If you were asked how you knew you were a male or a female, what would have been your answer? Is it by your looks, by the external genitals? Whatever your answer might be, scientists may not share your view. You may have to get to the laboratory to convince the world that you are either male or female.
With the controversy that trailed the recent world record achieved by South African athlete in the 800m women to whether she is really a female, it has really opened a Pandora’s Box to what really is the basis for sex determination. She has to go through series of tests which includes physical evaluation, reports from gynaecologists, psychologists, endocrinologists, an internal medicine specialist and an expert on gender to prove to the world that she is a female and if not she loses her world title. You may want to ask what happens if the different tests give varying results.
A male is believed to genetically have XY chromosomes while a female has XX chromosomes but is there really a clear cut demarcation between the two? There are a lot of ‘’in-betweens’’ but are they defects or are they just nature’s creativity?
In his book Between XX and XY: The Myth of Two Sexes, Gerald N. Callahan does not share the idea of categorising gender between male and female. He states that every year in the United States, more than two thousand children are born with an intersex condition or disorder of sex development. He went ahead to ask what makes someone a boy or a girl? Is it external genitalia, chromosomes, DNA, environment, or some combination of these factors? Not even doctors or scientists are entirely clear. He says what is clear is that sex is not an either-or proposition: not girl/boy, XX/XY, switching between two poles like an on-off switch on a radio. Rather, sex is like the bass and treble knobs on that radio. Between XX and XY provides a fascinating look at the science of sex and what makes people male or female. There are people born XXY, XXXY, or XXXXY, or with any number of variations in X or Y chromosomes, but those who do not fit into society’s preconceived notions about sex often face a difficult path in life. Dr. Callahan explores why humans are so attached to the idea of two sexes, and examines our obsession with sex and sexual intercourse through the ages.
So, whether to term the deviations from our preconceived ideas of what determines whether one is a male or a female as a defect or a natural category on its own is still debatable.
Another pertinent question is should I determine what I should be called or should I live it to others to determine for me? Caster Semenya obviously thinks she is a female but quite a number of people think otherwise. You would have thought just a physical evaluation would do but the definition of a male or a female is not believed to be defined by the external genitals but the question to ask the pioneers of the controversy is will they have asked all the questions if Caster had not won the women’s 800m. What they really hold as their proof is her or should I say ‘his’ looks as they think.
One of the runners, who finished fifth, a Russian, told Russian journalists that she did not believe Semenya would be able to pass a test. ‘’Just look at her,’’ she said.
Another runner, Elisa Cusma of Italy, was quoted in a post race interview saying ‘’these kind of people should not run with us, for me, she’s not a woman. She’s a man’’.
This outburst is a pointer to people’s perception about what determines peoples gender. They chose to raise the questions due to her masculine looks.
One may think that the ability to reproduce normally should serve as the basis for determining who is sexually defective or not but if Gerald Callahan believes those we call sexually defective should not be termed so, then he doesn’t share such view since marriage is no longer seen as an institution meant for reproduction with the high rise in gay marriages.
We may get to an age when it will be prohibited to classify gender strictly as either male or female; it may be called social discrimination but until then I believe man was made male and female.