Of recent, Ms. Semenya has become a household name. If you don’t know about her, you must be in a cave somewhere! However, for anyone of you who might not have heard, a brief synopsis:
Mokgadi Caster Semenya (born 7 January 1991 in Ga-Masehlong, a village near Polokwane) is a South African middle-distance runner and world champion. She won gold in the 800 m at the 2009 World Championships in Athletics with a time of 1:55.45 in the final. She attends Pretoria University and is a first-year sports science student.
She is however not famous for her achievements on the track, impressive though they are. She has become a household name because her gender has been placed in question. This has led to questions as to whether she should be allowed to compete with women, or if she should be stripped of whatever titles she already has. If you take a good look at her, she looks, speaks and has the mannerisms of a man. If it walks, talks and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck right?
Just watch the video below:
If you were not told that was a woman, what would you say? And even after you know it’s a woman, what do you say? Her body is shaped like a man’s as well, as the picture below attests to.
In general, most of us think of gender definitions as being black or white: you are either male or female. This case has made it clear that things are a little more complicated than that. Obviously, I am learning that there is an inbetween, and the level of inbetweenness is on a gradient. Confusing stuff, but very real nonetheless.
There have been a lot of theories being thrown around as to what’s up with Caster, including Androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS).
Androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS), also referred to as androgen resistance syndrome, is a set of disorders of sex development caused by mutations of the gene encoding the androgen receptor. The nature of the resulting problem varies according to the structure and sensitivity of the abnormal receptor. Most forms of AIS involve variable degrees of undervirilization and/or infertility in XY persons of either gender. A person with complete androgen insensitivity syndrome (CAIS) has a female external appearance despite a 46XY karyotype and undescended testes, a condition termed “testicular feminization” in the past
As someone explained it here
All embryos in the womb start off as females. Then when there is a Y chromosome which will enable the embryo to a grow a penis and scrotum it may fail to do so because AIS makes it unable to process testosterone which allows for this
That is a diagnosis from afar. What has been leaked from the tests she has taken so far is that she has 3 times the testosterone level of an average woman Source
However, that does not make her a man.
On average, an adult human male body produces about forty to sixty times more testosterone than an adult human female body, but females are, from a behavioral perspective (rather than from an anatomical or biological perspective), more sensitive to the hormone. However, the overall ranges for male and female are very wide, such that the ranges actually overlap at the low end and high end respectively.
Caster is not the first athlete to be faced with gender ambiguity. There have been several others:
i)Iyabo Abade , a Nigerian, used to play football for the women’s soccer team. Was finally found to be a hermaphrodite, went through a sex change operation, and now lives as a man named James Johnson.Source and another source
ii)Erik Schinegger (born 19 June 1948) is an Austrian skier. He was the world champion women’s downhill skier in 1966, at which time he was recognized as female and known as Erika Schinegger.
Schinegger was born in Agsdorf, Carinthia. In 1967, preparing for the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, a medical test by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) determined that Schinegger was chromosomally male, and disqualified him. Born intersex, he had been raised as a girl and was surprised at the news. The case prompted the IOC to require chromosomal testing of all athletes.
Schinegger decided to live as a man and transitioned, undergoing medical treatment and changing his name to Erik. He married and became father of a daughter, Claire.
iii) Stanisława Walasiewicz, also known as Stanisława Walasiewiczówna (see Polish name) and Stella Walsh
An autopsy showed that she possessed male genitalia, although some sources suggest she also displayed some female characteristics. Detailed investigation has also revealed that she had both an XX and an XY pair of chromosomes.
The controversy on her biological sex remains unresolved, and the situation is further complicated by the fact that many earlier documents, including her birth record, state that she was female. There was also some controversy as to whether all her records and achievements should be erased.
In other words, having a penis or a vagina is not enough to classify you as a woman or a man. There is a lot more to it than that. Even external genitalia can be deceiving! Na real wah. This article explains the whole thing so that we can begin to make some sense of it:
It may be thought that determining if someone is a man or woman would be as simple as looking to see if they have breasts and a vagina or a penis.
But in reality it is far more complex.
Even someone’s external genitalia can be “ambiguous”. For example, the clitoris may be enlarged so that it looks like a small penis or a female’s labia may be fused, resembling a scrotum.
There are also chromosomal and hormonal variations and conditions which medics will test for.
The IAAF has acknowledged this complexity with their policy on gender verification.
And for them to determine the gender of an athlete if there is any ambiguity, they utilize a medical panel consisting of a gynecologist, endocrinologist, psychologist, internal medicine specialist and expert on gender/transgender issues.
Africans in general and South Africans in particular were really upset over this whole Caster thing. Why?
A)She is not the first athlete to look like a man. Examples abound:
is a former Czech 400m runner. Along with a late development, her career was dogged by injury and illness. Always in the shadow of Marita Koch she hit peak form in 1983 aged 32. Entering a one-off 800m race in Munich, reportedly as a training exercise, she broke the world record with 1:53.28.
Mutola is often ranked as the greatest female 800 m runner of all time. She has not gained a world record, but her consistency, her record at major championships and her ability to compete at the highest levels of the sport for well over a decade are unmatched. (The 2008 Olympics were her sixth successive Olympics.)
Her greatest moment, though, came at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, when Mutola finally won Olympic gold. She beat her major rival Stephanie Graf and Kelly Holmes. She returned to Mozambique after her Olympic victory, huge crowds came to cheer her and a road was named after her in Maputo.
B)Secondly, the way the news leaked reeked of racism and incompetence.
It has since emerged that news of the test only became public knowledge because a fax was sent to the wrong person.
Yup. In general these tests are supposed to be confidential, but Caster was treated like a freak show for the whole world to jeer at. And it was obviously a very difficult time for Caster herself – she wins the 800m gold and gets no cheers:
Hmmm! Whatever the reason for the leak, and however we view Caster, this has become a teachable moment. The major lesson: Most things in life are not black and white, not even gender.
I end with a question: I have written a lot on this site about homosexuality and Christianity. If Caster were to end up with a woman, would she be considered gay? And if she were to end up with a gay man, would that be wrong?
I ask because I once had a friend who I suspect had more than her fair share of testosterone. She wore her hair short, had a husky voice, never felt comfortable in skirts, had a lot of mannish interests (extreme sports and the like) and generally in many ways acted like a man. She was a woman, it was clear, but there was always that extra man element around her. I always wondered. Anyways, last I saw her, she was in her early ‘30s, and she told me that she had NEVER been on a date. Guys just did not find her attractive at all. So would she be excused for going with a woman? What are people with extra levels of hormones that make them too much like the other sex supposed to do?
Life is very complicated o.