Archive for the Sport Category

Hypothetical Woman and the Intersex Olympics

Posted in Sport with tags , , , , on 13/09/2009 by phyrbyrd

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.