[Paleopsych] Alternet: Transexual Olympiads

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Transexual Olympiads
By Stephen Hui, Rabble <http://www.rabble.ca/> . Posted August 11, 2004.

"It's about time," Michelle Dumaresq says of the Olympic committee's 
recent decision to allow transsexual athletes to compete in their 
self-identified gender.

Dumaresq, 33, broke new ground for transsexual athletes in 2001 by 
asserting her right to race as a woman. Now the post-operative 
male-to-female transsexual from Vancouver is the Canadian national 
champion in the women's downhill discipline.

While the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) new rules won't apply to 
her - since downhill mountain biking is not yet an Olympic sport - 
Dumaresq says she's pleased that trans athletes hoping to participate in 
the Games will no longer face the barriers that have dogged her.

Until recently, transsexual athletes were barred from competing in the 
Olympics. Then in May, the IOC's executive board approved a policy 
establishing the conditions under which athletes who have changed sex 
could participate in the games. The new rules kick in this Friday in 
Athens. "I think this clearly shows that we will always address issues on 
human rights. That's something that we find very important," says 
Charmaine Crooks, an Olympic silver medallist and Canadian IOC member 
living in Vancouver. "It also shows that when there is an issue, we will 
study it and if it fits with our fundamental values and philosophies, then 
we will act on it and act quickly, but also act in the best interest of 
all athletes."

Gwen Smith, a board member of the U.S.-based Gender Education and Advocacy 
group, calls the IOC decision a "very small" step forward for trans 

"At the very least, it further shows that transgender people are human 
beings. We deserve to compete," says the San Francisco activist. "It 
certainly moves things forward in this venue, and it also further will 
help show that we're here and we're able.

"I don't think you're going to see any great change in the amount of 
Olympic athletes that are transgendered - not in the short term," Smith 
continues. "That said, I think you're going to see more athletes overall 
who are already transgendered, who will feel that they have an actual 
opportunity to compete."

Smith is hoping that other sports bodies will follow the IOC's lead - 
though she also hopes the IOC will relax its conditions for transsexual 
athletes in the future.

According to the IOC's new policy, transsexual athletes must have 
undergone sexual reassignment surgery to be eligible to compete in their 
gender. If the operation took place before puberty, the athlete's gender 
will be respected.

In the case of a post-puberty gender transition, athletes must undergo 
complete genital surgery and get their gonads (their ovaries or testes) 
removed before they can compete. They also have to get legal recognition 
of their chosen gender and complete hormone therapy to minimize any 
sex-related advantages, the policy says.

Post-pubescent transitioners will then have to wait two years before they 
can become eligible to apply for a confidential IOC evaluation.

Dumaresq says the IOC's policy - including its two-year wait - is 
appropriate. "I believe that there should be a waiting period to eliminate 
the physical advantages," she says. "I know personally how long my body 
took to change, and two years is plenty."

Some observers have expressed concern that transsexual athletes may, in 
spite of the rules, possess an unfair advantage over their peers. One news 
report quoted an Ottawa doctor's claims that male-to-female transsexuals 
will have the advantage of size and strength, while female-to-male 
transsexuals could have an edge where endurance is concerned. The report 
raised the spectre of Olympic-obsessed athletes changing sex to gain the 
upper hand.

Dumaresq disputes such claims. The mountain biker is adamant she doesn't 
have any unfair advantage over her peers.

"I have lost the ability to build muscle and have lost the muscle mass 
that I once had - gone," she says.

"I work out constantly just to try and maintain a strong physical fitness 
level," she explains. "Many have said, 'What if a pro athlete changes 
sex?' Well, if a pro athlete wants to go through what I've gone through, 
and then start racing again to try and win, let them try. SRS [sex 
reassignment surgery] is irreversible, and without testosterone, muscle 
will decrease."

The Stockholm consensus, as the IOC's new trans policy is known, was 
formulated by a committee of experts convened by the IOC's medical 
commission to make recommendations on the participation of athletes who 
have undergone sexual reassignment in sport.

Some of those experts had already helped abolish the IOC's old, highly 
controversial gender verification procedures. "In a sense, this [new 
policy] was a continuation of that effort," says committee member Myron 
Genel, who is also a professor at Yale University's school of medicine.

Gender verification testing of female athletes at the Olympics began in 
1968 at Mexico City. The process - initially a gynecological exam, later a 
chromosomal test - was invasive and unreliable. In 2000, the IOC scrapped 
gender testing in time for the Sydney Olympics.

"A lot of us would feel that the IOC was much too slow in eliminating 
gender verification," Genel says now. "[But] I think they certainly have 
taken the lead in terms of how to deal with transgendered athletes."

Like Dumaresq, the professor says he's confident that making trans 
athletes wait two years after their gonadectomies will be more than enough 
time to mitigate any physical advantages they might have due to muscle 

"Now, there obviously would be skeletal changes that are not reversible, 
in terms of size and wingspan, for example," Genel says. "But if you're 
going discriminate against transgendered athletes on the basis of their 
height or their wingspan, then we ought to set clear limits for women who 
compete, since there are six-foot-six women who compete in sports such as 
basketball and volleyball."

The plight of transsexual athletes shows it may make more sense to group 
competitors by their physical attributes, such as height and weight, 
rather than their gender, points out local trans activist Tami Starlight.

Meanwhile, Dumaresq continues to make history in her discipline.

Cycling's governing bodies suspended the mountain biker in 2001 after some 
of her fellow racers filed complaints against her. The decision on 
Dumaresq's status eventually came down to her birth certificate, which she 
had changed to identify herself as female. The Canadian Cycling 
Association decided that since Dumaresq is legally recognized as female, 
she should have the right to compete in women's sports.

In 2002, Dumaresq was granted a full licence to compete as a pro mountain 
biker. She went on to win the Canada Cup series, become the first known 
transsexual athlete to earn a spot on a national team, and place 24th at 
the world championships.

Last year, she made history again when she won the national downhill 
championship in Whistler. She finished 17th at the world championships in 
Lugano, Switzerland.

Dumaresq says she knows of transsexual athletes hoping to compete in 
future Olympics, including the 2010 summer games in Vancouver.

"During my time racing, I have faced many people who had prejudices and 
intolerances towards me and people like me," she says. "I hope that I have 
educated some, so that it'll be easier for the next athlete with a trans 
history to be included."

Stephen Hui is a journalist living in Toronto. This article originally 
appeared in Xtra West, a lesbian and gay newspaper in Vancouver.

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