Caster Controversy: Male or Female, or Both?


THE first I got wind of some of the more troubling underlying ‘facts’ surrounding the Caster Controversy, was after a posting by the Dagga Party’s own Jeremy Acton. In a posting on social media, Acton argues that ‘Semenya’s XY chromosomes’ prove the athlete to be both a “man” and a “fraud in athletics”.

“I do not care that this view might upset anyone. It is my Section 15 right to have this opinion and my Section 16 right to express my viewpoint,” Acton added.

In the post, the leader of the Dagga Party stated that he only supports “real women’s rights”, adding that he wants Semenya to return all titles and earnings, and that “his” records should be declared null and void.”

While the net is full of opinion pieces, some comparing the IAAF investigation to treatment of Saartjie Baartman, they are invariably thin on substance, compared to the citations provided by Acton.

You can read Acton’s views in the Citizen article.

If one follows the links to the story provided on Letsrun.com, you will find the real dope on Caster written up by one Robert Johnson.

Letsrun is a longstanding site for “Olympic track and field fans” with athletic articles and popular message boards.

Johnson writes “its absolutely mind-boggling that virtually every major outlet in the world reporting the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling yesterday has failed to mention one of the most important facts of the entire case.”

“Caster Semenya has XY chromosomes. It was generally accepted by people following the case closely that Semenya was XY, but now it’s been confirmed as fact since the CAS press release specifically says, “The DSD covered by the Regulations are limited to athletes with ’46 XY DSD’” (DSD = difference of sex development).

The scientific reality, if true, places Caster in the terrain of birth defects and other childhood deformities, instead of the terrain of femininity insofar as athletics is concerned. There is some speculation here as to the role of external, environmental factors at birth, such as exposure to dioxins by poor, under-serviced communities.

And there I was thinking that Caster was potentially intersexed, not simply sex reassignment at birth, and all this was a case of interpretation (see Against Interpretation by Susan Sontag).

On the other hand,  said D. Myron Genel, a professor emeritus of pediatrics at Yale University, believes “Semenya is a female with a birth defect, simple as that”. There is a good article on the crisis of definition in the Washington Post.

This contrarian view however elegant, doesn’t deal with the reality that Caster is technically, neither male nor female. It is not simply a case of testosterone, nor even transgender for that matter.

(Listen to this podcast on Eusebius McKaiser show, still focusing on hyperandrogenism and the test issue, but a good history of similar controversies).

It would seem that when it comes to the IAAF, biology most certainly overrules psychology (and even the advances of jurisprudence and socio-political rights) since while anyone may change legal gender these days, by identifying as either male or female, one has to be a genuine, ‘bone fide women’ in order to compete in athletics. Fair is fair after all.

Blur the gender boundary too much, and’all sports events become men’s events’, says sports scientist Dr Ross Tucker.

The rights of ‘real women’ according to this admittedly binary view, need to be taken into account, and it will take decades to unravel the truth behind the Caster saga, even if the period of s/he, and WoMans reign, much like the Zuma administration, was an interesting, and very public joy ride.

For the record, Medialternatives was one of the first outlets to champion Caster’s ‘right to be a women‘ in the face of scientific determinism.

What are your views on the subject, please use the comments section below.

 

2 comments

  1. Michael Graaf

    The (unconscious, no doubt) racism in positions like that taken by Acton (and CAS, to judge by your article) lies in ignoring context.

    In other words, if one asks “what is Semenya’s chromosomal configuration?” one is also obliged to ask “…and those of previous record-holders in this category?” – given that some of the latter, who passed for “white”, presented similar androgenous phenotypes.

    If the CAS has only started asking that question now that Semenya is winning, its ruling should only apply to future contestants, not retroactively (i.e. disqualifying Semenya). The goalposts should only be moved between games, not after someone kicks the ball into them.

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