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» Got Questions? Get Answers. » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Sexual Ethics and Politics » Caster Semenya

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Author Topic: Caster Semenya
Bun Bun
Activist
Member # 37353

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Name sound familiar? It should, because ever since she won the gold in the 800m at the 2009 World Championships in Atheletics, there has been huge controversy over her sex. The dispute has been centered around whether or not Semenya is a woman, and if not, the stripping of her gold medal. (You can read more about her on wikipedia here)

They announced in the news today that while Semenya has the outward physical traits of a woman, she has testes and lacks a uterus and ovaries. She also has three times the amount of testosterone than that of an average woman. (More about the findings and what the International Association of Atheletics Federations has to say here

My questions for you all are:

Should Caster Semenya be disqualified?
What do you think about the segregation of mens and womens sporting events?
How would you propose to change the structure of sporting events to allow for intersexed people?


I'd love to hear your thoughts on these, as after talking with my mom I've realized there's so much grey area to be covered. It's a certainly a tough issue. I'm very proud of the way Semenya is handling all of this though. She says "It doesn't upset me. God made me the way I am and I accept myself..... I am who I am and I'm proud of myself. I don't want to talk about the tests — I'm not even thinking about them."

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eryn_smiles
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How does she herself identify or define her gender and sex?
As a woman? If so, I think she should be allowed to compete in womens events.

Whether they should continue to segregate events in this way, I don't know.

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"Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare."

Audre Lorde

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Heather
Executive Director & Founder
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So glad to see you bring this up, BunBun.

The testosterone thing is so tricky, because no matter what someone's sex is, and what gonads someone has, those levels can vary so much, and it's entirely possible at any given time that there are other women WITH a uterus and without (internal, which is what she has, and likely didn't even know she did until now) testes with higher testosterone levels. And are female full-time athletes "average women?" Who's this average woman anyway? Are the other female athletes having their levels tested?

I'm with eryn on this. Ultimately, I think this is indicative of the huge problem with making sports divided by binary gender: not everyone fits so neatly, so should that just mean intersex individuals or trans individuals don't get to compete at all? Are we going to need transgender and intersex sports teams and events now so everyone can participate? If so, why?

Because we know sex -- via chromosomes and gonads -- isn't binary, I don't think it makes sense to base these divisions on sex. Why not simply base them on how someone identifies instead?

Incidentally, discovering oneself to be intersex is often really tough and hard to deal with. I can't imagine having to find out at the same time the whole world has. That this happened this way is, IMO, really unforgiveable.

[ 09-11-2009, 05:40 PM: Message edited by: Heather ]

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Heather
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This just keeps getting more and more infuriating and tragic:

• http://transpolyasexual.wordpress.com/2009/09/15/the-sad-saga-of-caster-semenya/
• http://www.pamshouseblend.com/diary/12986/if-she-commits-suicide-it-will-be-on-all-our-heads

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Bun Bun
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One of the comments on the second link stuck out to me:

quote:
How dare the world...
And that's how I'm feeling right now. How dare the media decide what a person is. How dare they leak this to the public, especially without giving Caster any time to process the news.

The more time the passes, the more angry and sad I become about the whole thing.

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littlespoon
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There's a good blog post/discussion on this here: http://bitchmagazine.org/post/are-they-god

I've been following this with a great deal of interest. I agree that the binary idea of gender favoured in the sporting world is ultimately at fault for this catastrophe- it's simplistic and inadequate, but I feel like this unfortunately goes hand in hand with what I think is the shallow (sorry if this offends anyone, personal opinion!) nature of the sporting arena. In other words, I don't really think it's likely that governing organisatins are going to put too much critical thought into their notions of sex and gender; their limitations; and the consequences of this- the onus will continue to remain on the atheletes to 'fit' into the system, and if, like Semenya, they don't, too bad.

Also, i have seen a point brought up a few times which I think is a good one- the concern is that Semenya's male attributes give her a 'genetic advantage' that is unfair to other competitors, however, don't a lot of star atheletes have such a 'genetic advantage' that allows them to excel at what they do? Michael Phelps is an example of this- he has an unusually long armspan and produces low amounts of lactic acid, among other things, and those things all help him to be as amazingly fast as he is. But no-one's trying to disqualify him on the grounds of 'genetic advantage'.

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This is our last dance; this is ourselves.

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Heather
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That last bit about all athletes having genetic advantages is a GREAT point.

I don't know if I'll climb on board with all sports being shallow, but I do think it's sound to say that I don't think sports orgs really thought through the complexity of everything when opening sports to women. Mind, I'm glad that happened, regardless, but once that happened, as you said, it necessitated a more sophisticated view of sex and gender, and really thinking about what all of that meant, how to deal with -- and get out of denial around -- the fact that sex isn't binary, and gender most certainly isn't.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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captaininsomnia
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This is a great post! For what it's worth, a lot of athletes have factors that - at the moment - we can't decide. From birth, everything from testosterone levels to dualsexuality (a good friend of mine, for example, is outwardly female but actually possessing a microscopic internal testes) is possible; such things are only likely to become more common as population increases. What does this mean? Whatever we choose to make of it, and that's precisely what I think - er, and what a lot of people here seem to think. People are people, and we shouldn't let a bunch of people with fancy degrees in shock and awe news get to call the shots.

It's not quite the same, but I remember Oscar Pistorious almost getting disqualified because he might be able to run a whopping 20% more efficiently than any normal human- because he happens to have no legs and uses legblades to run. The Olympic committee even used the term 'You run better than you should be able to'. Says who?

As for poor Caster, I don't know what'll happen, although of course my thoughts and prayers'll be with her. A lot of people are talking about the public talking about this, though - I'd redirect that energy, because the public would have nothing *to* talk about if it weren't for a cloisome(right word?) media and a judgemental, closed-minded panel. That might just be my natural hatred of authority coming through, though... Guess all I can do from so far away is keep rooting for her, though. :/

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Heather
Executive Director & Founder
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Awesome, awesome news: Caster gets to keep her medal!

http://www.salon.com/mwt/broadsheet/feature/2009/11/19/semenya_gold/index.html?source=rss&aim=/mwt/broadsheet/feature

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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