Friday, 21 August 2009

Being female: the persecution of Caster Semenya

I'm late on this, and even though a reader asked that I cover it, I wasn't going to because so many people already have. But it does not sit right with me to laud the IAAF World Championship victory of Ryan Brathwaite while 800m winner Caster Semenya cannot savour hers. Shortly before the South African teenager took the gold with the event's fifth fastest time ever, IAAF officials decided that she didn't look 'female enough' to satisfy their conceptualization of the term, and asked her to undergo gender tests to confirm that she is a woman.

As Liss over at Shakesville indicates in her open thread, there is so much misogyny, transphobia, bigotry and all-round hatefulness circulating in the fact and the coverage of the matter, that it is difficult to come to terms with all that this issue brings to light about the way that we treat and consider women athletes, black women and black women athletes. (The latter is the subject of a guest post by Transgriot's Monica over at Womanist Musings.)

Caster Semenya, biologically female from birth, is a woman who dared to do better than people think women should do, and happens to look different from the way people have deemed it proper for women to look. But what if she weren't? One of the most odious ideas surfacing in this discussion is that transgender identity in itself constitutes a fraud being perpetrated on the world, that transgendered people who opt for hormone or surgical procedures are, by their mere existence, cheating us in some way. And the fact that the exhaustive, invasive gender test includes evaluation by a psychologist makes one question whether this is purely a matter of physical fitness for her level and category of competition, as the IAAF affirms, or plain, bigoted, racist intolerance.

The -isms abound, and while Semenya's family has already produced a birth certificate proving she is female, that is really the least of everything happening here. The world of elite sports often likes to try and hold itself above the norms of regular society and plain human decency, citing scientific and physiological reasons as if we're all so stupid that high-falutin gobbledegook is going to distract us from demanding justice. So while we offer congratulations to Caster Semenya on her win, we also need to offer solidarity by fighting this type of official, organized persecution wherever we find it.


  1. Thanks for this - it has really given me heart, as a trans woman and an athlete, to see so many feminists saying "Hey, this is wrong!". I hope they lay off Ms. Semenya PDQ, and just let her enjoy her medal.

  2. Thanks for the link love.

    I'm sick of Black female athletes being slammed with this 'less than female' meme as well.


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