Queer cancer and sex verification in sport

University of Manitoba women and gender studies professor Dr. Janice Ristock and research co-ordinator Janelle Trenaman provided an overview of Cancer’s Margins, the first national project in Canada to address the experiences of the LGBQ women and transgender people in regards to breast and gynecological cancers.

Research shows that the LGBT2Q (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, two-spirit and queer) community expresses more dissatisfaction with medical personnel, making it less likely for them to get what they need from the medical system. Community members are also less likely to have a regular family physician and are therefore less likely to have regular screening for medical issues such as cancer. This is extremely problematic as it means that there is less chance that cancer will be caught early, increasing the likelihood of recovery.

Ristock explains that there is a severe lack of culturally appropriate health care and resources for LGBT2Q people, who get the wrong idea about their own risk of cancer. Many doctors don’t think that lesbians need to have pap smears since they are not sexually active with men. However, lesbians can be just as vulnerable to these types of cancers as heterosexual women. Doctors may not think that trans men need to be screened for breast cancer even though they may have breast tissue that is at risk.

Members of the LGBT2Q community often do not recognize their own risk from these cancers. For example, the pink ribbon campaign has a “particular notion of femininity” and portrays cancer in a heterosexual context, Ristock said. “If you don’t see yourself reflected in messages, you may think you aren’t at risk and can’t access resources.” There has not been any systematic research looking at LGBT2Q people’s experiences with breast and gynecological cancer, Ristock explained, and we don’t know what health care providers do and we don’t know what the LGBT2Q community needs from the system. These questions need to be answered to improve the system and ensure that everyone can access the health care that is their right.

The researchers are actively recruiting cancer survivors to interview.

The second presenter, Dr Sarah Teetzel (University of Manitoba, kinesiology and recreation management) presented her research entitled: The Return of Sex Verification in Sports: Implications for the Privacy Rights of Intersex and Transgender Athletes. The categorization of male and female in sport, Teetzel explains, goes back to the beginning of sport competition. She explains there seems to be a fear of men masquerading as women in order to win events, although this has almost never happened. In sporting competition, in particular the Olympics, there is a history of sex verification to ensure that anyone who claims to be a woman really is. Chromosomal patterns used to be checked, with athletes who passed issued a certificate stating they were real women. Women participating in high-level competition were be required to present these certificates before competing.

In 2000, the International Olympic Committee scratched this chromosome policy but replaced it with a policy that is just as problematic. Teetzel explains that athletes were required to go through doping tests where they had to provide urine samples in front of officials who were also instructed to report any irregular patterns in genitals. There was no longer a blanket policy in place for women – only certain women would be investigated based on “suspicious”-looking genitals.

This method lacks informed consent. Teetzel emphasizes that women athletes only consent to the dope test, they are not consenting to a physical examination of their genitals. She notes that only certain bodies are targeted for scrutiny and investigation – those that are not heteronormative.

The Caster Semenya case was given as an example of how a woman who doesn’t look traditionally feminine can become the target of sex verification. Since being cleared to run, Semenya presents herself as more feminine by wearing more pink, and even wears jewelry while running, which is not recommended for athletes on the field.

The Olympics have also implemented a policy for transgendered people. This policy is still problematic in that it only applies to those who are post-operative, have had a minimum of two years hormonal treatment, and have their new gender identify legally recognized by their country.

Teetzel asks if specific targeting is better than a blanket policy that targets all women athletes. She argues that the new policy only serves to control femininity. These rules, or policies, are implemented by men and are sometimes triggered by rumours on blogs and radio shows. Teetzel suggests sport should move to a self-categorization policy where people can decide for themselves where they would like to compete without their gender being under surveillance.

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