Feature

Is Caster Semenya a hermaphrodite?

If the reports of the champion runner's gender test results are true, should she be allowed in women's races?

“Controversial” South African runner Caster Semenya “is a woman ... and a man!” said Oren Yaniv in the New York Daily News. According to unreleased, unconfirmed tests ordered by the International Association of Athletics Federations, 18-year-old Semenya has both male and female sex organs—no womb or ovaries, internal testes, and three times the level of testosterone as most women. Will the IAAF now strip her of her gold medal?

It certainly has grounds to, if it’s willing to be labeled “racist and sexist” by South African politicians, said blogger Ann Althouse. Semenya was raised as a girl, and underwent a makeover for You magazine, but with her 800-meter world championship at stake, it’s “in her interest to encourage people to think of her as female.” If Semenya is a hermaphrodite, there’s no getting around the question of “fairness to the other athletes.”

Sure, her elevated testosterone level “gives her an edge,” said Melissa McEwan in Shakesville, “the same way longer legs might.” But it’s a “biological anomaly,” nothing more. The IAAF faces a “complicated situation” in the Semenya case, with no clear answer, but I’d let “every world-class intersex runner”—“all, like, one of them”—compete against whatever gender she lives.

Perhaps. After all, we don’t bar Lance Armstrong from cycling because of his genetically superior oversize heart, said Kathy Gill in Newsvine. But Semenya wouldn’t be the first athlete, or even 800-meter champion, disqualified for being “intersexed”—in 2006, Indian Santhi Soundarajan “vaulted to the top of the same 800-meter game and came crashing down” when it emerged she had AIS, or androgen insensitivity syndrome.

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