So my next stop on the weird world of X and Y, or things feeling a little topsy-turvy, is 1985. The World University Games were set to happen in Japan, and the Spanish hurdler María José Martínez-Patiño was scheduled to run. She was like a hot shot, a rising superstar. And the night before her race, they had her DNA scanned. Now at the time, this was a thing that they were doing, because they were like, "OK, we don't want men covertly racing as women, so we're going to scan the women and make sure all their Xs line up." And so I heard this story from Ruth Padawer who was a New York Times Magazine reporter and she reported on María.
(Audio) Ruth Padawer: So they tell her the chromosome test results were abnormal. Although on the outside, she was fully female, she had XY chromosomes and these internal testes.
MW: They were like, "We hate to break it to you, María, but you're actually a dude. You can't race with the ladies."
(Audio) RP: And so she's thrown off the national team, she's expelled from the athletics residence, she's denied her scholarship, a bunch of her friends dump her, fellow athletes abandon her, she loses her medals, her records are revoked.
MW: So it turns out -- remember when I told you you can be a bunch of different combinations of X and Y -- you can also be XY and be female. You can be XX and male.
In María's case, she was something called androgen insensitive. Which means that she did have some sort of internal testes -- they were making testosterone -- but her body couldn't use it. And so if you thought of testosterone as, like, a superpower, she was not benefiting from it. And so eventually, sports authorities, like, let her back in, but her career was done.
And in this instance you see how, if you assign sex to a specific place in the body, or at least, like, this is what I saw, right? If you assign sex to a specific place in the body, it somehow makes us think that we can go into a body, look at a specific place and tell someone we know something more about them than they know about themselves. And that feels terrifying to me.
And we don't genetically test female athletes anymore, but you can see very similar conversations happening when we talk about testosterone in sports, you can also see it in suggestions that we take transgender individuals and we genetically analyze them and we tell them who they are. That is real, that is a conversation that has happened recently.