Aug 5, 2021

Gonads: Dutee

In 2014, India’s Dutee Chand was a rising female track and field star, crushing national records. But then, that summer, something unexpected happened: she failed a gender test. And was banned from the sport. Before she knew it, Dutee was thrown into the middle of a controversy that started long before her, and continues on today: how to separate males and females in sport. First aired in 2018, Dutee and the story of female athletes in sport are back in the spotlight this week, at the Tokyo Olympics. Join us for an update on Dutee’s second Olympic games, and the continued role testosterone has in shaping who is on the track, and who is off. 

This story was originally released as part of Gonads, a six-part series on the parts of us that make more of us. It is a companion piece to Gonads, episode 5: Dana.

This update was reported by Molly Webster, with reporting and producing by Sarah Qari.

"Dutee" was reported by Molly Webster, with co-reporting and translation by Sarah Qari. It was produced by Pat Walters, with production help from Jad Abumrad and Rachael Cusick. The Gonads theme was written, performed, and produced by Majel Connery and Alex Overington.

Special thanks to Geertje Mak, Maayan Sudai, Andrea Dunaif, Bhrikuti Rai, Joe Osmundson, and Payoshni Mitra. Plus, former Olympic runner Madeleine Pape, who is currently studying regulations around female, transgender, and intersex individuals in sport.

Radiolab is supported in part by Science Sandbox, a Simons Foundation initiative dedicated to engaging everyone with the process of science. And the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, enhancing public understanding of science and technology in the modern world. More information about Sloan at www.sloan.org.

Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate. 

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GONADS: DUTEE FINAL WEB TRANSCRIPT

 

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JAD ABUMRAD: Hey, this is Jad. Before we start, in case kids are listening, just know that this episode contains -- well, Molly curses a little bit in this one. I do too.

 

[RADIOLAB INTRO]

 

MOLLY WEBSTER: I'm Molly Webster. This is Gonads episode four. This week we're releasing two episodes that are related. Starting with ...

 

[SKYPE RINGTONE]

 

MOLLY: Dutee.

 

SARAH QARI: Hello?

 

DUTEE CHAND: [speaks Hindi]

 

SARAH: [speaks Hindi]

 

MOLLY: Dutee Chand is a world-class runner from India.

 

SARAH: [speaks Hindi]

 

MOLLY: Hello, Dutee!

 

DUTEE CHAND: Hi.

 

MOLLY: How are you?

 

DUTEE CHAND: [speaks Hindi]

 

MOLLY: I called her with More Perfect producer Sarah Qari. I was having Sarah translate. Dutee speaks Hindi. We caught up with her in Hyderabad where she's currently training, and I called her because a few years ago, right as her career was taking off, she got caught up in this maelstrom that almost ended it. And throughout the series, we've been asking all these questions about biological sex inside the body, and this moment in her life takes all of those questions and thrusts them out into the world in a very public way.

 

DUTEE CHAND: [speaks Hindi]

 

MOLLY: Just to start at the beginning.

 

DUTEE CHAND: I'm from a village in Orissa called Chaka Gopalpur. There are nine people in my family. Six sisters, one brother and my parents. And my oldest sister is the one who got me into running when I was five years old.

 

MOLLY: Dutee's sister was a track star in school.

 

DUTEE CHAND: And as I got older, she started training me. There was no track to run on so I would run along the edge of the river or on the road or in the village. Our family was poor and we couldn't afford shoes, so I would run barefoot. And the tiny pebbles in the road would get stuck in my feet. My sister pushed me. She didn't let me slack off when I would complain or not want to train.

 

MOLLY: Years went on. She kept training with her sister, and she just got faster and faster and faster until 2012 she had this big break.

 

RUTH PADAWER: I'm trying to think of how old she was then. I think she was 16.

 

MOLLY: This is a journalist who has spoken to and written about Dutee, Ruth Padawer.

 

RUTH PADAWER: Contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine.

 

MOLLY: And Ruth says what happens in 2012 is Dutee qualifies for the National Youth championships in Bangalore.

 

RUTH PADAWER: And she wins the hundred meters in 11.8 seconds.

 

DUTEE CHAND: And usually Indian female runners are running that same race in 12.2 or 12.3 seconds.

 

MOLLY: Like, grown-up professional runners, while she's still a teenager.

 

RUTH PADAWER: And then the next year ...

 

MOLLY: She goes back to the youth national championships ...

 

RUTH PADAWER: Wins gold in the 100 meters and the 200 meters.

 

MOLLY: That same year, still 2013, Dutee starts racing internationally.

 

DUTEE CHAND: The World Youth Championship.

 

MOLLY: She ran her best 100-meter time yet. An 11.62. Only about a second slower than the world record.

 

RUTH PADAWER: And in June 2014, she wins gold again at the Asian championship in Taipei.

 

DUTEE CHAND: My coach and my family started saying to me, "Dutee, you're gonna go to the Olympics."

 

MOLLY: So Dutee is basically the hottest young female runner in India. And then 2014, was preparing for the Commonwealth Games, which are sort of like a warm-up to the Olympics for certain countries. And as she's preparing for the games, she gets sent to the team doctors for a doping test. And she said, like, this was kind of a normal part of her life.

 

DUTEE CHAND: I had blood tests done ever since I was little. We had to take a dope test a month before every tournament and also after the race.

 

MOLLY: So she goes to see the team doctor and he's like, No blood. We're gonna do an ultrasound."

 

JAD: Huh.

 

MOLLY: Which is not normal. And so she asked them why, and they just said, "Oh, we're, like, looking at your bone density." And so she's like, "Okay, whatever." Eventually, she does do a normal blood test. Goes back, keeps training for the games. Couple of weeks later picks up the newspaper and sees her picture on the front page of the newspaper.

 

DUTEE CHAND: There's a picture of me with a huge headline screaming, "Dutee Disqualified From The Team," followed by a news story that said that I was a male, not a female.

 

MOLLY: She has no idea what's going on, but she said at that point her phone starts blowing up.

 

DUTEE CHAND: The media called me and told me all the details. Like, there was this gender test that happened.

 

MOLLY: Saying, "Is it true? Is it true? You failed the gender test?"

 

DUTEE CHAND: There was this hyperandrogenism test, this gender test, and the results said that I wasn't a woman, that I was a man. And couldn't compete with the women. I was shocked. I didn't understand how this could happen. And the media kept asking me, "What are you, actually?" And I said, "I don't know. My parents gave birth to me and I grew up the way that they raised me." I'm a girl. I'm a woman. And I didn't know about anything that was being reported about me.

 

JAD: You failed the gender test?

 

MOLLY: Yeah.

 

JAD: Is that what was happening in the MRIs and the ultrasounds?

 

MOLLY: Yeah.

 

JAD: And what exactly is a gender test? Like, what is that exactly?

 

MOLLY: I -- yeah, Dutee saying it was the first time I had ever heard that phrase, but it's actually this thing that's been happening in sports for a long time. And I'm gonna take you on a journey back to the beginning of it. So I didn't know this, but the -- but the sort of first modern-day Olympics was 1896, which seems very recent.

 

JAD: It does seem recent.

 

MOLLY: And there were no female athletes.

 

JAD: Really?

 

MOLLY: And apparently, like, one of the people who was charged with sort of like restarting the Olympics said something like this is, like, no place for women. But sure enough, by 1900 ...

 

[DOCUMENTARY CLIP: Amid great controversy, it was decided to allow women to compete for the first time.][/i]

 

MOLLY: You had 22 female athletes. Which ...

 

[DOCUMENTARY CLIP: Fears were expressed that athletic competition could physically damage the weaker sex.]

 

MOLLY: ... was not uncontroversial. But by the 19 -- by 1960 ...

 

[NEWS CLIP: Rome welcomes the summer games of the 17th Olympiad.]

 

MOLLY: Which were the Olympics in Rome. There were 600 female athletes.

 

JAD: Hmm.

 

MOLLY: And so two things conflate at the same time, which is a lot of women now participating in the Olympics. And the Cold War. You know, the Soviet Union, the U.S. A lot of posturing.

 

JAD: Yeah.

 

MOLLY: And there was this, like, fear, not very merited it turns out, that maybe the Soviets were taking men and putting them into female athletics to win more medals. Or that the U.S. was doing that also.

 

JAD: Huh.

 

MOLLY: And so what started were these things that everyone calls ...

 

RUTH PADAWER: The nude parade.

 

MOLLY: What is that?

 

RUTH PADAWER: So women would line up ...

 

MOLLY: Mm-hmm.

 

RUTH PADAWER: Wearing bras and panties. And they would go in front of three doctors, often men, and they had to lower their underpants. And ...

 

MOLLY: Are you serious?

 

RUTH PADAWER: Yes, and they were examined, palpated and measured. And ...

 

MOLLY: This makes me very uncomfortable.

 

RUTH PADAWER: Yeah.

 

MOLLY: So invasive!

 

RUTH PADAWER: So invasive. Invasive is the first word that comes to mind.

 

MOLLY: So this is happening all throughout the '60s. People start to complain -- rightly ...

 

RUTH PADAWER: And the IAAF, which is the International Association of Athletics Federations, and the International Olympic Committee both come under criticism. And so in the late 1960s, they come up with another approach. Another test.

 

MOLLY: Okay.

 

RUTH PADAWER: And that's a chromosome test.

 

[NEWS CLIP: The test is called the Barr body test. Cells scraped from the inside of the cheek are placed under a microscope.]

 

MOLLY: And then tested for Xs and Ys.

 

[NEWS CLIP: This dark spot shows up only on female tests.]

 

RUTH PADAWER: And so anybody who has XX is okay.

 

MOLLY: Because that supposedly equals female.

 

RUTH PADAWER: And anybody who has something other than XX is suspect.

 

[NEWS CLIP: If they find a Y chromosome in there, that means you're male.]

 

MOLLY: Here you have a test that's theoretically less invasive.

 

RUTH PADAWER: People don't have to pull down their underwear.

 

MOLLY: And way more precise.

 

RUTH PADAWER: The idea at that point was, well IOC in 1968 said that the chromosome tests quote, "Indicates quite definitively the sex of a person."

 

MOLLY: Except when it doesn't. Like we talked about in our last episode, there is a gene on the Y chromosome that if you have it and if it turns on, you will likely become a male. But there are a lot of XY women in the world. These are women who had a Y chromosome which is associated with male, but that little gene? It didn't turn on. Conversely, you can have XX males, meaning that little piece of the Y chromosome got onto an X.

 

JAD: Huh.

 

MOLLY: There are all of these different chromosomal, like, aberrations. You could be XXXX.

 

JAD: You have two extra Xs?

 

MOLLY: You could have three extra Xs.

 

JAD: As a woman.

 

MOLLY: As a female. Yeah.

 

JAD: Huh.

 

MOLLY: You could be XXY. You could be XYY.

 

JAD: And these are perfectly healthy people?

 

MOLLY: It runs the gamut. You could have fertility issues or developmental issues or no issues at all.

 

RUTH PADAWER: And so the debate was, you know, there were a lot of geneticists and endocrinologists who are saying sex, isn't determined just by chromosomes. It's determined by hormones and by physiology and, you know, totally getting away from gender, which is even more complicated. But just because you don't have XX doesn't mean that you aren't a woman.

 

MOLLY: And eventually all of the sport's governing bodies came around to that conclusion. And by 2000, everybody was like, "No more chromosome testing." In fact ...

 

[NEWS CLIP: The World Federation that governs track and field has voted to scrap all testing for gender.]

 

MOLLY: You have this moment where it looks like gender testing is gonna go away. Cold War is over, those fears are gone. Maybe we didn't need it anymore. But then this other idea walked into the room that actually had been there all along. This idea of fairness. Because the fact of the matter is, if you compare male athletes to female athletes in pretty much every track and field event except for a few, there's a big difference in performance. Like, take the 800 meters. The women's record is 1 minute 53.28. Whereas the men ...

 

[SPORTS CLIP: It's a world record! A world record! 1:40.91 is shown on the clock.]

 

MOLLY: Almost 13 seconds faster. In fact, I talked to -- I talked on background to one female athlete. World champion. One of the fastest women in the world, and she said her fastest mile is regularly beaten by, like, a good high school boy. And so if you're a female athlete, or even, like, a spectator who's watching this sport, you want to make sure that females and males aren't racing each other. And so what you saw when this sort of like organized gender testing went away, is that whenever someone got really, really fast, whenever a female got really fast, there was finger-pointing. And this all came to a head in 2009.

 

[SPORTS CLIP: So now we go down to track side after all that excitement as the women try and gather themselves for the 800 meters final.]

 

MOLLY: On August 19th of that year, a South African runner, just 18, Caster Semenya just crushes the field.

 

[SPORTS CLIP: Semenya pushes on again and she's breaking away. Semenya looks over her shoulder and she's away.]

 

MOLLY: On the final lap, she wins by so much.

 

[SPORTS CLIP: Well, that smashes the world list by almost two seconds.]

 

MOLLY: And almost immediately after the race ...

 

MADELEINE PAPE: My conclusion was okay. Something isn't -- something's going on here. There was something not right.

 

MOLLY: There was just a thought that there was a problem.

 

MADELEINE PAPE: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

 

MOLLY: This is Madeleine Pape.

 

MADELEINE PAPE: I'm a PhD candidate in sociology and an Olympian for Australia.

 

MOLLY: She ran against Caster Semenya in that heat. She's since become a big defender of Caster, but she says at the time, because Semenya's times were increasing so quickly, because she was kicking the field's ass like so totally ...

 

MADELEINE PAPE: People around me were talking about her, spreading rumors and spreading and ...

 

MOLLY: And what were the people around you saying?

 

MADELEINE PAPE: Oh, is she a man? Look, she just looks like a man. Because she's a tomboy. It wasn't that I was, like -- I didn't hold a strong opinion about it. I just was like -- I just want the IAAF to deal with it and make it go away.

 

MOLLY: And so you had gotten to the point where you were opposed to Caster competing?

 

MADELEINE PAPE: Oh, I was opposed to Caster competing almost immediately in Berlin.

 

MOLLY: Over the next 24 hours she says, the rumors got louder and louder.

 

MADELEINE PAPE: Basically like a cacophonous level.

 

[NEWS CLIP: Well, there was a very dramatic race in Berlin last night. But the drama had to do less with who won the race than who was in it and whether they should have been there.]

 

MADELEINE PAPE: There was discussion happening in the media.

 

[NEWS CLIP: The big question this morning is whether one of the runners should be in the men's or women's race.]

 

[NEWS CLIP: If she runs like a man and talks like a man, is she a man?]

 

[NEWS CLIP: Is the new world champion in the women's 800-meter race really a woman at all?]

 

MADELEINE PAPE: That's when the IAAF -- the sport's governing body, the IAAF claimed that they had no choice but to announce something at that point. That yes, they were going to investigate Caster Semenya because they had concerns about her sexual development.

 

[IAAF SPOKESPERSON: If, at the end of this investigation, it is proven that the athlete is not a female, we will withdraw her name for the results of the competition today.]

 

MADELEINE PAPE: It was one of those things I think where, looking back, I feel like it makes me sad. Yeah, it really makes me sad.

 

JAD: What ended up happening to Caster Semenya?

 

MOLLY: Well, the IAAF banned her. There all these closed-door meetings and she didn't race for, like, a year.

 

MADELEINE PAPE: What the IAAF testing revealed about Semenya's physiological makeup never has been confirmed actually.

 

MOLLY: But what emerged from all the mishegoss is that in the end the IAAF recommitted to gender testing.

 

RUTH PADAWER: To trying to figure out some clear, bright, measurable way to draw a line between male and female.

 

[SPORTING SPOKESPERSON: We choose to have two classifications for our competitions: men's events and women's events. This means we need to be clear about the competition criteria for those two categories.]

 

MOLLY: And the way they decided now to be clear was no longer about chromosomes. No more medieval nude parades. Instead, they were going to look at hormones. Specifically, testosterone.

 

[SPORTING SPOKESPERSON: Testosterone, either naturally occurring or artificially inserted into the body, provides significant performance advantages. I think there is little question about that.]

 

MOLLY: The idea was, we know that testosterone causes muscles that are, like, faster, stronger, leaner. And that men have 10 to 30 times more testosterone than women, which is a byproduct of having testes. And so the concern was in these women that have that Y gene, either that they might have internal testes that haven't descended, or like a gonadal streak. Like, some reproductive tissue that would be emitting testosterone, giving them some sort of male-like advantage.

 

RUTH PADAWER: And so in 2011, the IAAF decides that they will institute a test for high testosterone levels. And so if the testosterone levels falls with -- within quote "the male range," then they're to be barred.

 

MOLLY: And this is the first time they try and put a number on it. They say that your testosterone levels, if they're greater than 10 nanomoles per liter you cannot run.

 

JAD: Nanomoles per liter.

 

MOLLY: I know. What does that even mean?

 

JAD: Wow.

 

MOLLY: So this rule gets put into place, and this is the rule that Dutee bumps into and ultimately pushes back against. That part of the story after the break.

 

[KELLY: I'm Kelly Ross calling from King George, Virginia. Radiolab Presents: Gonads is supported in part by Science Sandbox, A Simons Foundation initiative dedicated to engaging everyone with the process of science. Additional support for Radiolab is provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.]

 

[PAT WALTERS: Hey, everybody. Pat Walters here. I'm a producer at Radiolab, and I'm here because I need your help. This summer, I'm hosting a series of stories on the show and I have a request for those of you who spend a lot of time with kids: parents, aunts and uncles, teachers. We're looking for stories about what we're calling tiny moments of childhood brilliance.

 

PAT: Basically, I want to hear about those times when a kid you know did something that just made you lean back and say, "Whoa, how did they do that?" Maybe it was the moment that a kid you'd been reading to for months started reading back to you. Or maybe the kid was at piano lessons and you suddenly notice they were doing advanced math on the margin of their musical score. Or maybe the kid was in math class and you noticed they were writing music in the margin of their geometry homework. We're interested in those small, specific moments where a kid does something super-smart, but it doesn't have anything to do with a test. If you have a story, please share it with us and go to Radiolab.org/brilliance and record a short audio message for us. Again, that's Radiolab.org/brilliance. Thank you so much.]

 

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MOLLY: We're back. I'm Molly Webster. This is Gonads episode four with Indian runner Dutee Chand. So when Dutee shows up in 2014, when they take her in for a secret gender test because she's doing so well, it is to test for high testosterone.

 

[NEWS CLIP: The Athletics Federation of India decided she did not count as a woman. Her natural testosterone levels were too high.]

 

MOLLY: And so Dutee gets banned.

 

DUTEE CHAND: I was disqualified three days before the Commonwealth Games. And I was told that I couldn't participate because of hyperandrogenism.

 

MOLLY: Had you ever even heard about, like, the idea that women could have high testosterone or something called hyperandrogenism?

 

DUTEE CHAND: No, I didn't know anything about it.

 

MOLLY: Dutee's first thought was basically, "This is bullshit."

 

DUTEE CHAND: My family and my friends and my fans kept saying to me, "You must be the victim of some kind of politics. You were running so well, and that's why someone's trying to stop you."

 

MOLLY: So she gets her own doctor and she does the tests again.

 

DUTEE CHAND: The results in this test were the same, and I started to believe that there was something wrong with my body.

 

RUTH PADAWER: She told me that she cried for days.

 

DUTEE CHAND: I was mostly scared because I didn't know anything about it.

 

RUTH PADAWER: She said, "I felt naked. I am a human being, but I felt like I was an animal. I wondered how I would live with so much humiliation."

 

DUTEE CHAND: In our village children are born at home, and no one goes to the hospital to deliver babies. Had I been born at the hospital, maybe the doctor would have said what was going on inside my body and I would have probably understood this better as a child. But that wasn't the case. I was born at home and raised like a girl, and there were no issues surrounding that. And when suddenly the question was raised about my gender, calling me a male, it was very confusing. How could I have just become a man one day?

 

MOLLY: Ultimately, Dutee decides, "I'm gonna fight this." And Ruth says she sends a letter appealing her ban to the Athletics Federation of India.

 

RUTH PADAWER: She writes, "I was born a woman, reared up as a woman. I identify as a woman. And I believe I should be allowed to compete with other women. Many of whom are either taller than me or come from more privileged backgrounds, things that most certainly give them an edge over me."

 

MOLLY: And eventually Dutee ends up at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

 

JAD: Is that a higher body than the IAAF?

 

MOLLY: It's like the -- it's like the Supreme Court of sport.

 

JAD: Wow.

 

MOLLY: Everyone calls it CAS. So on the one side you have Dutee, and on the other side you have the IAAF.

 

RUTH PADAWER: IAAF governs track and field around the world.

 

MOLLY: Sort of the way it breaks down is Dutee's essentially making two main arguments. The first is that the hyperandrogenism rule is discriminatory. It's discriminatory towards women. To which the IAAF essentially says, "Yeah, it kind of is. But we're doing it for a reason, and that reason outweighs the risk." Right? There's definitely an argument that if you eradicated gender you would be screwing over hundreds of thousands of women. Their sort of -- their big thing is like, "Listen, as a society, even in this court case, we all seem to agree we want to separate men and women. We need to figure out some way to do this." Dutee's response to that, her second argument is, "Sure. Okay, fine. We need to separate the sexes. But the way you've chosen to do it is not solid." You have this number, 10 nanomoles per liter, which is supposedly the high end of testosterone for women. But if you actually look at the data, there's crazy variability. Like, you'll see women with levels that were, like, less than 1 and levels that were above 30, which is typically considered -- 30 is, like, considered high for men.

 

MOLLY: So there was these studies that came out where one study was like, we've looked at all these different testosterone levels and, you know, there's an average for men and there's an average for women and they're on different ends of a spectrum. But what we saw is there's totally overlap. It's not like one end, the other end, never the two shall meet. That like there's -- that some women go high and some men go low. And you've got, you know, men with low testosterone who are world class champions, and you've got women with high testosterone that never win. It's just -- it's not always clear the role that testosterone has in performance.

 

JAD: Oh really? I thought it was -- I thought that was well-established that if -- that testosterone will make you faster. Like, isn't that what steroids do?

 

RUTH PADAWER: Well, there's agreement that synthetic testosterone ...

 

MOLLY: Steroids.

 

RUTH PADAWER: ... ramps up performance. Helping both male and female athletes jump higher and run faster. But there's vehement disagreement about whether natural testosterone, one's own testosterone, has that same effect.

 

MOLLY: Why wouldn't it?

 

RUTH PADAWER: Well, that's a really good question. The IAAF witnesses argue that logic suggests that natural testosterone is likely to work the way synthetic testosterone does.

 

MOLLY: But some scientists argue that a sudden burst of testosterone is much different than sort of a natural level of testosterone that your body's calibrated to. The long and the short, the science is surprisingly contested. Furthermore, Dutee argued, if you really want to talk about fairness, you need to look beyond sex.

 

RUTH PADAWER: There are all sorts of advantages that people have. You know, some people are born with increased aerobic capacity, and others with resistance to fatigue or super-long limbs or flexible joints or large hands and feet.

 

MOLLY: And other people had disadvantages. Like Dutee said, I came from a village in Southeast India where I raced for years with no shoes, and only had vegetables and rice. You know, like, if you want things to be fair then, like, we should all have the exact same upbringing, the exact same coaching system, the exact same shoes.

 

RUTH PADAWER: But the IAAF say, well, that's not about the division between men and women. If sports is divided by men and women, we need to find out what the thing is that divides men and women.

 

MOLLY: July, 2015.

 

[NEWS CLIP: The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled today that Dutee Chand could continue to race despite her higher-than-normal levels of testosterone.]

 

MOLLY: Court rules that Dutee can continue to race. And they say to the IAAF like, you don't have enough scientific evidence to have this hyperandrogenism rule. Go work on that. Let us know what you find. And through this whole controversy, at least a year goes by. Dutee never stops running.

 

DUTEE CHAND: My coach told me no matter what, just keep training. I wake up at 5 a.m. Train from 6 to 10. Then we hit the grounds again from 4 to 6 for the third round of training with the coach.

 

MOLLY: And the summer after the ruling, at a big international meet in Kazakhstan, Dutee ran 11.3 in the 100-meter, setting an Indian national record. And she makes the Olympics.

 

[NEWS CLIP: India's Dutee Chand has scripted history, becoming the first-ever Indian woman to qualify for the Rio Olympics in the 100 meters event since 1980.]

 

MOLLY: Meanwhile, the IAAF, just like the court asked, they go back to the drawing board and they commission their own study. And last summer it was published. What they did was analyze blood samples from a couple thousand athletes at the 2011 and 2013 World Championships. And what they were looking for was to see if the women with high testosterone outperformed the women with low testosterone. And what they found is that if you are a female runner who runs the 400-meter, the 800-meter, the 400 hurdles or the mile, you are conferred an advantage with high testosterone levels.

 

JAD: In only those events?

 

MOLLY: In only those events. Oh, and there's also a throwing event, and one other. Having high testosterone levels conferred an advantage of, like, 1.8 percent to 4.5 percent faster, or, like, two percent to four percent roughly. And just to say, like, if you're a runner, one percent could be like two-tenths of a second, one tenth of a second.

 

JAD: Which is?

 

MOLLY: Which is often how races are decided.

 

JAD: Right. And these -- so these distances are the higher distances? Am I right?

 

MOLLY: These distances are the middle distances.

 

JAD: Middle distances.

 

MOLLY: Yeah.

 

JAD: So the sprint -- not the sprints and not the long distance.

 

MOLLY: What their study finds is that the sprints do not -- you do not get an advantage from testosterone. The long-distance, no advantage from testosterone. These middle-distant races, seemingly an advantage from testosterone, and a throwing event -- was it hammer throw?

 

JAD: What a fucking mess! So you're saying to me that, like, we started with, like, the nude parade. and now where we end up with, like the line that we've chosen to draw is, in these middle-distance races, that's where we're gonna, like, make a big deal about trying to separate out the sexes in these.

 

MOLLY: Yes.

 

JAD: Like, it feels like ...

 

MOLLY: It just -- it feels like everyone's just arguing over change at this point. Even since that study was published, the data's been called into question and there's a call for retraction, and they published that there was a bunch of data errors. The authors still stand behind the study and in fact, the IAAF is now using it as the basis for a new testosterone rule they introduced this past April. We reached out to the IAAF a few times and didn't hear back. But, I mean right now we're arguing about testosterone, but I think that the bigger issue here is that we're, like, coming into a moment as society where we're more and more open to gender fluidity.

 

JAD: Mm-hmm.

 

MOLLY: But if we've all agreed on the whole that it's unfair to group women with men in sports, then we do have to answer a real question, which is, "How do I keep the dichotomy, the binary in athletics while the rest of the world is changing?"

 

JAD: Interesting.

 

MOLLY: And what you see with Dutee or any of these female athletes, is they're sort of caught at the place where these two worlds meet. Which is a hard place to find yourself. Dutee told me when this whole thing blew up she was only 18 years old.

 

DUTEE CHAND: I was at this age when boys and girls start falling for each other and there was a guy who fell hard for me. And I fell for him, too. We used to talk a lot on the phone and thought that one day when we got older we'd get married. But when the news in 2014 started appearing everywhere, he started asking me who I was for real. He said, "If you're a boy then how can the two of us, both boys, stay together in the future? How will our dreams of having children or creating a family ever come true?" Eventually I did tell him that the results confirmed that I had hyperandrogenism, and I asked him are you going to love me and marry me or not? He said "No, I don't love you anymore. And I can't marry you, because my family doesn't approve of our relationship." So I said, "Fine." So he forgot me and I forgot him, too. After that guy left me, there haven't been any other guys that like me anymore. But now a lot of girls have started liking me, and a lot of them say that they want to settle down with me.

 

MOLLY: How do you feel about that?

 

DUTEE CHAND: I guess I feel happy and sad. My childhood dreams of having a husband, creating a family with him might not come true. But when I see all these girls still attracted to me, I often wonder if I could make a home with a girl. In India, only boys and girls get married. Girls don't marry girls.

 

MOLLY: If it was more acceptable to marry a girl in India, do you think you'd want to do that?

 

DUTEE CHAND: Right now I haven't thought about it, and I'm focusing on my sports career. But after I'm done with my career, I am going to need someone to spend my life with, right? So I'll see if there is any guy that likes me, I would marry him and settle down. But if there aren't any guys interested in me and girls still like me, then I would settle down with a girl. Whoever likes me, I would spend my life with them.

 

MOLLY: Three weeks ago, Dutee Chand made headlines by breaking her own national record in the 100-meter. She beat it by one hundredth of a second.

 

[GONADS THEME MUSIC]

 

MOLLY: This episode was reported by me, Molly Webster, with co-reporting and translation by Sarah Qari. It was produced by Pat Walters with production help from Jad Abumrad and Rachael Cusick. The Gonads Theme was written, performed and produced by Majel Connery and Alex Overington. Special thanks to Geertje Mak, Maayan Sudai, Andrea Dunaif, Bhrikuti Rai and Payoshni Mitra. Plus, thanks to Joe Osmundson and Madeleine Pape, who is currently working on research about the regulation of female, transgender, and intersex athletes in sport. I'm Molly Webster. See you next week.

 

[AMY BOYD: Hello. My name is Amy Boyd and I'm calling from Abuja, Nigeria. Radiolab was created by Jad Abumrad and is produced by Soren Wheeler. Dylan Keefe is our Director of Sound Design. Maria Matasar-Padilla is our Managing Director. Our staff includes Simon Adler, Maggie Bartolomeo, Becca Bressler, Rachael Cusick, David Gebel, Bethel Habte, Tracie Hunte, Matt Kielty, Robert Krulwich, Annie McEwen, Latif Nasser, Malissa O'Donnell, Arianne Wack, Pat Walters and Molly Webster. With help from Shima Oliaee, Carter Hodge and Liza Yeager. Our fact-checker is Michelle Harris.]



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