All news sources are having a field day with the supposed results of a gender test on 18-year-old track and field athlete Caster Semenya. It has many jaws dropping, but I think what is more important is the discussion of gender classifications.
Many were suspicious of Semenya because of her masculine build and appearance, and when she dominated an 800-meter race caused enough questions from officials that she underwent gender testing. The tests found that her gender was in fact ambiguous.
This is not the first time a female athlete was subjected to gender testing that included an endocrinologist, psychologist and gynecologist. Babe Didrikson Zaharious also came under scrutiny for her masculine appearence and physical prowess, so much so they tested her gender to make sure she was a woman.
Intersexuality is not as uncommon as people think. There is a large portion of the population that is born intersex (this is the proper term; hermaphrodite no longer refers to human beings with ambiguous sex). And sex is not straightforward or black and white: 'Genes, hormones and genitals are pretty complicated,' said Alice Dreger, a professor of medical humanities and bioethics at Northwestern University in the United States. 'There isn't really one simple way to sort out males and females. Sports require that we do, but biology doesn't care'.
What bothers me most about this news story is that many people are making Semenya look like a freak, someone to be studied, and it isn't fair. The fact of the matter is many people are born intersexed, and I hope that Semenya's experience with being shoved into the spotlight does not cuase permanent trauma, and that it opens a discussion about intersexuality all over the world.
Now Public /Picture from I.A.A.F.
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