Amplifying Voices – Caster Semenya

Today’s post is a little bit different. Usually I like to use Friday to highlight a particular author or speaker, who can bring in a new perspective. But for today, I actually want to highlight the subject of this particular piece, not the author.

Caster Semenya is a runner. She’s a fast runner. She’s also black and gay. And this week, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) ruled that her natural levels of testosterone were too high, and that in order to keep competing, she needs to artificially reduce them.

This article by Anna North goes into more detail, but I highly encourage you to read multiple sources on this. Because there are a large number of huge red flags in this case, but they may be hard to see for some.

But there are a few really important elements here that need to be highlighted.

1) Most people still vastly misunderstand concepts of biological sex and gender. If you haven’t read up on the science since high school, you need to. There is still a great deal of study happening over sex chromosomes and characteristics, but a number of biologists in the field are coming to think of sex as a spectrum.

2) Much of this controversy is being spurred by anti trans bigots, despite the fact that Semenya is not trans. She is gay however, and does not conform to feminine stereotypes. This is not the same as being trans. Again, read up on gender. It’s interesting, and makes you realize how much we believe is socially constructed. (Interestingly, trans athletes are allowed to compete in the Olympics, but have never managed to qualify, which makes cis athletes panic over trans competitors come off as really silly and narrow-minded).

3) This kind of scrutiny does not happen to male athletes. Michael Phelps is well known to have a biological advantage in the amount of lactic acid he produces while swimming (he produces about half of other athletes, which means it takes him longer to tire). No one has ever suggested he’s anything other than a miracle. This happening exclusively to female athletes is not an accident.

4) Make no mistake, there is a huge racist and colonialist element to this issue (Semenya is South African). The women getting upset over Semenya winning all the time? Very white. And using their white tears to full advantage here.

Semenya’s case is a perfect example of how you cannot separate issues of racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, or colonialism. If you believe in equity, you need to fight all of these things.

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