UPDATE 16 June 2011: for info about the new film.
When I posted about Gretel Bergmann and Dora Ratjen, I came across another name from closer to home — Erika Schinegger, who was a shining star in the women’s downhill ski races in the mid 60s. Last night ORF aired a 2005 documentary film about Schninegger — Erik(A) — and the events of 1967, when the Austrian Olympic hopefuls submitted to medical testing by the IOC and it came out that Schinegger was, chromosomally speaking, male.
While Ratjen withdrew from society and never spoke to any reporters about his experiences, Schinegger is congenial and loquacious, as well as a very attractive man. Looking at old photos now, one clearly sees (in restrospect, of course) a young man’s face and body. But many of those interviewed said that they were surprised by the test results. They had assumed that Erika Schinegger was simply a healthy, somewhat homely country girl, with muscles from all that farm work.
Schninegger underwent corrective surgery and changed his name from Erika to Erik, and actually competed successfully on the men’s downhill team for a short time — until the Austrian Ski Federation made him resign, due, they told him, to “unrest in the media” and among his teammates. Schinegger returned to live in the village in Carinthia where he grew up, opened a ski school for children, and eventually married (and fathered a daughter.) If he had any bitterness in him, it was not apparent in the film.
The filmmaker interviewed a dozen or so people; family members, childhood friends, teammates, as well as extensive interviews with Schinegger himself, and pulls a neat trick by juxtaposing archival footage with that of modern teenagers at athletic training exercises. The effect is that you as the viewer begin to look at the girls with a clinical eye, noting the things that make them “feminine” — or not. You begin to both notice and question the “obvious” differences between the genders.
Update: I keep coming back to Caster Semenya and what the media circus last year has done to her life. Schinegger had two big things going for him – one was the time and place, and home being a place where he could go about having a normal life, once the locals adjusted (which they did), the other was that by his own accounts, while he grew up identifying as a girl from not knowing anything else, he tended toward boyish things — he tells of annual Christmas meltdowns as a child, when getting another doll instead of the long-desired tractor (the dolls all got their heads broken eventually!) and evidently was able to settle into being a guy relatively easily. The way he described it, it seemed like a natural progression for him. The contortions that Caster’s family/publicity agent/whoever is putting her through to enforce the idea that she’s a “real woman” can’t be good for her.