ARE YOU MALE? FEMALE? Are you sure? REALLY sure? The International Olympic Committee will be sending out invitations to a summit in January in Florida to discuss a single question: How do you tell if someone is a boy or a girl?
No, don't scoff. This is a tough question. I once mistook a woman for a man. She looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger, right down to the 18-inch biceps and the chin stubble. I called her "sir."
"I'm not a sir," she growled, in a voice so low that it shook the ground and would have made Darth Vader sound like a chipmunk. She and her friend, a female of the same age, angrily stormed out of the dinner I was hosting.
An elderly man standing near me said, "I think those girls were Lebanese," which is a term used by a certain social group ("stupid people") to refer to women who prefer the company of women.
The incident caused the conversation over dinner that night to focus on Caster Semenya, the athlete who wins female races, but has been accused of being a guy. "Caster has all the key male attributes," one rival athlete told a reporter, without going into detail. Presumably, this means she forgets to phone after a date, scratches her genitalia in public, and understands the plot of Transformers 2.
(Transformers 2 is about horrible scary revolting monsters, mostly)
I asked the one doctor present at the dinner to give an informed, medical opinion. "The difference between male and female is a gradient," she said. "At one end, you have people who are obviously women, with pronounced female characteristics, such as, I don't know, Sophia Loren. At the other end, you have ultra-macho guys who are incredibly masculine, like, er, well, you can probably think of an example."
I was deeply insulted by the fact she did not pick your humble narrator as an example, given that I was sitting right opposite her.
I asked the obvious question. "With people in between, can't you just inspect their `bits,' to use the scientific term?"
She shook her head. "Some people just have a jumble of bits `down there,' to use another scientific term."
There followed a lengthy discussion of the subject. It's amazing how you can have detailed discussions of intimate body parts with no embarrassment whatsoever, as long as you use formal scientific terms such as "wee-wee bits," "bottom," "front bottom," "chest bumps," and so on.
The following day, I had to give a talk at a school, so I asked the children for ideas we could send to the IOC. How are boys and girls different? The girls put their hands up and called out their opinions.
"Boys are sticky."
"Boys are gross."
"Boys are stupid."
The boys responded angrily to these accusations. "OH YES, WE ARE," they roared.
That afternoon, I asked a mixed audience of Asian and Western adults whether there were any females present who had understood the plot of Transformers 2.
There was silence.
A woman in the front row finally asked: "It had a plot?"
I rest my case.