Treatment of intersexed African athlete appalling


South African athlete Caster Semenya (shown here holding a gold medal she's just won) has been the subject of gender-related cheating allegations. She was forced to take a gender test (perhaps more accurately, a "sex test"), and the results have been released: Semenya is intersexed.

For context: we're not just talking about deeply personal medical news becoming very public world news, we're talking about that happening before the person involved was informed or counseled on the results. And, she had no option to keep the very private information private.

Mainstream news coverage, within South Africa and worldwide, has reflected ignorance, and worse. Here's a snip from a news article that describes her with the derogatory term "hermaphrodite":

The athletics governing body is also expected to advise her to have surgery to fix the potentially deadly condition, the paper reported. The IAAF would not comment on the results that have yet to be released.
You stay classy, New York Daily News. Blogger Pam of Pam's House Blend, where I'm reading this news, says,
Someone please tell me how the f*ck her natural condition -- which is that of a superb physical athlete -- is deadly? Thankfully Semenya wants no part of this.
Update: Some BB commenters have pointed out that the "potentially deadly condition" of which they they speak may be the belief that having male sexual organs "embedded" within the body means elevated cancer risk in intersexed people. Another BB commenter who says they're an intersexed person argues the purported risk is a ruse to pressure intersexed people towards altering themselves through surgery.

Semenya, who identifies as female, says,

"God made me the way I am and I accept myself. I am who I am and I'm proud of myself," she told [South Africa's] You Magazine, which ran a photo spread. "I don't want to talk about the tests. I'm not even thinking about them."
Runner Caster Semenya takes gender test -- she is intersexed; MSM reporting is offensive (, via Kate Bornstein)


  1. Hopefully she’ll fight to keep her medal, which I’m assuming is now somewhat in question, to the bitter end and help resolve some of the ridiculousness surrounding the role of gender in athletics.

  2. Everyone competing in Professional sports at a high level is a genetic freak to some degree. Seems like its at best a mixed bag in her case ofcourse she should keep the medal.

  3. Ummmm…..her natural condition has testes imbedded inside her body….this often leads to cancer and other problems…testes are really not designed to live inside someone’s body, that is why her condition could be life-threatening. They’re not trying to be insulting….it’s just a fact that people who are born transgender (as opposed to those who are born one sex but think they should have been the other) with multiple sexual organs inside often have problems as a result.

    Weather it’s fair to have a person who has the advantage of having both genders compete with people who only have one is a whole other problem.

  4. The “potentially deadly condition” they speak of is a high cancer risk of having internal gonads.

    Also, pardon my ignorance, but I had no idea hermaphrodite was considered a derogatory term and I thought myself fairly well-informed.

    The apalling thing about this whole incident is that Semenya seems to be singled out for the test. Shouldn’t they test either all or none of the athletes?

  5. @1- No problem, but if we end segregation by gender, you’re going to really run short of female medalists in most sports.
    In this case, her times are incredible for female standards…and too slow by far to compete against male athletes.

    Humans might have less sexual dimorphism than other primates, but we’ve still got some, and in sports where fractions of a second count, it matters.

  6. ya know, technically speaking unless other contestants in this competition are allowed to inject themselves with testosterone, it’s kind of unfair. on a hormonal level she is not like other people in the competition, no?

  7. Some of the news pieces out there illustrate something that is shitty as hell to boot: along the lines of “we are looking for her to let her know of the test results” all the while this crap is being broadcast all over. It is, ultimately, inhumane treatment and shows a lack of respect towards the lady’s personal health issues and privacy in general.


  8. I wasn’t aware that ‘hermaphrodite’ was considered derogatory. Not that it means anything, but that Wikipedia article doesn’t describe it as such. Intersexed it is, then.

  9. Oh, my friends. So, speaking as an intersex person, testes are not a cancer risk in us any more than they are in other folks. That’s a scare tactic used to prod parents into surgically altering us.

    It’s just depressing to me that intersex individuals are surgically altered without consent, told to keep their status a secret, required to live in a dyadic gender, and then accused of wrongdoing because the assignment suits poorly.

  10. I feel sorry that this very private matter has for her become very public. She sounds like she has a strong self-identity and good self-esteem.

  11. Since when is ‘hermaphrodite’ derogatory? It is an accurate medical description of her condition. What term was the article supposed to use?

    Also, the reason men and women compete separately in most sports is that testosterone significantly boosts muscle mass, strength and speed. This is not an anti-feminists state, merely fact. I can see why many people might have a problem with a person with testicles competing against women. This is not because of the physical sex organs or prejudice against such a condition, but a complaint that this person has a HUGE advantage against women: male hormones.

    The *REAL* test that should be conducted is to test her hormone levels to see if they are closer to a man or a woman’s typical levels. She should then compete in that group.

  12. In this post: Author and commenters repeatedly using the word “gender” when they mean “sex” in a context where the distinction is extremely important.

  13. @pecoto

    Transgender describes people who identify as a gender other than the gender they were assigned at birth. They do not “think” they are some other gender, in fact, they are. Put crudely, sex is what is between your legs, gender is what is between your ears. Sex does not determine gender. Transgender includes a range of individuals from transvestites to transsexuals, third-gendered, and androgynes.

    Transsexuals are transgender peoples who choose to medically intervene and change their secondary sex characteristics. Some take hormones, some pursue surgery, many choose both.

    Some intersex people fall under the transgender umbrella, as their gender does not line up with the sex they were perceived to be at birth. Some (and apparently this athlete) intersex individuals do not discover their intersexuality until much later in life and have no qualms with their sex and gender – subsequently these people feel no need to transition or medically intervene with their bodies.

    To lump them in with transgendered people is offensive to both groups.

  14. If she is intersex and the gonads are undescended testes rather than ovaries then she does have an increased risk of testicular cancer – somewhere around a lifetime risk of 1 in 50-ish compared to the normal male risk of around 1 in 500. Whether or not that justifies surgery to depends on where the testicular tissue actually is, how complex the surgery would be to remove it and individual preference/approach to risk. If I were her I suspect I’d want to keep them and the performance edge they give as it’s a good part of what defines her.

  15. Thanks for posting this, Xeni. The MSM circus surrounding this issue has been so cruel. I’m glad she appears to be staying strong and making statements that say, “I am who I am,” even if it is to the same magazine who determined they’d give her a makeover to show she could be “properly” feminine.

    My rage buttons are being pushed left and right. Can someone in the MSM please talk about her accomplishments instead of the mystery between her legs?

  16. Important question, was she aware of her condition before all this happened?

    I’m all for let’s be polite and fair,and use the correct terms. The question is was shy lying all along, did she know she had an advantage that she did not disclose?

    Also can we not jump on the media for being evil and uninformed when clearly, every one of us is pretty damn uniformed on this topic.

  17. Ummm…this is happening in a part of the world where people still believe that sorcerors can take the form of farm animals and steal your penis while you are sleeping. I’m surprised someone hasn’t tried to kill her and consume her internal testes to gain some of her marathon power.

  18. I’m quite sad at the negative coverage and I believe very strongly in maximal tolerance for the intersexed. I am also quite sympathetic towards her situation.

    Unfortunately, basic fairness towards the other competitors do not allow her to continue to compete as a woman. The rules may be arbitrary, but they are absolutely essential to the integrity of the competition.

    Since it appears that she genuinely did not know about her condition, I would not strip of her medal. That would be cruel and, more to the point, would not serve any legitimate purpose.

  19. @Noctis – thanks for your contribution.

    I can’t imagine what Caster is going through right now. Having all of this brought public, when it’s not your decision to make, is terrible. Even though they are extremely different, every time I hear intersexed in the media I start to think of a fellow Canadian, David Reimer.

    The Weakerthans even dedicated a song to him, one which I’m sure many intersexed youth embrace:

  20. @4: ovaries are also gonads. “Internal gonads” afflict slightly more than 50% of earth’s human population. Undescended testicles (cryptorchidism) are a risk factor for cancer (1 in 500 get cancer, says Wikipedia.. so it’s +- whatever).

    Elevated levels of androgens are an advantage, be they unfair or not.

    I fear I have no other sport to point to but this one: in standardbred horse racing, intersexed individuals must compete against males. (This in no way implies any manner of explicit comparison between elite athletes and race horses.. this is just how it’s done in that particular sport.)

  21. Okay, hypothetically, if a male athlete went in for surgery and came out with female-style external genitalia but with his testes tucked inside, would he be good to compete as a female in athletic events? Or would that be a disqualifier? Any reason why a natural version of the same thing would be treated differently?

  22. Derek C. F. Pegritz:

    As opposed to the parts of the world that believe that homeopathy works, vaccines cause autism, you can buy pills on TV at 4am that will make your penis bigger…

  23. @15 Rider – do you have some sources to show that intersex people have an athletic edge over females? Testosterone levels vary wildly in women, so at what point do we say that this is where her advantage stems from, and is enough of an advantage to disqualify her?

  24. @#18: So what should we do? As an earlier poster stated, she’s faster than most women but not as fast as men. Do we therefore essentially ban her from running, or at least winning anything? Find a bunch of intersexed athletes and start a third category?

  25. @ Cicada:

    Hypothetically, a man might get his nads tucked in so he could pass as a woman and compete against female athletes.

    In the real world, please name a male (whose gender identity is also male) athlete who would actually go through such a procedure, stigma and lifestyle change for a chance at a gold medal. If you can, I’ve got a great condo with a beach view in Kansas I’d like you to take a look at.

  26. I see nothing offensive in the example of media coverage. It’s simple and to the point. Please stop this exaggeration.

    On the other side, I find that having somebody with this advantage on gender classification is simply unjust to others on the same gender classification.

    It’s against logic: you cannot have someone classified on one gender with this genetic advantage.

  27. Technically, “hermaphrodite” isn’t offensive, but it’s not 100% precise. Even though a hermaphrodite is an organism that has both male and female reproductive organs, she can’t actually REPRODUCE by herself. It’s not like she can “handle” her male reproductive organs in order to conceive.

    Intersexed would be more accurate.

  28. @24- Let’s see…Tamara and Irina Press, Sin Kim Dan, Hermann Ratjen…who may not have had the surgery, but who did try and sneak in as women.

    They didn’t start doing sex testing for giggles, you know.

  29. Hell, why do this by halves– what if a clearly physically male athlete came up, announced that he gender-identified as female, always had, and wished to compete against other female athletes?

    Would you suggest allowing this, if enough people referred to her as “she”?
    Would you disqualify him because two testosterone-producing testes are the main reason that male athletes do not compete against female ones?

    If the latter, what makes this case different?

  30. Since genitalia doesn’t necessarily prove one gender or another, and most here agree that it is unfair for an intersexed person to compete against females– what should the new rules be?

    We are left with creating a new definition of gender, which I suppose, could only be defined by hormone levels? To be considered male you would have A level of testosterone and B level of estrogen, and so on.

    Obviously, this test must now be administered to ALL athletes, not just “suspicious” black, very talented females.

    Considering that hormone levels vary person to person, we would have to do mass testing to determine an average to get a new definition of gender based on hormone levels. But what would happen if you were one or two points off? What if I had one more A measure of testosterone? Am I a dude now? These tests would be terribly biased, constantly altered, and daily contested.

    See how ridiculous this gets?

    This case proves that we are ALL on a sliding scale of gender and sexuality and self identification makes us who we are.

  31. Wow, surprise, compete in a world sport with rigorous testing regimes and get tested. It’s a big, public arena and results of tests are routinely made public. There is plenty of misunderstanding of intersex issues going around, and some ignorance and insensitivity came through in the reporting, but is the bar for “appalling” treatment really this low now?

  32. @28- It might be ridiculous, but consider the alternative– all athletes compete against one another without regard to sex or gender. What we’d currently define as female athletes lose almost every time, badly. What we’d currently define as male athletes win almost all the time.

    I suspect some women might get grumpy at that…

    On the other hand, you could segregate by hormone levels much as you do with weight classes, I suppose.

  33. @26 – So you still didn’t name a man who would go through the procedure? Okay.

    All of which is beside the point that a man simply pretending to be a woman to get an edge is not the same as someone with a penis who identifies as female is not the same as an intersexed person who does and has always identified as female. Further, the implications that any woman (to your eyes) may actually sekritly be a man with an ulterior motive is indicative of the sort of ignorance which perpetuates the idea that intersexed and other people outside the perfect gender binary are hiding something, or that anyone else has a right to know what that something is. Caster Semenya was not pretending anything, and she is not a man.

    To add to that heaping pile of horse shit, these conclusions were drawn after testing that was done without her full knowledge and consent.

    If your question was more to the point of “now what do we do about sex/gender in sports?” or “where do people outside the gender binary fit in?” then I’m sorry to unleash it all on you. However, even unintentionally drawing comparisons between an intersexed woman like Semenya and a man lying about his sex is incredibly offensive.

  34. I am so impressed with this thread. Learning so much.

    It was unfair to single her out for the testing, and morally bankrupt to share the results with the public.

  35. @32- We’ll do a poll sometime. On the other hand, we could look at Heidi Kreiger…where while that wasn’t outright voluntary, she might have noticed something was happening, eh?

    Now, as to the matter at hand, it doesn’t make a bit of difference that Caster Semenya isn’t a man. It matters if she _isn’t_ a woman.
    It also doesn’t matter if there was or wasn’t deceit involved- if she’s a woman, she can compete in a womens’ event. If she’s not, she can’t. Admittedly, the lack of intersex events does leave her out in the cold here, but that’s one more entry for the “life isn’t fair, and isn’t fixable” pile.

  36. @31 You missed the point of my hormone example.

    My point re: hormones is that it is impossible to segregate people based on their hormone levels as they are all so different. Also that self identification in the case of intersexed people is just as important as physical characteristics.

    We should be aware that (as in ethnicity) the boy/girl gender categories are not simple. We keep trying to cram people into these two boxes, but many, many people exist outside the boy/girl categories.

    Are they not allowed to participate in society because they are physically different than the rest of us? To echo #32, Semenya is NOT A MAN. She identifies as a woman, has lived her life as a woman, and it is unfair and cruel to suggest she is masquerading as one.

    Also, I’m sure you will resort with a mysogynistic remark similar to “grumpy women,” as you did before. So don’t bother.

  37. I cannot see how she or her family would not know she was physically unique. She’s eighteen years old but if the preliminary reports are correct she’s never had a menstrual cycle and never will. No uterus = no periods. How could she (or more to the point) her trainers not notice a tiny detail like that? Somebody is not telling the whole truth.

  38. @35- In the context of athletic competition, probably. There’s no real way of getting around the fact that males have some significant athletic advantages over females based on hormone mix alone. Differences in height, muscle mass, hip anatomy, hemoglobin levels, and many other factors swing a lot of sports heavily in favor of males.

    The unkind way to put it is that if you want to see a woman win a gold medal outside of a handful of sports, there’s going to have to be some segregation.

  39. Yarg. Leave the girl alone. Wow. Thanks for posting this Xeni.
    I also had no idea Hermaphrodite was considered offensive. I am not intersexed nor do I know anyone who is. I read the link – and honestly I can’t see why the term is ‘misleading, confusing, and insensitive’. It actually seems beautiful to me. I mean – Hermes and Aphrodite are pretty awesome. I’d say reclaim it. You get to be a god and goddess.

  40. @34 – “If she’s a woman.” From where I’m standing, there is no “if”. She is a woman. Period. If your definition of “woman” fits strictly into what can be categorized as “has female reproductive organs only and XX chromosomes only” then I believe you are missing out on a lot of the fluidity of human sexual and gender identity and trying to push many people into boxes that are much too small for them.

    And people who don’t fit into their boxes shouldn’t be able to play with the ones who do, because we just can’t classify them properly, and when they complain, we just say, “Life ain’t fair, kid.”

    I feel that’s an unfortunate way of looking at things.

  41. Actually – I think “disorders of sex development” is far more insensitive. Hmm disorder or Goddess/God? How would you rather define yourself?
    I guess it reminds me of when being gay was classified as a psychological disorder.

  42. After reading a little more on the questionable methods used for sex-testing and how far from medical consensus the experts are on what the results mean, this looks more and more to me like just one more indignity the intersexed have to unfairly put up with from the rest of us. I’m not sure how sports bodies should handle this issue, but the results of a so called sex test are far from cut and dry.

    My earlier comment was too flip and weakened by my assumptions. I’m glad I learned more about this.

  43. @40- Here’s one example why– her finishing time in the 2009 World Championships 800 meter was 1 minute, 55.45 seconds. A blowout, really, of her nearest competitor.

    Unfortunately, that would have placed her 47th in the heats in the men’s competition.

  44. @anonimouse

    I was going to make a joke about box metaphors or something, but they all sound so dirty that I can’t. But I thought you should know that, if we’re going to be friends, I am socially awkward even on the internet.

    Hi. :D

  45. I think that the handling of this has been appalling, but I don’t think that there are any clear answers. The simple fact that males and females can’t compete directly in most physical sports. Men will crush women. They have two hormone sacks between their legs that basically pump them full of hormones that greatly enhance their athletic prowess. When you take the most extreme males, the enhancement is even greater.

    Now the question. What do you do when someone has the advantage of ye ol’ hormone bags, but whose gender is female? She really does have a non-trivial advantage over other females. For another woman to match it, she would need to dope herself up on (illegal) hormones since puberty. That isn’t to diminish her as an athlete. I am pretty sure she can crush 99.99% of all humans in her sport, regardless of their gender, but when you play at the extremes such advantages matter.

    I personally don’t see an easy answer. Generally, transgender folks are allowed to compete in whatever gender class they identify with so long as they go through the proper hormonal treatment and have the offending sex organs removed. In this case, it would mean surgery and hormonal treatment, which is cruel to a person who is happy with herself. Do you simply declare that if you have testicles you need to compete with men or get them removed? Do you simply accept that you will occasionally get intersexed people with a large hormonal advantage of male hormone levels competing against women?

    Whatever the case, this entire situation was handled poorly. The kid is only 18. I don’t know about you, but at 18 issues of sex and gender were awkward enough as a dull heterosexual male with zero media attention.

  46. @41- Alright, do you have a better solution? If you sort the competitions based on declared gender, then people _will_ try to snag that gold by declaring themselves female who would, by physical examination, be male. This might be by their own wishes, or it might be pressure from their state.
    If you do not sort the competitions based on gender, then Semenya never gets a gold medal– she’s going to be blown out of the water by traditionally male contestants.

    And no, it’s not fair. Fair, like gender, is a human convention. The universe and biology don’t really give a damn about fair.

  47. Two things to throw into the fray;

    (1) My son was born with one testicle that wasn’t fully formed and undescended. (The other is fine, and this isn’t that uncommon.) The vestigial testicular tissue had to be surgically removed because we were told it poses a significant cancer risk, and is potentially in a location where the cancer would progress without detection.

    (2) Whatever testicles she has probably aren’t producing testosterone she can use. I’m going to guess, based on one college-level genetics class, that they’re talking about some kind of androgen insensitivity, meaning she is XY, but her body lacks the receptors to testosterone, which would have made her develop outwardly male (and be able to use any male hormones). There are many kinds of intersex, but it’s my understanding this is a common one. Many women find out that they’re actually XY, not XX, when they’re being treated for fertility problems. It doesn’t make her less female.

    BTW, body fat plays a role in estrogen levels, and it’s not uncommon for very lean, muscular females to have some adrogen imbalances due to their intense training. Menstrual cycles stop, muscles grow, there may be changes in hair growth. This isn’t in all athletes, but in some.

    Although the organization is no longer active, a great resource is still the website of the Intersex Society of North America:

  48. @playpism
    We’re perfect for each other. I will stalk your blog now. :)

    And look at all this friend making going on here… Forgeweld just got a new friend too!

    See, gender queers and their ilk just ooze happy sappy friendship making goodness. Love it.

  49. From wikipedia:

    “South African runner Caster Semenya’s muscular physique helped propel her to victory during the 800 meters at the 2009 World Championships in Athletics in Berlin. The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), track and field’s governing body, confirmed that Semenya had agreed to a gender-testing process that began in South Africa and was ongoing in Germany. Officials wouldn’t give details of the testing, but did say that it involves an endocrinologist, a gynecologist, a psychologist, and both internal and external examinations.[9]”

    If that is true, and according to Time magazine, it is, then she was fully aware of the testing and it was very thorough, involving several different specialists.

    With regards to sex testing in general, what alternatives are there? We segregate events by sex in order to be fair to women, who can generally not compete with men. Therefore, if intersex athletes are allowed to compete with women, it IS an unfair advantage, and unfairly punishes the 99.5% of women where are genetically female, rather than unfairly punishing the .5% that are intersex. Which makes more sense?

    And finally, I’m going to add to the others that did not know ‘hermaphrodite’ was considered by some to be an insult. Assuming that the intersex community has consensus on the issue, Xeni, then unless you are alleging that the term was intended as an insult in this case, then it is an education issue, and you come off as oversensitive. In the future, look at it as an opportunity to educate, rather than cry foul.

  50. how feasible would it be for her to compete for a medal in an “intersex” category? or do hormonal testing to create hormonal “weight classes”, as was suggested earlier?

    i guess the only “solution” would be to completely rethink the nature of athletic competition so that only personal bests and overall individual improvement are celebrated, as opposed to “absolute” accomplishment relative to others.. but somehow i doubt that is possible.

  51. I went to the ISNA website ( … here is some information from that site that describes androgen insensitivity… (I’m thinking I might have made a pretty accurate guess in my previous post.) One thing is clear… she’s a *woman*.

    “Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, or AIS, is a genetic condition, inherited (except for occasional spontaneous mutations), occurring in approximately 1 in 20,000 individuals. In an individual with complete AIS, the body’s cells are unable to respond to androgen, or “male” hormones. (“Male” hormones is an unfortunate term, since these hormones are ordinarily present and active in both males and females.) Some individuals have partial androgen insensitivity.

    In an individual with complete AIS and karyotype 46 XY, testes develop during gestation. The fetal testes produce mullerian inhibiting hormone (MIH) and testosterone. As in typical male fetuses, the MIH causes the fetal mullerian ducts to regress, so the fetus lacks uterus, fallopian tubes, and cervix plus upper part of vagina. However, because cells fail to respond to testosterone, the genitals differentiate in the female, rather than the male pattern, and Wolffian structures (epididymis, vas deferens, and seminal vesicles) are absent.

    The newborn AIS infant has genitals of normal female appearance, undescended or partially descended testes, and usually a short vagina with no cervix. Occasionally the vagina is nearly absent. AIS individuals are clearly women. At puberty, the testes are stimulated by the pituitary gland, and produce testosterone. Because testosterone is chemically very similar to estrogen, some of the testosterone converts back to estrogen (“aromatizes”) in the bloodstream. This estrogen produces breast growth, though it may be late. Women with AIS do not menstruate, and are not fertile. Because the development of pubic and underarm hair, in women as well as in men, depends upon testosterone, most AIS women have no pubic or underarm hair, but some have sparse hair.”

    Hope this helps.

  52. She’s chosen to live as a woman, and interviews with South African magazine clearly implies that – well, from my reading.

    I think there is a lot of shame felt by anyone who steps outside “sexual” or gender norms. And where it is a clear physical different, possibly even more so. Wrestling with being normal while being yourself is nearly impossible.

    Having it blared on an international stage before being truly informed of it yourself – I had no idea until I read this post that that was the case, and I’m upset to think anyone would allow that to happen.

    Long has it been the norm to assume “the public’s” right to know, on a shit load of issues. From abductees returned years later, to someone’s gender identity – even long after it’s been assigned by the only person who can assign it (her, in case you’re wandering).

    So intrusive, but it’s barely even questioned.
    Good on you guys for questioning it. Here at least.

  53. There are dozens of variations of intersexuality, many of which are non-obvious on physical exam. Should every athlete be genetically tested, physically examined and x-rayed? Are the XXYs disqualified? How about the YYs?

  54. Some facts to add to the discussion:

    The IAAF ceased its practice of gender screening for all athletes in 1993 (ref), but retains the right to test individuals if suspicions arise, as occurred here.

    On the topic of transgendered atheletes, the IAAF allows them to compete as their identified gender, provided they have undergone gender reassignment surgery and enough hormonal therapy to eliminate any advantage (how much that would be is not defined). I wonder what they would do in here case? Would having “corrective” surgery be considered enough for her to continue to compete as a woman?

    The IAAF rules can be found here (under section 2 – GENDER VERIFICATION AND

    One of Semenya’s senior coaches has resigned in shame for not being up front with Semenya about the testing. She was told only that it was for doping.

    As for the results, it seems they have not been released at all, as the testing has not been completed (and will not be until November). Semenya’s mother has already been reduced to tears by the not-official-but-splashed=all-over-the-news results. Also in that article, “We must remember that the tests are still ongoing; they have nothing. It will be revealed in November,” – quote from Athletics South Africa president.

    What has happened is that some anonymous source leaked some purported results to an Australian newspaper, and now they are everywhere.

    Right from the start, this issue has been handled poorly, with very little consideration for Semenya herself, both by the press and by the IAAF.

  55. @64- Stands to reason not to test unless someone raises a fuss about it in a particular case. If no one cares, why bother?

    1. Stands to reason not to test unless someone raises a fuss about it in a particular case. If no one cares, why bother?

      That would be the difference between the rules/standards/laws and persecution. It only came up because she did so well. That sets a pretty bad precedent for accusations against winning athletes. Think about how judges score divers from unfriendly countries in the Olympics and then apply those politics to the athletes’ crotches.

      The idea of setting levels of competition, although perhaps facetiously suggested, might not be completely devoid of merit. The idea of a continuum of skill rather than a simple gender divide has precedent: boxers compete in weight classes. Oscar de la Hoya is not a lesser boxer because he’s only half the size of Vladimir Klitschko. I hope that most sports have a skill component as well as crude requirements of muscle mass.

  56. One last nit-picky detail:

    Intersex doesn’t mean “hermaphrodite”. Hermaphrodite is an antiquated word, based in mythology, that describes a creature that is both fully male and fully female. This a physiologic impossibility.

    Just like gender is a spectrum, and sexual orientation is a spectrum (Kinsey scale, anyone?), our physical sex also falls on a spectrum, although it may freak some individuals out to think of themselves that way. Chromosomes don’t tell the whole story, neither do the appearance of genitalia. We’re far more complicated than that.

  57. @62 Competition for personal bests would be boring. No one wants to see me run a 5 minute mile.

    @65 The reason why testing was stopped is because while questions of gender are pretty simple, questions of sex are not. But unless you want to lump everyone in the same category, men and women, then you have to draw the line somewhere.

    @66 If her coach lied to her about what the testing was for, and someone leaked results, why is there any issue with how the IAAF handled it, when they’ve apparently done nothing wrong?

    @67 No one cares? She beat (badly) every single woman she competed against (and all those she didn’t compete against). I suspect they care.

  58. @3 Pecoto:

    “.testes are really not designed to live inside someone’s body”

    Funny. Mine are pretty happy living inside of my body.

  59. Women who are intersex with an XY genetic makeup are frequently tall with broad shoulders and narrow hips. They have little body hair, but may have well-developed breasts (with enough body weight)…

    Sound familiar?

    Maybe like a super model?

    We don’t question whether supermodels (some of whom may or may not be XY) are “living like a female”.

    They’re female.

    BTW, she’s not gender reassigned, and she’s not a man living as a woman. She didn’t create this. Her testicles didn’t get tucked. They didn’t differentiate from ovaries, despite a Y chromosome.

    Did you know we’re all female out of the gate? When a fetus has the receptors to be influenced by male androgens, then they “become” male (all this is in the womb). Sometimes, despite XY chromosomes, there’s no receptors for the male androgens and the baby stays primarily female.

    She simply has a medical condition she didn’t know about, which some medically misinformed individuals think might give her an athletic advantage she wouldn’t have with a different genetic makeup.

    She’s a strong, fast, gifted girl.

    There are so many cultural things at work here, and now this poor girl and her family, and the whole world, have heard private medical information about her, really personal stuff, stuff about her fertility, and – in her cultural – stuff that might shame her family and disrupt relationships.

    This is sad.

  60. Friends, as an intersex person, let me make a point here. The idea that there are two sexes is a myth. The idea that instead there are three, male, female, and intersex, is equally a myth. Sex exists as a spectrum–hormone levels, genital sizes, gonadal arrangments, chromosomes all vary extraordinarily. There is no simple test you can do to divide the world up into two, or three, logically cohesive, separate categories.

    Let’s say you’re looking at someone who has breasts, a menstrual period, and a penis. What are they “really”? You can come up with a rule and apply it, but that rule will be arbitrary. It’s just like looking at the color purple and saying, “Purple is not a real color, so this must be either blue or red. I have a Scientific Rule I can apply to determine whether this is blue or red.” Sure, you could create a rule, and apply it consistently, but that does not eliminate the fact that purple exists as a color people experience.

    As others have said, if you look at competitive athletes, many have unusual genetics–extra long legs, huge hands, oddly flexible spines, what have you. Many have atypical hormone levels. What sort of line are we going to draw in the sand to exclude people with “advantages”?

    The same bugaboos continue to be raised in this case. Cheating transgender people supposedly transitioning just to sneak into cisgendered people’s spaces. Intersexuality as something unnatural, dangerous, to be medically erased. Females being inferior to males physically. Really, it just makes me tired. But the person who must be unbelievable tired is Caster Semenya. I feel so very sorry for her and for her family for having to ensure this circus.

    Sports should be divided by rational categories, like weight class. Not by race, or by gender, or by any other arbitrary, culturally fraught demographic line.

  61. “She was forced to take a gender test (perhaps more accurately, a “sex test”)

    Perhaps more accurately, she was medically raped. That’s what ‘forcing’ (or even merely ‘coercing’) a woman to be sexually violated by a so-called ‘doctor’ is. Let’s stop obscuring the sexual violence here by using neutral terms like ‘test’.

  62. I’m pretty certain “hermaphrodite” is not offenseive, just generally inaccurate. I know people who play intersex characters in online games and I know people who play hermaphrodite characters. Nobody in these realms considers it offensive, but maybe I’m just not in-the-know as to what’s PC these days.


    Bender Bending Rodriguez

  63. @72- “It only came up because she did so well. That sets a pretty bad precedent for accusations against winning athletes.”

    No, it still works fairly well– if you win, we wonder if it was fair. If you come in tenth, no one cares why you lost.
    Never going to be a need to test the losers.

  64. @27

    In the real world, please name a male (whose gender identity is also male) athlete who would actually go through such a procedure, stigma and lifestyle change for a chance at a gold medal. If you can, I’ve got a great condo with a beach view in Kansas I’d like you to take a look at.

    I’ll take that condo.

    “Dora” Ratjen 1936 Olympic high jump.

  65. Dunno if this is offensive or not, but why don’t we have three categories for the Olympics : Male, Female, Intersex/Other?

    Than everyone wins. Specifically America.

  66. @75- Unfortunately for the notion of weight classes eradicating gender differences in performance, they don’t.

    Take weightlifting– the 2008 Olympic gold medalist for women in the 69kg weight category hauled up 286kg (in a combination of two lifts). The male gold medalist in the same category lifted 348.

  67. Organized sports are just games.

    People decide the rules, then play the game.

    Nothing says that these rules are forever fixed, or even that you have to play.

    I think a big part of the problem here is that professional level sports are deemed to be much more important than they really are.

  68. Could we NOT file this under “happy mutants” how about naming Caster Semenya as our unicorn chaser for the day instead, she’s my new super hero

  69. Did have time to read all this, just wanted to say Stay the way you are Caster Semenya, you’re just perfect!

  70. Two things could be done to solve this in a vaugely “fair” manner, without specifically discriminating against one group in particular:

    We could place sex on a sliding scale adjusted for an individuals personal ability, and change individuals score based on this.

    The potential problem with this approach is that differentating between genetic characteristics such as sex may end up forcing other characteristics like height, muscle mass etc. to be adjusted for.

    To be completely fair to all genetic traits, we COULD mathematically eliminate them from an athletes time. The only factors affecting the outcome of a race would be the level of training and fitness, the technical sophistication of an athletes equiptment, and random events like wind speed. Many athletes would probably be rather upset with this.

    Or, we could abolish the seperate competitions for the sexes and simply have one big free-for-all with no women or intersex people receiving a single gold medal. Many athletes would probably not like this either.

    In a field where genetic advantage is the REASON for competition, the most common genetic advantage in terms of strength and speed – sex – should not be given special treatment.

    In a field where genetic advantage is considered unfair, sex should not be the only trait adjusted for.

    Which field is athletics?

  71. It’s potentially deadly because morons the world over are highly likely to attack her with intent to main and/or outright kill her.

  72. She’s a woman. Leave her alone! This stuff is way too complicated. You can’t check everyone for this and a myriad of other conditions. She’s a woman with a genetic advantage. Same thing as Michael Phelps’ crazy body proportions. Just let the girl run.

  73. Latest story from the Guardian quotes the IAAF as saying that it’s “highly unlikely” she will be stripped of her medal, even if the story turns out to be true.

  74. Possibly we’re overlooking the notion that the point of these competitions is _not_ to be fair to the athletes.
    Athletic competition is, and can be nothing other than unfair because, all other training and determination being equal, the competitor with the better genes wins. And for that matter, genes being equal the competitor with better access to trainers, equipment, climate, etc will win.
    Hell, don’t count on doing well in hockey if you’re from an equatorial nation.

    They establish a few things that constitute “cheating”, but this by no means makes the resulting competition fair. It does, however, find the fastest runner, swimmer, etc.

  75. I (a bloke) used to do athletics at college, and I was pretty good at hurdles. When I look at the Female world championship hurdles times for 110 metres I could compete with them and possibly beat them, even at that standard. However I’m nowhere near the men’s times.

    I’m just playing devils advocate but lot’s of athletes have cheated in the past to get an unfair advantage, and in athletics where so much effort is put in to get the tinyest time advantage, gender obviously makes a massive difference. Also any biologist knows that gender isn’t just about genitalia but numerous physical differences muscle build etc.

    Saying that I was disgusted in the way she was treated. It could have all been done behind closed doors not announced 4 hours before her race. She’s shown amazing strength of character and should be proud of herself, especially as a role model now for anybody in her position.

  76. #86 got it.

    Sports is just another competition, and everyone’s using whatever advantage one can get.

    Think about what total leveling of the field would mean: Genetic advantages, environmental advantages, social advantages, all accounted for. Leaves training and spurious advantages that could not be accounted for for various reasons (non-computability, randomness…). Meaning people could simply stand in line, hand in their certified training times, and get their placings… Would be one hell of a television event.

    Professional sports is a travesty (pun intended), soiling amateur sports down to the very bone.

    Rather than questioning the global huffah about the sexual identity of someone, ask why there is any kind of global recognition of someone who devoted maior portions of her life to running along some track faster than other people.

  77. I recall a comment from a reader at a news site recently when the preliminary results showed that she had three times higher testosterone level then a ‘normal’ female:

    “Yeah, but you can bet that the person that came second had at least twice as much testosterone than a normal female.”

    Point: even with hermafroditism she still falls clearly in female cathegory. Males have an ORDER OF MAGNITUDE higher testosterone levels. So the fuss raised about her sex is really anal.

    Alternatively, to cater to fairness of competititon, we could define several classes defined strictly on testosteron level – not sex, and make competitions within a class. As it is done in boxing with weight classes.

  78. What Noctis (@#75 et al) and dr80085 @#82 said.

    However, I think the English-speaking world needs a professional linguist to explain the etymology of the name Caster Semenya.

    Because our classy journos don’t spotlight these cases at random, you know. It’s only news for them if they can get their grade-school locker-room snickers in while they’re at it.

  79. There are a lot of people saying that she is a woman because she identifies as one, full stop. That’s true as applies to gender, but what is at issue is her sex, which is physiological (i.e., it doesn’t matter what she thinks of herself as) and, as many have also pointed out, rather complicated. And it’s sex that is at issue because it’s the physical differences that are the reason males and females compete separately. As long as you have that separation, you’re going to have to come up with a consistent rule and apply it, and that unfortunately involves deciding whether or not Caster Semenya is a “woman,” independent of how she lives her life or how we might treat her socially.

    And it doesn’t seem like there are any good choices for rules. Do we want to make it so women’s sports are dominated by the intersexed? Do we want to exclude them? Do we want to not have a separation at all, thereby essentially putting women out of contention in some sports entirely? For that matter, why do we draw the line where we do for what athletes are allowed to put in their bodies, as in diet vs. medicine vs. “illegal enhancement?” It’s all arbitrary.

  80. She won’t be stripped of any medal, as it was made clear that she didn’t intentionally cheat or break any rule. This stance was explicitly stated by IAAF in the past few weeks and there is no reason to believe it will be changed.

    Besides, this is all speculation coming from an anonymously-sourced piece published by an Australian tabloid. Until the analysis are officially published, we might as well talk about the weather.

    By the way, I fail to see the fun in starting flamefests about such a delicate situation. People here act all shocked at the appalling behaviour from MSM, but then go on contributing to an almost 100-long comment thread — a relatively rare occasion on BB — by flaming about the most politically correct way to address her. Here’s a thought: what about calling her by her name?

    Why does BB, like all news org, constantly feel the need to label people? Don’t you see that labelling is the very first element of social discrimination? Whatever fanciful term you use, it will invariably end up being abused and simply replace the old term. I understand that you are trying to describe reality, but if you really wanted to be respectful, you should try to treat human beings as individuals and not members of whatever arbitrary group.

  81. Since hermaphrodites in myth and the animal kingdom have fully functional procreative and reproductive organs, I can see how using that word for the intersexed can make them uncomfortable, since they don’t have those characteristics. In Semenya’s case, for example, somatically she is a woman; it’s only when she’s subject to extensive testing that her sex becomes a little more arbitrary. Even in cases where the external organs have developed ambiguously, it’s going to be rare that they are fully functional procreatively, and impossible that they are reproductively fully functional.

    So, yeah, inasmuch as it sets up false expectations as to appearance and behaviour (both positive and negative), I can see hermaphrodite as being problematic to the point of insult. And if the intersexed wish to be known as intersexed, then, really, why should that be a problem?

  82. On gender issues I’m often reminded of the line attributed to Mayor Koch of NYC:

    “I don’t care what sex a firefighter is, as long as they can carry a 200 pound mayor out of a burning building.”

    I had written a couple paragraphs on this topic, then I erased them, because the only real question I have is quite simple:

    Why do we have distinct competitions for men and women?

    If the purpose of a competition is to find the person that can go from (say) point A to point B in the shortest period of time, (or jump the highest, throw a javelin the farthest, etc.) why does gender enter into it? Why not height? Weight? I am fairly serious about this – why the segregation on gender, especially now that it requires expensive laboratories and compex tests to determine someone’s true, inner gender?

    (I couldn’t find a supporting link of any real value for the quote attributed to Mayor Koch, but I do recall this from the evening news at the time, though I’m a bit foggy on the actual weight of the mayor at the time…)

  83. I can only speak to the surgical portion of the story-I did work with a patient who had undergone surgery as a youth for an undescended testicle. No evidence was seen of the missing teste and the patient went on to lead a fairly normal life for a while….he was a bit on the hyperaggresive side but seeing as he was a member of the police force, nobody seemed to think much of it. Until one day, when he was obviously not feeling very well and checked into the hospital. Turns out that he had a cancerous spleen and prostate plus another huge mass tucked up near one of his kidneys. Further investigation revealed that this was the missing teste, which was the original source of the cancer after quietly cooking away in there for all of those years. It’s that kind of thing that makes me think leaving undescended testicles alone without exhausting every opportunity to track them down is a bad,bad thing.

  84. If the reports are correct, Ms Semanya has PAIS-6. Partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome grade 6, where grade 7 is Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (CAIS).

    What this means is that she’s almost completely immune to testosterone and other androgens. “Almost”, but not quite completely. If she’d had CAIS, she’d be ultra-feminine, more so than standard factory model women. It’s an open secret that most of the supermodels who don’t have children have CAIS, as did Miss Teen USA 1991.

    From the Internation Amateur Atletics Association rules on the subject :

    (The crux of the matter is that the athlete should not be enjoying the benefits of natural testosterone predominance normally seen in a male)

    6. Conditions that should be allowed:- Androgen insensitivity syndrome (Complete or almost complete – previously called testicular feminization);- Gonadal dysgenesis (gonads should be removed surgically to avoid malignancy);- Turner’s syndrome.

    (b) Those conditions that may accord some advantages but nevertheless acceptable:- Congenital adrenal hyperplasia;- Androgen producing tumors;- Anovulatory androgen excess (polycystic ovary syndrome).

    Unlike other women, she cannot get the full performance benefits of testosterone, since she’s almost immune to the stuff. Having three times the female average could well be less effective when it comes to building muscle mass than a normal amount in an average women. Many female athletes have high natural levels of testosterone anyway – though still a third or less of an average male, and a tenth of a male athlete.

    As regards the “dangerous condition” of internal testes, the danger isn’t exactly immediate. There’s a tenfold normal risk of cancer, and it would be wise to have 6-monthly checks, and gonadectomy if any pre-cancerous lesions are found, but that’s it. At worst, 1 in 50, and the estrogen, the female sex hormone also produced by the testes, is useful for preventing oteopyrosis and other conditions, so it’s swings and roundabouts. The real reason for gonadectomy is to stop other people from being upset about the idea of a woman with testes in her body.

    I’ve stated the IAAA’s policy – but that policy is not always followed. The Indian athlete Santhi Soundarajan had CAIS, but was stripped of her medals by Indian authorities, not because she had an advantage, but purely for being Intersexed, a sub-human. She attempted suicide shortly thereafter, as Ms Semanya may do.

    She’s an 18 year old girl from a backwoods African rural village who has given her all to become a world-class athlete. Now she’s had the double blow of being told she’ll never be able to have children, and having her life and ambitions shattered by a global surge of ignorant bigotry.

    Some of which is apparent in these comments.

    Oh yes, I’m Intersexed too. I’m also 51, a middle-aged woman old enough to be a grandma, and used to this kind of thing. She’s only a teenage girl. Some here forget that.

  85. ToyG, labelling is also a part and parcel of language. It’s impossible to talk about anything material or abstract without classifying it into one category or another. And the classification is important here. We want to see Semenya fairly treated, but we also want to see those belonging to the category of women athletes fairly treated.

    If Semenya’s internal testes are deemed to give her an unusual advantage in women’s athletics, then she will probably have to be excluded from competing. As a woman, she would find it awkward to compete in men’s athletics, even if she could compete at a similar level. It’s sad for her, but what else can be done?

  86. #96: because in most cases biology dictates that men outstrip women in physical ability, and rather than guaranteeing men win 99.9 percent of all competitions they merely divide it so that women have a chance to compete against people more their equal?

    You can’t ignore the difference sex makes, because its absolutely huge.

    Weight is variable. Height only affects certain competitions, and in those cases most of the entrants are likely to be of a similar height anyway. Neither factor is even remotely similar to sex.

  87. Timothy Hutton, the point is to compete, as fairly as possible, so as to stand a chance of winning by the application of will. In most athletics, women cannot compete with men and have a chance of winning. Despite the purported arbitrariness of gender and sex, for the vast majority of cases it is actually fairly easy to sort humans into male and female, so giving those in either category a chance at glory, at demonstrating their individual worth.

  88. This is a HIGHLY emotional topic for people who find themselves living (or loving someone who lives) between hairy ape and fertility goddess. I think it’s safe to say that everyone knows a few people who openly or secretly fall in the very thin part of the male/female dumbell distribution, and those people get screwed by a society that thinks they’re weird.

    I dunno what you do, though. Female sports exist largely because there’s no way women can compete with men. Top-tier athletes are so highly competitive that they will exploit the rules in any way they can, so there need to be boundaries on who gets to play in the women’s category. Basing it on whether or not you have _functioning_ nuts seems like the only way to do it.

    OTOH, there are a bazillion intersexed people, so if hermaphrodites had such a huge biological advantage, we should be seeing them ALL OVER in professional women’s sports. As a casual ogler of female athletes that really doesn’t seem to be the case.

    This woman is an outlier and didn’t set out to cheat. Leave her the fuck alone.

  89. This thread is getting a bit hostile.

    To anonymouse, zoe brain etc. – I think labeling the current run of comments at boingboing as misogynist does an injustice to more serious forms of both. Saying ‘some women may be grumpy’ doesn’t display a hatred toward women. Often people are ill-informed about issues on sexuality and gender, but I think it would be prudent to not mistake the level of knowledge within the group of commentators here as bigotry – that isn’t fair. A lack of knowledge on this subject should drive us to correct it. Better sex education in schools. More public awareness of the varying scale of sexual and gender identity, and being caught less in our backward binary system.

    However, if the information presented above is correct – this sucks. I think we should all look to her as an example of a spectacular athlete with a lot of class and a great deal of self esteem and awareness.

    In conclusion – I think everyone here, cicada included, thinks the current system of classes (splitting athletes into the arbitrary metric of ‘men’ or ‘women’) doesn’t handle the real situation well. At all. Even if we take the extremes of the scale, there is still so much variance. But we also have to remember that there is so much variance within upbringing, genetic dispositions towards athletics, etc. that there will always be unfair advantages. We all seem to want to see a better system – lets use this event as a catalyst and get something better for everyone, no matter how they identify in terms of gender, and no matter where they fit in on the spectrum of sex.

  90. That is to say (in my previous comment) that it is unlikely we will find a perfect system. Differences in sex play a huge role in athletics. But we can work on getting a better, more inclusive system. Take this as an example and run with it, IAAF.

  91. TALIA – I’d argue that a 7 foot tall runner has an advantage over a 4′ 11″ runner. Boxers and wrestlers are organized by weight, and boxers are also judged by their “reach” (length of arms)…

    NELSON.C – Your description sounds a bit like NASCAR, where all the cars are supposed to be the same, leaving only driver skill and endurance as the determining factors in the race.

    Are the gaps in records between genders so great that the competiton is that unfair? (An honest question, not rhetorical…)

    We can choose break down competitons/requirements based on gender, but now forms will need three boxes: Male, Female, Intersex, does that mean we’ll have a third set of world records OR will we rise above the distinction and simply celebrate exceptional achievement ignoring gender?

  92. hrmphrdt sn’t wmn. dn’t thnk ts fr t hv hr cmpt gnst rl wmn wtht th xtr bdy prts nd hrmns tht llw ths pr mlfrmd prsn t wn vr thm. Thts why thr s sch fss.

  93. Given that sport often has to be divided by gender then it would be unfair to other women athletes for her to be competing against them, it’s not nice for her but then sport isn’t nice at this level.
    If she says God did that to her then maybe she can explain why.

  94. Posting anon to protect privacy of a minor.

    When my son was born, he was cryptorchid (he had an undescended testicle) and I was strongly pressured to permit immediate surgery. I do science research so I refused permission until I could research the condition. Here is what I learned.

    1)Although having undescended genetalia does indeed confer a higher risk of cancer, surgery does not decrease this risk. You have the same elevated risk regardless of whether you have the condition operated on, or not. There is no way to eliminate your increased cancer risk once you are born with the condition.

    2) Operating on children less than one year old is dramatically riskier than operating on older children. No one should allow their children to be operated on at birth unless they have a life-threatening condition that surgery can actually remediate. Cryptorchid does not qualify.

    3) Having one testicle does not make a man less masculine or infertile. Plenty of folks have a single testicle and get along just fine, including a master martial artist of my acquaintance who is the father of two.

    People who want this woman to have surgery are clueless busybodies. I wish her all the best.

  95. “I’d argue that a 7 foot tall runner has an advantage over a 4’11” runner.”

    That statement certainly would start an argument among those familiar with running and basketball.

  96. Steve, THAC0, I think it’s been established that “hermaphrodite” is not the best word to use. Intersexed.

    Timothy Hutton, according to Wiki, the men’s 100m record is 9.58 seconds, and the women’s is 10.49 seconds. That represents around 9 metres difference at the finishing line. Considering that at world-class events the entire field of either women or men tends to be grouped together closer than that, I think we can say that, yes, as a group men really do out-compete women at athletics. In the 100 metres at least, but I imagine that the results for other events are similar.

  97. @105 Thaco:

    Question for you. What defines a ‘woman’. What defines a ‘man’?

    What arbitrary hormone level do you wish to define? What physical requirements do you wish to define? If a male athlete had testicular cancer, and had a testicle removed, does that make him not a ‘man’? What about a hysterectomy? What about reassignment? What about gender vs. sex? Do you know the difference? Who decides?

    Thanks for your arbitrary metric of what a ‘real’ woman is. I’m sure everyone appreciates it. I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but your use of ‘real woman’ enforces what appears to be your opinion: that only XY females that prescribe to your antiquated notion of femininity can be women and are the only ones who should be able to identify as such. If that isn’t the case, let me know. If that is, I’d suggest some reading on the subject of gender, identity, and sex.

  98. Also, THAC0, I thinked “malformed” was a maladroit choice of word. There’s nothing wrong with Semenya’s form. Quite pleasing to the eye, in my opinion.

  99. Ya know, there is another problem that is being neglected in the proposal to test for gender. It was already tried long ago. Years ago they used to test women competitors for gender issues.

    Guess what they found?

    They found so much genetic variation that they stopped giving the test.

    “Gender” is a social construct.

  100. It’s shameful that adults are willing to mistreat and disrepect one another over sports.

    At least in the case of Alan Turing they wrongfully abused the man for what they claimed was “the good of society” and not “because some athletes and fans were a bunch of crybabies”.

    She can’t be a man because she doesn’t smoke the same cigarettes as me.

  101. @99 So biology isn’t fair. Big deal.

    The main point is: Either we take the separation by sex in port contests seriously – in which case transgendered people are either a class of their own or are barred altogether – or we don’t.

    Sorry, what’s next? Having a 1,80m/90 kg guy who feels like he’d rather be a woman on the women’s boxing team?

  102. @50
    In this case, 47th is really, really good! It is how you would expect an elite athlete to place. It just isn’t 1st – most runners don’t win. I think, implicitly at least, you are making the argument that she should have some kind of right to win in the men’s competition. I’m not sure I buy that.

  103. Just to chime in as a current research scientist that used to teach clinical physiology….

    1. Disorders of sexual development are associated with significantly elevated cancer risk. Technically, this is is a “potentially life threatening condition”, but stating it that way is an obvious scare tactic.

    For reference in this, see the review article

    Tumor risk in disorders of sex development (DSD); Clinical Journal of Endocrine & Metabolism, Volume 21, Issue 3, Pages 480-495.

    Abstract at

    The abstract is free, but you need a subscription to read the article. If you’re at a big university, though, you probably have access.

    2. The differences in her body are physical and physiological. As mentioned elsewhere, gender and sex are not the same thing. There is a strong correlation, but that’s it. She is of female gender, that is indisputable. She identifies as female, therefore she is of the female gender.

    However, physiologically she is not of the female sex. Sports are segregated by sex for a very good reason; evolution has geared the male sex of the human species to be more physically capable in many areas than the female sex (generally, that is; there is of course overlap). This is at least partly due to the fact that females gear a much larger part of their metabolism directly to reproduction, and the male has evolved to take up that slack during reproductive demand. Females are set up to make the big direct contribution, males make the big indirect contribution (yes, this is a caveman way of doing things, but we’re talking about evolution. We evolved to be cavemen. Well, plainsmen, technically, but you get the point).

    Plainly put, take a healthy male child and a healthy female child. Raise them the same, feed them the same, give them the same care, and train them the same. Athletically, the male will outperform the female at maturity.

    Like it or not, she does have an unfair advantage. She didn’t cheat, so her medal should not be revoked, but it is unfair for her to compete as female.

    Of course, it’s also not fair to kick her out of the sport she has trained her whole life for because if something that is not her fault, and she didn’t even know about or have any way of knowing about.

    So, it’s unfair all around. But who gets the moral weight? Is it the woman that has been slighted by medical circumstance? Or is it the other women who have been slighted by her physiological advantage?

    I would also like to state I had NO idea that “hermaphrodite” was insulting. Intersex it is.

  104. NELSON.C – After posting I found similar results myself, but thanks for the follow-up. (I hit “SUBMIT” and then immediately went “DUH” and headed off to…)

    As a question, why not simply shave off nine meters off the 100 metre dash for women and equate those results with the men’s 100 metre dash? It is efectively the same thing, isn’t it? There is precedent in the golf community where women tee off closer to the hole, isn’t there?

    Why is it so important that we hide the fact that the fastest woman in the 100 meter dash is equal to the (estimated, completely made-up) 5,487th fastest man?

  105. Why is “hermaphodite” insulting?

    Seriously, though, if you’re going to segregate athletics by sex, and she’s got male sex organs inside her secreting male hormones, case closed. Anyone who is outraged about this would not be outraged if Usain Bolt showed up and blew all these women away. It’s sad that she didn’t know her body chemistry was different from all of her peers, but it is. Sorry. Until athletics are gender-neutral, you can’t say, “well, she looks like a girl on the outside, so we shouldn’t be mean to her.”

  106. Seems like I’m late to the party. . .

    Is anyone who has commented here schooled in Anatomy, Physiology, or Biochemistry? It seems unlikely.
    The point being; the human body is incredibly dynamic. While there are averages to hormone levels, in the general population at least, most individuals vary. It’s called dynamic equilibrium. As one hormone’s level rises another falls. Take Insulin and Glucagon for example. Perfect equilibrium (no change in levels) only results from death.
    In elite athletes, hormonal levels may seem elevated but that is because they are adapted to incredible levels of stress put on their bodies to compete. YOU could do it too, all it takes is exercise.
    Genetically speaking we need two sex chromosomes to be able to reproduce. Only one is needed to survive. Females, as defined by XX, only have one X chromosome active in their somatic cells. The other X becomes a “Barr Body” or inactive modifier. In males, XY, the Y chromosome is only responsible for defining “Male-ness.”
    Embroylogically, we all start as quasi-female. I say quasi because all you need to be female is X-. At some point during development a check is made to determine sex. If the embryo is XX female development continues, if it is XY the male modifications begin.
    There are a slew of genetic disorders can happen at this point. Not limited to sex/gender disorders, but X-linked recessive traits like hemophilia, color-blindness, and male-pattern baldness.
    Rambling on, you can’t check/measure for a set hormone level. It’s not that simple. Just because you have 15% testosterone by weight and Lance Armstrong has 45% doesn’t make him more of a man. It just means he has a greater demand for it, so his body produces more of it. OR he could have a defect that affects his uptake of it and he needs to make more to be at the same level as someone without said defect. — I made up the name/numbers for the example.–
    If Caster was unaware of her condition, then this is a little harsh. If she, or her handlers, knew about it then cheating took place. Scientifically, sex is binary. This is what the sports bodies are going by. If you loosen the rules, it opens the door for more cheating that already takes place. Might as well make steroids mandatory.
    This won’t be easily resolved and the endgame will leave some group offended.

  107. medicine marches on, hand in in hand with technology. Ever consider how filthy eyeglasses defeat the will of god? How about removable balls? “Male” hormonal levels aren’t dependent on full time testicles in the house, so to speak. It won’t be long before transplant and surgery technique develops to the point where “males” could elect to “snap off” their testes for safe keeping while say indulging in violent combat sports. An obvious advantage to anyone ever properly kicked there. So long as the separation was relatively short, no ill effects would occur. How about bewbs? Some folks already inflate and deflate them at whim. What happens to apparent gender when that gets really cheap and fast?

  108. If she is a male pseudohermaphrodite, for example, she could have internal ovo-testes. As others have noted, they are prone to cancer.
    BUT, yes, this is being handled appallingly. I feel badly for her. The difficult question for me is: How fair is it for her to compete against other women? Give her part maleness, she would seem to have an unfair advantage.

  109. @99: I don’t think you see 96’s argument. Weight does affect competition and it’s roughly equated to strength because a taller, wider frame can aid in strength and muscle mass obviously weighs more than fat. One of the factors *affecting* frame and muscle is sex.

    “because in most cases biology dictates that men outstrip women in physical ability”

    Men don’t outstrip women because they’re *men* but because their hormones tend to lend them superior strength and speed. Women share the same hormones, but in vastly reduced quantities.

    I actually support a class that classifies by weight; it’s basically the only measurable trait that can help lend *some* semblance of a level playing field to a sport.

    The only problem is that nobody would ever stand for such a system because of the remote possibility of being classified as another sex for the purposes of the competition. It would be another weight class, of course, not another sex, but it probably would be perceived that way.

    No male athlete would ever compete in a race where he may well be the only male competitor. No man would stand for the idea that his body type has grouped him with other females. He and spectators — male and female — would think it humiliating or at least funny. If he lost, it would be particularly stinging. If he won, even if he fairly beat out those of his class, people would think that because he’s a man, regardless of his actual physique, that he should have won anyway so it’s no achievement.

    I’m not saying that’s the right mentality — pretty far from it. But it’s a mentality that a lot of people have. That’s why it’s easier just to have the hugely flawed system we have now and simply exclude those who don’t fit into it.

  110. Reading these comments, the idea of just combining men’s and women’s sports is growing on me. Ok, so women will basically be out of contention in a number of sports. So what? 99.99% of the population is already excluded from being world class athletes, just based on genetics. Why is that less unfair? One seems unfair and the other not just because we subconsciously think of genders as cohesive groups, but we don’t think of “average physical specimens” as a group that deserving of representation. But the reason for that has nothing to do with “fairness,” as far as I can tell.

  111. #62

    You could minimize these problems by focusing on team sports instead of individual sports. One extraordinarily skilled player is not going to be as much of an advantage team-on-team as she is one-on-one. In addition, team sports often involve more varied skills, and more varied positions, than individual sports. Finally, team sports allow different balancing techniques, if there is still an issue, such as quotas.


    But Hermann Ratjen had no surgery, and he was able to return to his previous male life. If Ratjen had to lose his penis, he might have second thoughts. If Ratjen had to take estrogen and antiandrogens for three years, losing any advantage from his previous testosterone levels, and facing self-induced gender dysphoria, and then would have to take testosterone after going back, it’s unlikely that he, or his coaches, would bother.

    They have strict rules regarding transsexual athletes, which no cissexual athlete is going to put up with.

  112. @122

    Good point Moriarty. However, I’d think that in such a scenario, a much larger focus of a nation’s resources to improving athletes would go to the male athletic programs. I understand that your point is that the disparity between men and women is unfair (as spending would also be) but we only allocate large resources to those with the predisposition toward athletics (thus, creating an identical disparity between those that are the best physical specimens, and those that are not). However, I think such a plan (and moreso the consequences of such a plan) would not be seen as PC.

  113. see? in the end it’s all going to boil down to a laundry list of measured hormone levels and other specifically measurable and arbitrary criteria – just like formula car racing. And just as boring.

  114. what makes sports contests interesting? You DON’T KNOW who is going to win. Refine it far enough and everyone can stay home and the analyzed winner’s results and prize will be sent in the mail.

  115. @Takuan

    I might get thrashed, but am I wrong? In regards to -sex- not -gender-:
    Male = XY
    Female = XX
    Then there are the disorders, including but not limited to:
    Klinefelter’s Syndrome = XXY (feminized male)
    Turner’s Syndrome = X0 (general abnormality)
    47 XYY = 2 Y chromosomes (learning disablilities, delayed speech and language skills)
    47 XXX = 3 X chromosomes (usually benign, but cases of learning disabilities.

    Finally, there are species that reproduce asexually. Creatures can reproduce by budding, binary fission, spore formation, vegetative reproduction, fragmentation, parthenogenesis, agamogenesis.
    If you cut the arm off a starfish, if it contains part of it’s central nervous ring, it will grow into a new starfish.

  116. My two cents:

    The term “hermaphrodite” being derogatory is BS.

    The fact that this information is being made public, while unfortunate, I do not see as a breach of privacy. If it was just some jerk working at foot locker then yes it would be. This is some one who as a profession competes at an international level in sports where there are categories of competition. It was called into question if she should fit into the category she is in. It is unfortunate that she was not aware beforehand.

    It IS a bit of an asshole move to release the information before informing her, if that was the case, that is wrong.

    From the sound of it she had no idea, in my opinion (which admittedly means little) I think she should keep her gold.

    I am not sure if the IOC has a policy on intersex folks competing. They may want to establish one way or another what to do in this sort of situation. This may mean she cannot complete in the future, perhaps she can, so long as a rule exists and it is uniform for everyone. As mentioned there are plenty of genetic freaks at that high level.

    At one end of the spectrum, get rid of gender categories all together this would eliminate the debate. Unfortunately it will also eliminate most of the women. While we are at reform, lets ditch some stupid “sports” as well!

  117. I guess I’m one of the few people who had heard a while ago that “hermaphrodite” was an offensive term.

    I understand why people are confused by it, but it’s simply easy to remember that “offensive” doesn’t necessarily mean something that induces rage or tears, but it can just be something that’s dated and ignorant.

    It’s hard to classify “hermaphrodite” among hard insults — say, some racial epithets — but to me, I’ve always felt it carried a weird, dated aura, like calling me “Oriental.” Strictly correct, but you sound like a little clueless. Half the cluelessness is how freaking vague that is.

    Same thing with hermaphroditism. The term can refer to several conditions that don’t apply to humans at all. (Interesting Wiki entry.)

    There has also been a long history of cultural fascination with hermaphroditism — my area of interest is art, so that’s my example — and in many instances, it’s always been a bit of a sideshow. Half the jokes in hermaphrodite art is homophobic. “See the backside of an evidently gorgeous woman — surprise, a penis! You are gay.”

    I actually like the term “intersex.” It implies interaction between several factors, which can vary from person-to-person. The fact it’s not immediately clear is a good thing because that’s what the issue is like. It also allows the intersex person to be in control and explain the condition themselves. It reduces confusion.

    With “hermaphrodite”, they set themselves up for a more up-hill battle, rebutting a long history of preconceived notions.

    It’s just one of those things. Doesn’t bug me.

  118. Is this really even evidence that’s being reported or just rumor? I’m inclined to disbelieve all of it until all the tests are performed.

  119. @Greymalken: You stated that “science” regards sex as being binary. In your next post, you listed a lot more than two classes for it.

    Also note that the IAAA has rules which allow both intersexed and transsexed athletes to compete. They take a binary view, but draw the lines differently.

  120. @124 AKEZYS “Good point Moriarty. However, I’d think that in such a scenario, a much larger focus of a nation’s resources to improving athletes would go to the male athletic programs.”

    I think the point is that there wouldn’t be *male* athletic programs. There’d just be athletic programs, come one, come all.

  121. @ 42:

    That would not be the Red Flag of Obviousness that you might think. It’s not unusual for female athletes to be amenorrhoeic. In fact, it’s probably more common for elite women athletes not to have regular periods because of very low body fat, high caloric consumption, and stress. These can also delay onset of menstruation for adolescent athletes, and lest we forget, she’s still a teenager.

  122. @ 108 Stv: Hrmphrdt s th tchncl trm fr wht sh s ts nt drgtry wrd. ‘m srry f ppl cnt dl wth wht thy r nd wnt t mk p thr trms.

    @109 kzys dfn wmn hs hvng ll wmn prts. hrmphrdt sn’t nt wmn t hs ml prts. n th cs f ths wmnsh rnnr.. t vn hs tstcls. qlly wld sy mnsh lkng hrmphrdt wth pns nd vrs s nt mn thr.

    1. Thac0,

      Your verbal stylings are outside the pale of civil discourse. Feel free to give it another shot in a less offensive tone.

  123. @135: Don’t forget that “hermaphrodite” was also “made up” at some point.

    Let’s be considerate and courteous, shall we? If an intersexed individual wants to be known as intersexed or a hermaphrodite, it’s fine by me. But I’d rather try and find out, while defaulting to the most current neutral terminology, than accuse other people of having emotional issues.

    The primary issue here is manners; politics and even science are secondary. You don’t insist on calling a James “Jimmy” if he hasn’t told you it’s OK.

  124. Clearly, she’s on the female side of the spectrum, however you want to define it, most importantly, what she feels her gender is. So, it’s simple it seems to me, allow her and others like her, to compete in the female category of sporting events. To create a variety of intermediate, intersexed competition categories would be more problematic, as would having no categories, as many have noted.

  125. We all know that many female athletes (and male) are doping. Doping is generally done by increasing testosterone in some way to enable greater muscle mass. So, that raises the question. Would you rather have a natural woman with a high dosage of testosterone or a woman that’s unnaturally doping to get a higher level of testosterone? I guarantee you that many of the woman Caster Semenya is competing against are illegally boosting their hormone levels. So, do we say, in the end, all’s fair in love and war and let it be? Do we create a “intersexed” class for athletes?

  126. @137 Right, sorry. I was trying to say that individual athletes would be treated different. If there is indeed such a gap between male-sexed and female-sexed, having males receive more funding on an individual basis would not be PC.

  127. I don’t think we need three leagues. We simply need two:

    1) Open (XY, XX, XXY, XXX, etc.)
    2) XX only (or possibly, no Y chromosomes allowed)

    The only reason we even have female leagues is so we have female athletes.

    Intersex people would simply compete in the Open league. There is no stigma that it is the “male” league for those who identify as female.

  128. While it’s nice to think that allowing intersexed athletes like Caster Semenya to compete in women’s events would have little effect on women’s athletics, this betrays a glaring naivete about the history of what individuals and nations have been willing to do to win medals in international competitions. The reason sex tests were instituted in the first place was because men were being illegally entered into women’s competitions. And there’s a long history of people doping, playing with their hormone levels, etc. to get an edge in competitions. How unlikely is it, then, that nations wouldn’t seek out and recruit intersexed individuals to compete in athletic competitions? Records would be shattered, other nations would start doing the same to remain competitive. Pretty soon, every athlete in contention will be intersexed. There’s no doubt it would happen.

    Sure it wouldn’t be fair to Caster Semenya that she be denied a chance to compete because of her natural hormone levels. But is it fair to essentially deny any woman not born with the athletic advantages that an intersexed person has from competing? Do we want to see all women’s competitions dominated by intersexed athletes, with huge gaps between their performance and the performance of non-intersexed women? Do we want non-intersexed women not to be interested in competitive sports because they will know that they will never be able to compete at the highest levels?

    Until the moment when sporting bodies develop some kind of sophisticated way to categorize people across the sex spectrum, they’re going to have to be unfair to someone. Will it be intersexed athletes or the much larger numbers of non-interesexed athletes? I don’t see a Solomonic solution here.

  129. Klenow wrote: “Plainly put, take a healthy male child and a healthy female child. Raise them the same, feed them the same, give them the same care, and train them the same. Athletically, the male will outperform the female at maturity.”

    This is false due to overgeneralization. It’s not wise to base rule systems on falsehoods.

    My daughter can kick my son’s ass, athletically. Neither one is genetically abnormal, but my daughter is more graceful, more dexterous, and stronger per unit of muscle mass. She has always been able to outrun him, and she usually beats him fencing as well.

    And again I say, she can’t be a man because she doesn’t smoke the same cigarettes as me. Mick Jagger’s criteria are at least as consistent and reasonable as any others.

  130. I will try this again….

    Caster Semenya is not a woman she has a pair of testicles.

    I define a woman as having only womens body parts and a man as only having a mans body parts. I would not consider a man a man if he had ovaries and a uterus not do i think a woman with testicles is a woman.

    Letting a non-woman compete in womens sports is not fair to all those women who are anatomically correct and don’t have the advantages of having these extra body parts as they do.

    Furthermore calling someone who has both male and female genitalia a hermaphrodite is scientifically correct and thus should not be offensive. Making up other words for it when there is already an accepted one is a sign that you are not comfortable with yourself and what you are and are denying what you are.

  131. Men do not, in fact, dominate “athletics”. There are many sports where women have proven to be quite adept- they just don’t happen to always include footraces and feats of strength.
    If we removed the separation of sexes in all sports, there would be a lot of men looking rather like idiots when attempting sports that emphasize things like grace and agility over speed and strength. I’m certainly not advocating any such thing, I just wanted to point out that men aren’t better at all sports.

  132. Xeni, thank you for the headline on this article and how it relates to the headline on the previous article.

    If she says God did that to her then maybe she can explain why.


    Maybe I’m reading it wrong, but the question seems accusatory to me. That accusatory tone in and of itself seems ridiculous–as if someone had sinister motives for possessing a physical characteristic, one which they themselves had no say in.

    Do you really think it’s reasonable to expect people to have an explanation for the question of why their physical characteristics exist, beyond “genetics and/or God made me like this?”

    If so, why do you think it is reasonable, and what kind of explanation would you give for your own physical characteristics–hair color, say–that would not eventually boil down to “genetics and/or God made me like this?”

  133. Ugh – Boing Boing can be such a bastion of political correctness sometimes.

    I have always understood the word hermaphrodite to be a scientific term for a person born with both male and female sex organs.

    Now someone (possibly someone here at Boing Boing) has decided this term is derogatory.

    I have never heard the word intersexed until this story broke today.

    I expect that once a certain percentage of the population understands what the word intersexed means that it too will magically become derogatory and be changed to something more vague.

    1. Ugh – Boing Boing can be such a bastion of political correctness sometimes.

      Here’s how ‘political correctness’ works. You say something offensive. I tell you that I find it offensive. You accuse me of being ‘politically correct’ as an underhanded and manipulative way to get me to shut up about your offensive behavior. So how come you get to say what you want and I don’t?

  134. @159: Well, you know, the athletics and sports that *matter.* Right?

    Agility is a fair point, but that’s a trait that’s at least somewhat related to speed and strength. I suppose by gut feeling, I’d say women were more agile than men, but I’d prefer seeing some hard data.

    As for grace, many people would not consider it an athletic trait.

  135. “Men do not, in fact, dominate “athletics”

    we were fighting on concrete, this being before the days of mats and lawyers. A friendly enough tournament. I lost on points to the backflipper, and sidled off to lick my wounds. Two rings over from the womens side a cry: :”I can’t see see! I can’t see!” Struck blind when her head hit the floor, propelled by a roundhouse kick from the woman that I thought looked like a werewolf. That was were I met “Archembuke” (or similar), short , wide, gnarled, stub-fingered, grinning and “Fifth Dan Kung Fu Master” emblazoned. Later they imploded the place…ah memories…

    Men may dominate some athletics, but there are plenty of werewolves out there too.

  136. Hey THACO, do you also continue to use lovely archaic terms like Negroid, Oriental, Mongoloid, etc?

    It’s I-N-T-E-R-S-E-X, stop with the Hermaph obbsession already. Why don’t you actually ask some Intersex folk or go to their various support websites where this is pretty clearly spelled out?

    Also, you seriously need to go and do some reading on the definitions of sex and gender as well as the many, many human variations of hormones, chromosomes, external genitalia, internal reproductive variations, etc. etc.

    Your rigid binary definition only makes so much sense to you as it is the social construct/default standard. This ignorance is so pervasive as to even lead to most intersex folk to genitalia altering surgeries right after birth and without their informed consent (i.e. of age enough to understand), even if their health is not in danger, simply to conform to the social binary fallacy.

    So by your weak “definition” a man is NOT a man to you if he has a penis and all other external sex cues but also some residual internal ovary tissues as well as external scarring from horrible surgeries right after birth as intersex to “correct” him to the false gender binary? Why don’t you tell him that and get the punch in the nose that you deserve? I know my good friend who has suffered the above said indignities and been in therapy for it for years, would knock you flat and maybe then you would learn about being polite and informed before you spout off with your ignorance.

  137. Hermaphrodite isn’t in the least bit a “derogatory term” and this medical euphemism treadmill is getting unbelievably absurd. People are “differently abled” now because “physically challenged” isn’t PC, and only because “lame, handicapped, disabled” etc before that because PC-obscured.

    Just like you don’t get to decide your own nickname, you don’t just get decide that the word used to describe you is all of a sudden offensive, because then it never stops.

    Don’t call me tall, i’m vertically gifted. Tall is the smallest drink you can get at Starbucks, and that makes me feel insecure.

    And if genders aren’t mutually exclusive anymore, then sexually desegregate the olympics. Otherwise how do you determine criteria for gender? Do pre/post op transexuals count? Its up for debate which bathrooms that they feel comfortable using, and theres not even an international committee for that. What if they’re taking hormones that would cause them to fail a drug test, but its part of their identity. That is one messy bucked of worms.

  138. actually it ain’t. All you have to do to make it NOT be a messy bukkit O woims is relax. Really. The intersexed, transgendered et al would really just rather get on with their lives.

  139. el tema no es privacidad. todos los atletas son sometidos por ley a una prueba de hormonos para evitar “doppings”. el tema que tenga ambos organos le da un nivel mucho mas alto de testosterona que las otras participantes, por lo tanto tiene un ventaja, que aunque no es voluntaria, afecta la competividad de genero en la competencia.

  140. @ #164 If your friend had his female parts cut out then they wouldn’t have caused him to develop abnormally from the time of his birth. So yes I would say he was a man. However If he left them in the resulting female parts produce different hormones etc. and he will have developed beyond puberty abnormally. Then no i don’t think its fair to say hes the same as other men or say hes really a Man (he still has female organs) because he would have physiological differences from normal men.

    And what is “social binary fallacy”? I didn’t say you had to be a one or a zero (man or woman) you can be non-binary its called a hermaphrodite.

    Hermaphroditism are often caused by a gene mutation would you like it better if we called them mutants; no i think hermaphrodite is better?

    @ 166 I completely agree with you!

  141. @162 Of course they do! We have no outlet for our awesome predator-avoiding, prey-catching abilities anymore. We must needs do some runningjumpingclimbingtrees to make up for it. I’m sure there’s some sort of reason that we are terribly excited by watching other humans do amazing things with their bodies.

    And by speed I meant running round on ones feet speed. I’m not a sports enthusiast, really, so I can’t throw statistics at you. I’m sorry, and I’m sure I come off as an idiot for it, but I’m okay with that. If we are considering sports which are not based purely on time trials, distance thrown, or pounds/kilos lifted, things are more complicated. How about gymnastics? Certainly, there are wonderfully competent male gymnasts, but have you seen their floor exercises? It just doesn’t compare. The same may be said of figure skating- Sure, a man might pull off quad salchow with more ease than a woman, but he can’t truly match the grace of a female skater. Hence women’s figure skating is one of the most watched olympic sports.
    How is grace not an athletic trait? Is dance specifically not athletic? News to me.
    I know all of this is subjective, but so is the entirety of this thread’s conversation. Men are better at sports that were invented for men’s bodies. They aren’t better at athletics.

    And for those of you who’ve never heard the term intersexed, pay more attention. Hermaphrodite isn’t just offensive, it is far from being accurate. In this case, insisting that it is fine for the term to be continued is not just un-PC, it is flat wrong.

  142. @168: “Hermaphroditism are often caused by a gene mutation would you like it better if we called them mutants; no i think hermaphrodite is better?”

    “Mutants” is WAY better! Then we can call them the InterseX-Men. Yeah? Yeah?

  143. TAK thats completely true, until you enter an arena where you need to identify yourself as a certain gender, and there is no gray area. There are two locker rooms, men and women, which one are you walking in to? What do you base it on? Whats the point of segregating bathrooms for privacy then? You segregate because men feel comfortable that women aren’t oggling them, but gay men conceivably can? I’m sure they’re about as welcome as fully gendered men who cross dress and use ladies rooms.

    Messy messy bucket.

  144. Elsewhere on the web, it was pointed out that the leaked data included the claim that she had ‘three times the normal level of testosterone of normal women’, without indicating what the ‘3x’ was. Min? Max? Mean? Mode?

    In point of fact, the clinical range in women hits its maximum at 2.5… while the minimum for men kicks in at 9 (per unit etc…). So, even if her hormone level is three times the maximum for a woman, it isn’t even up to the clinical minimum for men. Let alone world class athletes.

    Her genetics and development combine to give her an advantage against other women. Usain Bolt’s combine in much the same way (most humans that tall don’t have the coordination, strength and grace to use their longer limbs to move that fast) to give him his advantage.

    As it happens we have a friend from South Africa visiting, and their first comment was ‘well, she’s f***ed.’ Evidently, in the region that Caster is from not being ‘normal’ in one of the accepted modes is practically a death sentence. To the point that they are also worried for the safety of her family. Sigh. South Africa can be such an amazing set of contradictions.

    Given that the IAAA has rules in place concerning androgen insensitivity, and she seems (given that we are all dealing with rumor published as fact that is) to fall near the boundry (it depending on her degree of androgen insensitivity, not the actual level of her hormones) it is even more asinine to have published the claims that have come out so far.

    All I can do is wish her well and hope that this gets settled in the best way for her.

  145. @162: “How is grace not an athletic trait? Is dance specifically not athletic? News to me.”

    No, I didn’t say dance wasn’t athletic (and nor do I believe that it isn’t, although I guarantee you there are hordes of people who would argue the point with you anyway). I said that *grace* is not commonly considered an athletic trait. Big difference.

    Dance is not athletic because it’s graceful; it’s athletic because it makes you sweat and pant and burn. Grace is just the icing on the cake.

    Certainly, *adding* the element of grace to athletic performances definitely adds a huge element of difficulty. Ballet would be a lot easier if it was just leaps and catches, with no need for concentration on particular forms.

    Of course, the problem is that grace is not numerically measurable, and that flies into the key issue being debated here — fairness.

  146. Thac0 @ 156:
    Letting a non-woman compete in womens sports is not fair to all those women who are anatomically correct

    You seem to have bumped into the problematic question of who gets to define “anatomical ‘correctness'” and what “anatomical correctness” even means by going all the way round some portion of your own anatomy; I believe the popular choice is “elbow.”

    Certainly definitions of anatomical correctness exist–culturally, medically, religiously. Your definition of “anatomically correct” is not everyone else’s definition, nor must it or will it be accepted as such, no matter how much you may wish it to be.

    Many prefer to reject or ignore these definitions altogether. Many more argue if there is a “correct” at all, given:
    a.) natural genetic and sexual variation among the human population
    b.) the fact that definitions of “anatomical correctness” are often pushed on people perceived to be “incorrect” by those who are percieved to be “correct” in any given time/place.

    Furthermore calling someone who has both male and female genitalia a hermaphrodite is scientifically correct and thus should not be offensive.

    The term ‘hermaphrodite’ is actually becoming less scientifically correct even as I type: many medical and scientific professionals–for instance, the APA–have adopted the term ‘intersexed’ or ‘disorders of sex development.’

    But don’t take the scientists’ word for it: many intersexed people also prefer these terms.

    Assumed scientific correctness should not trump social correctness, and it would be absurd to assume it should, since ideas of both scientific and social correctness are defined by their very abilities to change with time as new information is brought to light.

    Making up other words for it when there is already an accepted one is a sign that you are not comfortable with yourself and what you are and are denying what you are.

    There is already an

    There was; now there’s not.

    It was mainly used by the medical and psychological community; even during the era when the term “hermaphrodite” was widely used to describe a medical condition within the medical community, there was some debate over if the term should be subdivided into other terms or otherwise changed to reflect the fact that intersexed people show physical variation even within the bounds of that definition.

    Used does not necessarily mean accepted. Accepted does not necessarily mean accepted by all.

    There is not just one word anymore (if indeed there ever was only one word). There are now multiple terms, and some of those terms contain multiple words.

    is a sign that you are not comfortable with yourself and what you are and are denying what you are.

    Is a sign that intersexed people are not comfortable accepting or using a word–a word which other, more powerful people have been using without their consent to describe them as a collection of ‘incorrect’ sexual characteristics. They are denying that word and what it has done, and have chosen to replace it with a word they are more comfortable using. They are not denying who they are–they are denying what other people have told them to be and the fact that other people have made them into a ‘what’ through language they themselves had no say in.

    You are the one who is denying who they are, by refusing to listen to what they have to say about and for themselves, and insisting that they ought to use the terms that you believe are correct for them.

    (I hope you can agree that “‘what’ you are” cannot be boiled down to a collection of sexual characteristics. If not, then I am afraid I may have to use a word that you are not comfortable with to describe you without your consent–but based on your own position, you shouldn’t really have any wish or need to object to that, right?)

  147. Artistry, or maybe style I suppose, is a more accurate term than grace then. I don’t know that artistry is any more measurable than grace, but measured it is, in more than one sport. It is all well and good to perform a McMetz, but if you don’t do it with flair, you’ll get knocked for it. There are many, many sports where the *way* in which you perform is as important as the feats you are performing.

    And those people who would tell me that dance isn’t a aport are the same people who discount competitive cheerleading, one of the most dangerous, injury-prone team sports played today.

  148. @166:Just like you don’t get to decide your own nickname, you don’t just get decide that the word used to describe you is all of a sudden offensive, because then it never stops.

    But…I do get to decide my own name, nick or otherwise, and so do you. If other people choose to ignore it after I tell them what it is, they can do that, but it doesn’t make the thing they are calling me my name; it merely makes it their persistent error.

    Isn’t that right, ‘intellectual discrepancy?’

    @Gloria: LOL!

  149. Much as I would like to see a world filled with musculariffic ladies, the current legacy of the human genome favors the male with the more powerful physique. Other animals are skewed this way, often with the female physically dominant.

    Since this is the legacy of our species, our intelligence has slowly called us to overcome this vestigial inequality. Overtly transhuman solutions still await wide acceptance; thus feminism has developed as the tool of achieving equality where before only loosely-applied and begrudging deference existed to balance the advantages of the more physically powerful sex.

    Women had to fight hard for their place in the modern Olympic Games, and did so from the very beginning: Stamata Revithi. (And as for this snarky thought of disqualifying “99.9%” of female athletes under the pretense of equality? Not gonna happen in the United States anytime soon: Title IX.)

    So when the question of an athletic advantage tied to the genetics of sex appears, the vast majority of female athletes have earned the right to call foul– although transgendered/intersexed persons involved are themselves innocent of intending any wrong. Under what standard can the rarer person compete, when their physical difference is most likely to readily supersede one of the majority sexes?


    Thus, this issue hits home on some of the main problems of game theory and egalitarianism, namely: 1) equal starting conditions and 2) allowing meaningful victory for excellence.


    If there’s an answer to this quandary, it’s that there’s a more important game being played by the world itself, and it’s way more fun and important than these pretend games that humans invent to pass the time.

  150. @185 CASSANDRA

    I can agree with what you are saying. What you are is defined by what is in your heart and soul. I also don’t have an issue with someone wanting to be called something else but it seems silly to me to get upset over being called something that you are also. You can obviously be more than one thing; and you can agree with that for sure.

    However in the world of sports i think its fair to define someone by their parts and make up. Its the essence of sport to classify, make statistics about things and pair things for fair competition.

    Anatomical correctness is what occurs without mutation normally. It is the mean % of people on a bell curve. You can twist it any way you like but you know this is true.

    If i was born with an arm growing out my butt i wouldn’t call myself anatomically correct and say “we cant define people because its mean and i want to be warm and fuzzy”. You can define and classify people and label them based on whatever.

  151. “I have always understood the word hermaphrodite to be a scientific term for a person born with both male and female sex organs.

    Now someone (possibly someone here at Boing Boing) has decided this term is derogatory.

    I have never heard the word intersexed until this story broke today.

    I expect that once a certain percentage of the population understands what the word intersexed means that it too will magically become derogatory and be changed to something more vague.”

    My understanding is that it is an archaic term these days for the very reason you describe. Medicine is full of old fashioned terms that are not used anymore. When’s the last time you heard some one treated for dropsy or hospitalized for phthisik? Almost no one gets saturnine gout or dry cholic anymore. Did these things go away? No, we just found out more specifically what was causing the symptom and the less accurate name fell by the wayside.

    1. You know when there’s a science article about twins and it never mentions whether they’re identical or fraternal and it irritates the bejesus out of everyone who reads it? That’s how useful and scientific ‘hermaphrodite’ is.

  152. I’m just curious: we have a number of people on here who appear to have some knowledge of biology (or at least claim they do/quote wikipedia very well), but is anyone here a real sports expert? (I know I’m not.) Outside this board, I’ve been hearing that the IAAF probably won’t rescind any medals absent a doping situation, and that several members of the committee on this case are recommending that, again absent any sort of drug abuse, that she be allowed to compete as a woman. On the other hand, there’s a lot of discussion out there that something like this, at that level of competition, could only stay hidden if there were a deliberate cover-up (by South African sports officials or coaches – no one is saying that Caster knew about this).

    ESPN, by the way, explains our hermaphrodite/intersex debate pretty cleanly: “Some people may have the physical characteristics of both genders, a chromosomal disorder, or simply have ambiguous features. The condition is generally referred to as intersexuality, although an older term for someone with both male and female organs is hermaphrodite.”

  153. @VNEND: I worry for her, too. There are a lot of very socially conservative people in South Africa.

    On the other hand, the country is blessed with an extremely progressive constitution, predicated on equality for all, and backed up by a lot of political pressure.

    What I’m hoping is that she continues to compete and perform admirably, and becomes a role model for (trans/inter)gender equality. That at least should protect her from some of the social fallout.

    @Thac0: Sometimes it’s best to quite while you’re ahead.

  154. no, Dear Kieran, Thaco should not quit. He is behind, not ahead. I think he suspects this on a deeper level and is willing to be convinced otherwise.

  155. @ Xeni: Thank you for posting this story. While it’s been hard as an intersex person to read some of the uninformed or trollish posts, it’s also been good to see people learning and engaging intelligently with intersex issues.

    One thing I wanted respectfully to point out: in your update to the original post, you cited me as “a person who says they’re intersexed.” I just wanted to say that while of course it is true that you cannot know if I am the sex I say I am, that is true of all commenters. You do not say “a person who says they’re male says X” . . . I am certain your intention was to signify an objective stance. But do note that the insistence on taking my declaration of my sex with a grain of salt reflects a framing of intersex people as barely believable, quasimythical.

    I’m very grateful for you sympathetic framing of Caster Semenya’s situation, and know you are an ally. I don’t mean to sound accusatory. I just did want to point the framing of my sex status as dubious in a way that others’ are not.

    1. Noctis,

      Commenters regularly claim to be experts on whatever topic is being discussed. Mostly honestly, sometimes not. If I had a dollar for everyone commenting from the Middle East with an IP address in Vancouver, I’d be rich. Xeni’s wording is not meant to impugn your commentary.

    2. @Noctis, No, it’s not that at all. I simply wasn’t able to verify who you are. I don’t have the time or energy to do that with every commenter. I think you are probably who you say you are. But unless I fact-check that, I can’t blog it outright. People lie all the time about who they are in the comments, and you are not using a name that is known to me as a person who is easily googleable, or someone i know professionally or socially.

      As Antinous says, people say “I’m from X” or “I have such and such authority” all the time in the comments. People assume identities for the sake of arguing on the internet. So we have to word our blog posts carefully, in case we’re being duped.

      Anyway, all of that said, I think you’re probably exactly who you say you are.

  156. Finally made it back to a computer. Going back 60 posts. . .
    @141 I listed two sexes and examples of abnormalities, which may or may not be reproductively viable. That’s really what it comes down to.
    @139 How should we refer to such “disorders?” Polydactyly is a disorder, a deviation from the normal condition of 5 fingers on each hand. Abnormality? Pathology? Disease? Mutation? I’m just curious.
    Also, Taku, kudos on knowing what a greymalken is. Not many people do :P

  157. the real reason for gonadectomy is not just the increased risk of cancer in testes which lie within the abdominal cavity, but also due to the nature of intra-abdominal germ cell tumours – they present at much later stages than testicles which lie in a thin sack and are easily palpable and visible – and therefore display signs of malignancy earlier

    it annoys me that people would suggest doctors are removing them because people have a problem with intersex individuals

    (FWIW I am a doctor)

  158. I think it’s been demonstrated here in microcosm how a word that is merely inaccurate can rapidly become offensive: through some benighted souls ignoring the information given and persistently using the inaccurate term. If I were intersexed I think I would feel peeved at the very least by the continued use of hermaphrodite in this thread by certain others.

    Hermaphrodite is the word to use for those with fully functional organs of both sexes. Slugs, snails, and earthworms are hermaphrodites. Hermaphroditus of greek myth was, unsurprisingly, a hermaphrodite. Clownfish are probably not hermaphrodites, since they change sex, being only functionally male or female, or in transition at any particular moment. (Yes, Nemo’s dad could actually be his mom.) And outside of certain hentai comics humans are not and have never been hermaphrodites.

    Semenya is not a hermaphrodite, since she has female external genitalia and undeveloped male gonads. She cannot reproduce as either a male or female, and can only have sex as a woman. She is intersexed. That is how intersexed people would like to be known as a group, and so it is polite to refer to them that way. Is it so hard to understand that?

  159. some apposite Banksian serendipity:
    “A society in which it is so easy to change sex will rapidly find out if it is treating one gender better than the other; within the population, over time, there will gradually be greater and greater numbers of the sex it is more rewarding to be, and so pressure for change – within society rather than the individuals – will presumably therefore build up until some form of sexual equality and hence numerical parity is established. In a similar fashion, a society in which everybody is free to, and does, choose to spend the majority of their time zonked out of their brains will know that there is something significantly wrong with reality, and (one would hope) do what it can to make that reality more appealing and less – in the pejorative sense – mundane.”

  160. There seems to be an assumption that a woman with Caster Semenya’s condition would be a better athlete than a woman without it – is there any evidence to support that assumption?

    Really, if this condition does confer an advantage, I’d like to quantify that advantage; I’d like to see a comparison of that advantage to other natural advantages, like, say, height; I’d like to know why this particular advantage should be disqualifying while every other should not.

    Absent that analysis, the assertion that Caster Semenya should be disqualified for her condition reduces to intersex panic, which I think we can safely dismiss as a rational reason to disqualify her.

  161. This is why we now have patient privacy laws in the USA. Not that they always work perfectly, but heath workers KNOW there will be hell/their career to pay so these leaks happen far less.
    But you get tested in another country with low pay and less legal recourse.

    The people who leaked this information should be found and punished, and the journalists who were paid for the story censured.

    Hermaphodite is still technically accurate, but a lot of people with the actual condition prefer “intersex” and so it’s considered polite to use that term. After all, we all deserve to choose the name by which we’re called.

    Also, people who have both organs may have a complete set of one, and vestigial of the other, or a semi-functioning set of both. It’s the presence of both sets of genitalia in some state, not the functioning reproductive ability of either to produce gametes (spem, eggs) or bear a child to term that defines the medical condition or state of being.

    While I strongly support the right of any individual to live/be treated according to the gender role they choose (male, female, in-between), I think it’s unavoidable that we need to divide professional sports participation by chromosomal identity. Hormone levels may vary- but you have to draw a line somewhere, and to go by social choice of gender as opposed to biology is to encourage dangerous choices in future competitors ( do you think those male Olympian atheletes forced to dope on estrogen so they could pass as woman LIKED that choice?? What about the potential future of little boy runners in countries where a successful marathon runner of any sex can change the financial future of entire families? Think there’s an incentive for abuse there?).

    I am curious as to how this athlete tested chromosomewise. XX, XY or XXY? Anyone know?

  162. Thac0@ 189:

    Hi, thanks for responding.

    @185 CASSANDRA

    I can agree with what you are saying. What you are is defined by what is in your heart and soul.

    In general I agree with this, but I think it is also important to acknowledge that through language and terminology/definitions, other people hold some power to define what you are to others, give you terms with which you are allowed or unallowed to define yourself, and speculate on and cast aspersions on what is in your heart/soul with language, even if they’ve never met you and don’t know what the heck is really there.

    However in the world of sports i think its fair to define someone by their parts and make up. Its the essence of sport to classify, make statistics about things and pair things for fair competition.

    I think that this is a difficult question. Having done martial arts, there is definitely a difference that I have experienced and can attest to variances in strength, endurance, and flexilbity of most people across various body types and genders, which plays into performance in various ways.

    I think that to some extent people who are professional athletes are going to have extrordinary genetic makeups that contribute to their success (better lung capacity, stronger muscles, a better oxygen-carrying capacity for their blood, etc.) Arguably, all these mutations affect athletic performance in ways that tilt the playing field; yet no one is suggesting that world-class athletes with these other mutations are freaks who ought to get disqualified or be barred from competition.
    It’s not that I don’t think that Semyana’s being intersexed doesn’t allow her an advantage, for it seems to. But to argue that her accomplishment means nothing because of that, and keep a world-class athlete from competing at doing something she loves and has trained all her life for, is surely horrific.
    I am not sure–and I don’t think that anyone is sure, though some possible solutions have been proposed up-thread–what is the best thing to do for intersexed athletes who want to compete and compete fairly. But I think there ought to be a way for all world-class athletes, intersexed or not, to compete, instead of being barred from sport for life because they happened to get the genes which made them intersexed, instead of getting a gene for stronger muscles or better endurance.

    If i was born with an arm growing out my butt i wouldn’t call myself anatomically correct and say “we cant define people because its mean and i want to be warm and fuzzy”.

    Let’s take your arm analogy for a moment.
    Let’s say that about one in every 2000 people are born with an arm, or part of an arm, or just a finger, growing from their butt.

    If this were the case, you might not know a lot of people with this condition, but maybe you’d know one or two, and you’d probably pass a few on the street sometimes. You might get the idea that not everyone was like that, but enough people were that it represented a chunk of the population.

    Now imagine that for every person with this arm condition, two out of 1000 get a surgery to amputate the arm and make them ‘normal,’ usually as a baby, usually without their knowledge or consent, and sometimes without the knowledge or consent of their parents.

    You’d see a lot fewer people knowing about the condition in general, and you’d think that the people who had it were really weird, because your data on how prevalent and serious it was would be skewed. Often the people who had this condition and the associated surgery wouldn’t know it, themselves, but it might affect their lives anyway–through mysterious medical conditions showing up later on in life, for instance.

    If they found out later–and some never would–there might also be social consequences; they might suffer a lot of shame if they found out they weren’t “normal,” or anger that they didn’t know, or weren’t given a chance to consent to the arm surgery.

    If this arm condition centered around problematic issues of gender or sexuality in some way, things that are already culturally and socially contentious, the discussion around the issue would be even harder to have since people would constantly be running into personal and societal hangups and misconceptions about sex, too.

    That’s where we are right now, at least if you look at the most obvious cases of genital intersexuality; when you look at intersexuality as the total number of people whose bodies differ genetically, anatomically, or hormonally from what the medical community defines as standard, that comes out to about 1 in 100 births, which is a significant fraction of the overall population.

    Those numbers are pulled from this website:

    Maybe, our definitions of what is “standard” or “anatomically normal” have been skewed by the medical community already, and need re-adjusting. If your defintion of “standard” somehow excludes up to 3,040,597 people (using population estimate of Jul 2008 US census) then maybe your definition of “standard” needs to be tweaked a little.

    You can define and classify people and label them based on whatever.

    Mammals with social components, like humans, like and may need to use labels to understand social interaction and groups; I don’t think that can be stopped. I am just asking what is wrong in letting groups of people define themselves and then you yourself using the definition they choose, since they are in the best position to understand and define themselves.

    As I understand it, many intersexed people have adopted the term ‘intersexed’ because they want to move away from the tabloid-esque emphasis on what’s in their pants or their head to try and get people, the medical community in particular, more aware of these disorders, their frequency and seriousness, so that people with them can get better treatment and intersexed poeple can become more informed about the effect their condition may have so they can make good choices about their future: for instance, to decide if they ought to enter a career as a professional athlete.

    I feel that those who insist on using the term “hermaphrodite” (a term that was arguably more accurate in the past but is becoming less so) over the objections of intersexed people as well as those in the medical field, are actively working against the effort to make conditions of intersexuality and the problems and lives of intersexed people more visible, which causes very real issues for people like Semanya. Moreover, you are doing it by appealing to an authority (the medical establishment) which itself is beginning to insist that the term is outdated and misleading, so the idea that the medical community backs you up in your choice of language doesn’t hold much water.

    To try to further address something you said earlier, because I think these issues of who gets to call people what get to the heart of these sentences:
    I also don’t have an issue with someone wanting to be called something else but it seems silly to me to get upset over being called something that you are also. You can obviously be more than one thing; and you can agree with that for sure.

    I think that it’s not an “also,” the same way that I have hazel eyes and also describe myself as a genderqueer woman. It’s more like an “also” where you can choose to call me a genderqueer woman or you can choose to call me a “freak.” That “also,” to me, seems sort of a mutually exclusive “also,” rather than an incidental or inclusive one.

    I guess what I am trying to say is: even if you don’t have an issue with someone wanting to be called something else, they may have issues with you calling them something they don’t perceive themselves as, even if that’s the way they may have percieved themselves in the past. This may especially be the case if that was the only term they were allowed to use to percieve themselves with, had no terms of their own with which they could perceive themselves, and especially if that term was deliberately used to hurt them, sensationalize them, and reduce them to an invisible medical problem.

    You can believe, personally, that I am a genderqueer woman and a freak, but I am going to make my perception of you based on which you prefer to call me. If I have explained to you that I used to think of myself as a freak and even used that term for myself, but I don’t think I am a freak anymore, I’m going to have very good reasons to get upset if you keep calling me one because you think it’s ok–because you have prioritized your misunderstanding of me over my understanding of myself, and prioritized your ability to say what you want over my mental and physical health. This is especially hurtful if you persist in that even after I have taken the time to explain to you that that calling me a freak hurts me emotionally, gets me beat up and ogled, and that the public perception of me as a freak factors into my getting substandard medical care.

    Think about it like this: if I had a lot of bad associations with the name “Cassandra” and couldn’t get good medical care under it, and decided to change my name to “Ginger” so that I could stand a chance of redefining myself without those associations and go to the doctor, I would expect my friends and ask my parents and other authorities in my life to call me “Ginger.” If you insisted on calling me “Cassandra” even after I explained to you that I wanted you to call me “Ginger” and the very important reasons that I wanted you to call me “Ginger,” I couldn’t stop you from calling me Cassandra. But it would be natural to conclude that from your actions, you believed that your right to call me whatever you wanted trumped my right to call myself something, something that would let me percieve myself clearer instead of using a clouded perception. Likewise, it would be disingenous to invoke my relatives’ authority, saying that they backed you up, when it was clear that it was really only the one uncle out of 100 other relatives that kept messing up. If you thought that it was still ok to call me Cassandra despite my objections and reasons, I couldn’t stop you from calling me that.
    But I wouldn’t respond to you, wouldn’t be happy with you, wouldn’t think you were still my friend, would think that you thought it was ok to ignore my opinion and my mental and physical health, and if you asked me, “Cassandra, I just don’t understand why you are so angry, because you yourself used to use that name and other people used to call you that too,” I would be within my rights to give you an earful or decide that it wasn’t even worth the effort to talk with you until you decided to call me Ginger.

    As I said above, “If other people choose to ignore [what I choose to be called] after I tell them what it is, they can do that, but it doesn’t make the thing they are calling me my name; it merely makes it their persistent error.”

  163. Takuan @192: You are very succinct.

    I would nitpick with your “one may not say who others are”–people technically have the ability to label others, with or without their consent to that label, and people do this all the time. (I think it’s somewhat unavoidable for our social monkey-brains to do a little bit of labeling, though would be happy to be convinced otherwise).

    I think it would be slightly more accurate to say that though one has the ability to define/label who others are without their consent to the definition/label, using that ability once one knows that the definition/label is nonconsensual is unacceptable. The use of this ability is certainly under one’s control; the philosophical mindset that leads one to believe that it is correct/acceptable/desirable to label others without their consent is also under one’s control.

    If one truly lacked the ability to say who others were, we’d also lack people who were consensually or nonconsensually defined/labeled (at least by others), but we don’t. Instead, we have the ability and have to choose whether to exercise it or not, and how consensual that exercise of power is going to be.

  164. I’m a South African (White, for those who think it matters). I can tell you this – among ordinary people – Caster is a hero, a incredible athlete and a very brave woman. Its not her fault that the governing sports body mucked this up so badly. As for her treatment in the media – shocking, shameful and disgusting. What matters to us is that a young woman who started training on dirt roads, while working as a cleaner, was able to get to where she is – a world class athlete. This whole situation has been politicized by the people who should be defending her and blown out of proportion by a uncaring media.

  165. I don’t understand what all the fuss is about.. Why not just let her compete? Venus and Serena Williams have been left alone to compete among women for years, and it’s pretty obvious they share the same masculine advantage that Caster does. If it’s okay for Tennis, why not for Track?

  166. the real issue here:


    “We are concerned by the leakage of Semenya’s confidential health information and call on all health professionals to go back to basics, in particular those of protecting and practicing health professional-patient confidentiality”

    Really. This is twice now that the press knew personal medical information about her before she did.

    My only interpretation is that there is some richer-than-before health “professional” out there with a complete blindness to ethics.

  167. I read the comment about basic fairnss preventing Semenya from competing with other female atheletes. How do we know they do not have problems similar to Semenya’s? Were they tested? Whatever her issues Semenya’s testosterone leves are naturally ocurring. Should all athletes who have physical differences that promote athletic excellence be prohibited from competing? If so what about the cyclists who have greater lung capacity than the average guy? This is a minefield. My heart goes out to Semenya who comes from a simple village and whose family cannot protect her. I hope someone finds a vicious lawyer and takes the IOC and the IAAF out to the woodshed for the legal ass whupping they deserve for their handling of the affair.

  168. I find the hysteria really strange. Given that:

    1) Sex confers an advantage in many sports.

    2) We segregate sports into categories based on sex.

    3) Sex is not strictly binary.

    It follows that:

    4) An arbritrary dividing line must be drawn between the two categories and enforced.

    There are several ways of drawing an arbitrary line, depending on how we want to be fair to both categories of competitor. However, it remains arbitrary and by definition it will be unfair to someone.

    I certainly do not envy the IOC their task of defining what a male or female is in the context of sport.

    Interesting to hear that intersexed is the current term of preferrence. Seems a shame to me, since I rather like the greek roots of hermaphrodite. Intersexed seems a bit too medical/scientific, like people calling women/girls ‘females’. I guess hermaphrodite must carry some historical baggage that I’m unaware of (like negro, which isn’t inherently nastier than black, but has apalling historical useage) so I guess I’d better update my vocabulary.

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