Caster Semenya and IAAF approves new rules on hyperandrogenism

IAAF’s new rules and regulations for all international competitions went into effect May 1.

800m Women Final – World Championship Berlin 2009

The name Caster Semenya caused war in my office. After saying Semenya looked like her ex-boyfriend my co-worker, a black female, said Semenya looked like a cute monkey. I told her we black people cannot call other black people cute monkeys or monkey anything. For the next three months my co-worker would make “Lion King” references out of the blue and fell out on the floor laughing.

Semenya, a South African middle distance runner, won the women’s 800-meters at the 2009 World Championships held in Berlin. Her time 1:55.45 made her the fifth fastest women in the world. The current record holder is Jarmila Kratochvílová from Czechoslovakia. Women in the 2009 championship protested Semenya’s win raising questions about cheating and potential steroid use because of her lean, muscular frame.

When the story broke Semenya’s gender was questioned. Many comments on blogs read like “she looks like a man” and “it’s not fair for a man to run against women.” The IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) required her to take a gender test then publicized the results.

Caster Semenya’s Mom interviewed

The results revealed she was a woman, a special woman. Semenya doesn’t have a “womb or ovaries,” she has undescended or internal testes, and her testosterone levels are more than three times higher than those of a normal female,” according to the gender test.

Semenya’s story is reminiscent of Samukeliso Sithole’s story. Samukeliso Sithole, a Zimbabwean athlete, won several gold medals in women’s events. In 2005 Sithole was arrested and charged with impersonating a female. At her court appearance Sithole insisted she was “born with both male and female sexual organs and a traditional healer had made the penis disappear but it had since regrown. The penis returned because the healer had not been fully paid for his services (see Born This Way (Special Edition)).”

Semenya’s Homecoming After Her Win

“Six witnesses, including two doctors, told the court that the athlete was not a hermaphrodite, after which he admitted to being a man. He was jailed for four years in 2005, but was released in December 2007 after serving part of his jail term, for good behavior.”

Caster Semenya during World Championships Athl...

Image via Wikipedia

The bigger question is gender. If someone believes they are female are they female? Though the stories are similar they’re very different. Caster Semenya’s birth certificate says female. Gender tests show she’s technically both female and male however Samukeliso Sithole was born a man and identifies as female.

According to IAAF Semenya could be allowed to compete against women however Sithole could not. “Females in question” will be allowed to compete provided they have “androgen levels below the male range (measured by reference to testosterone levels in serum)” or if their “androgen levels are within the male range but offer no competitive advantage from having such high levels.”

Additional Reading:

  1. Middlesex: A Novel (Oprah’s Book Club)Family Saga Genre Fiction)
  2. Doing Gender in Media, Art and Culture
  3. Black Venus: Sexualized Savages, Primal Fears, and Primitive Narratives in FrenchMovie History & Criticism Books)
  4. Further Adventures of The Dialectic of Sex: Critical Essays on Shulamith Firestone (Breaking Feminist Waves)
  5. Transgender Warriors : Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis RodmanTransgender Books)
  6. A Transgender Diary – Special Edition


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2 responses to “Caster Semenya and IAAF approves new rules on hyperandrogenism

  1. Howdy just wanted to give you a quick heads up and let you know a few of
    the images aren’t loading properly. I’m not sure why
    but I think its a linking issue. I’ve tried it in two different browsers and both show the same results.

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