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Gender Determination Case Study

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Updated: Jul 6th, 2020

The sex of an individual is normally classified in terms of biological factors. In most cases, external appearance of an individual is used to tell whether the person is male or female. When a child is born with a male reproductive organ, then new-born is identified as a boy. However, current advances in scientific studies on human beings have revealed shocking news.

An individual might have the XY chromosomes that are usually attributed to a male person but still appear as a female. Similarly, an individual may possess the XX chromosomes but acquire the external appearance of a male person (Gender innovations, 2012). In most cases, the latter may be occasioned by the inability of the concerned person’s body to process certain gender hormones.

It is imperative to mention that another special identity exists in human population. Such Individuals are biologically known as intersex. They usually possess both the male and female characteristics. This paper examines Jane Doe from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. She is a female athlete who underwent testing to determine her sex.

This practice is usually a common requirement by many athletic bodies across the world. However, many organizations criticize this move by asserting that it is a form of gender discrimination. Jane Doe is an American citizen who is registered as a female person. She is currently 20 years old. She has been participating in athletics since she was 14 years old.

The sex issue came into limelight after she won several medals in the 800m race. She has a masculine physical appearance and quite a strong woman. The normal body conformity of a woman is less conspicuous in her case. For instance, she has tiny breasts, flattened chest and very narrow hips. Based on her physical appearance and the relation of her strength to masculinity, she has to be subjected to medical tests that can help to ascertain her true gender identity.

Human beings possess 46 chromosomes. These chromosomes appear in pairs that are 23 pairs in total (Gender innovations, 2012). As already mentioned, the types of chromosomes an individual possesses determine the sex and hence the gender of that person l. Most women have 23pairs of XX chromosomes while men have 23 pairs of XY chromosomes.

Any individual with a deviation from this arrangement is born with sexual abnormalities. These abnormalities may result into the exaggeration of either the male or female characteristics being expressed physically by the individual. The diagram below shows the images of the XX and YX pairs of chromosomes and their various numbers.

Figure 1: Karyotype of chromosomes in diploid human cells.

Karyotype of chromosomes in diploid human cells


The first step involves some physical examination of the player in order to determine his or her phonotypical status. It entails examining her body’s conformity and development including the reproductive parts (Kafai et al., 2008). This enables the doctors to get an insight into what they should expect as they carry on with other medical methods that are used in determining gender.

This stage is critical bearing in mind that significant advances have been made in transgender surgeries. Such a surgery produces a perfect transformation that needs very keen observations (Faulkner & Lie, 2007). The athlete in question passed this physical examination. She had never undergone any form of surgery. Her body conformation proved that she was a female. She had normal, fully developed female organs.

That showed no physical evidence of abnormality or manipulations. This demanded for a more advanced medical testing. Chromosomal evaluation has been under criticism as a perfect way of telling whether an individual is a male or female. Studies have shown that an individual may contain XY chromosomes and still develop female features.

The complication is developed by a gene called SRY. This gene is responsible for the development of a fetus into a male or a female. It is mostly found on the Y chromosome although sometimes X chromosomes may possess this gene (Schiebinger & Klinge, 2010). For a fetus to develop into a male, the genes must be functioning well (Faulkner & Lie, 2007).

The location of the gene does not affect the results that are seen if the gene is functioning in a normal way. This implies that an individual may have XX chromosome and still develop into a male. On the other hand, a person may have XY chromosomes and develop into a female. The chromosome analysis is still a vital method since it is required in the medical report.

Another importance of this procedure is that it enables doctors predict any chromosomal abnormalities in an individual (Faulkner & Lie, 2007). These abnormalities may make the sex determination process to be more complicated. This procedure was taken and the result was positive for XX individual. This further strengthened the possibility of Jane being a female.

If she was found possessing XY chromosomes, then the next procedure was to test if her SYR was functioning well. This means that whether an individual possesses XX or XY chromosomes, it does not guarantee a specific gender (Faulkner & Lie, 2007). The next procedure was based on hormonal analysis bearing in mind she may possess XX chromosome but still be a male if her body is in a position to synthesize masculinizing hormones.

In Some rare cases, a fetus may still develop as a female event if the SRY gene is active and functioning (Beery & Zucker, 2011). The gene in such individuals expresses itself by affecting the Androgen sensitivity. Androgen sensitivity is a case whereby the cells have the ability to synthesize hormones in the required proportions depending on the gender of an individual (Beery & Zucker, 2011).

If an individual is insensitive to Androgen, then there is a possibility of developing as a normal female based on the external features. Androgen sensitivity tests were carried out to confirm if Jane has a normal female body. Normal levels of hormones are usually expected from females. If she has elevated levels of hormones associated with masculinity, then she becomes a special case that is even more complicated to ascertain in terms of gender.

The most commonly tested hormone is the testosterone. This hormone is found in both males and females. According to researches done, this hormone is responsible for the development of muscle strength and mass, bone strength, and energy. (Schiebinger & Klinge, 2010).

It is vital to note that the hormone plays an integral sexual role in both genders. This hormone is expressed in males at elevated levels than females. If a female has elevated levels of this hormone, then she must be Androgen sensitive (Beery & Zucker, 2011). The growth and overall wellbeing of a fetus is usually a function of an SRY gene that is associated with a particular trait.

The gene can also determine the gender of the fetus. The analysis of Jane’s testosterone levels revealed concentrations above normal levels of a female, but below the normal levels of a male. Hormonal analysis is a quite a complicated procedure. This is because females and males produce the same types of hormones but in different quantities.

An average female has less Androgen compared to an average male. Jane’s case was confusing at this point, her testosterone levels were a bit elevated compared to other women that we have ever tested. This might offer a scientific explanation as to why she is an athlete due to the functions of the hormone in the body. This argument cannot be used to dispute her feminine gender.

Athletes are not average males or females. A female athlete may possess more androgens than an average female (Kafai et al., 2008). If a female has higher levels of androgens than normal, she may possess a boyish look and appear flat-chested (Schiebinger & Klinge, 2010). Such persons are still females. It is just that they are not average.

It is therefore difficult to stop such athletes from participating in athletics as females. Jane’s case was simple since she is biologically female. All the tests needed to ascertain her sex proved that she is a female. She had very mild elevated levels of androgens. This was too mild to doubt her sex or her athletic capabilities. The gender determination process has proved to be rather complicated.

It may depict some males as females if the chromosomal classification of an individual into a certain gender is applied (Schiebinger & Klinge, 2010). On the other hand, some females may also appear as females if the same procedure is applied. The use of hormones is also complicated (Veitia, 2010). Androgen concentrations cannot be used to deny success for athletes with an argument that a female person has an unfair advantage over other competitors (Kafai et al, 2008).

What about some males who also possess elevated levels of androgens? Should they be stopped from participating in athletics on such grounds? Science offers vital data but the analysis of the same data to ascertain gender is quite different. Gender determination in most cases makes use of a default physical analysis procedure.

The involvement of in-depth analysis using gynecologists, geneticists, psychologists, and endocrinologists makes the procedure even more complicated (Schiebinger & Klinge, 2010). It is advisable to ascertain the sex of an individual before participating in any athletic activities due to increased levels of frauds. However, in-depth analysis of other aspects such as androgens may appear as unfair treatment of the female gender. This is because their male counterparts are not subjected to such procedures.

The best and most effective solution entails avoiding the unnecessary complicated sex determination procedures. The athletic body should come up with a clear definition of a male and a female. This will make it easy for the medical fraternity to analyze and give a complete report.

Jane’s case was not very complicated. Most of the data analyzed concluded that she was a female gender. Although she has elevated levels of testosterone in her blood, the effects can be considered to be rather mild. This is the reason why she was concluded to be 99.9% female. There is no way she can participate in athletics as a male person.


Beery, A. & Zucker, I. (2011). Sex Bias in Neuroscience and Biomedical Research. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 35 (3), 565-572.

Faulkner, W., & Lie, M. (2007). Gender in the Information Society: Strategies of Inclusion. Gender, Technology, and Development, 11 (2), 157-177.

Gender innovations (2012). . Web.

Kafai, Y et al (2008). Mainstream Games: Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Gender and Gaming. Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Press.

Schiebinger, L., & Klinge, I. (Eds.) (2010). Gendered Innovations: Mainstreaming Sex and Gender Analysis into Basic and Applied Research. Brussels: European Commission.

Veitia, R. (2010). FOXL2 Versus SOX9: A Lifelong Battle of the Sexes. BioEssays, 32 (5), 375-380.

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