RecensionsBook Reviews

Woman Enough: How a Boy became a Woman and Changed the World of Sport, By Kirsten Worley and Johanna Schneller (2019) Toronto: Random House Canada, 260 pages. ISBN: 978-0-7352-7300-9

  • Braham Dabscheck

…more information

  • Braham Dabscheck
    Senior Fellow, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne, Australia

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Kirsten Worley is an XY female. She was assigned as a male at birth and then transitioned, which included extensive surgical procedures, to a female. During her period as a male, she was an accomplished long distance runner; water skier, being a member of the Canadian national team; and a cyclist where her attempt to represent Canada at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games was thwarted when she experienced a devastating fall/crash. Following her transition as an XY female Kirsten Worley sought permission to compete as a cyclist under the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) 2003 Stockholm Consensus on Sex Reassignment in Sports’ Guidelines. Under these rules the applicant had to demonstrate that surgical anatomical changes have been completed, legal recognition of their transition has been confirmed by appropriate official authorities, and hormonal therapy has been administered in a verifiable manner to minimize gender-related advantages in sport competitions. Worley made her application for a cycling license to Canada’s National Sports Organisations in April 2005. She hoped to compete in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She was the first athlete in the world to ‘test’ the Stockholm Consensus. Worley objected to the way in which her application was handled in terms of being required to undertake further medical examinations despite documentation from the surgeon who performed her transition and the attitude the panel displayed to her during the hearing; “their tone was clear: I was not, nor would I ever be, a ‘real’ woman. At best, I was trying to cheat; at worst, I was a freak”. Worley says that the panel should have reached a decision in three weeks; it took eight months (p. xiv). Following the granting of her license Worley found that she was struggling with her training and performance. Being on a regime of hormones and bereft of testosterone, both of which are associated with and resulting from her transition, her body was unable to repair itself. Under the rules of the Anti World Doping Authority (WADA) athletes can apply for a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) to take medications, drugs that are necessary to maintain their health. An endocrinologist whom Worley consulted advised her to apply to the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport for such an exemption. Worley was the first transgender athlete to seek a TUE for testosterone for basic health reasons. The IOC and WADA are wary of testosterone levels in female, ‘same sex’ and transgender athletes as providing them with an ‘unfair’ advantage. Worley maintains that a TUE usually takes two weeks to be determined and granted. Her application took three years (p. 148). When finally granted in September 2009, prior to her 43rd birthday, she was assigned an amount which was below the level that her body needed. She then decided to take on the IOC, WADA, the International Cycling Union, Cycling Canada and the Ontario Cycling Association over her treatment. She directly contacted both the IOC and WADA over the phone and took to writing and social media in expressing her objections. The key question she asked, which no one would or could answer, was, “can you provide me with the scientific basis for your decision?”. Worley decided to pursue her case as a breach of her human rights under the Ontario Human Rights Code before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. The first issue which the Tribunal considered was if it had jurisdiction to hear such an application. On 20 July 2016, Adjudicator Pickel concluded that the IOC and WADA were beyond the Tribunal’s remit. This did not apply, however, to the International Cycling Union, Cycling Canada and ...