Caster Semenya at the 2011 Bislett Games. Photo by Chell Hill.

This year’s Pride Month has been much on my mind, not only because it’s been 50 years since the Stonewall Uprising, but because there’s been several stories about Intersex individuals over the last few weeks. Intersex, or DSD (disorders of sex development) individuals, often fall through the cracks in the LGBTQIA+ acronym, or get conflated with transgender, though the two are radically different. Intersex people are harassed for not perfectly conforming to gender norms, forced into a particular gender at birth–sometimes through surgery–or, in the case of athlete Caster Semenya, told to take testosterone suppressing drugs if she wants to continue to run as a woman.

Caster Semenya’s story has interested me since she first exploded onto the track and field scene. A phenomenally fast 800 meter runner, she has been harassed from the beginning for not looking enough like a woman. In 2009, the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) subjected her to a sex verification test, claiming her rapid improvement suggested drug use. The allegations and testing were handled extremely badly, and Semenya was suddenly on the world stage, not for her speed and talent on the track, but rather for her hormone levels, and frankly, looks. Time and time again, she has been accused, tested, and exonerated, and still the accusations (and tests) keep coming. In May of this year, changes were brought in requiring athletes with higher levels of testosterone to take drugs to lower their testosterone levels if they want to continue to compete as women (at this time, no one is sure of the long-term health implications of using these drugs this way). However, the changes only apply to athletes competing in three distances: 400m, 800m, and 1500m. Those are the distances Semenya regularly competes in.

These incidents tell us much about how people view Intersex individuals. Sadly, they also tell us a lot about how we view Black women. To quote Pidgeon Pagonis, “Certain bodies are never allowed to be female, are never allowed to be women, are never allowed to just be […] What I think this comes down to is, Caster’s faster than white girls and she made them cry.” And it’s true: the loudest voices crying out against Semenya are white European women. Italian Elisa Cusma referred to Semenya as one of “these kind of people.” British marathoner Paula Radcliffe claims that countries will seek out Intersex athletes to gain an advantage for their national teams (this ignores the relative rarity of both DSD in general and the specific types of DSD that will improve athletic performance–and also assumes that every Intersex person will be an athlete). The undercurrents of racism and imperialism flow along with the Intersex phobia. 

So I offer an alternative: if everyone is so concerned about “fairness” in hormones, remove gender from track and field completely. Instead, require all athletes to maintain their testosterone levels within a narrow range. Some people will of course need to take drugs to increase their levels of testosterone, while others will have to lower their levels. Sounds fair, right?

-Katie Weidmann
Girl News International

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