Semenya May Be Intersex.

A few days ago, I lamented that South African runner Caster Semenya was forced to perform gender to allay the public’s suspicions that she was a man.

I still lament that fact.

But right now, having read unofficial reports that Semenya is intersex, I feel very sad for the 18-year-old, who is discovering something life-changing in front of the public eye. Renee at Womanist Musings writes, much better than I could:

Today, Caster is the same person as she was before the intimate details of her physical construct were revealed to the world. Unless she has her testicles removed and takes estrogens, her racing career may be over. It may well seem to her, that she is being punished for being who she is and in this, she would be correct. Not only will she be prevented from competing in a sport she clearly loves, the intimacies of her body are now news for public fodder. Intersex bodies should not be treated as though they are sickness that needs to be cured, nor should she face social stigmatization for the narrow-mindedness of some.

Perhaps she’ll end up like Erik Schinegger or Maria Pinto or Santhi Soundarajan, who have gone on to lead very productive lives. At the least, though, I hope she’s getting the counseling she needs and that she will be able to withdraw from prying eyes for the time being.

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  • Scipio Africanus

    Many things.

    It’s a terrible shame that this very personal revelation has played out in front of the world sports community the way it has – embarrasingly, accusingly(ebonics?), and freak-showishly .

    I have to believe that because she’s presumably never had a period (correct me if the lack of ovaries doesn’t prevent this possibility) she had to have known that something was less than common about her phsycial situation As A Woman. She surely didn’t know she had testes, or high testosterone levels, though.

    She has not been duplicitous in regards to her gender.

    But would it still be fair to the other women she competes against to have to run against someone with her physical makeup? I think that’s a point that either gets lost or kind of inverted in this discussion – it’s the other women who have the biggest gripe with her qualification as a women’s runner.

    What *does* excplain her sudden jump in time, recently? Is the doping issue going to not be discussed at all anymore? How is anyone going to point to her gender state as an explanation for the sudden improvement?

  • All athletes, male and female, should have hormones inside normal medically accepted ranges for their gender and body type

  • glory

    The way this is being handled is inexcusable.

  • erika

    So, where do intersex folks get to compete? And who gets to decide what the “normal” “medically accepted” ranges are? Physical sex, like gender, is a spectrum, and the decision of what makes a “normal” male or female will inevitably be fairly arbitrary.

  • ladyfresh

    I’m confused about the lines drawn, well when they were drawn and I agree.

    I am not comfortable with how this has been handled.

  • What is incredibly interesting here is how this exposes the tenuousness of gender. Here is a person who seems to be the “shade of gray” between a man and a woman, yet when we look at her we “see” a woman, but we say she performs like a man.

    And erika raises a good point. Will someone see what is going on here and take it upon themselves to start an intersex Olympics of sorts? We already have Gay Games, but many people in the intersex community do not identify as gay. There could be an opportunity here, albeit incredibly pigeonholed, but an opportunity nonetheless.

    quad – I’ve always found the way we view female athletic achievements as peculiar due to the relative way we perceive them. Usain Bolt represents the superlative achievement in sprinting, but a woman’s relatively similar feat pales in comparison because it’s just “good for a girl.” Now if a woman say dopes out of control she may be able to compete with the men. Not saying she would rival Bolt, but she may challenge the other contenders. What does this tell us?