16 September 2009

I Am Caster Semenya (Part One)

Caster Semenya

By design, God places diverse human beings on Earth . . . diverse in size, shape, color, and gender . . . and invites us to marvel at His boundless creativity. Yet wicked humankind dares to pass judgment on God's creations! It confers pariah status on certain individuals due to physical appearance or manner of expression. In presuming to judge God's work, humankind imagines itself equal to or even superior to God. This is the mother of all abominations!

South Africa's Caster Semenya was a darling baby girl when she made her debut on 7 January 1991. As she grew into a child, she became a sports-loving "tomboy" who disdained wearing dresses and frilly clothes. Her schoolmates jeered at her mannerisms and appearance. They would yell: "She acts like a boy . . . and she looks like a boy, too!" The taunts stung, but she never let hurt feelings show. Her family's unconditional love helped arm the little girl against the rudeness of the world.

Ms. Semenya's love for playing soccer evolved into an avid interest in middle-distance track and field running. As she grew into adolescence, she excelled in this event. She recently started competing at the international level. Last year, she won a Gold Medal at the British Commonwealth Youth Games, and this year she bagged more Gold at the African Junior Championships and the World Championships in Athletics, held in Berlin, Germany.

This muscular 18-year-old girl has developed into a world-class competitor. She dominates the 800 meter dash with an amazing 1:55 time; she's a credit to women's sports, and to South Africa. Caster Semenya's success has much to do with the non-traditional woman's image she crafted for herself. Fortunately, she was brought up in an African community that was progressive enough to let her do so; but unfortunately, the kind of female image she projects doesn't sit well with certain Olympic officials!

Recently, the International Association of Athletics Federations asked her to undergo some tests. Not the kind of tests you'd expect, though! Although suspicious of her record-breaking times, they had no desire to learn whether or not she used performance-enhancing drugs. No, they wanted to know something much more personal . . . much more insulting! The Association asked Caster Semenya to let them "verify" her gender.

"Gender verification" involves submitting to gynecological, hormonal and psychological examinations. Ms. Semenya consented to some of this dubious testing, but other procedures were apparently done without her knowledge. In direct violation of privacy rules, the results were maliciously leaked to the sports press. International media outlets reported sensationally on her apparent lack of uterus and ovaries, and trumpeted the phenomenon of internal testes that give her an unusually high testosterone count. The girl was cruelly "outed" as an intersex person, "outed" simultaneously to the world, to her country, to her family, and to herself as well.

All over print and electronic media, this innocent teenager has been repeatedly slandered with the ugly and inaccurate term "hermaphrodite". Incredibly, she's also been accused of faking female identity! Her Gold medals are in danger of being stripped, and the IAAF may forbid her to compete in future track and field events. All South Africa has responded with justifiable outrage. An IAAF official, track coach Wilfred Daniels, has resigned from the organization in protest of her horrendous treatment.

Caster Semenya identifies as female. She was raised as female. Her birth certificate says she is female. Not to put too fine a point on the matter, but . . . she has a vagina. What fraud did she commit? How dare the sports establishment set itself up as the arbiter of her gender? Are we supposed to believe they would've allowed her to compete as a man with female genitalia?

Ms. Semenya is in no way at fault here. She has done nothing wrong, and despite much talk about her supposed "biological problem", there is nothing wrong with her body! Thus far in her young life, it has served her quite well. If God chooses to give a woman testes instead of ovaries, who are we to cast aspersions on the gift?

The fault lies with the IAAF and with the larger society, which arrogantly tries to second-guess nature and create impossibly rigid definitions of male and female! Worse, society refuses to see blended gender as anything but an aberration of nature. Humanity forces a tyranny of binary gender upon itself, something God never intended (read Jesus Christ's teaching on born eunuchs from Matthew 19: 12). This ignorance obliges Transgender human beings to own identities that negate part of who they are. Under such twisted circumstances as these, all gender identity claims are suspect!

The history of gender-testing in sports reeks of sexism. The Nazis sent a man named Horst Ratjen to masquerade as a woman sprinter in the 1936 Olympics; when the deception was discovered years later, it caused a predictable uproar. Ever since then, women athletes with a pronounced masculine aspect have been subjected to rude speculation. In 1966, the IAAF adopted a crude, unscientific testing process for "verifying" femininity. The process was later modified and is no longer officially mandated, but the Association can and does continue to insist that certain competitors undergo it. Apparently, these humiliating tests have only ever been done on women, and only an athlete's female gender has ever come under suspicion. How much more pronounced can sexism be?

Adding insult to injury, the tests are inconclusive! "There is no simple laboratory test that can tell if you are a man or woman," says Professor Arne Ljungqvist, an expert on human gender and a former IAAF official. In a London Times interview dated 13 September 2009, he stressed that "if a person carries a legal certificate showing that (they are) a man or a woman, then they are a man or a woman!" Yet, according to that same article, numerous women athletes have been judged ineligible for Olympic competition as a result of this flawed procedure. One of them was East Indian track and field runner Santhi Soundarajan; read her story here.

"I Am Caster Semenya" concludes with Part Two.

I Am Caster Semenya (Part Two)

Caster Semenya

There hasn't been a lot of good media analysis of this scandal, but one pundit who has the right take on it is sports writer Simon Barnes. In a 24 August 2009 column for The London Times, he stated:

The undeniable fact that there can be physical ambiguity between one gender and (another) is something that profoundly disturbs us. In life, but perhaps even more so in sport, we crave certainties. We have men's tennis and we have women's tennis, and so there was always a squirming discomfort about the Transsexual player, Renée Richards . . . but (Caster Semenya's) physical sexual ambiguity cuts still deeper . . . (Ms.) Semenya must suffer because of the world's taste for certainties. And as for sport, where does that go? Do we say that men's sport is for men, women's sport is for women, and that those who happen to have their being in border country . . . simply can't compete? And is that because it's unfair (or) because it's too upsetting for the rest of us? And we all thought sport was supposed to be accessible to all.

Mr. Barnes went on to observe that "(Ms.) Semenya must feel the weight of the world's punishment for the crime of depriving us of certainties . . . those who challenge our assumptions about gender must suffer." So true! Don't you dare be a man with a switchy walk or a high voice. Don't you dare be a woman with muscles and a low voice. Don't you dare wear clothing that's too dainty/too butch. Don't you dare wear your hair too long/too short. And for goodness's sake, don't be openly Transsexual! If you are in any way non-traditional in your expression of gender, society will indeed make you suffer!

Prepare yourself for ridicule. Prepare yourself for ostracism! Prepare to fend off irrational hostility that can escalate into violence against your person. Prepare to be condemned by your school, your church, your family. Prepare for difficulty earning your living, for jobs that you keep or lose based on how tolerant of difference your supervisors and co-workers are (I know this is true from personal experience). Get ready to be banned from the Boy Scouts, from the US military, from the pulpit, from the wedding chapel.  Folks, this is how they do you when they decide you are "queer"! The wrenching testimony that Gay, Lesbian, Pansexual and Transsexual people could give a fact-finding commission would make South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation hearings of the 1990s look like silly parlor games!

In our wildest imaginings, though, most LGBT folk would never expect to endure what Caster Semenya is enduring now. She's been subjected to the equivalent of a televised gynecological exam with a global hook-up, cameras aimed up her vagina, uterine x-rays on the split screen, and pundits à la Fox News offering crass color commentary! Speaking of which, the General Secretary of the IAAF recently told a reporter: "It's clear that (Ms. Semenya) is a woman, but maybe not 100%." That's actually one of the more restrained quotes I know about! I've seen some disgraceful, dehumanizing press coverage in my time, but this recent batch takes the grand prize for boorishness!

The Times reports that "many medical experts" recommend removal of Caster Semenya's male organs "before they cause her harm." Awareness of her Transgender body has prompted such "experts" to all but demand that she undergo sex change surgery. Now, isn't that special? A second invasive procedure for the poor girl! Maybe it will be just as successful as the first one was! At the very least, it should rate more lurid media coverage!

With every oh-so-concerned observation about her "medical condition", society pressures Ms. Semenya to conform to their gender expectations. The world desperately wants to stamp her masculine body presentation out of existence, lest its tender sensibilities be offended for all eternity! I fear that if people continue to judge the young lady so harshly, it's not just her body presentation that will cease to exist. She might feel compelled to take her own life! Ms. Semenya has gone into seclusion at the University of Pretoria, and is reportedly seeking therapy. Her handlers had the foresight to put her on suicide watch; God forbid that this travesty should turn into a tragedy!

There's another kind of death that Caster Semenya could fall victim to, though: A death of the spirit. A death that compels her to spend the rest of her life wearing a mask of socially-sanctioned gender. A death that leaves her filled with shame at the painstaking work God did when he fashioned her beautiful, powerful body. Apparently, her spirit hasn't died yet: A spiritually dead person would never say, as she did recently to the South African lifestyle magazine You: "God made me the way I am, and I accept myself." However, she allowed the magazine to give her a ludicrous "makeover" to eliminate all traces of masculinity. That's not a good sign!

If Caster Semenya can continue to hold her head up after suffering such utter humiliation, she may well choose to hide behind a gender mask. Her "makeover" suggests that some kind of "sexual reassignment" lay in her future. On the other hand, she might go in the opposite direction and decide to retain her intersex status; that would be extraordinary, and it would send an inspiring message to other masculine girls. But who could fault her choices at this point? They are hers and hers alone to make.

There's one choice I hope she won't fail to make, though: The choice to demand justice! Justice for herself and others like her who've been hurt by binary gender tyranny. She should file the mother of all defamation lawsuits against the IAAF and numerous media outlets! Ms. Semenya should sue not only to reclaim her own dignity, but to put on notice every institution that would destroy someone's human dignity because of non-traditional gender expression. Up against the wall, you dirty mothers . . . . it's payback time!

Are you a butch Lesbian? An effeminate Gay man? A Transsexual person who refuses to hide? An intersex person in body or spirit? If so, then you are one of God’s Transgender children, too! You are Caster Semenya! I am Caster Semenya. We are all Caster Semenya, and we should all be mad as Hell, and we shouldn't . . . we mustn't . . . tolerate this sexist, transphobic oppression anymore!

The same goes for any Christian, regardless of gender identity. The inclusive Gospel of Jesus Christ mandates humankind to repent of transphobia: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength (Mark 12:30). How is it possible to love the Lord but despise His creations?

Jesus saw some babies nursing. He said to His disciples: "These nursing babies are like those who enter the kingdom." They said to Him: "Then shall we enter the kingdom as babies?" Jesus said to them: "When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female . . . then you will enter (the kingdom)."