X is for X-Y Chromosomes

27 April 2019

It is (dare I say) common knowledge that humans are born with 46 chromosomes in 23 pairs. We were all taught this back in school, no matter how long ago that may have been! The X and Y chromosomes determine a person’s sex. Most women are 46XX and most men are 46XY. But is it really that simple?

Research suggests that in a small number of births per thousand, there will be some individuals who are born with a single sex chromosome (either 45X or 45Y) and some with three or more sex chromosomes (e.g. 47XXX, 47XXY, 47XYY etc.).

There have been some high-profile cases within the field of sport (in particular, track athletics) where women’s sexual identities have been questioned when they have massively surpassed their rivals in terms of their athletic achievements. For example, the South African athlete, Caster Semenya, who was heavily favoured to win the Olympic women’s 800m back in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Normally, athletes stop and chat to television reporters about their races but, after she ran a quick opening round, she walked straight past all the reporters? Why? Because, since dominating the 2009 World Championships (where she beat the rest of the field by more than two seconds), she had faced brutal scrutiny by the media as well as her own fellow competitors and other sporting officials. She was even banned from competing and made to undergo sex tests.

According to the entry on the Wikipedia page in her name, “The combination of her rapid athletic progression and her appearance culminated in the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) asking her to take a sex verification test to ascertain whether she was female. The IAAF says it was “obliged to investigate” after she made improvements of 25 seconds at 1500 m and eight seconds at 800 m – “the sort of dramatic breakthroughs that usually arouse suspicion of drug use”… the sex test results were never published officially, but some results were leaked in the press and are widely discussed, resulting in claims about Semenya having an intersex trait.” In a recent article published by the BBC, the headline reads “Caster Semenya unquestionably a woman, say her lawyers before court case against IAAF”. It still rumbles on…

At Family Wise, we have dealt with some interesting heir tracing cases over the last year from people who have changed gender during their lifetime. Some families are open and accepting, whilst others, are not quite so.

If only today’s world was more accepting of people…

Take a look at our upcoming blogs in Y is for Yonder, here.

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