The Cruelest Test
It is found on the Internet that North Korean women’s sprinter Sin Kim Dan, who broke the women’s records at both 400 and 800 meters in 1964, reputedly was outed when “an overjoyed elderly gentleman in South Korea recognized Sin as the son he had lost in the war.”
Sin Kim Dan, 1964
This event has been cited as the root cause of the Budapest gender examinations, but from what I can tell the primary source of this claim is a short piece titled “Preserving la Difference” in Time magazine of 16 September, 1966. It is more likely that as the 1966 European athletics championship drew near, media-driven concern over alleged East Bloc men masquerading as women led to the formation of brute-force gender testing.
The first gender tests at a major sporting event took place at the 1966 European Athletics Championship in Budapest, where a panel of three doctors carried out visual examinations of all female athletes. The 1966 Commonwealth Games in Jamaica didn’t think looking was enough, and utilized a manual “grope” to feel women’s genitals. (Heggie) Remarkably, there was no mass outcry against this, nor any solidarity among the women contestants, so momentum for the tests continued, and at times became insultingly silly. For example, American shot-putter Maren Sidler testified that at the 1967 Pan-American games, one sprinter was rejected because her breasts weren’t large enough. (Heggie)
The tests did claim some early casualties among contestants. Irina and Tamara Press were sisters who competed in a variety of track and field events for Russia in the 1950’s and 1960’s, winning a total of 6 Olympic gold medals and setting 26 world records. However, the Press sisters were the only active competitors to refuse sex testing, and after 1966 they never competed in major international events again. (Ritchie)
Irina and Tamara Press
In 1968 the Barr body test was introduced, which is a genetic test that looks for the presence of a specific clump of chromatin which appears in people with two X chromosomes. (Ritchie)
Diagram of Barr Bodies, Indicated by Arrows
The first Olympic athlete to be disqualified by the test was Polish sprinter Eva Klobukowska, who was publically humiliated and stripped of her medals. (Adair, Ritchie) However, it is now believed she was actually an intersex woman with XX/XXY mosaicism, and that she was unfairly treated. (Adair, Buzuvis, Ritchie) Especially after Eva conceived and delivered a healthy baby years later. (Adair) Her medals were never returned to her, nor was she ever given an apology, and this episode remains a black mark on the Olympic games for intolerance and bigotry.
Austrian downhill skier Erica Schineggar competed in and won the 1966 women’s World Cup, but was forced to withdraw from the 1968 Grenoble Olympics as a result of a failed sex test which showed they had internal male genitals. (Buzuvis, Wamsley) Distraught over the results, she voluntarily surrendered her 1966 World Cup ski medal, and later underwent surgery, becoming Eric. (Wamsley)
The Barr body test was certainly a poor method of trying to keep men from sneaking in as women. For example, an XXY male with Klinefelter’s syndrome would actually pass the Barr body test, and be able to compete against XX women. (Ritchie) Clearly a better method was needed, and in 1991 the Barr test was replaced with a test which looked for the presence of an SRY gene, which was considered exclusive to males at one time. (Ritchie) However, as time passed it was discovered that some 46XX women have the SRY gene, and XY women with complete androgen insensitivity syndrome (CAIS) do as well. One example of this was Indian 800-meter contestant Santhi Soundarajan. After winning a silver medal at the 2006 Asian Games, her condition was made public and she was forced to return her medal. No longer able to compete and unable to find a job, she came near to suicide. (Adair, Buzuvis)
Now we take a step to the side in history to focus on other gender-related events in the sporting world at the time. At the same time the Barr body test was being inflicted on international women contestants, the United States was giving women athletes much-needed boost via the provisions of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The law, typically called just “Title IX,” is a sweeping piece of Civil Rights legislation which states in part:
No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance…
Championed by the National Organization for Women (NOW) and other civil rights groups, Title IX was a great step forward in women’s rights.
Title IX Supporters
However, it was not by any means all-encompassing nor completely equalizing. For example, athletic programs in private clubs or organizations are exempt, as Title IX only applies to institutions which receive federal funds. Another modifier on its effects are the result of numerous administrative and court decisions since its passage. In its current interpretation, Title IX effectively creates a “separate but equal” framework for women’s sports. (Buzuvis) Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in non-contact sports, with the exception that so long as equal sporting opportunities were offered to both sexes, segregation could occur. For the case of contact sports, however, segregation was allowed (and note that Title IX by no means mandates sex segregation). (Buzuvis)
In the years since Title IX, several court rulings have defined the potential for cross-gender sports. In O’Connor v. Board of Education it was ruled that a female player had no right to join the men’s team, even when the women’s team had a lower skill level than the player. For the most part, courts have agreed with this concept. Other court cases have addressed whether it was fair to have girl’s teams play against boy’s teams, as the boys would suffer “social stigma” by losing to girls. (Buzuvis)
In 1976 renowned ophthalmologist Dr. Reneé Richards, née Richard Raskind, attempted to play in a national tournament in South Orange, New Jersey, as a warm-up for competing in the U.S. Open – as a woman. The United States Tennis Association (USTA) and the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) panicked over the thought of the 6-foot 2-inch Richards playing against other women, and withdrew their sanction of the tournament. The other women competitors were so infuriated by Richards’ participation that 25 of the 32 women originally scheduled to play dropped out, and instead played in an alternative tournament hastily arranged by the USTA and WTA. (Birrell)
Richards made it to the semifinals, where she lost. Undaunted, she decided to enter the women’s singles tournament at the 1976 U.S. Open. However, she was denied entry based on a hurriedly-enacted ordinance requiring all women’s players possess two X chromosomes. Backed by medical experts and even tennis notables such as Billie Jean King, Richards took her case to the New York Supreme Court, and won. In a nutshell, the Court ruled that “this person is now female” and stated that requiring Richards to pass a chromosome test was “grossly unfair, discriminatory and inequitable, and violative of her rights.” (Richards v. USTA)
Reneé Richards, Interviewed after Her Court Victory
She didn’t win on the court, however, being eliminated in the first round of the 1977 U.S. Open, losing to Virginia Wade, 6-1, 6-4. Nonetheless, Richards enjoyed a modest amount of success, playing until 1981, reaching the quarter finals at the 1978 US Open, and winning one singles title. (Hamilton) As she kept playing and the USTA and WTA noted that the sky failed to fall, Richards found some support from the tennis establishment, from male tennis players Gene Scott and Bobby Riggs, as well as two prominent tennis women, Gladys Heldman (who provided several opportunities for Richards to play on a women’s tour she promoted) and Billie Jean King, who invited Richards to play women’s doubles with her on that tour. (Birrell)
Others, such as Beth Norton, were very vocal in their opposition. Norton wrote in a letter to the Winston-Salem Journal:
“the unfairness of forcing young girls to compete with a middle-aged transsexual who previously has been a nationally ranked men’s player…[and who had] 30 years’ experience playing men’s and boy’s tennis… It is only fair that her rights should not impose upon the rights of girls earning a professional living in the women’s tour. The rights of all of us as individuals should be taken into consideration. (February 14, 1978).” (Birrell)
Richards spent a successful year as Martina Navratilova’s coach, then left professional tennis and returned to her ophthalmology practice. (Birrell) Heather Sykes notes “This court decision was crucial in establishing legal recognition of transsexual people after sex reassignment surgery (SRS) although it did little to bring about widespread protection for trans-athletes in the wider sporting context.” (Sykes)
Reneé Richards and Martina Navratilova, Wimbledon, 1982
Over her tennis career, Richards experienced relatively minor discrimination from her female contestants. Two British players, Lesley Charles and Glynis Coles, arrived at a tournament in Florida wearing shirts that read, “I Am a Real Woman.” Also, Australian Kerry Melville Reid once walked off the court and defaulted as she was trailing Richards 6-7, 1-4 during a tournament in Phoenix. Reid’s husband later said, “We don’t believe Renee is a woman. Kerry will never play her again.” (Pilgrim)
Even a paper by Birrell and Cole, which appears to be incredibly unsympathetic to Richards’ cause, notes the following:
The entrance of a transsexual into women’s sport posed an interesting dilemma that was symbolized by the fact that Richards had to sue to gain the legal right to enter sport as a woman. After all, Jan Morris did not have to sue to be allowed to be a writer, Christine Jorgensen did not have to sue to become an entertainer, and Richards continued his/her career as an ophthalmologist. The particular difficulty of this dilemma reveals sport not only as a gender producing, gender affirming system but as a difference and power producing system. For sport works to differentiate winners from losers, the men from the boys, the men from the women. As a significant gendering activity, sport not only reproduces gender and sex differences but it produces a logic of differentiation.
In later years, Richards presents us with a highly conflicting view of the situation. In an interview with the New York Times in 2006, she made several statements which could be interpreted as decidedly transphobic.
Back to Dr. Richards, who is surprisingly conservative. She calls the 2004 decision of the International Olympic Committee, which allows transsexuals to compete, “a particularly stupid decision,” explaining that when she sued to play at the U.S. Open, she was 40. “I wasn’t going to overwhelm Chris Evert and Tracy Austin, who were 20 years old.”
And while she believes same-sex couples should receive the same benefits as those who are married, her idea of marriage demands a man and a woman.
“It’s like a female plug and an electrical outlet,” she says.
In her book, Dr. Richards never writes that she regrets having had her surgery, yet she lists so many regrets relating to her sex change that it is like someone who returns again and again to the edge of a great pit, but refuses to leap in. Those feelings were also evident in past interviews.
“In 1999, you told People—” the reporter begins.
Dr. Richards interrupts.
“—I told People what I was feeling, which I still feel: Better to be an intact man functioning with 100 percent capacity for everything than to be a transsexual woman who is an imperfect woman.” (Wadler)
Richards seems to be decidedly in the camp of “I had my cake, screw you.” In my personal non-medical opinion, based on a careful reading of Richards’ own autobiographies, she is a highly unbalanced person – her fixation with her mother, her sexual relations with her sister, her bizarre and dangerous sexual forays, and clear evidence of wildly varying behavior.
If Richards was a flawed tool, however, she nonetheless crafted a good work.
Part 1 – Introduction and Early History
Part 2 – The Cruelest Test (Current page)
Part 3 – Post-Richards to the Stockholm Consensus
Part 4 – Current Events
Part 5 – Let’s Get Physical
Part 6 – Why, oh Why, Must it be This Way?
Part 7 – Are There Any Cases Where an Advantage Seems Possible?
Part 8 – Final Summary and References