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Men in skirts

During my second year of high school, a rumor spread like wildfire about the apparent men that masqueraded among us at night. Being a single-sex school, the fear that gripped us was enormous. It was either a tale brought up by some dark humor lovers or by some girls who had “trans-nighted” and masterminded the account. In reality, the Men in Skirts was the school warden. She used to jog as early as 4:00 am wearing a long skirt, but her masculine looks deceived us that we had a man in a skirt on the compound.

I wonder for how long our girls/women shall be referred to as men just because of their unique appearances and genetic blessings. The Olympics came to an end but missing in action were the likes of our fast cheetah ladies, the likes of Caster Semenya from South Africa, Margaret Wambui from Kenya, and Negesa Annet from Uganda. A week or two from the Olympics, a former Polish sprinter filed a complaint targeting the 18-year-old Christine Mboma of Namibia because her construction, movement, technique, speed, and endurance can’t be for a woman! In 2016, at the Rio Olympics, the 800m podium had Caster Semenya with Gold, Francine Niyonsaba with Silver, and Margaret Wambui with Bronze, who have all since been banned from participating in the 800m run at the international level. The ban on participating in the 800m came with an offer of 1500m….1500m, such a hefty exchange for 800m!

Francine Niyonsaba from Burundi. Courtesy photo

It so happens that the rules governing the athletes under the World Athletics Testerone rules have been modified over the years, which has arguably been believed that these rules are systematically targeting a specific group of individuals. In 2018, the International Association of Athletics Federations released new rules for the eligibility of women to participate in races which focused on; the athlete to be recognized as a female or intersex (or equivalent), reduction of blood testosterone levels below 5nmol/L with continuous assessment, and maintenance of the testosterone levels below 5nmol/L. At puberty, testosterone levels for men can go as high as 31.8 nmol/L and as low as 9.8nmol/L, while in women, testosterone levels lay between 0.3 – 2.4 nmol/L. Testosterone is an androgen hormone responsible for developing the testicles and prostate glands and promoting secondary sexual characteristics like increased muscle, deepened voice, body hair, and stronger bones. So what is the case? The likes of Caster, Negesa, Wambui, and Francine have their testosterone hormone levels above 5 nmol/L which has seen some writers or analysts refer to them as hermaphrodites, a rather disparaging term.

Uganda’s Annet Negesa. Photo via Telegraph

Micheal Phelps is the most decorated Olympian with 28 medals. He was celebrated for the unique genetic differences that offered him an upper hand in outstanding performance through this career. He may be considered the greatest swimmer of all time thanks to his double-jointed ankles that give him an unusual range and his cells that barely produce lactic acid. Lactic acid is produced in our bodies while at work, building in the muscles and causing tiredness resulting from sore muscles or pain. Its production occurs temporarily as you engage in vigorous activities. His uniqueness was celebrated and praised at the tables of the highest order!

There has been a total twist of events with the inclusion of transgender people to participate and compete actively. It’s a great idea as inclusivity and diversity are essential. However, it questions the authenticity of the rules and laws set by these governing bodies. During the transition process, a lot goes on with the body hormones in pursuit of shaping them to the desired wants. A lot of hormone therapy takes place, such as woman to man; hair growth, muscle growth, voice deepening, metoidioplasty, and masculine characteristics are catered for in the hormonal therapy one takes on. This clearly indicates that the testosterone and progesterone hormones are evolving and getting redefined. It is vital to note that as transgender, one can still compete against fellow women as their birth sex is considered over their identity regardless of the alterations.

This leaves me questioning the inclusivity and diversity that we are talking about. If we are speaking of inclusion, why can’t the naturally endowed “African” women compete? It just so happens that no other race has had its participants get banned over the testosterone law. Could it be a systematic racial target? Why were these rules and regulations developed when the athletes created dominance in the sports? Why can’t these women be left to engage in sporting activities freely? It baffles me as the so-called hermaphrodites identify as women and have maintained their birth sex.

So many unanswered questions, little unsatisfying responses. Lest we understand, these are not men in skirts instead uniquely endowed women!

PS: The author is not transphobic or racist, and neither has any intention of malicious purposes but seeks to understand the discrepancies surrounding the testosterone laws and what feasible actions are being taken to support these women beyond the option of alteration of their natural hormonal levels.


Elizabeth Kisolo
Elizabeth Kisolo Nagudi is a contributor at The-SportsNation. She is also a founder of WOMEN IN SPORTS: HER SPORT. Connect with her about women in sports via [email protected]
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