"Often I would ask her why she kept playing soccer, and with boys. All she said was 'It's because I like it'," said Dorcas (mother), who bears a striking resemblance to Caster. (Aug 20, 09 in The Star).
The box of ‘femininity’ and the default of female is so rigidly upheld, even against the reality of diversity of females, that women are constantly being thrown out of it; or accused of not ‘being female.’
This is what happened to Caster Semenya, when the IAAF announced a prolonged ‘sex test’ was needed to find out if Caster was a female BEFORE she was to run the finals in the Berlin World Championship. She is 18, and now the world is debating, or deciding, on the most surface appearances if she is a female, male or ‘shemale’ (enlightened US commentor). Because she won.
MSN news explains why Semenya was singled out as a suspect male, and athletic cheater: “in addition to her athletic prowess, it's her traits that society considers masculine: ripped muscles, a solemn demeanor and grooming perceived as dowdy”. Yes, she is not femme. She is solemn, she is shy. She even has a lower register voice and shrugs a lot in front of cameras. Unlike female boxers who demonstrate with high heels and french nails (the more traditionally masculine the sport, the greater the feeling and need to compensate with stereotypical feminine actions), Semenya acts like she does at home.
The ANC (African National Congress) condemned the public actions of an investigation if she is a man because she is muscular, strong, and fast, "Such comments can only serve to portray women as being weak," the ANC said.
So why is this post titled that, Usain Bolt, the Jamaican (male) who ran to a world record, is a female? That’s because currently ‘sex tests’ aren’t. It isn’t really an athletic test when only one gender has to do it: it is a test on social norms. So boys are stronger and faster than girls, and if a girl is strong or fast then she really is a boy. So until some IAAF official spends weeks with a psychologist, an internist, and someone sticks a gloved hand up the world champion’s ass to check for a prostate, his 9.5 100 meter world record is too fast for a man……he’s is obviously a woman. Because that is the exact binary thinking and testing now being applied and have been applied to women. Men are for exempt, because no man cares until a woman starts competing in a way that threatens social norms (Paula Radcliffe, the Marathoner whose record at 2:15:25 was getting very close to the men’s record, was accusing of cheating by running in a ‘mixed’ race with the elite male runners), then the accusations start. As one comment on the BBC said, since Bolt has the exact same things which are marking Semenya for ‘sex testing’, he should be tested for being a ‘god’. No, we don’t believe anymore in the hierarchy of animals, lunatics, disabled, children, women, men, gods (well, a lot of people do from comments but let’s move on). So if Bolt has the same issues, his sex should be tested also….since after all: muscular, speaks easily in interviews, smiles a lot, shaved legs, - obviously a female!
In a blog essay I did two years ago on this history of Athletics, particularly the Olympics, it was noted that women were never meant to attend except to applaud the winning males. And while the Olympics might have equal number of events, the committee which decides that women don’t box or do long downhill ski jumps is primarily male. The same committee which decided that “women were to be permitted no races longer than 200 meters from 1928 until 1960.” Yes, the ‘weaker’ sex.
Beyond muscles and speed, what made Semenya due for a sex test was her facial hair and the revelation that she had higher than ‘average’ levels of testosterone ‘for a female’ (again, since men are not tested, males are not reassigned to race with women based on their testosterone levels, though it would be interesting to hear the screaming from men world wide if this took place). CNN found that 20 million females in the USA remove facial hair once a week. That’s about 1 in 6 females…..or is that males? Of course not, it is the great open secret among women that we have facial hair, and some have a lot.
Menopause for example makes the ratio of testosterone to estrogen different and can bring about facial hair (Is Semenya going through early onset menopause?). But Hirsutism (a condition which causes facial hair) also causes deepening of the voice and even cessation of menstruation. Overproduction of androgens for the ovary, adrenal gland or other medical conditions like polycystic ovarian disease/PCOS (which Linda’s doctor tested her for simply on build!) which causes facial hair and irregular menstruation. Oral contraceptives (yes, the not getting pregnant ones) containing norgestrel may cause hair growth as does DHEA, which can help libido, or build muscle. There are over a dozen ways females can be muscular, have facial hair and a deeper throat and not have to defend that in world press because most doctors are aware of them. And with intense physical training, either 16% of heterosexuals in the USA are actually married to men (who also bore their children) because they have facial hair. Accept that, or realize that the idea of having a ‘sex test’ is actually a horrific ‘name and shame’ for those women who publicly look or act in traditional masculine ways, like this pro tennis player.
As good as her performance was, Semenya’s time of 1:55:45 in the final is still nowhere near Kratochvilova's record of 1:53:28. In fact, it is not even in the top ten.
But she is being punished in some ways for the definition of female beauty, which is based primarily on whites. Or as was pointed out in Body Politic, “U.S. Olympic softball star Jennie Finch appeared on Fox News. No sooner had she walked off screen than co-host Jon Scott described her value as an Olympic athlete:“A great representative: blond, blue-eyed, and extremely talented.”
It is true that if you look at Semenya competing against other black South African women, she is taller and maybe a little more broad shouldered but nothing that is significantly different. Certainly nothing to arouse the kind of comments on BBC and other US news sites from males: “Nobody is stoping Semenya from enjoying life to the fullest,…but the women's sports are for women, not for the intersex or whatever she/he is.”, (another talking about Semenya at the WORLD FINALS), “The fact that he didn't care about the other weaker/less competitive females shows how big a cheater/loser he is.” – the women at the Berlin world finals were weak and less competitive? That hasn’t been my experience. Another quote: “Man with minor female features. Hermaphrodite or intersex I'm not sure what the hell this person is but he's definitely not a female. Weird how they let him compete against "real" females.”” So now a picture of Semenya against the women at the Berlin finals, and suddenly without the flowing hair, the light body build she looks completely different. But that doesn’t make her a male.
These comments are a fraction of what has been said this last week and we now see why people with intersex conditions (ambiguous genitalia and intersex conditions are 1 in 2000 births, which means you know some, there are some in your church, there are some in your work, and so what?!) stay so secretly in the closet. And why women with facial hair are desperate to hide it. Because public shaming and not being a ‘real female’ are going to be the result, if not spoken so openly as this, it still occurs, and who knows what different doctors are going to say. If a pain doctor spent more time inspecting me, and made me open my mouth in order to observe a ‘real marfan’s female’ in the flesh than check my pain, what comments and action await someone with an intersex condition listed for any doctor, specialist or others to act on?
Ljungqvist, the head of the Olympic Medical committee says these tests are to ‘protect’ the female athletes. Errrr? From July 30, 08 NYTimes, “At first, women were asked to parade nude before a panel of doctors to verify their sex. At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, officials switched to a chromosomal test.” No males have been found by these or other ‘sex tests’ but only females with the variation of chromosomal and other medical conditions as displayed in the population: “In 1967, the Polish sprinter Ewa Klobukowska was barred from the sport because she failed the chromosomal test, even though she had passed the nude test a year earlier. In the 1980s, the Spanish hurdler Maria José Martínez Patino was disqualified because the test revealed, to her surprise, that she was born with a Y chromosome. Her eligibility was reinstated in 1988.” The Olympics has dropped the general ‘sex test’ because it is a waste of time, and only produces hysterical headlines. Yet they still exist in Athletics, and they still exist for only one gender: females.
So bring in the rubber gloves and ‘cough’ say I, let’s make this an equal playing field. When people live and train at high altitude no one cares, when people like me are taller by a genetic condition, no one cares, and to the Olympic committee (and soon the IAAF) when it comes to intersex or even sex changes, no one cares. What people care about is the transgression of the females to remain looking like how society wants them to appear. That is bunk, and as long as this persecution remains, women with facial hair, women with thin head hair, women with mastectomies, women with intersex conditions, and women who do not fall into the accepted parameters of socially female will be persecuted also. So Usain Bolt, you are strong, muscular and excel at your sport, all the qualities that marks a female for a ‘sex test.’ I submit that Bolt do the right thing, submit for one of his own, or (if only) blow this whole hypocrisy open by announcing his female gender. We accept him as male, why not give Semenya the same dignity?