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.

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