots in the 80-61victory over Notre Dame, may actually be a hermaphrodite.

This is not the first time the question has come up in women’s sports, however.

In 2009, world champion South African runner Semenya Caster was the subject of an International Association of Athletics Federations gender investigation. While official results were withheld for privacy reasons, leaked information indicated there was ample evidence to prove she is a hermaphrodite.

Following the investigation that involved invasive procedures, she was allowed to continue to compete in women’s sports.

So the IAAF clearly set a precedent, but is it fair to women who also want to remain competitive for sports scholarships and other accolades?

I can think of a group of female athletes from South Bend, Ind., that may not think so.

At issue is not the gender or sexuality of the athlete, however. Gender, after all, is society’s perception of what it means to be male or female and sexuality is a person’s own sexual-orientation.

To understand the problem, one needs to understand a bit of advanced biology.

We all learned in high school and before that nearly all human beings have two chromosomes. Women have two X chromosomes and men have an X and Y chromosome. Hermaphrodites, in most cases, also have an X and Y chromosome, which results from fertilization and fusion of two eggs within the womb.

During fetal growth, the Y chromosome introduces the production of testosterone, which in turn gives the person male characteristics and allows for the greater production of testosterone later in life.

This essentially means a hermaphrodite, although she may have been raised as a girl and identified with female gender roles throughout her youth, may develop at puberty and beyond in the same way as a healthy young man.

And it’s no secret in the world of athletics that boys and men typically have size and other physical advantages over female athletes.

So back to the question, should individuals born with an inherent athletic advantage be allowed to compete in a sport designed specifically to create a level playing field for athletes with inherent disadvantages?

Not only are athletes these days competing to win a mere game, but scholarships, professional careers, endorsement contracts and numerous other benefits enter into the picture.

One can argue it is not the athlete’s fault she was born with a Y chromosome and her parents chose to raise her as a girl. True.

But that opens the door to the argument that transsexual individuals — those who are born in a body of one sex but identify mentally with the opposite sex — are also created with that mentality through a process that takes place in the womb. Specifically, scientists who have studied the process say insufficient or excess levels of testosterone fail to develop the brain in the typical way brains develop in the womb.

If accepted, that argument could lead to the question of whether a young transsexual boy who has a cosmetic sex change operation should later in life be allowed to participate in women’s sports.

And, if so, the results could be tremendously detrimental and disturbing for our society as a whole.

Could the next wave of recruiting in women’s sports specifically target hermaphrodite and transsexual individuals and could parents begin raising these children specifically with athletic glory in mind?

Think of the monstrous potential situation in which parents, eyeing Olympic gold or college scholarships, convince their non-transsexual children they should have an operation. It’s a disturbing thought, indeed, but our world proves on a daily basis humans are capable of much more disturbing behavior.

So, why ask Y?

Because it’s the only question that needs to be asked. And it’s a simple question to answer — a cotton swab in the mouth and no invasive personal examinations of a human’s body.

If the answer is yes, then play with the boys.

Reuben Mees is an Examiner Staff Writer, a proponent of fair play in sports and always ready to receive hate mail. He can be reached at rmees@examiner.org.