Hypothetical Woman and the Intersex Olympics

So possibly it’s a good thing that my first real post in this blog is about a real issue, and not a craft post or how boring my life is – it certainly gets the ball rolling. If you haven’t heard about this particular issue lately – where have you BEEN?! Have you been researching clams in a remote area of Wales like my uncle?* For Uncle Doctor, and others like him, I’ll recap.

Caster Semenya, a South African middle distance runner, won gold in the 800 metres in the 2009 World Championships in Athletics with a time of 1:55:45 in the final. This is the fifth fastest time ever run by a woman, and has caused the International Association of  Athletics Federations to accuse her of being a man, and to demand gender testing – a horrifically complicated procedure which takes several weeks and five different experts. Why, I am not entirely sure, since apparently we can now tell all this about a person from a DNA piss test – but I am not an athletics standards officer so nobody’s asking me.

Apparently nobody asked Ms. Semenya either, and the results of said test were leaked to the media even before she knew – according to Netland, she is intersexed, with both sets of sexual organs and three times the level of testosterone a woman would normally have. This is way below the level a man would have, and she identifies as a woman, so it shouldn’t matter. Should it?

See, this is being touted as a racist issue, a feminist issue, a trans issue and a class issue. People are saying that it’s because she’s a black intersex woman from a rural background. And yes, many of the slurs that have been hurled in her direction – ‘hermaphrodite’, ‘that’s a man’, even ‘it’ – are horrible things to say to anyone. And yet somehow I feel the issue is being missed here.

So Ms. Semenya is intersex. This is a very rare condition, but it makes her stronger, faster than her peers. It has been said that the kind of improvements she made to her time were the sort that would normally trigger steroid investigations. How can any cisgendered woman compete? So what then, is Semenya to go race against the men? Is she up to the same standard? However much feminism might say that whatever a man can do, a woman can do too, men are still, on average, faster and stronger than women, and at their peak, faster and stronger still. Plus, I have an inkling that it wouldn’t be allowed. So now what? There aren’t enough intersex athletes for a category of their own and even if there were, that would require them to out themselves whether they liked it or not, and the taboo is still far too high for it to be truly safe.

But Ms. Semenya’s fellow athletes must be feeling rather put out about it all. If her gold medal is taken away and given to Kenya’s Janeth Jepkosgei Busienei, who currently holds the silver, and the silver were passed on to Britain’s Jenny Meadows, it would be a phyrric victory at best, one assumes. Everyone would be saying ‘Yeah, Janeth’s got gold – but everyone knows Caster really won.’ Because you just can’t win. The media’s a bitch like that.

Anyway, in a little whimsical aside, fastforward a few years if you will, to the 2016 Olympics. Hypothetical Woman, who is intersexed,** is entering a new category for the athletics – the mixed 800 metres. She competes against Caster Semenya, double-leg amputee Oscar Pistorius, and several male, female, trans, uncertain and disabled athletes.

Who wins? I don’t know. Personally, I’m betting on Oscar Pistorius. I know that a lot of people called him a cyborg and that it’s been taken as not a nice thing to say but I think it’s unbelievably cool. I do know that Hypothetical Woman won’t win, she’s never been much of a runner…

* – Yes, I’m serious, I have an uncle who is the foremost researcher of global warming indicators in clams. He is very cool and shall henceforth be referred to as Uncle Doctor, if I refer to him at all.

** – Of course Hypothetical Woman’s power, like the rest of the cast, is to fit the needs of whatever point I’m making.

REFERENCES:

http://www.sportsscientists.com/2009/08/caster-semenya-male-or-female.html

http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2009/09/11/caster-semenya-case-opening-old-wounds/

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-south-africa-runner21-2009aug21,0,5294672.story

http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2009/aug/19/caster-semenya-800m-world-athletics-championships-gender

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caster_Semenya

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2 Responses to “Hypothetical Woman and the Intersex Olympics”

  1. Sitian Says:

    You know, the idea of a mixed category for sports is really interesting. It would be very cool to see that happen, even if I doubt the high-ups in any sports event will take kindly to the idea. Shame really.

    I will keep my eye on you from my corner of the internet. C:

  2. The worldwide reaction is also troubling in the face of where Semenya comes from- South Africa. A place that still has many and pressing issues that most competitors’ countries have had longer to smooth out. According to all reports I’ve heard, the old home state is not only incredibly proud, but incredibly -doesn’t care that much- about this intersexed thing and is mightily supportive. Sure, for the country’s benefit- they get a famous medal winner, etcetera, but come on. It isn’t like that will solve high unemployment, incredible crime rates, or lack of sufficient electricity.

    Perhaps it’s unfair to stereotype, but this is the place whose last big sports story to reach outside of normal sports reporting (to my knowledge, anyway. It was April ’08) was the murder and ‘corrective rape’ of Eudy Simelane.

    Being intersexed seems a strange issue for the country to be on the other side of. Then again, that may stem from my own conditioning to lump things according to handy acronym.

    However, I find that I doubt they will create the mixed category in which Hypothetical Woman will compete in 2016 (though if they do, I shall root for her in purely speculative manner), and that being said, sports will likely remain duly and dually divided by gender. If such a division is to be insisted upon, well then, tough cookies competitors. The sports world only goes by one or other, and lest you accuse the intersexed person of not being a person (god forbid we ever go there), you’ve got to live with the fact that he or she shall either be one or the other. You were unfortunate enough to be born Salieri next to Mozart. You can’t make Mozart a fishmonger once he’s already started composing (though you can apparently help him drink himself to death or something, I find that part of Amadeus suspect). Unfair or unlucky? Who cries unfair and can’t rise above? It’s bad sportsmanship.

    So, the question posited at the end of your post really is a wonderful question to ask. Who wins? Whoever runs the fastest, I hope. Can you be as foolishly optimistic as I am, if that turns out to be the answer (no matter how temporary that optimism may be)? If it could matter less that she’s intersexed than that she won?

    Rollicking good post, either way- and thought provoking! Wonderfully well-written perspective… I look forward to reading further posts…

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