Category: Gender

Caster Semenya deconstructed

Caster Semenya has a right to be a woman. Irrespective of whether or not Science agrees, we cannot deny her this right under SA Law, and yes, this is the ANC strategy for world domination of women’s athletics. Is the world ready for Caster? What is getting lost in the media frenzy surrounding the current 800m women’s athletic champion and the debate which has splintered into polar opposites, with those living in the North, taking the dominant view of rule by genes and hormones , while those in the South appear to take the opinion such genetic presumptions constitute a gross, unfair and discriminatory practice in the light of equality and transgender politics, is the cadence of opinion.

Officials from the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), track and field’s governing body for the world, will be conducting a gender testing procedure that includes an endocrinologist, a gynecologist, a psychologist, and both internal and external physical examinations.

Bio-ethicists and civil rights advocates are strikingly absent from a panel which favours a literalist cum positivist approach to the problem of gender.

The IAAF director of communications, Nick Davies, says that the organization does not believe Ms. Semenya has been intentionally cheating but is the victim of a medical condition known as Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS).

AIS is a condition in which a person who is genetically male but is unaffected by male sex hormones known as androgens.  Some people with AIS will have a totally female body on the outside, but will lack ovaries and a uterus while others may demonstrate partial AIS and will develop more muscle mass and have more facial hair than usual.

AIS,  as its name suggests is a “syndrome” not a disease and the board of inquiry comprising various specialists will therefore have to explain why, if ever, a person with such a syndrome should be excluded from track and field events amidst calls from within the Social Sciences to ignore the data as invariably biased in favour of a biological view from the 19th century that has fallen out of favour with the advances of the 21st.

Will South Africa be able to sustain an ideological attack against Scientific determinism, or are we literally becoming a breed apart? It is a problem that is not going to go away. Whatever the outcome of the international panel, the fact of the matter remains, racial discrimination (the gross violation of human rights known as apartheid) has created a political necessity for denouncing genes and hormones as the mark of a bygone era.

In a sense Semenya is an innocent victim of the kind of politics which has created 50/50 power sharing between men and women in Parliament as well as our nation’s boardrooms. The need to cross ideological boundaries and cater for the intersexed may well have spurred the ruling party into a decidedly un-Scientific position. ANC Youth League spokesperson, Julius Malema, never want to court adversity, has even gone so far as to characterise the Scientific wisdom of the day, as nothing more than “educated racism”.

But the mainstream press, controlled as it is by the barons of industry, chooses to see such meanders off the seat of reason, as evidence of insanity. As a nation, when it comes to gender, the casual observer may be forgiven for thinking South Africa to have finally lost its marbles, in fact we are no longer even sure what gender is, let alone what kind of suffering is required in order to endure the hope that Science (not democracy), will one day win the day, providing us all with the means of escaping race (and along with it the various isms that mark such discrimination as a decidedly false endeavour).

We must therefore boycott the Great Race Science, along with the international panel of inquiry into gender which has become nothing more than a means of deflecting public outrage. Rather, let us all believe strongly then, in the virtue of human dignity and imagination. If an athlete wishes to live as a women, then what right do we have to question such a choice? If a person classified as black wishes to be regarded as white, who are we to enforce the fiction of race? Surely the rules of the World Athletics Union, make a mockery of justice and present us with a classic constructivist dilemma necessitating a 21st Century solution.

The world in which we live is not purely scientific, there are other considerations that must come into play, considerations that take into account not mere human evolution, but the evolution of our social and political structures. If we let go of these historical constructs, which invariably result in a neat teleology, then we let go of the stuff that binds us together as a global society still struggling to escape the horrors of slavery and colonialism. The question then — which world would we rather live in?

A world in which the final arbiter of truth is Science, or the Freedom of our Dreams?

Appearances for example can be misleading. Semenya may well turn out to be 100% female, then again she might not. Would we wish to dethrone her, simply because she chooses to be a woman? Less than 85% female or a victim of AIS, what then? She might not even possess the kind of genetic structure that would have classified her as a male or female in other less enlightened societies?

Exactly who or what determines where this distinction lies? Is it our chromosomes, our hormones, or socialisation? The Nature vs Nurture debate has instead turned into a Nature vs Peer Review fiasco in which anything can happen.

Come what may, Caster is surely a result of the strident changes apparent in South African society today, caused as a result of the freedom granted by our country’s constitution. Let this light of intellectual inquiry into the existential and phenomenological dimension of race and gender therefore never die out, or be snuffed into dust by stuffy phallocentric journals with a simple complexity theory — a mathematical shudder emanating from the laboratories of Geneva that reduces the sum total of the human experience to a simple equation.

HEADBLOG: Is Triangle Project Guilty of Gender Discrimination?

THE Triangle Project recently placed advertising in local newspapers calling for “gays and lesbians” to continue the struggle for same-sex marriage rights — thus continuing a long tradition in South Africa’s alternative community of distinguishing gays from lesbians. Is this sheer perversity, moral convenience or something more sinister like gender discrimination?

Whatever happened to the notion of equality? Plain old androgeny? Freedom of sexual orientation?

While it may appear like mere heuristic convenience to
partition people between male and female, gay or
straight, or gay or lesbian labels, the Out in Africa ideology of
Triangle’s version of gaydom loses some of the more nuanced
aspects of sexual freedom and arguably does harm to a much
broader struggle that includes womens rights as much
as the rights of hermaphrodites and transexuals.

The problem seems to be the tricky notion of what it
means to be gay as opposed to queer. According to
Michel Foucault “there are no homosexuals, only
homosexual acts” in other words, ones sexual identity
is not dependent exclusively upon the sex act, but is
rather part of a far more complex personal mythology
in which any number of sex acts may conspire towards
presenting a sexual persona that is independent of
social mores, gender values, and stereotyping.

Of course people will disagree with me — the new
anti-queer mainstream as exemplified by the Triangle
Project and its nemesis the Legal System seeks to
prove with gay science, the scientific fact of a gay
and lesbian divide that is historically incorrect
(aren’t lesbians also gay?). The result is merely a
rehash of the dominant “straight” ideology and the
intention however misguided, the ultimate replacement
of straight society with gay society, along with the
marginalisation of queers and those who shun gender

In such a pitched battle, cast in shades of pink, the
struggle is doomed to failure, as much as straight
society is doomed to repeat its own closet-minded
attack against the rights of the homosexual. In effect
a dismantling of the rainbow nation as the legal
system finds new ways to protect religion above
reason, and tradition above logic.

Lets remind our courts then — not only are lesbians,
bisexuals and straight people still very much out
there, but there is also a sizeable population of
transexuals some of whom consider themselves straight,
as well as straight people like myself who consider
themselves queer. The solution is not simply to make
room for queerdom but to allow the demise of gender as
a biologically determined fact (that defines all
sexual relationships).

[copyleft, some rights reserved, reprint with permission]

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