Track Star Caster Semenya Controversy

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LillyBBBW

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See, i didn't realise that conclusive results had been provided yet for Caster. The news 10 hours ago said that they were still awaiting results and that the source that claimed she was a hermaphrodite was wrong. I'm with Melian, you would think if something like this happened 40 years ago, better testing which would cause least humiliation should really be in place.
Anyway, i don't think they have 'proved' she is a hermaphrodite yet... so this scrutiny is very strange and i believe is causing a fair amount of outrage in Africa. Oh, also, Caster herself is recieving psychiatric help at the moment. Poor show all round.
I'm glad that she is receiving help and support in this way. The next few weeks are going to be tough by any standard and she will have a hard road ahead of her regardless of what that test result is. I wish I could Rep the South African government for making sure Caster is taken care of. Guess you'll have to do mergirl. ;)
 

gangstadawg

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But the point is though that Semenya has male levels of testosterone which truly does give her an unfair advantage. According to the reports Semenya has testicles and no ovaries, so even if her gender identity is female, she still physically performs at a male level.
i have to agree.
 

joswitch

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I too agree that it's unfair to female athletes to compete against people with male levels of T.. I also agree that the sports authorities have made a right pig's ear of the issue and have been hugely insensitive to Caster... Her sex (as opposed to her gender identity) has been doubted by observers for years, more so for her body's "male" appearance than her face (broad shoulders, straight torso, narrow hips.. contrast with say either of the Williams sisters or the late Flo Jo.. ).. And she has competed at a world class level before... Given previous issues in times past (e.g. Erik/a) surely Caster could and should have been tested *before* her first competition at this level?! ...Quietly & without damaging & stressful (to her) media furore.. And once tested- surely that should stand as certification for all further competitions? Rather than her being subject to repeated tests (which I understand has been the case)... I'd like to think that maybe there's a silver lining to this (and the Lady GaGa's maybe penis blahblah).. That maybe intersex people will get greater recognition.. As part of the natural diversity that is humanity - rather than a "problem" to be "fixed" by doctors... And perhaps the attitudes that lead to intersex babies routinely being surgically reassigned to one or other of the majority sexes might be re-examined... But I gotta say it doesn't look hopeful.. :(
 

Geektastic1

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I have deliberately stayed away from this discussion, but I can't keep quiet anymore. My heart really goes out to Caster, whether she is intersexed or not. She is a fantastic athlete, and deserves to keep her medal, period. This scrutiny is a bunch of sexist (and, like Lilly says, probably racist) bullshit. She should not be treated this way.

For those who think it would be unfair for an intersexed woman to compete with "normal" women, here's an idea--why not have athletic competition categories be based on performance and strength instead of sex? That would actually be more realistic than dividing by sex categories, and would not exclude talented athletes who fall outside the binary sex categories. Excluding intersex people from performing athletically because they can't fit easily into a gendered category is a lot like excluding fat people from theaters because they can't fit in the seats. There are a lot of commonalities between intersexed (and transsexual), disabled, and fat bodies and how they are pathologized, discriminated against, not accomodated, and made invisible.

For a perspective from an intersexed person who writes better than I do, read this commentary:

http://intersexroadshow.blogspot.com/2009/08/caster-semenya-intersex-perspective.html
 

katorade

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I have deliberately stayed away from this discussion, but I can't keep quiet anymore. My heart really goes out to Caster, whether she is intersexed or not. She is a fantastic athlete, and deserves to keep her medal, period. This scrutiny is a bunch of sexist (and, like Lilly says, probably racist) bullshit. She should not be treated this way.

For those who think it would be unfair for an intersexed woman to compete with "normal" women, here's an idea--why not have athletic competition categories be based on performance and strength instead of sex? That would actually be more realistic than dividing by sex categories, and would not exclude talented athletes who fall outside the binary sex categories. Excluding intersex people from performing athletically because they can't fit easily into a gendered category is a lot like excluding fat people from theaters because they can't fit in the seats. There are a lot of commonalities between intersexed (and transsexual), disabled, and fat bodies and how they are pathologized, discriminated against, not accomodated, and made invisible.

For a perspective from an intersexed person who writes better than I do, read this commentary:

http://intersexroadshow.blogspot.com/2009/08/caster-semenya-intersex-perspective.html

Uh, because no matter which way you cut it, men and women are vastly physiologically different. It would be incredibly unfair and stupidly unrealistic to expect women to perform to the same athletic level as men.

The reason there is no place for intersexed people is because that's also unrealistic. There's what, a less than 5% chance of this happening? There's absolutely no reason to make a category for it. If there WAS increased interest then there could be a completely different branch where they could compete with like-abled people, but as it is a woman with mass quantities of testosterone has an advantage over women and a disadvantage in competition with men. Period.
 

Geektastic1

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The reason there is no place for intersexed people is because that's also unrealistic. There's what, a less than 5% chance of this happening? There's absolutely no reason to make a category for it. If there WAS increased interest then there could be a completely different branch where they could compete with like-abled people, but as it is a woman with mass quantities of testosterone has an advantage over women and a disadvantage in competition with men. Period.
No need for another category. Just let people of like abilities compete with each other. Is that really so radical? Most physiologically typical males would probably end up competing with each other, and likewise, most physiologically typical females would end up competing with each other, too. Some intersex people would compete with physiologically typical females, other with physiologcally typical males. Some males would compete with some females. People in general have a wide range of anatomies and physiologies, and there is a lot more in-between than anyone might think.

Now, I doubt that this is going to happen anytime soon. I'm just pointing out that there could be another (and I think fairer and more accurate) way to categorize athletes, by ability, rather than sex. Yeah, yeah, dream on, I know.

By the way, intersexed people do compete in sports, all the time. Most aren't undergoing the same kind of scrutiny that Caster is.
 

mergirl

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.. but as it is a woman with mass quantities of testosterone has an advantage over women and a disadvantage in competition with men. Period.
They are saying she is cheating because she is 'not a woman'. I wonder if it turns out that she is a 'woman' but has larger quantities of testosterone than most women, then what?
At what point does a woman chemically stop being a woman?
The reason i say 'woman', is because this also opens up a whole can of worms as to what a 'woman' is.
Personally, in all cases i think if someone 'feels' they are a woman then they are, though i guess this cannnot cut the mustard in proffessional athletics.
Also i DO believe the coverage of this story IS both racist and sexist. The media yet again is trying to tell us what being a woman is. Blonde blue eyed with an hourglass shape perhaps, Soft spoken, with a high voice and yeilding non competetive nature? This situation goes beyond what is fair, it goes into what is right!
 

joswitch

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@Geektastic - great link! Gets to the heart of the matter- i.e. that male/female is insufficient to describe the sexual variety of humans in reality.. One author offered up the idea of 5 anatomically sex defined categories m/f/herms/merms/ferms ... Altho that's still divisions of a spectrum.. At least better? than current situation where intersex people are defined out of (social) existence.. @Katorade - 5%? Source? If true thats more than enough to support an intersex athletic division.. BUT only assuming that society can be made to grow the fuck up and face the truth of the variety that is humanity with acceptance instead of fear&hatred.. A big ask I know.. :(
 

katorade

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@Geektastic - great link! Gets to the heart of the matter- i.e. that male/female is insufficient to describe the sexual variety of humans in reality.. One author offered up the idea of 5 anatomically sex defined categories m/f/herms/merms/ferms ... Altho that's still divisions of a spectrum.. At least better? than current situation where intersex people are defined out of (social) existence.. @Katorade - 5%? Source? If true thats more than enough to support an intersex athletic division.. BUT only assuming that society can be made to grow the fuck up and face the truth of the variety that is humanity with acceptance instead of fear&hatred.. A big ask I know.. :(

5% was me harboring a guess. After doing some digging, it's actually far less than a 1% chance. If you're talking specifically about women born with male gonads, it's a 1 in 83,000 chance. Sorry, I don't have the source at the moment as my SO looked it up, but I'm sure I can get it later.

It would have nothing to do with fear and hatred. Having intersexed sports would pretty much be the ruination of competitions as we know it. My SO said last night that "it would just promote sandbagging", and I'm inclined to agree, especially considering the way a lot of sports are set up. Not to mention it would open another Pandora's box of equality issues. If they just started with runners, the debate would inevitably move to other sports arenas.

Also, as a female athlete, I would be awfully down-trodden if I was forced to compete with men who performed on my level. You'd have the fastest woman in the world running along side a mediocre guy. That's not me being sexist, either. Men are built to out-perform women in basically all athletic competition. The fastest man in the world is almost a full second faster than the fastest woman. The strongest man in the world will always be ridiculously stronger than the strongest woman. You know what, though? I don't have a freaking problem with that. It's simply how we're built.

What I would rather see is female athletes getting some actual recognition in the world of sports. That would just be stripped even further if their was mixed-sex competition.
 

Tad

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They are saying she is cheating because she is 'not a woman'. I wonder if it turns out that she is a 'woman' but has larger quantities of testosterone than most women, then what?
At what point does a woman chemically stop being a woman?
The reason i say 'woman', is because this also opens up a whole can of worms as to what a 'woman' is.
Personally, in all cases i think if someone 'feels' they are a woman then they are, though i guess this cannnot cut the mustard in proffessional athletics.
Also i DO believe the coverage of this story IS both racist and sexist. The media yet again is trying to tell us what being a woman is.
I know that for levels of red blood cells in athletes in cycling, and I think levels of certain other naturally occuring substances that can boost performance in other sports they do have some sort of limit. Although I think in the cycling if you can prove that over a long period of time your blood cell level is that high you are allowed to compete (the issue there is blood doping--extracting some of your blood a month before the competition and re-injecting the plasma shortly before you compete). I'm sure that there are rules that could be adapted to testosterone.

I suspect that part of the problem is that hormones are naturally varying, between people and over time. That latter one makes it hard to say exactly what someone's level is, I'd expect.

And I agree about the coverage being racist and sexist, at least a lot of it.

As a largely off-topic aside, testosterone does all sorts of things to the body and mind. Testosterone levels have long been found to correlate with aggressiveness, now it seems they also correlate with risk taking behavior, at least according to this article in the economist:
http://www.economist.com/sciencetechnology/displaystory.cfm?story_id=14301951

ETA: "The International Association of Athletics Federations, which ordered the gender tests, refused to confirm or deny the reports. In a statement, the IAAF said it is reviewing the test results and will issue a final decision in November." So no official word for a couple of months....I hope that doesn't mean the gossip mills keep churning until then.
 

joswitch

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@Katorade.. Sorry hard to be clear on phone (thumb cramps).. I meant fear & hatred prevents most intersex people from living openly as such in society.. That would have to change before they could have their own divisions in sports.. Which to be clear - I meant separately from both men and women.. I don't know even if in an open and accepting society there'd be enough intersex folks to form such a division though.. To be honest I think the way intersex folks are erased from social existence is a WAY bigger deal than whether and how they get to compete in sport... But that could be cos I don't care much for sport..
 

Teleute

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Interesting. It sounds like she can run as a woman, although the article is certainly making it out to sound like she's intersexed; then again, the media is likely to do that, because it's more interesting than "no, she really was a biological female after all". I'm glad her privacy is being a little more respected, though.
 

joswitch

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I can't register with NY times on my phone! :( Would someone cut and paste the article please?
 

Cors

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Here you go! I, too am glad that her privacy is being respected now.

Track Officials and Runner Reach Agreement in Gender Inquiry

By JERÉ LONGMAN
Published: November 19, 2009

One of the most public and controversial cases of sex verification in sports has apparently been resolved, at least in part, but the answers to some important questions have not been made public.
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Fabrice Coffrini/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A woman protested outside the International Olympic Committee’s headquarters in Switzerland on Thursday.

South Africa’s sports ministry said in a statement Thursday that Caster Semenya, 18, the world champion 800-meter runner, had reached an agreement with track and field’s world governing body to keep the gold medal and prize money she won at the world championships in August.

Most notably, however, the sports ministry did not say whether Semenya would be allowed to continue to compete as a woman. The statement also did not disclose the results of sex-verification tests she had undergone.

“As such, there will be no public announcement of what the panel of scientists has found,” the sports ministry said. “We urge all South Africans and other people to respect this professional, ethical and moral way of doing things.”

Semenya, who attends the University of Pretoria, could not be reached for comment. Her coach, Michael Seme, said in a telephone interview from Pretoria that Semenya “is going to compete as a woman and will remain a woman until she dies.”

Asked whether Semenya had been cleared to compete as a woman without further testing or surgery, Seme said: “I don’t want to talk about that. The only thing I want to say is that I’m happy Caster will retain her title as the fastest 800-meter runner in the world. The most important thing when you are an athlete is to get your medal.”

Disputes in sports over athletes’ sex are rare, and perhaps never has such a case been as volatile as the one that emerged at the world championships, when it became apparent how unprepared her sport was to handle cases of athletes who may have both male and female characteristics.

As Semenya posted the fastest time of the year in the 800 meters, track officials said they had begun sex verification testing on her, but South African officials said that they were blindsided by the claims and insulted that officials disclosed such private information.

In September, Leonard Chuene, president of Athletics South Africa, apologized for denying knowledge of the sex tests done on Semenya in his country, saying he had hoped to protect her privacy.

After Semenya won the world title, international track officials ordered more tests, saying questions had been raised about her muscular physique and drastic improvement.

Chuene said that tests had been conducted at a Pretoria hospital on Aug. 7 at the behest of the I.A.A.F. Chuene has said that despite medical advice from one of South Africa’s top sports medical officials, he refused to withdraw Semenya from the competition in Berlin because the results of the tests were not yet known.

Athletics South Africa said last month that it had suspended Chuene and the rest of his board.

Sex-determination testing was once obligatory for female athletes at the Olympics because of persistent allegations that some competitors were not really women. Sanctions are very rare. One case came at the 2006 Asian Games, where a middle-distance runner, Santhi Soundarajan of India, was stripped of a silver medal after failing a verification test.

The sex-determination testing was phased out in 1999 because of concerns about inequities. The testing is now reserved for specific cases in Olympic sports.

The testing done on Semenya takes weeks to complete. It requires a physical medical evaluation, and includes reports from a gynecologist, an endocrinologist, a psychologist, an internal medicine specialist and an expert on gender. The effort, coordinated by Dr. Harold Adams, a South African on the I.A.A.F. medical panel, was conducted at hospitals in Berlin and South Africa.

It is unclear what the exact threshold is, in the eyes of the I.A.A.F., for a female athlete being ineligible to compete as a woman.

“The implications of the scientific findings on Caster’s health and life going forward will be analyzed by Caster and she will make her own decision on her future,” the sports ministry said. “Whatever she decides, ours is to respect her decision.”

Track and field’s Monaco-based governing body, known by its initials as the I.A.A.F., did not immediately respond to the statement made by the South African sports ministry. The statement had been expected to be issued next week.

The South African sports ministry said it had asked for an apology from the I.A.A.F., which denied leaking information about Semenya, but responded, “It is deeply regrettable that information of a confidential matter entered the public domain.”

Makhenkesi Stofile, South Africa’s sports minister, described Semenya as excited about the apparent resolution of her case, according to the South African Press Association.

“She will roll with the punches,” Stofile told the press association. “In my view, Caster Semenya’s future is in her hands. She can decide to run as a woman, which she is.”
 

joswitch

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Here you go! I, too am glad that her privacy is being respected now.
Thanks Cors! Yeah, looks like they're showing a bit more respect to her which is nice, if a bit late! Looks like she'll get to continue competing as a woman - and given the stringency of the tests involved - maybe there'll be an end to the media snark at her?
 

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