This is one story to watch as it unfolds.
Caster Semenya, a muscular 18-year-old from South Africa competing in her first senior championship, is undergoing sex-determination testing to confirm her eligibility to race as a woman in Olympic Track and Field.
She has just won the Olympic 800 meter race but now her gender is being questioned. Pierre Weiss, general secretary of the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations), the sport’s governing body, stressed that the testing had been initiated because of “ambiguity, not because we believe she is cheating.”
Semenya broke free of her much more experienced competitors on the final lap and won by the huge margin of more than two seconds, finishing in 1 minute 55.45 seconds. (That was still more than two seconds slower than the world record.)
She won fair and square, but some of the finalists do not agree.
“These kind of people should not run with us,” Elisa Cusma of Italy, who finished sixth, said in a postrace interview with Italian journalists. “For me, she’s not a woman. She’s a man.”And therein lies the rub.
Mariya Savinova, a Russian who finished fifth, told Russian journalists that she did not believe Semenya would be able to pass a test. “Just look at her,” Savinova said.
Is gender in the eye of the beholder or the microscope?
Or is gender identity something far more personal?
“It turns out genes, hormones and genitals are pretty complicated,” Alice Dreger, a professor of medical humanities and bioethics at Northwestern University, said in a telephone interview. “There isn’t really one simple way to sort out males and females. Sports require that we do, but biology doesn’t care. Biology does not fit neatly into simple categories, so they do these tests. And part of the reason I’ve criticized the tests is that a lot of times, the officials don’t say specifically how they’re testing and why they’re using that test. It should be subject to scientific review. . . . ”
. . . .Weiss said that the two-pronged investigation was being conducted in South Africa and in Berlin in hospitals that specialize in sex-testing issues. He said that Dr. Harold Adams, a South African on the I.A.A.F. medical commission, was helping to coordinate the work in South Africa.
(IAFF Spokesman Nick) Davies emphasized that the testing is extensive, beginning with a visual evaluation by a physician. “There is chromosome testing, gynecological investigation, all manner of things, organs, X-rays, scans,” he said. “It’s very, very comprehensive.”
Dreger, the Northwestern professor, said the doctors could examine genes, gonads, genitalia, hormone levels and medical history.
Well, I suppose that's better than simply having to suffer the indignity of being watched while you pee in the toilet - which is exactly one of the indignities Olympic athletes had to endure, I'm told, before more specific testing became available.
The official medical term for that is "visual examination," which will be - if it has not already - part of the "extensive, comprehensive testing" which will include "chromosome testing, gynecological investigation, all manner of things, organs, X-rays, scans."
So, what happens if the tests 'prove' that Ms. Semenya is a transgender person?
The Olympic races have always only had two categories: Male and Female. Will a third category be created to accommodate Trans people?
The Olympic Committee is not saying. Yet.
Right now, organized "scientific" confusion seems to be the only communication coming from the IAAF.
That's what happens when people don't fit in nice, neat little boxes.
Any of this beginning to sound even vaguely familiar?
General Convention 2009 in Anaheim came "this close" to adding gender identity and expression to the Canons which list the categories of people against whom we may not - must not - discriminate.
The resolution died in the House of Bishops because some of the esteemed theologians in the Junior House of Bishops simply could not get their pointy little mitered heads around the concept of a transgender person.
We will pick up the discussion in three years. You can bet that organizations like TrasEpiscopal, IntegrityUSA and the Episcopal Women's Caucus will be helping deputies and bishops do their homework on this subject before then.
It's not just The Episcopal Church or the Olympic International Athletics Foundation who are being asked to tolerate ambiguity.
As more and more Trans people find the courage to stand up, identify themselves, and tell their stories, more and more people around the world will wake up to the fact that God is the very One who created ambiguity.
The God of Our Understanding is One who surpasses our understanding.
I believe God is calling us not only to tolerate ambiguity, but to embrace it, love it and celebrate it.
Because God does.
I believe Transpeople have now taken on the task of doing the final, heavy lifting as we continue to work to break down barriers that divide us as God's children and dismantle the oppressive structures of sexism and misogyny.
Good thing they're not alone. Those of us who have been long-time (for some of us, life-long) activists in the LGBT and Feminist/Womanist/Mujerista/Asian communities will be right there with them, helping to shoulder some of the burden.
It's very important work, the next step of the long journey to create a place where we may catch an even greater glimpse of the Realm of God on this side of Paradise.
As Dr. Dregger says,
“But at the end of the day, they (the IAAF) are going to have to make a social decision on what counts as male and female, and they will wrap it up as if it is simply a scientific decision,” Dreger said.
“And the science actually tells us sex is messy. Or as I like to say, ‘Humans like categories neat, but nature is a slob.’ ”
I'm giggling here, imagining the Holy Messiness of Heaven.
When we get there - and I do believe that we're all going to heaven - some of us are in for a Very Big Surprise.