We have been getting an education of late; a new understanding, for some at least, of gender’s equivocalness. Unfortunately, this has all come at the expense of Caster Semenya: a woman who is guilty of nothing (unless you consider running too fast a crime) and whose life has now been altered, lastingly, and probably not to the better.
I’ll make clear first that nothing has been confirmed. The reporting that Semenya is a “hermaphrodite” originates with two Australian papers quoting an unnamed source. Not all that convincing to my mind, a view seconded by an IAAF spokesperson: “Davies said the newspaper’s report ‘should be treated with caution.'”
Moreover, calling her a “hermaphrodite,” even if the report is true, is neither appropriate nor correct. (Intersexed is the generally accepted term.) Assuming the report is accurate, again a leap right now, Semenya most likely has androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS). Perhaps a report, like the AP’s, written without a sensationalist bent might inform us better. The AP report instead gives an objective and fact-oriented, not to mention a rather more compassionate, outline of the condition Semenya might have. Also, a post at ScienceBlogs explains why the obsessive concern about “unfair” athletic advantage in such cases is a mere bugaboo.
Last, something else in the Daily Telegraph piece that is disturbing: “While the IAAF are treating the Semenya case as a health matter, with her eligibility to compete in women’s athletics very much a secondary issue, the same South African politicians who denied AIDS was a problem in their country are now blindly standing behind their new queen of the track.”
Really? All along the IAAF has been concerned solely with Semenya’s health? That’s the reason for the “gender verification” tests in the first place-her health? Never mind, too, that the IAAF could easily have better protected her privacy through all this.
And while I do not normally defend politicians, in this instance, i.e. Semenya’s rights and privacy, I would say the South African politicians have it about right. That they are guilty of past wrongs-as all politicians are, apparently even the Australian variety-I have no doubt, but in this matter they have taken the high ground. (Albeit, of course, that ground which is also most politically advantageous for them).