Condoleezza Rice, during her tenure as Stanford’s Provost, brokered a meeting between Professors Barbra Barres and Jonathan Roughgarden. These two Stanford professors were transitioning into new gender identities. Their lives were moving in parallel but opposite directions. Each one living through mirror image experiences of the other. As a student at MIT, Barbra was a prodigious mathematician. Her mathematics professor set five tutorial questions but marked only four claiming that the fifth was incredibly difficult to solve. Barbara protested. She solved it. With aloofness, the Professor proclaimed that her boyfriend- must have solved it for her. He could not acknowledge that a girl could be a brilliant mathematician.

In 1997, Barbra became Ben. Having lived one life in two genders, Professor Barres, who died a few months ago, noticed how the seminars, papers and research conducted as Chair of Neuroscience at Stanford had greater prestige when he worked as Ben. In fact, faculty thought he was much smarter than his ‘sister’- the other Barres- even though a sister never existed, because the two were in reality one person.

The gender barrier which talented women face is real. As Ben, Barbra’s academic life climbed sharply as he transitioned to become a transman. When Professor Jonathan Roughgarden transitioned to become Joan Roughgarden, he had decided to descend into Dante’s ‘Inferno’. As Joan Roughgarden, he experienced reduced influence living as a woman. Joan felt that women are perceived as incompetent unless proven otherwise and overconfident men are assumed to be competent unless confirmed otherwise. While Ben enjoyed the enormity of male privilege, Joan’s new identity dissolved the role he once played on Stanford’s Senate. The possibility of her influencing scientific thought was abridged as a female. Now she had to navigate the pillars of male power. As Jonathan, he challenged many scientific theories and his views were taken into account. But as Joan, when she challenged Darwin’s theory of Sexual Selection, the rebuttal was strikingly galling and lacked scholarly finesse. Joan also expected to stay on the same academic track; but soon realised that she would no longer be asked to sit on university committees and her salary drifted to the bottom ten per cent of the professorial bands. Ben on the other hand soared and had little difficulty to secure university funding.

From academia to athletics, the saga is the same. Caitlyn Jenner (born William Bruce Jenner) is an Olympic gold medal-winning decathlete at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games. Balian Buschbaum – then Yvonne – competed as a pole vaulter in the 2000 Olympic Games. Soccer player Jaiyah Saelua is the first transgender woman to play in the World Cup. Erik Schinegger, born Erika, is a champion skier from Chile. After subjected to testing from gaming officials, he learned that he was chromosomally male and intersex. At the Rio Olympics, Caster Semenya was poised to win a gold medal in the 800 meters- a race in which her times had been approaching a decades-old world record thought to be unapproachable. In Monaco, just before Rio, Semenya pulled away from a strong field over the final 100 meters of the 800. Only 11 women in history have run faster than her winning time of 1:55.33, and only two have done it since 1997. The ease of Semenya’s victories and the continuous improvement in her times prompted speculation that she would threaten the world record of 1:53.28, set 33 years ago by Jarmila Kratochvílová of what was then Czechoslovakia. The 2020 Tokyo Gamebook prohibits performance-enhancing drugs and in some instances requires performance-diminishing drugs.

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) new rules are scheduled to go into effect on November 1. The rules state that women who have high levels of naturally occurring testosterone may not compete in women’s middle distance races unless they take medication to reduce those levels. The governing body says its new regulations are not intended to question the gender identity of hyperandrogenic women but the athletes feel that it is an invasive surveillance and judgment of women’s bodies. Sprinter Dutee Chand of India challenged the IAAF’s original rule that required women with elevated levels of the hormone to submit to testosterone-suppressing medication. The Court of Arbitration for Sport suspended the rule before the Rio Games because it was unable to conclude that such women have so great an advantage that they should be excluded from competing in the female category. The court gave the IAAF two years to establish proof of unfair advantage. When the IAAF announced its new rule it asserted that it had data that established unfair advantage. The new rule targets races between 400 meters and a mile leaving sprinters like Chand out of the controversy.

The question is – Why is testosterone used as a yardstick to separate students, scholars, athletes and academics over and above their abilities. We can certainly learn much from men and women who have lived as both.