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Sporting Gender: The History, Science, and Stories of Transgender and Intersex Athletes

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The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games are likely to feature the first transgender athlete, a topic that will be highly contentious during the competition. But transgender and intersex athletes such as Laurel Hubbard, Tifanny Abreu, and Caster Semenya didn't just turn up overnight. Both intersex and transgender athletes have been newsworthy stories for decades. In Sporting Gender: T The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games are likely to feature the first transgender athlete, a topic that will be highly contentious during the competition. But transgender and intersex athletes such as Laurel Hubbard, Tifanny Abreu, and Caster Semenya didn't just turn up overnight. Both intersex and transgender athletes have been newsworthy stories for decades. In Sporting Gender: The History, Science, and Stories of Transgender and Intersex Athletes, Joanna Harper provides an in-depth examination of why gender diverse athletes are so controversial. She not only delves into the history of these athletes and their personal stories, but also explains in a highly accessible manner the science behind their gender diversity and why the science is important for regulatory committees--and the general public--to consider when evaluating sports performance. Sporting Gender gives the reader a perspective that is both broad in scope and yet detailed enough to grasp the nuances that are central in understanding the controversies over intersex and transgender athletes. Featuring personal investigations from the author, who has had first-person access to some of the most significant recent developments in this complex arena, this book provides fascinating insight into sex, gender, and sports.


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The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games are likely to feature the first transgender athlete, a topic that will be highly contentious during the competition. But transgender and intersex athletes such as Laurel Hubbard, Tifanny Abreu, and Caster Semenya didn't just turn up overnight. Both intersex and transgender athletes have been newsworthy stories for decades. In Sporting Gender: T The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games are likely to feature the first transgender athlete, a topic that will be highly contentious during the competition. But transgender and intersex athletes such as Laurel Hubbard, Tifanny Abreu, and Caster Semenya didn't just turn up overnight. Both intersex and transgender athletes have been newsworthy stories for decades. In Sporting Gender: The History, Science, and Stories of Transgender and Intersex Athletes, Joanna Harper provides an in-depth examination of why gender diverse athletes are so controversial. She not only delves into the history of these athletes and their personal stories, but also explains in a highly accessible manner the science behind their gender diversity and why the science is important for regulatory committees--and the general public--to consider when evaluating sports performance. Sporting Gender gives the reader a perspective that is both broad in scope and yet detailed enough to grasp the nuances that are central in understanding the controversies over intersex and transgender athletes. Featuring personal investigations from the author, who has had first-person access to some of the most significant recent developments in this complex arena, this book provides fascinating insight into sex, gender, and sports.

49 review for Sporting Gender: The History, Science, and Stories of Transgender and Intersex Athletes

  1. 5 out of 5

    David

    very interesting, even-handed, noninflammatory look at the issues particularly as it relates to DSD athletes' competing in women-only sports (focuses quite a bit on Caster Semenya vs. IAAF case, on which author was a witness). Author is a trans woman who published important, unique data on pre/post transition race times for herself plus a few other athletes on whom she had detailed info. Bogs down [relative to my interest] at times in effort I guess to be comprehensive, such that there will be hig very interesting, even-handed, noninflammatory look at the issues particularly as it relates to DSD athletes' competing in women-only sports (focuses quite a bit on Caster Semenya vs. IAAF case, on which author was a witness). Author is a trans woman who published important, unique data on pre/post transition race times for herself plus a few other athletes on whom she had detailed info. Bogs down [relative to my interest] at times in effort I guess to be comprehensive, such that there will be highly detailed recap of the experiences of a high school wrestler, then a college volleyball player, then a pro cyclist, sort of at random, and some of the "then I met so and so who was on same panel at this conference, and I enjoyed talking with them as they showed me around London" stuff is tedious, but the actual biology/sociology of how we can try to make sports fair and inclusive is fascinating and handled thoughtfully here.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Shawn

    One of the most contentious issues in sport is that of transgender and intersex athletes. It is an extraordinarily complex and fraught mix that often seems like it pits two important values against each other: opportunity and fairness. Sport should be open to all those who wish to complete and to compete at the highest levels they can. Sport, at its best, also seeks to create fair and meaningful competitions. So, on one hand, sport should be open to all athletes able to complete: it would be wro One of the most contentious issues in sport is that of transgender and intersex athletes. It is an extraordinarily complex and fraught mix that often seems like it pits two important values against each other: opportunity and fairness. Sport should be open to all those who wish to complete and to compete at the highest levels they can. Sport, at its best, also seeks to create fair and meaningful competitions. So, on one hand, sport should be open to all athletes able to complete: it would be wrong to limit the opportunities of transgender and intersex athletes. But, on the other hand, there is a concern that if those opportunities aren’t limited in some way, specifically that if trans and intersex women compete without limitations against cisgender women, it could undermine the fairness of such competitions. I don’t think there is a straightforward or obvious answer on these issues: and there are good, reasonable arguments (and many bad arguments too) for many different positions on all the various aspects of these issues. That said, my default position is towards the liberty of athletes to compete in the sport of their choice. I don’t mean to say that is the answer: but only that it is my starting point. It is the presumptive position that I think any argument to limit this liberty and opportunity needs to overcome. Joanna Harper’s Sporting Gender is a good starting point for looking at many of the issues and arguments that might defeat or sustain this presumption. Harper’s book, as the subtitle indicates, takes you through the history, science, and stories of transgender and intersex athletes. Starting in the early part of the twentieth century, she presents many stories of the individual trans and intersex women and their struggles to compete in sport. Many of these stories are tragic; too often rooted in ignorance and prejudice. For those that think these issues start and end with Castor Semenya, this history is essential. Harper also discusses the science of sex and its impact on exercise and athletics. She details the many different ways that one might not fit neatly into either of the more familiar categories of male and female. Biological sex is nowhere near as simple as one might assume. (Not to even get into issues of gender.) There is some technical stuff to wade through, but the general gist should be digestible by those without much science background. This is summary, though; there are better places to look for more detailed discussions of the science (much of which can be found in the book’s endnotes). Another important element of the book is Harper’s discussion of some of the legal cases that punctuate the history of trans and intersex athletes. The details and decisions of these cases are historically important and they had direct influence on the current regulations and guidelines of the major sport organizations like the IOC and IAAF. Much of the latter half of the book focuses on two recent important Court of Arbitration cases involving intersex athletes (Chand and Semenya). Harper was involved in both cases as an expert witness. While I appreciated the inside look into these cases, this is where the book was at its weakest. I wasn’t all that interested in Harper’s evaluation of the various lawyers involved and whether their closing remarks were powerful or not. There was a lot of that sort of thing in these sections and that took away from the more important issue of rehearsing the arguments presented. Harper is a trans woman and a runner, and she uses her own experiences to help frame parts of the book. This is both a blessing and a curse. It helps to contextualize and humanize much of the more abstract history and science. But it also means that the book is part memoir and so there are various tangents about her own life that were not part of my reasons for reading this book. Harper’s ultimately position is that elite competitive sports needs to find the right balance of rules and methods to maximize “the possibility that all women can enjoy equitable and meaningful sport” (247). Furthermore, that there are good reasons to keep separating athletes in to male and female divisions and that the use of testosterone levels is the best current method to make this distinction (247). Though she does provide reasons for why this is her position, the book is not really set up to be a clear and cogent argument to support these claims. Its focus is more on presenting the history (both personal and legal) and the science. And on that front, I’d recommend it for those interested in this issue. I don’t think the book deals enough with the philosophical and ethical aspects of trans and intersex athletes. What makes for fair and meaningful competition? Why are male/female divisions important? If there is a performance advantages by being trans or intersex, why should that matter and how is it different from other kinds of (non-doping) performance advantages? Harper broaches these questions to a degree, but she is not a philosopher and so the discussion is, in my view, too superficial and limited. There is also almost no engagement with the sport philosophy literature that discusses these issues. I still would recommend the book for the history and science angle, but it is not going to answer the meatier questions of philosophy or ethics.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Klaudia

    This book was very interesting and educational learning about the difficulties DSD athletes face. If you enjoyed this book I recommend listening to the episode called "Caster Semenya: Explaining sex vs gender in sport" from the podcast "the real science of sport podcast" on Spotify. This book was very interesting and educational learning about the difficulties DSD athletes face. If you enjoyed this book I recommend listening to the episode called "Caster Semenya: Explaining sex vs gender in sport" from the podcast "the real science of sport podcast" on Spotify.

  4. 4 out of 5

    James

    For someone who isn't a sports person and definitely not a track and field fan, this was incredibly eye-opening, highly engaging, and balanced read. The author provides a rich and informative overview of the history of gender issues in sports from the early 20th century to present day (2019). She does this through the lives of many individual athletes along with the sports regulations under which they lived. She also explains various intersex conditions and provides a chapter on trans 101 (basic For someone who isn't a sports person and definitely not a track and field fan, this was incredibly eye-opening, highly engaging, and balanced read. The author provides a rich and informative overview of the history of gender issues in sports from the early 20th century to present day (2019). She does this through the lives of many individual athletes along with the sports regulations under which they lived. She also explains various intersex conditions and provides a chapter on trans 101 (basic info). I never knew much about intersex conditions, so I didn't know that so many different conditions exist under that umbrella term. How intersex athletes have been treated, even in modern times, is pretty horrifying. It's hard to imagine that intersex athletes were instructed to undergo FGM in order to compete in track and field events. I wish the parts about the various trials had been more interesting (or a lot shorter), but suspect there's nothing for that. I enjoyed reading about trans male athletes, who had very different struggles than their feminine counterparts. Most of their names were familiar to me, but I would have struggled to name their sports. I'm glad they were included in the book. I'm looking forward to the day when trans athletes can compete at the highest level of their respective sports, including earning a spot in the Olympics. This book recounts the obstacles so many athletes have overcome to get there as intersex individuals and hopefully they have paved the way for trans participation as well. I don't think it's far off! Overall, this is a unique resource for trans athletes (of any age) and their families, as well as coaches and program administrators. I would recommend it to everyone curious about the intersection of sports and social justice, especially in the area of gender and trans rights.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Nad Venturini

    There is no doubt that gender identity debates have changed the way in which we discuss fair play and meaningful competition in contemporary sports. This book combines the historical perspectives with the most current debates on the ethics of the inclusion of gender diverse participants. There is an extensive review of the science behind the differences of sexual development and the nuances of the existing evidence on the physiological adaptations that trans athletes experience after undergoing There is no doubt that gender identity debates have changed the way in which we discuss fair play and meaningful competition in contemporary sports. This book combines the historical perspectives with the most current debates on the ethics of the inclusion of gender diverse participants. There is an extensive review of the science behind the differences of sexual development and the nuances of the existing evidence on the physiological adaptations that trans athletes experience after undergoing medical transition. It is a must-read resource for those who are intrigued by the polarised headlines featuring the opinion of athletes, sport managers, pro- and anti-trans rights activists and intersex rights advocates.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne Ray

    This book is a “must read” for anyone interested in defining and protecting women’s sports. Harper has written a comprehensive work that includes the history, science, and politics of gender in sport. She shows us the complexity of the issues of intersex and transgender athletes and supports her own view of a solution to the question of who should be allowed to compete as a female with a full understanding of alternate viewpoints. Harper personalizes both the athletes and the sports associations This book is a “must read” for anyone interested in defining and protecting women’s sports. Harper has written a comprehensive work that includes the history, science, and politics of gender in sport. She shows us the complexity of the issues of intersex and transgender athletes and supports her own view of a solution to the question of who should be allowed to compete as a female with a full understanding of alternate viewpoints. Harper personalizes both the athletes and the sports associations involved in women’s sports so that we see the real people behind the issues and care about them no matter what “side” they are on.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kristine

    Sporting Gender by Joanna Harper is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in late November. I’ve been looking forward to reading this one, especially in this age of strict international/Olympic gender biased athletics. This book covers topics, such as the effect of hormone increasing and suppressing medications, the rise then squelching of cis women in sports throughout history, genetics of those who are intersex, cultural terms for being intersex, transgender, or two-spirit. tests developed to rest Sporting Gender by Joanna Harper is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in late November. I’ve been looking forward to reading this one, especially in this age of strict international/Olympic gender biased athletics. This book covers topics, such as the effect of hormone increasing and suppressing medications, the rise then squelching of cis women in sports throughout history, genetics of those who are intersex, cultural terms for being intersex, transgender, or two-spirit. tests developed to restrict people from the Olympic Games, their restrictions changing from year to year, public response in news articles and court cases, and noted athletes (i.e. Stella Walsh in running, Babe Didrikson in running, basketball, and golf, Mark Weston in field events, tennis player Renee Richards, Zdenek Koubek in running, Heinrich Ratjen in field events, golfer Mianne Bagger, swimmer Schuyler Bailar, artist and model Lili Elbe, boxer Nong Toom, runners Tamara and Irina Press, skier Erik Schinegger, and runner Caster Semenya).

  8. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    Humans are not just two binary genders and Ms. Harper does an excellent job of explaining that in this book. She also dives deeply into people who at birth are assigned the wrong sex for various reasons. While I knew much of this before, Ms. Harper gave more details and scientific information. This might be interesting to some people and maybe the book was not aimed for me as the audience, but it was well above my personal scientific abilities. (Chemistry and biology are not my forte.) But other Humans are not just two binary genders and Ms. Harper does an excellent job of explaining that in this book. She also dives deeply into people who at birth are assigned the wrong sex for various reasons. While I knew much of this before, Ms. Harper gave more details and scientific information. This might be interesting to some people and maybe the book was not aimed for me as the audience, but it was well above my personal scientific abilities. (Chemistry and biology are not my forte.) But other than this, and a bit too much jumping around between different athlete's stories, the book was a terrific discussion regarding where these athletes fit, where they should fit, and how the sporting world has treated them in the past, present, and potentially the future. I appreciated that Ms. Harper questioned her own thinking during the journey and was willing to let the reader know she was undecided at points. If you have any interest in the world of sports or gender dynamics, this is a fascinating book! Thanks to NetGalley and Rowman & Littlefield for a copy of the book. This review is my own opinion.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    Interesting but gets bogged down in details I enjoyed this book. It was informative and the science was well-explained, although that was only part of the book. I feel that author Joanna Harper tried to be objective and where she wasn’t, she was clear about giving her opinion. On the other hand, there was some speculation in the book and the book sometimes got bogged down in detail. Notwithstanding these items, the book gave me a much better understanding of sports and gender. This book covers so Interesting but gets bogged down in details I enjoyed this book. It was informative and the science was well-explained, although that was only part of the book. I feel that author Joanna Harper tried to be objective and where she wasn’t, she was clear about giving her opinion. On the other hand, there was some speculation in the book and the book sometimes got bogged down in detail. Notwithstanding these items, the book gave me a much better understanding of sports and gender. This book covers somewhat the same territory as Alice Dreger’s “Galileo's Middle Finger” which I enjoyed more because of its greater emphasis on science. Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book via Netgalley for review purposes.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Michael McNulty

    History, science, and politics of gender in athletics. The coverage of many trans- and intersex athletes' stories was fantastic. Drags a bit at times. Found her central concept — 'athletic gender' (as distinct from other sorts) — problematic History, science, and politics of gender in athletics. The coverage of many trans- and intersex athletes' stories was fantastic. Drags a bit at times. Found her central concept — 'athletic gender' (as distinct from other sorts) — problematic

  11. 5 out of 5

    Zoe Robinson

  12. 5 out of 5

    Andria Kerkof

  13. 5 out of 5

    Abby Swanson

  14. 5 out of 5

    Alex

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    Daniel Casey

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    Nickolas Moeckel

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    Paula Rachell

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    Alice Nuttall

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    Canna Walter

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    Megan Clark

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    Kidhobo

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    Annie Reed

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    herald

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    Dennis Pimentel

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    Emily

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