I’m outraged by the continued mishandling of the Caster Semenya situation–by sports officials, by her coaches, by her fellow athletes and jealous peers and by the media that relentlessly airs each evolving (and often unconfirmed) detail of Semenya’s personal health information–information that should be considered as confidential as that of any civilian. Why is the international community singling out an African woman, essentially punishing her for her talent and for not fitting some Eurocentric standard of feminine beauty? In fact, why gender-categorize sports at all, if what it really comes down to is the competitive boost provided by high testosterone levels? Testosterone levels vary among women, even women with standard XX genotypes. Why don’t all athletes undergo routine testosterone screenings? If categories were based on testosterone rather than gender, some self-identifying female athletes might end up competing against primarily men and most likely these situations would make news, but they would not have the vicious, personal nature of the gossip-laden attacks currently launched against Semenya.
This is a civil rights issue above all else. Semenya’s rights have been violated and beyond that, the implications of this case show the continued vulnerability of anyone that doesn’t fit into our narrow, socially constructed concept of gender. We need to be better educated about intersexuality and the complexities of both biological gender and gender identity. Our institutions operate via a binary that inescapably, absolutely links gender with biology, but even as we mobilize this binary, nature defies it. If your gender and your biology don’t match, society requires your attempt to “pass,” to at least present the appearance of a match. Otherwise you are viewed as something less, maybe even less than human. Maybe only 4% of the population doesn’t fall into these binaries. But if only 4% of the South’s population had suffered under Jim Crow laws, would overturning these laws have been any less vital?