For me, the big, terrifying topic du jour is the Arctic melt, currently carrying on apace. When there are temps into the high 30s in the Arctic, it’s perhaps safe to say that COVID is looking pretty minor really.

That said, I’ve been prompted, via my kid, to explain why ‘everyone hates JK Rowling when she’s awesome’. The kid knows what climate change is but she’s absolutely baffled about hate-speech directed at her favourite author.

I think I did a serviceable job of explaining the issue. I rely pretty heavily on scientific explanations for more or less everything, and the kid is familiar with basic biology, so the idea that almost every human is made of cells that are sexed – that is, XY or XX, was pretty straightforward. This is quite essential. 10% of spontaneous abortions, for instance, are due to Turner’s syndrome.  It’s very important to have functioning chromosomes, in the right number and stacked up the right way. Yes, this is a reductionist view, but my kid thinks that humans start at DNA so I crack into things from there. Almost all humans that make it past 24 weeks have ‘sexed’ cells.

I was looking for intersex examples where ‘chromosomally’ males present as females, and of course, found the world of athletics useful. Caster Semenya in particular, because so much has been written about her. I explained that biologically she has male chromosomes and ambiguous genitalia. This explains why her body looks mostly but not entirely male.

Caster Semenya considers herself a woman and should be considered thus. That’s not biology, that’s just basic respect.

It’s distasteful that we have worldwide conversations about a person’s genitals but I’m old enough to remember this happening before – with East German olympic athletes. I’ll come back to that.

In the course of reading about athletics, I found this article, in The Conversation, which I read as one side of the debate – supporting Semenya’s inclusion in women’s sport. Here, the author explains how women’s sport could be changed to fairly include women like Caster Semenya.

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And this, I realise, is a perfect example of why people are getting rather upset about JK Rowling.

This article makes the statement that women should be allowed to take performance enhancing testosterone to bring them closer to their XY competitors, and make up for the other biological differences that being XY gives to an athlete (muscle development and mass, etc.,.). The article states it would not entirely level the playing field (“reduce the advantage”), as more than just testosterone dictates body development, but it would enable these women to possibly perform a little more like men, and therefore be closer to their intersex or XY competitors.

To be clear, this article says that women should ‘dope’ so that their sports category, women, can include XY women.

There is no discussion of any negative health consequences for this doping.

Sanctioning athletes taking performance enhancing, sex altering drugs that will damage their life long health has been done before, in East Germany in the 1970s and 80s.

And this is why it’s such a good teaching example.

In this case, XX women must change to accomodate XY women if they want to participate in elite sport. They may damage their bodies to do so. Is this fair?

Well, consider this; Up until this point, it’s been the case that XY women must change and potentially damage their bodies to meet the requirements of XX women. Is this fair?

Neither situation is fair. There is no situation where both groups’ needs are met. Both ‘solutions’ require one group to alter their body in potentially damaging ways. This is because in sport, unlike almost every other facet of life, one’s biology and physical capacity is the arbitrating factor.

So who will win?  she asked.

Well, that’s what the fuss is all about.



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