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, 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, unfortunately places Caster in the troubling terrain of birth defects and other childhood deformities, instead of traditional 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), see my earlier piece Caster Deconstructed.

On the other hand D. Myron Genel, a professor emeritus of pediatrics at Yale University, still 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.


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.