China’s Olympic-sized sex and gender problems

Image via sumimazen1973.

I actually had this much sexier ‘unbearable lightness of being Chinese‘ Tao Li Jing photo to go with this post about my SF Chronicle column (on SF Gate), but given that the original way female “gender suspects” were rounded up and examined in 1968, this image seemed more appropriate. And they’re cute and smiley, the way I usually prefer to see our nekkid girls. This week’s column is a doozy, and if you think you read about this topic in the NYT already, be prepared to see the NYT taken to task. Here’s a *fat* snip from half of my piece, China’s Olympic-sized sex and gender problems: Rounding up and testing female ‘gender suspects’ while disallowing sex talk to foreigners makes Beijing look like a bad place to be a top female athlete:

In a couple weeks, the Olympics begin in China. It’s a big country. So big that it manufactures most of the world’s sex toys, and was recently host to the world’s largest sex toy expo, the Fifth China International Adult Toys and Reproductive Health Exhibition. In 2007, the expo boasted over 30,000 attendees who gawked, poked, squeezed and generally tingled (or cringed) at all the weird and wonderful and wobbly and mystifyingly gender-bending sex gizmos on display.

Next month, something similar is supposed to happen on a more athletic scale: The 2008 Summer Olympics will attract athletes, press and spectators from all over the world. And China’s done some pretty weird things to get ready for the fete. Like Beijing shutting down all building sites and many factories to clear the smog after failing air quality tests. And arresting (or sorta-disappearing) the founder of China’s pioneer human rights Web site 64Tianwang — the numbers refer to the date of the Tiananmen Square massacre. There’s a lot more, like the pre-Olympic clampdown on sex, after-hours bars and adult lifestyle chat.

No sex please, we’re Chinese. As if. But what’s more to the point with China, sexuality, sexual human rights and the Olympics is Beijing’s announcement that it will set up a “sex determination lab” for female Olympic athletes “suspected” to be males. You know, because we’re sneaky like that. We could, like, totally kick your ass at the pole-vault competition with more experience than a girl should probably have with a pole in China, and no one likes that.

According to Xinhuanet News, “Suspected athletes will be evaluated from their external appearances by experts and undergo blood tests to examine their sex hormones, genes and chromosomes for sex determination, according to Prof. Tian Qinjie of Peking Union Medical College Hospital.” In this context, women are being singled out as “suspects,” “gender cheats,” “getting caught,” “being abnormal” and “failing” to be female, and judged by a parade of endocrinologists, gynecologists, a geneticist and a psychologist. Boys will apparently always be boys. Meaning, at the Olympics, men are never gender suspects. Contrast Beijing’s female gender profiling to Athens, where at the 2004 Olympics, Durex donated 130,000 free condoms to athletes, and the Sydney 2000 Games, where each athlete got 51 condoms on arrival at the Olympic Village (yet happily, another 20,000 were cargo-dropped in when Olympians were “burning rubber” in earnest).

How are Chinese officials deciding whom to test? You only need to be “suspicious-looking” to be forced into testing. The Olympic Committee’s woman-test began in the 1960s when Communist countries were untrustworthy “Reds,” Russian and German female athletes made leatherfags lift weights a little more often, and the first method of “testing” was to “ask” suspected women to parade nude before a panel of doctors to verify their sex. Some didn’t pass simply because they didn’t “look right” down there.

San Francisco’s Mikayla Connell is the former chairperson of the Board of Directors at Transgender Law Center and current board president of the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee, and also an attorney at the Judicial Council of California. Transgender and intersex issues abound here, but turns out, the Olympics already have policies for such athletes. Connell tells me, “Though the subject of transsexual athletes might come to mind — that’s not what this is really about. The Olympics has specific rules regarding transsexual athletes and how they can compete. With the rules about transsexuals in place, the people most directly affected (as I understand it) by ‘gender verification‘ testing are people whose chromosomes, genitalia or genetics don’t conform to whatever arbitrary standard the testing agency has created or adopted. People are drawing a line in the sand in a desert without borders — the line is arbitrary, and ultimately unsupportable scientifically. And unfortunately, the results are devastating to those found to be on the ‘wrong’ side of that arbitrary line. The Olympic Council of Asia should learn from the International Olympic Committee’s 31 years of experience and drop this testing — it doesn’t work and it’s harmful to the athletes.”

Connell also thinks — while the rest of us girls practically burst into our own Olympic torches of anger — that the Olympic Council hasn’t come a very long way, baby. Not one to miss an exciting moment of misogyny, Connell adds, “You don’t see men being tested for ‘masculinity,’ just women being tested for ‘femininity.’ There seems to be a perception in certain parts of the sports world that women who are really good at sports must not actually be women, but men in disguise.” (…read more — I think you’ll find it quite alarming.)

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  1. Another way to detect a male presence is to measure the amount of testosterone in their urine – which is what I thought they were doing until now. Is it just the Chinese Olympic committee getting their jollies or is it an elite, world-wide Olympic club of perverts? How closely do they inspect the genitalia and what are their “expert” guidelines?

    BTW: Do olympians actually have that much sex that they need so many condoms, or was Durex just doing a publicity campaign? An athlete needs his essence, so he can channel every amount of his strength including sexual energy during the olympics. I’m pretty sure that very few if any are having sex during that crucial 2 weeks.

  2. Wow, it’s really scary how we seem to be progressing back in time in so many ways; walled garden become stronger; young kiddies more willing than ever to give away all their prive info on cool corpspaces & bookfaces.

    I just wrote a piece on the TS Imperial Court, which runs the world-wide Queen of the Universe pageants, which of course, the web series, GENDER BLENDER, covers.

    These women are so open and without shame, of course, that openness and a open, TS or queer or even healthy sexualty is a radical challenge to a fascist, hyper-consumerist party that depends on objectification and keeping hte masses satiated with materialism.

    I’d love China to come face-face with a TS Olympic participant.

    Wonder how many more years until things really explode? We know what happens when repression, sublimation builds, babeee….

  3. I strongly suspect a lot of this has to do with the years of accusation (sometimes rightly placed to boot) that China is changing the gender of male athletes to win female competitions. It perhaps is offensive, but at the same time how offensive is it to be a female and be beaten by someone who should never have been in the competition in the first place?

  4. Good for you for writing about this, Violet. Just want to point out two things. The Tiananmen Square massacre took place in 1989, not 1964. And the suspects, though women, are supected to be men. Therefore, the suspicion is not that women are tricky, and would otherwise beat the boys in their own contests, but that men are somehow trying to get infiltrate a women’s competition. Ultimately, it’s still a suspicion of women not *looking* like women, and therefore needing to be tested, but it’s not about women being better at sports. The whole thing is a bit more twisted up, as gender generally is anyway ;)

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