When you’re a 15-year-old girl, having people question your gender would have to be just about the worst thing imaginable. But it pales in comparison to being forced to undergo a gender test, only to go back to school the next day and told to act like everything is normal.
Fast forward eleven years? And suddenly you’re being asked to do it all again.
That has been reality for Korean soccer player Park Eun-Seon.
Park Eun-Seon is ridiculously good at playing soccer. She’s so talented, in fact, that when she was 15 she had to physically prove her femaleness in order to establish that she was not, in fact, a man.
Park, who is 5’9″ and weighs around 74 kilograms, passed that test and went on represent her country at the 2003 World Cup, 2004 Olympics and 2005 Asian Games. And she continued to excel.
Last season, playing for the Seoul City Hall Amazones, Park scored 19 goals in the 22 games she played.
Some people would call Park Eun-Seon incredibly talented. But others believe she’s cheating. That if her talent and strength are not the result of drugs, then she must be a he.
Recent reports out of South Korea suggest an entire league worth of women is now threatening to boycott the upcoming season unless Park Eun-Seon takes another gender test.
According to news reports, coaches from the league’s six other clubs have said their teams wouldn’t play unless Park Eun-Seon undergoes the same test she went through almost to 11 years ago.
But the Korean Football Association isn’t giving in just yet. This from the BBC:
“We have no intention of accepting the gender verification test just to stop the boycott,” said Seoul Sports Council general secretary Kim Joon-Soo.
“But if it is needed for Park to compete in an international game and under specific regulations of Fifa, we will consider it.”
It is not the first time the South Korea international’s gender has been questioned, with the most recent occasion coming before the 2010 AFC Women’s Asian Cup, when host nation China raised the issue. She was not selected by South Korea for the tournament.
“This is a serious violation of human rights that she’s suffering for a second time. The question regarding Park’s gender identity shall never be raised again. The city of Seoul will take all necessary measures to protect our player’s human rights,” Kim added.
The story of Park and the question of her gender is reminiscent of Caster Semenya, the world champion female sprinter from South Africa.
In 2009, Semenya was forced to undergo gender tests in response to questions about seemingly impossible improvements on the track and her victory in the 800m at the World Athletics Championship.
After rumours surfaced that Semenya had failed the test, there was huge backlash from the public. One of Semenya’s fellow competitors even said: “These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she’s not a woman. She’s a man.”
Semenya, then 18, was found to be an hermaphrodite. That is, both male and female.
She reportedly has both female and male organs and three times the normal level of testosterone for a female. But after IAAF approval, and after a break from competition, Semenya went on to compete in 2011 and continues to compete today.
Speaking at the time of the results, Semenya said: “God made me the way I am and I accept myself. I am who I am and I’m proud of myself… I don’t want to talk about the tests. I’m not even thinking about them.”
Similarly, Park has addressed the criticism in an update on her Facebook page.
“I have gone through the gender examination thing several times. I did it in a World Cup, in an Olympics and in several others and there were no problems,” she wrote earlier this month. “I’ve worked so hard to get to this point, and I will not give up easily. I know what these people are trying to do, and I won’t fall down.”
Mamamia’s Editor Jamila Rizvi wrote last year in an opinion piece about transgender athletes at the Olympics: “There is no question that a level playing field is absolutely essential to maintaining public confidence in the outcome of sporting competitions. That’s why we have such strict rules governing the use of performance enhancing drugs; it’s about ensuring the integrity of the sports and protecting the achievements of the athletes.”
But while the rest of society has taken a huge step forward when it comes to accepting gender diversity, the sporting world remains rigid. Gender is either male or female. End of story.
As many websites have suggested, Park could probably score a place in the men’s team if she worked hard enough. But the point here is that she shouldn’t have to.
She’s been through the tests and she’s passed the tests.
To suggest that she should have to go though – what we can only imagine would be – the traumatic experience yet again, is not only unjustified but very much a violation of Park’s human rights and her rights as a woman to play soccer amongst her peers.
At what point do we say enough’s enough, allow her to retain her dignity and continue to bring glory to her sport and her team?