What might have been weeks of celebration have become ones of public scrutiny for Caster Semenya, the South African runner who won the women's 800 meter final at the World Athletics Championship August 19. Due to Semanya's 8-second gain over her time in 2008, as well as her masculine appearance, the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) required the 18-year-old to take a gender verification test. Initial test results confirmed that the teenager has three times the normal levels of testosterone for women. Rumors swirled about Semenya's head coach, Ekkart Arbeit—who was accused of giving female gymnasts steroids in the 1970s—and whether he had given Semenya similar treatments.
Now, a source close to the IAAF probe has told an Australian newspaper that the test showed that Semenya "had internal testes and no womb or ovaries," calling her a hermaphrodite later in the report. (Medically speaking, the source is wrong: a hermaphrodite is someone who has simultaneously functioning male and female sex organs. Thomas Rogers at Broadsheet helpfully clarifies the differences between a number of rare intersex conditions.)
While the IAAF stated today that it will not release its findings—which could disqualify Semenya's win—until November, media have already picked up on the hermaphrodite label. Semenya's parents and other South Africans have responded angrily, not only because the test might strip Semenya of her gold medal and an athletic career, but because it has exposed Semenya to sexual humiliation and her family to shame. Whether or not Semenya is biologically female, she has understood herself to be a female her whole life—something Semenya asserted with jewelry, makeup, and trendy ...1
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