I've been contemplating writing a piece about Caster Semenya, or, more specifically, not least because the poor woman has had her body made the speculative material of hundreds of journalists, about the astonishing sense of entitlement that is displayed in the media's coverage of her. A sense of entitlement to say what she is, to discuss her genitals, to unsex her, to pass judgement on 'what she really is'. It's incredible. I feel like saying to all of these people: seriously, how would you feel? How would you feel if people started speculating about what was hidden inside your pants, and based on what they assumed to know, claimed that you weren't the sex you had always been? How would you feel if people started claiming that you were a 'false man' or a 'false woman'? How would you feel if journalists the world over were commenting about whether or not you should be allowed to do the thing you had worked so hard at making your best skill? But I'm ambivalent about posting about this (especially over at Hoyden about Town, where there's a much larger community and the possibility of a pick-up) at the moment, precisely because of this furore and speculation - and it is speculation - that must be so very hard for Semenya to be managing, let alone if she's negotiating with the discovery that she is intersexed at the moment.

And all of that crap from the media is before we even get to the terminology business. The term 'hermaphrodite' is massively outdated, and refers to an earlier medical taxonomy which based the determination of sex on gonadal tissue. A 'true hermaphrodite' was someone with both testicular and ovarian tissue (or ovotesticular tissue, also known as 'streaks'), whilst a 'pseudohermaphrodite,' as the term in this context suggests, was someone whose gonadal tissue was either ovarian or testicular, but whose phenotypical characteristics (the look of their genitals) didn't seem to match. Nonetheless, at this point is time, the gonads determined all. If testes were found, that person was required to live as a man. Times have changed, of course, and now we have a far more complex taxonomy of sex, in which genes, chromosomes, hormones, primary and secondary sex characteristics and gender identity all, officially, play a role. (Though, as I discuss here, primary concern seems to be about visible genitalia, which in turn appears to be an anxiety about the appearance of the genitalia producing gender, so that to be a 'proper' boy, you need a 'proper' penis.) We don't really know how to deal if any one of these is out of line with what we assume it's meant to be. Well, officially we don't know.

Unofficially, or officially enough for the MSM, but departing fairly radically from anything vaguely resembling nuance, Semenya is being deemed to be 'not really a man.' This is evocation of a 'true woman,' a standard to which Semenya allegedly does not live up, seems to be everywhere. In fact, I heard a sports scientist on Radio National (I complained to them about their coverage, because it was truly just so appallingly bad) claim that she really 'ought' to begin living as a man, and that she certainly wouldn't be able to race other women because she was not a 'true woman'. The very thought had me gaping, and in fact there was a suggestion - a laughing, isn't-this-ludicrous suggestion - that they create special sports for a 'third sex'. The whole thing was built on a poke-poke-poke-at-the-freak, a prod-prod-prod-isn't-it-racy-and-titillating? fascination with the other who makes me oh-so-grateful to be simply sexed. Cis privilege simply reeked off the whole discussion, and sadly, it seems pretty consistent in the various media I've seen covering it.

More when I feel it might be okay to do so...



October 2009



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