For weeks Caster Semenya, the 18-year-old South African runner, has been embroiled in a kerfluffle over her “real” sex. Rumors that Semenya wasn’t a woman spread after she won a gold medal last month, and the International Association of Athletics Federations ordered her to undergo DNA testing.
Semenya’s test results allegedly show she’s a hermaphrodite. According to reports, Semenya apparently has internal testicles, no womb or ovaries, and testosterone levels more than three times what the New York Daily News calls “normal female” levels. Excuse me for going all Women’s Studies Major on your asses, but can we talk about this?So in college, we talked a lot about the difference between “sex” and “gender”: “Sex” generally refers to a biological inclination and “gender” refers to how a person presents himself or herself. (Good explanation from a med school here.)
I do understand society’s need, in general, to sort people into two different sexes. I, personally, think the labels of “male” and “female” are too narrow for all the “in betweens,” whether they’re hermaphrodites or cross-dressers or whatever. Yet, I can understand why we need the labels for birth certificates, passports, drivers’ licenses and things like that.
But when it comes to gender, how a person presents himself or herself, it frustrates me very much to see how people get all worked up, nitpicking how someone looks or acts or asking “What are you really?” The answer to this question doesn’t actually matter. What is considered masculine and feminine varies culture to culture and changes over time (hello, metrosexuals!). Why are people so concerned with the feminine and masculine constructs that we’ve created in our heads?
In Semenya’s case, she competed in the race she eventually won as a female and even posed on the cover of a magazine looking feminine. (Maybe to “prove” she is a woman? How annoying that she or her PR team feels she has to do that.) Clearly, she sees herself as, and likes to be seen, as a woman. As the controversy unfolds further, I’ll be watching closely to see if anyone tries to take away her medal because she’s not “really” a woman.
Semenya told You Magazine, “God made me the way I am and I accept myself. I am who I am and I’m proud of myself.” Why can’t others accept her too?