I am Mokgadi Caster Semenya. I am a woman, and I am fast.
July 23, 2019 11:39 AM   Subscribe

Michelle Garcia, for Out Magazine, on Our August cover star, Caster Semenya: The Athlete in the Fight of Her Life. “There’s this long history of policing women’s bodies, trying to draw bright and clear lines, based on these normative ideas of what women’s bodies should look like and what sex traits they should have. They’re women because they’re being regulated. The fact that they’re regulating her is because she’s a woman. And then they’re trying to police even further in the category about what is appropriate for a woman’s body and performance.”
posted by ChuraChura (18 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
I've been tangentially aware of this -- I really appreciate the article for helping me to learn more. This is so needless.
posted by OrangeDisk at 1:00 PM on July 23, 2019

The article links only to the 2018 regulations. The 2019 regulations (which are currently suspended by order of the Swiss court) are available here.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 1:22 PM on July 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Wow - what an amazing person, and what an appalling story.

I barely pay any attention to sports, so I'd never heard of her, or the whole gender testing horror show.
The self-love and self-determination imbued in her by her parents, Dorcas and Jacob Semenya, have been key to her very survival as an athlete.
I feel like I almost always see father listed first, and then mother. It was nice to see that reversed for a change.
After Semenya launched another appeal in June, a Swiss federal court intervened, ordering the IAAF to suspend the policy. This means Semenya, through this temporary injunction, will be eligible to run the events she planned to run this summer and fall, including yet another World Championships in Doha.
That is SUCH good news. I'm so glad she's chosen to keep fighting.

Thank you for posting this, ChuraChura. Metafilter is my very best source for learning about bits of the vast world that I wouldn't ordinarily see, and I appreciate the introduction to Semenya, her strength, her determination, and her amazing successes.
posted by kristi at 1:30 PM on July 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

[One comment deleted. I warn you, do not be shitty in here; intentionally misgendering someone is a ban.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 1:35 PM on July 23, 2019 [41 favorites]

This line from the article says it all:
Pape suggests, though, it might just be time for some athletes to accept what they know is inherently true: “There is no such thing as a level playing field.”
A woman finishing second place to Semenya has precisely as much right to complain about her T levels as a swimmer who finishes second place to Michael Phelps has to complain about Phelps' freakishly long torso. Dividing competitors by gender cannot possibly address all of the innate advantages that one competitor might have over another, and that's not what they exist to do. Her perseverance through these disgusting, selfish attacks is nearly as impressive as her accomplishments on the track, perhaps more so. Shame on these governing bodies for forcing her to endure this.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:11 PM on July 23, 2019 [13 favorites]

If the IAAF wants to gatekeep female runners on some nebulous performance advantage, doesn't the fact that the world records for those events were all set by female runners in the 80s mean the barn door is being closed a little late?
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:14 PM on July 23, 2019

There still exist no good studies proving any athletic advantage to higher testosterone in women.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 3:13 PM on July 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

And even if there were, Caster Semenya is a woman. It literally doesn't matter if her testosterone levels give her an advantage or not.

The only justification for banning her because of her testosterone levels is that they make her less of a woman, and therefore unqualified to participate in a woman's event. That is bullshit, though; they have nothing to do with her womanhood. She's a woman.

Men are also statistically taller than women, and we don't ban tall women from women's sports even when it gives them an advantage over women with more average height.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 3:59 PM on July 23, 2019 [28 favorites]

I read your article, splen. I do not care what chromosomes Semenya has, and I think it is a gross invasion of her privacy to talk about her body in a way that she does not, disclosing private medical information that she has not disclosed herself and that, for all we know, may not actually be true. Expanding that to talk about the private medical information of her competitors actually makes it worse, not better.

I competed in the 800 and 1600 against other girls. I did not care what chromosomes they had, either. She is a woman. Let her run.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:22 PM on July 23, 2019 [15 favorites]

1. The intersex folks I know are really not into "DSD" as a descriptive term.

2. Sex and gender are TREMENDOUSLY complex. They are not a binary. They do not necessarily map onto each other. There are MANY women with XY chromosomes. There are many men without Y chromosomes! The relationship between chromosome, sex, gender, and hormones is complex. There is no necessary relationship between testosterone concentrations and performance. Track and Field are not divided into divisions by chromosomes; they are divided by gender.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:32 PM on July 23, 2019 [16 favorites]

> I feel like I almost always see father listed first, and then mother

Huh: I feel like it's the opposite, that it's Jane and John Smith, which emphasizes that Jane doesn't have her own last name.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:11 PM on July 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

it might just be time for some athletes to accept what they know is inherently true: “There is no such thing as a level playing field.”

Heck yes. There are so many advantages and disadvantages any one person could have; it is ridiculous to get hung up on this one thing.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:15 PM on July 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

[Couple comments removed. We can have a discussion about a profile with Semenya as a woman living through all this without going in a "here's what they're not telling you" detour into chromosomal stuff.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:19 PM on July 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

Caster's a total inspiration (and the sharpest dresser, honestly, her suits are always perfection). Any woman with that set of traits - assertive, outspoken, too tall, too wide-shouldered, unwilling to fit into sociable quiet feminity - gets hammered down, and for her to be leading this fight in public takes so much strength of character. It's been going on since she was 18, and she's now wrangled the IAAF for a decade that let her race for most of her her peak years.

I'm nowhere near an athlete, but I had similar testosterone levels in my early 30s before countering them with birth control (tall and wide-shouldered and constantly misgendered, too). My endurance actually improved with lower testosterone, possibly because I was no longer bleeding out every month, and my mood lifted and stabilised in a way that makes people comment on how much less high-strung I am, but it kicked me into a thyroid-based loop that I'm only just crawling out of with extra medication. Hormones are terribly complicated and no-one should be messing with them without medical indication.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 10:51 PM on July 23, 2019 [7 favorites]

I had never heard of her until a month ago or so when a Vox podcast on her bubbled up when I was at the gym a month or so ago. I seldom hear anything from Vox that evokes strong emotion but I got so angry. "No they didn't." "But surely this is resolved now." "What the fuck, that's a rule!?!".

[Wrote the above before reading the current article, and it turns out I don't have to change a thing. Still pissed off.]
posted by mark k at 11:20 PM on July 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Caster Semenya is amazing. I don't know if anyone caught this or posted it in an earlier thread -- I was sore about losing to Caster Semenya. But this decision against her is wrong, from former competitor and critic Madeleine Pape -- but it's a little reassuring to see someone recant participating in this awfulness.

This situation is just astonishing and infuriating to me, and has been ever since the governing agencies started to demand that Caster Semenya prove her gender a decade ago. It's so backwards. If you told me about this casually -- if I hadn't been reading about it for years -- I don't know that I would be able to believe that an athletics agency basically ordered a competitor to take drugs in order let her compete. Individual competitors are allowed to be stupid and cross and racist and homophobic and whatever other reasons we might attribute to them for their actions, but this is such a mark against the IAAF. Why trust an agency that will contort itself to police women's bodies and deny their excellence?
posted by grandiloquiet at 7:20 AM on July 24, 2019 [7 favorites]

The NY Times article has a bit more detail. If I'm understanding correctly, a lower Swiss court said she couldn't run, then the Swiss Supreme Court temporarily suspended that ruling. The Supreme Court has now lifted the suspension, so the lower-court ruling goes into effect, but Semenya's lawyer said they plan to pursue a appeal of full decision.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:08 AM on July 31, 2019 [2 favorites]

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