This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.
Women, Sport, and Film - 2002
In response to the failure of the International Bill of Gender Rights to pass congress in the fall of 2010, I propose a film that challenges society to examine the controversies surrounding gender identity construction and transgender people (Phyllis Randolph Frye, Esq., 1.) My film, "Making the Cut," is based loosely on the true story of Johns Hopkins Hospital case study "Joan/John," and chronicles the life of athlete Carla/Carlos Garcia (Diamond, 1). The film uses the example of sport as an indication that society is not yet ready to fully accept transgender individuals into its community. The film begins shortly after the protagonist Carla/Carlos has been born. The doctors immediately realize that the child has been born with a micropenis and determine, as is done to approximately 100 to 200 US children annually, that the child should undergo sex-selection surgery and be raised as a girl (Diamond, 1). The doctors attempt to explain this to the baby's mother, but as she only speaks Spanish their words are lost on her. Not being able to afford prenatal care, the mother has had no expectations for the sex of her child and rejoices when the doctors bring her a baby "girl," whom she names Carla. Carla grows up in Harlem and throughout her childhood is inclined to participate in activities that society has historically associated with boys: sports, building furniture and playing in mock-fighting games. Carla feels more comfortable in the company of boys and often finds she identifies more closely with their lives than those of her female peers. As an athlete, Carla excels at basketball and earns the recognition of her high school coach and local media as being a basketball sensation. In her senior year, Carla is recruited to play basketball for the University of Connecticut on scholarship. Excited at the prospect of leaving the projects and being the first member of her family to attend college, Carla joins the basketball team. While studying at UCONN, Carla attends a lecture about sex-selection operations for a class. Immediately, she identifies with the stories of people whose sex was decided by their doctors at birth and begins to question her own gender identity. She starts an investigation into her childhood and discovers the medical records recounting her sex-selection operation. Nervous about the significance of her discovery for her future, but relieved to learn that her inclinations towards feelings of masculinity had biological backing, Carla decides to live her life identifying as male. Carla adopts the name Carlos and feels obligated to quit the women's basketball team as he no longer identifies himself as a woman. Disappointed at the loss of his star athlete, the basketball coach encourages Carlos to reconsider his gender identity decision in order to stay on the team. Adamant about maintaining his new identity, but torn by the subsequent loss of his basketball scholarship, Carlos approaches the UCONN athletic director to obtain permission to try out for the UCONN men's basketball team. Although Carlos is easily of equal skill to the men of the team he is denied the right to try out for the men's team because of his "lack of the necessary physical components to be defined as a male." This on-screen debate of where transgender and sex-selected people fit into single-sex sports is one example of the confusing role for transgender people in society. Enraged at the school, Carlos sues the university for discrimination based on gender identity. In the court case, Carlos argues that he is no different than a male athlete who has lost his defining physical attributes in an accident. This argument is negative for the transgender community, as it focuses on the possession, even when short-lived, of physical attributes as a definition for gender as opposed to identification with a gender as the definition. For the jury, the question of the role of transgenders within society is new because there has been little public debate about the subject. Against Carlos, the University cites that the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) has discussed the dilemma stating that individuals who undergo sex change operations before puberty should be considered the post-operative sex, but surgery after puberty should be discussed on a case-to-case basis (Simms, 1). Thus, according the IAAF Carlos should be considered his post-operative sex. Again, the focus here is on physical properties rather than mere identification with a gender. In the end, Carlos loses his court case, showing that society is not yet ready to accept the transgender athlete, let alone the transgender. The film, Making the Cut, examines various issues relevant to both society and sport in today's world. First, the theme of sex selection is introduced by the decision of doctors to select a sex for Carla/Carlos. This scene introduces a controversial contemporary debate about gender definition and who has the right to select gender. Erroneous selection of a sex has substantial consequences, as is witnessed in the case of Carla/Carlos. Next, the subject of sport as an opportunity for mobility is presented. For Carla, basketball serves as an escape from the limited opportunities of her class confinements. For youth living in impoverished conditions, with limited resources and opportunities, sport is often viewed as the only way to achieve the American Dream (The American Dream and Sport, 2). In the case of Carlos, identifying as a male caused the loss of his scholarship and thus the loss of his opportunity for education. The film also debates the issue of transgender athletes and their role in the single-sex sport realm. "Making the Cut" presents the question of what defines femininity and masculinity and whether the definition of gender should be based on physical characteristics or identification with a sex. The ending of the film demonstrates that even in 2010, society is unprepared to accept transgenders as full members of society. As a result of his original "cut," or sex-selection, Carlos fails to "Make the Cut" of society's demands for gender and subsequently loses his route of escape from the poor conditions of the projects