Runner Caster Semenya rejects the intersex label and opposes compulsory medical interventions.


Runner Caster Semenya rejects the “intersex” label and opposes compulsory medical interventions.

Athletics and track & field events, track and field, track and field events pdf

Cis lesbian South African runner Caster Semenya has made it clear that she does not identify as intersex in a compelling essay published in The New York Times, adapted from her upcoming memoir, “The Race to be Myself.” The two-time Olympic gold medalist emphatically states, “That identity doesn’t fit me; it doesn’t fit my soul. I know I look like a man. I know I sound like a man and maybe even walk like a man and dress like one, too. But I’m not a man; I’m a woman. I’m a different kind of woman, I know, but I’m still a woman.”

Semenya, a cisgender South African Olympic gold medalist, has been engaged in a lengthy battle against World Athletics’ discriminatory regulations. She has been assigned female at birth, raised as a girl, and consistently identified as a woman. Her struggle to compete alongside other female athletes in elite track and field events, including the Olympics, began in 2009 when it was revealed that she was born with differences in sex development (DSD).

The piece elaborates on her experience of being subjected to medical testing at the age of 18, prompted by speculations regarding her sex and gender by fellow athletes, sports officials, the media, and fans in advance of the 2009 Berlin World Championships. The results of these tests, which were leaked to the media that same year, disclosed that she had XY chromosomes instead of the typical female XX pairing and elevated testosterone levels resulting from undescended testicles she was unaware of. She was advised to undergo surgery to remove them if she wanted to continue competing as a woman.

Semenya reveals that she declined to have the surgery, as she was healthy, cherished her body, and saw it as the source of her success. She questioned why she should modify her body to conform to someone else’s rules. Instead, she chose to take medication to artificially lower her body’s natural testosterone levels to meet the International Association of Athletics Federations’ (IAAF, now World Athletics) requirements for female athletes, despite potential side effects that made her feel unwell.

Throughout this period, she endured ongoing scrutiny and was subjected to derogatory labels. Despite the challenges, she remained steadfast in her self-identity, stating, “I wasn’t going to take on an identity that did not fit my soul because some doctors had taken my blood and images of my organs. I was not a hermaphrodite or anything other than a woman.”

In 2015, inspired by Indian runner Dutee Chand’s successful challenge against the IAAF’s requirement to artificially lower her testosterone levels, Semenya ceased taking the medication and continued to compete in prestigious events.

In 2018, the IAAF introduced new regulations that prevented Semenya from competing against other women in her events, which were further expanded and made stricter in subsequent years. She criticizes the IAAF for allowing natural physical advantages in some athletes while compelling her to modify her own body.

She also highlights the disproportionate scrutiny faced by female athletes from Africa and Asia, who were subjected to “sex testing,” “gender verification,” or “femininity testing.” She argues that athletes like her and Dutee Chand faced public humiliation, while those who had used illegal drugs were often portrayed as victims.

Semenya additionally rejects the IAAF’s offer to allow female athletes with DSD to compete in male categories or a hypothetical category for intersex runners, as this would mean accepting discrimination and giving up her true identity.

Despite the difficulties, Semenya refuses to resume medication to lower her testosterone levels, leading to her exclusion from the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. While she lost appeals to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and Switzerland’s Federal Supreme Court in previous years, she secured a significant victory in an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in the recent past. The ECHR concluded that Semenya’s complaints of discrimination had not been adequately examined and ordered the Swiss government to pay her 60,000 euros for related costs and expenses. Nonetheless, the rules of World Athletics have not changed, and Semenya remains unable to compete against other elite female athletes.

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