Caster Semenya: Sports, gender identity, privacy

Quick summary: When track athlete Caster Semenya started standing out as a competitor, and as someone who looks different, The International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) asked her to submit to a gender test. The testing takes awhile, so it was an ongoing controversy as Semenya won a gold medal.

My thoughts: It is an odd situation about “having an advantage” in competing. But, then again, what is more important, games and titles or people’s dignity and privacy?

For the information of The IAAF and other people that think it is really important to know if Semenya should compete as a “man” or a “woman”, some people are born with both aspects, or even both parts. Perhaps the sports world should grow up and deal with that fact in a meaningful way. It would probably help a lot of transgendered folks in this world.

Meanwhile, Caster Semenya and her family assert she is a woman. And, her birth certificate says she is a girl. That should be enough to let her choose to participate in sports as a woman. What’s the big deal, anyway? It’s only a game. Right?

I found two excellent stories on the subject. One is that the third place winner in the race, Jenny Meadows, has graciously said that she would decline an upgrade in her medal if someone ruled against Semenya. The other is a profound, brave, and reflecting piece by a South African about gender in their country. Many thoughts could be applied to the US (though, not sure how many folks here would be brave enough to have the conversation so vulnerably.)

(excerpt from) The Mirror UK
Jenny Meadows backs Caster Semenya and will snub a medal upgrade

By Alex Spink  21/08/2009

Jenny Meadows has slammed the treatment of 800m gold medallist Caster Semenya as “dehumanising” and said she has no interest in a medal upgrade.

Meadows, who will move up to silver if Semenya is disqualified following a ‘gender verification test’, said: “Caster should never have been put in that position – it’s dehumanising her.

“She’s gone and got a world gold and she didn’t even get to do a lap of honour.

“She didn’t make much eye contact with anybody. I think she was half embarrassed by the whole situation herself.

“I hope for the sake of everyone in the competition that I keep the bronze and my third place is legitimate.”…

(excerpt from) Cape Argus
Caster Semenya’s challenge

…One can only imagine the embarrassing, humiliating procedure of genital screening and gender testing that Semenya will have to endure at the hands of scientists in Berlin.

The body and one’s prescribed gender identity are not the same thing, after all, as scholars have pointed out for years. Indeed, some argue that there are many genders even if only two are formally recognised.

What this treatment of Semenya indicates is that we are unwilling to allow people to be different from what we expect.

And if they insist on making their difference public, we will make a spectacle of them, interrogate and test them until we can categorise them appropriately.

This is profound intolerance, whether we are hoping to evaluate sexuality, gender, race or disability.

Semenya’s story is making us question our principles, our tolerance of difference and the way in which our institutions define what is normal.

This is a heavy burden for a young, 18-year-old to endure…

7 Responses

  1. If chromosomal sex is the determinate by which the IAAF decides gender eligibility then they should require prior proof from all contestants, not just from individuals who win and who fall outside a subjective view of gender identity. To do otherwise is to sanction sexism. If chromosomal sex is truly important to fairness in sex-based sport, then all participants should be tested, winners and losers, and those who both do and don’t “look like” women.

  2. Hormonal test will not indicate her gender.infact having unusual testestrone concentration in a women indicates that her behaviour may be different from other females but not for her gender.i need to comment those you guies please concentrate only on the presence of her organ(vagina),

    • Thank you for your comment, Lishan.

      While I see that your argument is somewhat helpful to Caster’s cause, as someone who has been involved in “political” arguments, before, I would say this:

      The focus should not be on her ORGAN or HER HORMONES.

      The focus should be on the civil and human rights of any person. No one should have to prove his/her gender to participate in sports. It is only a game. Our humanity is much more important.

      But, if there is some reason to be careful who enters women’s sports, than the tests should be simple, straight-forward and non-intrusive. Such as “to participate in women’s sports you must have a birth certificate that says you are a woman, or write an essay about your sex change” or something like that.

      No scientists in Berlin needed.

  3. As we know there is low amount of testestrone in female in the range of 0.3 -1.9 ng/dl.But some times some females have testestrone more than the range. semenya has 3 times the range of testetrone, it means she has 0.9 – 5.7 ng/dl testestrone amount.Yes there could be slight behavioural and physical change due to the hormone. Thus, it does not mean she is male becuase the hormone range for male is 9 – 30 ng/dl. Therefore, she is quite female.

    from Ethiopia

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