Just Another Guy with Opinions

Caster Semenya – Is She or Isn’t She

Posted by shadmia on September 14, 2009


In a previous post, I discounted the idea that Caster Semenya, 18, from South Africa (the women’s 800-meter world champion), could be a hermaphrodite …..well I was wrong.

Australian media claimed to have obtained leaked details of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) tests. The Sydney Daily Telegraph said these showed that the 800-metre world champion has a chromosomal abnormality that means she has no womb or ovaries but internal testes that produce the male hormone, testosterone.

The IAAF has refused to confirm or deny the veracity of the article. However, IAAF spokesman Nick Davies said: The statements should be treated with caution as they are not official statements by the IAAF.”

“We have received the results from Germany, but they now need to be examined by a group of experts and we will not be in a position to speak to the athlete about them for at least a few weeks.

“After that, depending on the results, we will meet privately with the athlete to discuss further action.”

The IAAF has confirmed it will not comment further on Semenya until after the IAAF council meeting in Monaco on 20-21 November. That has done nothing to quell the firestorm of speculation in the media and around the world.

Many are questioning why this issue was not resolved before allowing Semenya to compete on the world stage. Her country of South Africa is solidly behind her, even the President, Jacob Zuma, has issued a statement in her defense.

Athletics Semenya Gender TestCaster Semenya

Some have taken issue with the term “hermaphrodite” being used to describe Caster Semenya and suggest that a more appropriate word would be “intersex” or more specifically Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS).

What this means is that even though outwardly a person may appear to be female, there are certain male characteristics, like internal male sex organs and testosterone production, that they also carry. One serious side effect of this condition is the likelihood of developing cancer.

….AIS people typically self identify as female. They can not have offspring. Sexual intercourse is limited because of the ‘blind vagina” but this is fixable with surgery. Removal of the testes and ‘fixing’ of the blind vagina are not normally considered “gender reassignment.” The testes removal is more of a life and death thing … there is a high risk of cancer without that surgery.

Caster SemenyaCaster

Discussion of AIS may seem very clinical and abstract but it bears remembering that it affects real people, like Caster Semenya who is only 18 years old, still a teenager with most of her life ahead of her, and probably did not know before now that she had such a condition.

All her life she considered herself to be female, just like other females; her family considered her to be a normal female child; she interacted with others around her as a female; she was a female athlete competing with other female athletes. There is bound to be a tremendous psychological impact on discovering that she is not a normal female and moreover knowing that the world does not see her as a normal female. She may even be prevented from competing with other females in the future.

According to media reports Caster has gone into hiding. She is scared, sad and devastated by reports that she is a hermaphrodite. Some fear that she may be suicidal.

The chairman of South Africa’s Parliament’s portfolio committee on sport and recreation, Butana Komphela said.

Caster Semenya

“She is like a raped person. She is afraid of herself and does not want anyone near her. She has been placed on an altar for all the world to see. If she commits suicide, it will be on all our heads.”

“I spoke to her today. She says she is okay. But I can hear that she is disguising a lot of agony. She is traumatised by all of this. The best we can do is protect her and look out for her during this trying time,” Komphela said.

Regardless of the mental trauma that Caster must be experiencing, there seems to be an effort to capitalize on her by the Athletics SA (ASA).

ASA boss Leonard Chuene said that they would soon start accepting bids for a management team for her. He said the ASA was protecting her as a brand but denied that they were cashing in on the publicity.

“She is a brand and a champion of the world. There is nothing sinister about protecting her from ambush marketing or hijacking. There must be an appearance fee for her to appear on magazine spreads. Those people who want to use her must pay.”

Hopefully this is not just another example of people making a business out of other people’s misery. Hopefully someone is looking out for Caster Semenya’s best interests.

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