Last month, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) ruled against Caster Semenya, a two-time Olympic champion from South Africa who challenged rules prohibiting women with naturally high levels of testosterone from competing The court’s ruling declares that female track athletes with naturally elevated levels of testosterone must reduce these hormones before they can participate in certain races at major competitions.
Madeleine Pape, a former Australian Olympian who has raced against Semenya and a Ph.D. candidate in sociology, told The New York Times that athletes should be allowed to compete based on their preferred gender:
I’m not saying it’s a solution, but I think it’s a start…I think it’s hard to draw a biological line around the female athlete category.”
She believes the court ruling is based primarily on
“People’s fears and misconceptions about trans women competing…I want to make sure people understand the complexities [of gender categories] and relate to these women as real people.”
While there have been broader shifts in cultural acceptance of transgender people and deconstructing gender categories, sports organizations tend to draw hard lines between men and women. According to law professor Doriane Lambelet Coleman:
“The gender studies folks have spent the last 20 years deconstructing sex and all of a sudden they’re facing an institution with an entirely opposite story…We have to ask, ‘Is respecting gender identity more important or is seeing female bodies on the podium more important?’”