Last week, I made an offhand crack about a hermaphrodite in one of my posts. Now, it looks like we have an actual, honest to goodness news story featuring a hermaphrodite. Wow, do I feel like an ass. For those that don’t know, Caster Semenya (yeah, I know, the word “semen” in her last name shoulda’ been a clue) is one of the fastest women in the world. She totally blew away the competition in August at the World Championships, posting the fastest time in the 800 meters so far this year. As impressive as that was, the interesting stuff happened after the race. The IAAF, the sport’s governing body, decided to do a “sex check” on Semenya, meaning she had to undergo genetic testing and a gynecological exam. The IAAF itself has an actual policy for this stuff. If there is any suspicion that she might not be completely she, an athlete has to go before a panel including a gynecologist, a psychologist and an expert on transgender issues. How progressive of them.
Now reports are surfacing that Semenya, while outwardly appearing to be all woman, actually has no ovaries or a womb, but internal male testes instead. These testes are internal, mind you, which doesn’t exactly jive with my concept of maleness, but they do, reportedly, produce testosterone which a standard woman would not. I was going to say “normal” or “regular” woman there, but what the hell is normal anyway? I’ll get to that later. So Semenya will likely be banned from further racing as a woman. Presumably, she could run as a man, I suppose. There’s no ban on breasts for male runners, I don’t believe. But when dealing with the IAAF, it’s hard to tell.
Now there’s little question that, if the reports are true, her body produces levels of testosterone that your average female runner would have to be doping to achieve, and that does give her a competitive advantage. But is that her fault? And I say “her” purposefully. Semenya is a woman, except for that one quirk of genetics. I guess performance enhancing internal organs are banned, too. This brings to mind the one nagging problem I’ve had with the entire crusade against performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), where to we draw the line? Aren’t all of these athletes artificially enhanced physically? What about the scientifically created training regimens designed to improve specific parts of the body, complete with diets that provide the right, scientifically determined vitamins, minerals and other elements the body needs to produce more muscle? These aren’t drugs by any stretch of the imagination, but you can’t say that all this training produces a normal human body. It’s an artificially constructed and honed body.
And what about those icons of the Olympics, the female gymnasts, whose training and diet regimens actually stave off the onset of puberty, and the development of those very ovaries they’re about to ban Semenya for not having? I guess it’s okay to purposely (read: artificially) shut them down, just as long as you’re born with them. This woman’s body naturally produces a level of testosterone that makes her a better runner. There’s no steroid issues here, no PEDs to speak of other than those provided by nature. This isn’t a discussion on fairness, but a hypocritical attempt to project normalcy. Hard work, dedication and diet produce an artificially toned human being who can run really fast. Semenya’s problem isn’t that she was born differently than most people, her problem is that the people in charge weren’t, and they see her as a freak that needs to be banned to uphold the mythical Olympic ideal, not to mention to avoid offending some sponsors and the money they bring.
So I’m rooting for Semenya. This woman worked her ass off to be the best she possibly could be, and all she got for her trouble was a representative from The IAAF stuffing a probe up her hoo hoo. If they don’t allow her to run as a woman anymore, I hope she tries to run with the men. Whatever her finish, I’d be cheering for her. Just the effort to overcome the kind of insidious bigotry and compliance to accepted norms the IAAF stands for would be a victory of the most profound kind. If this is what being normal is all about, count me out.