Sex Binaries, Performance Enhancement and Elite Sport

In October 2018, Sonja Erikainen will commence a one-year ESRC postdoctoral research fellowship titled Sex Binaries, Performance Enhancement and Elite Sport, mentored by Prof. Anne Kerr, director of the Centre or Health, Technologies and Social Practice.

Sonja will be working on a monograph, building on the findings of her doctoral research project, entitled Policing the Sex Binary: Gender Verification and the Boundaries of Female Embodiment in Elite Sport. Sonja’s work explores so-called “gender verification” policies and practices in competitive international elite sport from a historical and contemporary perspective. Gender verification has been practiced since the 1930s, exclusively on female athletes. It uses different biomedical “sex testing” methods to verify that athletes competing in the female category of international sports competitions are, indeed, females.  Sonja’s work explores the different sex testing methods that have been used and the different definitions of “femaleness” involved.

The fellowship also provides the starting point for new research that builds on the Policing the Sex Binary project but moves to explore the relationship between anti-doping regulations, the concept of “performance enhancement,” and the binary and mutually exclusive “female” and “male” categories that most sports are organised around. Focusing on androgenic – or so-called “male sex” hormones – the new research will explore how and why athletes’ hormone profiles are monitored and regulated through both gender verification and anti-doping policies, which together establish thresholds for acceptable (and unacceptable) levels of androgenic hormones. It will explore how and why thresholds are established and regulated differently, depending on the sex category in which athletes compete.

The fellowship  will also incorporate an exploratory participatory engagement workshop with grassroot sport organisers and athletes who are members of the LGBTQI+ sporting community in Edinburgh. The aim of the workshop is to engage community members to reflect on the implications of the findings from the Policing the Sex Binary project upon community-level sport organisation, and to explore what it might mean, in practice, to organise sport participation and competitions beyond the binaries of sex and gender.


Photo by Chau Cédric on Unsplash