Sex binaries, performance enhancement and elite sport

During this ESRC funded individual postdoctoral fellowship to consolidate her doctoral research, Sonja Erikainen will write a monograph provisionally entitled Gender Verification and the Making of the Female Body: A Critical History of the Present. The monograph builds on her doctoral research to explore historical and contemporary practices of gender verification in international competitive sports, which have been aimed at verifying via biomedical sex tests that athletes competing in women’s sports are, indeed, females. The monograph provides a critical exploration into gender verification in order to show how culture, politics, and science come together to produce “femaleness,” both in sport and beyond.

The fellowship additionally provides the starting point for new research that draws from but expands the above themes, by moving to examine the gendered governance of androgenic hormones in sport. The research will focus on the relationship between the regulation of anabolic androgenic steroid doping via anti-doping regulations, and current regulations on female hyperandrogenism in international athletics competitions. The latter regulates the male / female category division by establishing an androgenic hormone threshold for some women’s athletics events. The research will explore how these two sets of regulations come together around the concept of “performance enhancement.” 

The fellowship will also incorporate an exploratory participatory engagement research workshop with grassroot sport organisers, activists and athletes who are members of the Scottish LGBTIQ+ sporting community. The objectives of the workshop will be twofold: firstly, it aims to engage participants in dialogue about the themes and findings of the study upon which the Gender Verification and the Making of the Female Body monograph is based, to both disseminate and evaluate the implications of the findings on community level sports organisation and participation. Secondly, the workshop aims to consider and gain participants’ perspectives on what it might mean, in practice, to organise sports participation and competitions beyond the binaries of sex and gender.