Sexual Standards in Sports

Sexual Standards in Sports

When watching the Olympics, many spectators are not only in awe of the competition, but they are also in awe of the body composition. Athletes typically put years of hard work into a performance that can last as little as two seconds. Some athletes might appear glamorous, like figure skaters or gymnasts; meanwhile others appear tough and rigid like weightlifters or boxers. Typically in the past no standards have been made and gender has not been questioned, but up until recently things have changed.

Caster Semenya, a track and field Athlete from South Africa is one of the most recent athletes to undergo gender testing. In an article titled “Unruly Bodies” by Sharon Preves from “Introducing the New Sexuality Studies”, Caster Semenya is recognized along with another athlete, Johnny Weir.

Semenya was claimed to be tested because of her tremendous speed, and not because of her low voice and physical build. Until this day it is uncertain whether her career as an athlete was short lived. “The IAAD has yet to rule on whether they consider her ‘female enough’ to continue the tremendously promising career that she only just began.” (Preves 129).

Results from the tests were leaked and the test reported that Semenya had no ovaries or uterus, but she had external features of female genetalia and a testes that wasn’t fully developed. All of these characteristics gave Semenya extra testosterone.

Less than a year later, Weir, a figure skater from the United States, was tested because of his questionably flamboyant attitude. Tested only 6 months apart, this caused major uproar amongst the International Association of Athletics Foundation (IAAF) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). In solution of multiple meetings and conferences, the IOC decided to create facilities where female athletes can undergo treatment as extensive as surgery in able to be able to compete.

Regarding transgender athletes, October 2014 was the first time that the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) allowed transgender athletes to play, as well as the first time a Division 1 NCAA Transgender athlete opened up. Regarding the AIA, allowing athletes to play is case by case. The article on stated, “We look at the school,” Schmidt said. “Do they support the request? We look at the student. There is a lot of documentation to explore, the gender dysphonia. Are they working with medical professionals? Where are the parents and students themselves? What are their positions? How long have they identified as the opposite sex they were born?” However, not all schools are willing to let transgender athletes participate, so they do look at outside circumstances such as other students as well. More and more schools and recreational sports programs are recognizing transgender athletes today. According to, here are the policies for NCAA sports (via

“The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which organizes competition in 23 sports at over 1,000 colleges and universities, does not require gender confirming surgery or legal recognition of a player’s transitioned sex in order for transgender players to participate on a team which matches their identity. However, things become a bit more complicated when hormones are used. The recommended NCAA policy requires one year of hormone treatment as a condition prior to competing on a female team. Conversely, athletes assigned female at birth remain eligible to compete in women’s sports unless or until that athlete begins a physical transition using hormones (testosterone).”

The NCAA’s most recently opened up athlete, Kye Allums, who is now 25 years old, played basketball at George Washington University and opened up in 2010. In an interview with Time magazine, he often used the word ‘uncomfortable’ when describing his life as a female. When Kye Allums opened up in 2010, he said he received extensive negative feedback doubting his claim. However, opposing teams’ players supported his decision, and did not let it affect the game, but fans were said to have pointed in surprise of a ’not so shocking’ appearance change. Today, Allums travels nation-wide to talk about his life as a transgender.

According to the NCAA, here are reasons why transgender athletes need to be addressed right now:

-—Estimates are that 1-2% of the population identifies as transgender
—-More young people are identifying as transgender at younger ages
—-In recent years, the NCAA has had at least 40 inquiries from member schools about how to include transgender students on athletic teams
-—Participation in athletics contributes to students’ overall educational experience
-The NCAA is a part of the higher education community and supports a broad commitment to inclusion and equal access

In conclusion, sports alone are a very controversial topic. When questions about gender are involved, the topic becomes very serious. Today, many organizations and strong individuals are making history in the sports world. The NCAA, IAAF, AIA, and IOC are only a few of the many organizations taking risks and making changes. There are many aspects that need to be looked at regarding performance and gender dysphonia.

How would you feel if your sex was questioned based on your athletic performance?
Do you think that transgender athletes should be allowed to play in the NCAA?
How would you feel about locker room showers in schools?
How do you think this will change the way gay men and women appear in sports today?

3 thoughts on “Sexual Standards in Sports

  1. I think it’s wonderful that you have focused on Sports and all of the controversy surrounding the sports world. For me personally, it seems ridiculous that a persons sex can be legally questioned due to their athletic performance. I believe that all people should be allowed to participate in sports, even those who do not neatly fit into cisgender categories such as transgender individuals or those perceived as “too masculine” or “too feminine.” In regards to locker rooms and showers in schools, it would be appropriate to create individual shower stalls so that nobody has to bathe together or perhaps to create gender neutral bathrooms and shower spaces. I don’t know if that would solve the problem, but gender neutral restrooms have been a common response by many schools and institutions. I desperately hope that these cases are solved quickly and appropriately and that more opportunities to participate are extended to individuals who do not identify cleanly into our heteronormative expectations. If these are handled appropriately, then I would hope that gay men and women would feel more safe and accepted by institutions and their peers, which could help to legitimize them in the sports world.


  2. In a philosophy class this week we were talking about how certain kinds of theoretical investigations can be held back by the supposition that there is a correct answer to the question being asked. Honestly this feels like one of those cases, like in class when we talk about how scholars don’t have fully developed language to handle these issues. I don’t think there’s a “right” answer here sadly. We still need to do something about it though. Politically, is it possible to convince people to accept the best of the wrong answers?


  3. First, this is a very interesting post! I love it! I would have a feeling of anger if my sex was questioned based on my athletic performance. Basically growing up on the soccer field, I have seen many girls who have the athletic talent of a boy. However, I never thought that they were actually boys nor would I question their sex on a higher level. I think the way that girls play can be related to how they grew up. If they’ve spent their whole life playing soccer with two older brothers, obviously they will play rougher. In the aspect of everyone deserves to play the sport that they love, I believe that transgender athletes should be allowed in the NCAA. However, I also think that NCAA has so many rules that it would cause further complications while creating guidelines. Locker room showers are definitely questionable. Everyone is way too comfortable walking around with no clothes on. I think that it may create uncomfortable situations.


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