Opinion by Gina Wilson: Ms Semenya, I Never Knew You

The events surrounding the gold medal run by Ms Caster Semenya in August of this year have created a perfect storm of speculation around intersex.

I know little about Ms Semenya save that she has, by winning a gold medal, brought the full force of sex binary enforcement and intersexphobia down on her apparently unsuitable shoulders.

The word most frequently used to describe her outstanding abilities and differences is hermaphrodite. This is not only a lie, it is a vicious slander. No human being known to science is an hermaphrodite and never has been.

The word ‘hermaphrodite’ comes from Hermaphrodites, who was the son of Hermes and Aphrodite, two mythological Greek gods. Hermaphrodites was combined with the nymph, Salmacis, resulting in one body possessing physical traits of both of the individuals that were combined to make it. That is, a male and a female.

Hermaphrodites was more than just the combination of reproductive parts so that friends and relatives could recognise both Hermaphrodites and Salmacis in the countenance of the new being.

In science hermaphrodite refers to creatures that are able to reproduce as both father and mother at once. Some hermaphrodites act as father to one partner and mother to another, other hermaphrodites are able to reproduce without needing a partner. There are also hermaphrodites that are born one sex and when they reach a certain size or age become another. So in human sex binary terms they might be born female and become male or visa versa.

Although some humans are indeed born with features that apparently belong to both sexes, no human being has ever demonstrated the ability to reproduce as both male and female at once. No human being known to science is or has been an hermaphrodite. Snails, slugs, earthworms and some fish are hermaphrodites. Clearly the serious comparison of anyone to these creatures is at the very least hurtful. To compare a black African gold medal runner to those animals seems to be intentionally defamatory.

I don’t know Ms Semenya, however I have no reason to suppose that she deserves to be thought of as only fit for competition against snails and slugs because of her imagined differences. I don’t know Ms Semenya but I do know she is not an hermaphrodite and so should the most ignorant of journalist, just so long as they have the research skill of a year twelve student.

I have heard Ms Semenya is thought to have unfair advantages in her sport because she has physical characteristics typical of a male. This is an interesting take on the place of females in the world and how they should know it. Ms Semenya has been reported to have facial hair, a deep voice, a muscular physique and insufficient apparatus in the breasts department. Little wonder women seek out breast enlargement, are ashamed of any sign of facial hair and diet themselves to anorexia when differences such as those attributed to Ms Semenya are greeted with such open hostility.

The things that have been said about Ms Semenya’s appearance speak to Western sex binary expectations and against human diversity. These same expectations are responsible for the non consensual genital surgery that is conducted on newborns and young infants in every Western country, right now and every day of the week every week of the year. Surgery intended to ensure sex binaries is maintained with few considerations of the sexual well-being of the subject child and no care at all of how that child might fare as an adult.

It appears then that females who do not meet the rigid rules laid down by Western cultures, rules that promote Barbie doll images and personalities such as Paris Hilton as aspirational targets, will continue to be thought of as second rate. The paradigm that denigrates powerful women who exhibit competence in engineering, home construction, motor racing, plumbing and the like will continue to produce learned helplessness and subservience, diminishing the prospect of effective equal rights, not only between men and women, but for those who are neither.

I have read that Ms Semenya is thought to have testicles and that this poses a threat to her life. I am certain the main threat would come from a violent attack on her because she is thought to be in ‘illegal’ possession of male apparatus rather than any real medical danger.

Individuals with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS) often have differently formed internal gonads that are testicle-like. Many AIS individuals identify as women and some identify as men, and I know some who identify as neither. Individuals with AIS are usually diagnosed when they fail to fall pregnant. All AIS women are advised to have their gonads removed because of the risk of them becoming cancerous. Now you might wonder how they know they will become cancerous if they always remove them? The simple answer is medicine does not know. The reasons the gonads are removed is more because it is thought that women should not have testicles. This is the same reason CAH girls have their clitoris reduced or removed and have vaginas modified and so on.

A woman must be made ready for penetrative sex and a man made ready to penetrate. A female must be ‘all woman’ and a male a ‘man’s man.’

There was another runner at the Berlin games who did exceptionally well – his name was Usain Bolt. I understand when he comfortably broke the 200 metres world record he complained he had a cold and was not at his best. I wonder if he is being tested for an extra testicle or two, so as to account for his unnatural abilities, or does his apparent maleness provide him with immunity against sex binary infringement?

It is conceivable that every single human being has some kind of advantage over every other human. It might be a resistance against a disease, a little extra height, an ability in art, science, storytelling – the possibilities are as limitless as the number of humans.

For those of us that engage with someone in an area where they have such an ability we are of course disadvantaged .

There is a solution!

All of humanity should be handicapped by an international competition body. So those wishing to compete with a runner like Ms Semenya would be handicapped so that we have the same chances of winning. Ms Semenya would for instance need to tote a 100 kilo weight and I would be provided with a small rocket booster.

If handicapping is universally adopted every human would have the same chance of winning every competition. There would be no need to have sex segregation in competition. Those with extra ability would be loaded so that their ability did not count.

An interesting side effect would be my possible admission to the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. You see, all musicians would be handicapped so that they had no more ability than me. The banjo and Beethoven may have a future together yet.

I also like the idea of being as clever as Einstein who would need to have a lobotomy so that I am on an equal footing to him in matters of relativity.

Relativity, an interesting concept when intersex versus normal is considered.

Ms Semenya, I never knew you and I have little doubt that neither does nearly every person who has speculated on your life. The Caster Semenya that lives in the brains of most is the invention of the individual doing the speculating and if that Caster Semenya is a monster and a freak then that monster resides entirely inside of that speculating brain. The monster is inside the observer, not the observed.