Patricia Nell Warren

Have They Been Twisting Caster Semenya's Arm?

Filed By Patricia Nell Warren | September 10, 2009 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Caster Semenya, IAAF gender testing

IAAF results of Caster Semenya's gender test are evidently in, but not announced yet, though the sports body has already announced that it won't strip the South African runner of her gold medal. But South Africa's enthusiastic support of its controversial track star may have come at a huge price, for her. The 800-meter world champion and gold medalist has let herself be packaged for the red gold bling, stiletto heels, a low-cut cocktail dress, nail polish...and her famed corn rows now teased into an afro.


SA tabloid magazine You splashed Semenya's picture on the cover, with the headline WOW, LOOK AT CASTER NOW! On the inside pages, Semenya modeled a whole collection, including a slinky silver top, super-skinny jeans and more stilettos. It even looks like they lightened her skin a shade with makeup.

Caster insisted that she did it "for fun" -- that she really does love to dress up in girly-girly clothes. Really she does. She just never had the time, she says. This from a girl who spent her school years being notorious for tomboy styles.

After the public triumph of Semenya's return home, how much arm-twisting did she get in private? It's one thing when women athletes like Danica Patrick freely pander themselves to conventional images of femininity like Playboy pics in bikinis. Even hard-as-nails jockey Chantal Sutherland has done the femme foto ops, which can be rationalized because she has actually worked as a model.

But it's another thing when political duress is added -- when a country might feel that its national honor is put at risk by the gender image of one of its star athletes. Maybe the powers-the-be have put it to Semenya this way, "Whatever the test results are going to be, you need to start looking like a real girl. Or we won't support your athletic career any longer."

I also wonder how much You paid Semenya for the celebrity makeover job. To a rural girl who grew up poor, and her family, a fistful of rands may have been a big inducement. Is there anybody in Semenya's world who is giving her good legal and political advice?

Unfortunately the You spread will only pour gasoline on the flames. Reactions ranged from unkind (DListed called it her "drag makeover") to disbelieving. Yahoo sportswriter Chris Chase said, "This feels forced....If Semenya was pressured to do this to silence her critics, then this is a sad story."

Sad indeed. If the gender police thought they could get away with making women athletes run for the gold in stilettos, they'd do it.

More when the test results are actually announced.

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Regan DuCasse | September 10, 2009 6:25 PM

This new situation with Ms. Semenya made my teeth hurt.
All the things that made Caster CASTER are all stripped away in favor of making her into someone she is not.
Were she to flash those beautiful teeth in moments of athletic triumph, the effect would be more real and the projection of beauty far more authentic.
A person is more exquisite when they ARE themselves, and not attempting the artificial expectations of those around her.
I have no doubt there was pressure against her.
Which could have very damaging affects in the long run.

How many people in the public eye have suffered terribly from anorexia, or botched plastic surgeries trying to conform into what they are not?
I hope to God that Caster doesn't suffer such pressure even beyond these superficial trappings.
Her worth, beauty and strength, shouldn't be measured by her looks anyway.

Someone just posted this on my facebook feed. If this accurate, this whole scandal become much more complicated.

"The newspaper said the IAAF was trying to contact the athlete to inform her of the results"

Trying to contact her and the rest of the world already knows.

If they did that in the US they'd be open to a HIPAA lawsuit.

Yeah, gender doesn't work that way. She could have been born with a male, female, or intersex body and look like that, and she can look like that and identify as a man or a woman. The person in that picture could be a cis woman, a trans woman, a drag performer, a woman born trans or intersex, or a cross-dressing man. What I mean is that the photo doesn't prove anything and the way she looked before doesn't prove anything either. And the test results wouldn't really be affected by how she looks on the cover of a tabloid....

The whole thing about her saying she loves it though, well, I hope she really does. Because it makes me sick to think that she'd be forced to say something like that because of political and economic pressure on her, that she loves succumbing to the gender police, trust her!

Can't people just grow up?

Rumors are (and have been) flying like crazy. It's important to wait for the official announcement from the IAAF, and to evaluate it, along with the South African government's response. And we will have to assume that the IAAF's testing is scientifically accurate.

It seems like the IAFF is talking now...

"This is a medical issue and not a doping issue where she was deliberately cheating," IAAF spokesman Nick Davies was quoted as saying by the newspaper.

"These tests do not suggest any suspicion of deliberate misconduct but seek to assess the possibility of a potential medical condition which would give Semenya an unfair advantage over her competitors. There is no automatic disqualification of results in a case like this."

The IAAF has said Semenya would probably keep her medal because the case was not related to a drug matter. But the Herald said an alternative possibility was to award a second gold to the runner-up, Janeth Jepkosgei from Kenya.

From what I've just read she is a 46XY CAIS Female. She has female genetaila and undesended testicles. For this to hit the wire prior to her being informed and counsled by a well qualified therapist is B.S. It can be severaly damaging to this young woman.

While in the Navy I worked with two women who had the same condition. One of whom didn't find out until she was 21 that she was IS. When she did find out she had a major melt down.

This can be very traumatizing to her.

i already comment/posted this,phb,
i hope more bloggers will take up this question/concept:

why are we "defining" caster semenya?
she self defines as a woman.
that makes her a woman.
she does not self define as intersexed.
there is not even the xx vs xy test results yet.
(if it matters)
if a person can be born xy,have a male body and be a woman,
why are we defining caster, a woman with a vagina(if it matters)
no uterus, and unknown "testes/tissue", etc.
caster says she is a woman.
this is all we need to know.
this WHOLE THING is horribly insensitive to her.
(and before anyone says she doesn't like dresses, and likes sports etc, that applies to LESBIAN WOMEN sometimes too!)

LOTS of people owe this WOMAN an apology

She looks like a very pretty transgender. If she dressed up voluntarily, that is cool.

Let's not judge Miss Caster. There is nothing wrong with any woman dressing up pretty. There is nothing wrong with a man doing that either. It is time we got past the stereotypes and gender roles in the GLBT community. Heterosexuals are not something to be imitated. Just be you and do what you want. She is so young and fragile I hope she is not devastated when the genetic test results come in. I also hope she has not won her last medal. She could be powerful in the Olympics.

Nobody here in this forum is judging Caster Semenya. There is nothing wrong with dressing like she's about to walk the red carpet at the Golden Globes awards... as long as she is doing it freely and not as a result of behind-the-scenes pressures by South African society and government. This is the question.

Unfortunately this kind of extreme pressure about "feminine clothing" has a long history in women's sports.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | September 11, 2009 4:33 AM

Someone should tell her that stilettos are not just bad for her image they are awful for her fortunate feet. On the altar of short term "beauty" many women undergo horrible bunion surgeries.

To me, Castor is a woman incapable of becoming pregnant, but otherwise a woman. I hope that this does not ruin her sports career. I further hope this does not ruin her mental health.

At this point in time, the IAAF itself has not yet officially released a full report. So anything that's being alleged by the media is still speculation, in my opinion.

The sports body have been trying to meet with the athlete to have a discussion with her, and evidently the South African authorities are being a little balky about letting her be available.

To see the depths of inhumanity, ignorance, malice and spite that intersexed people are subject to, you have to go no further than the New York daily News.

Here's a fragment I've been cutting-and-pasting in various places on the internet, in the belly of the beast, as it were. The facts are relevant here on Bilerico, as there's ignorance aplenty, but not the malice, thank goodness.

If the reports are correct, Ms Semanya has PAIS-6. Partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome grade 6, where grade 7 is Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (CAIS).

What this means is that she's almost completely immune to testosterone and other androgens. "Almost", but not quite completely. If she'd had CAIS, she'd be ultra-feminine, more so than standard factory model women. It's an open secret that most of the supermodels who don't have children have CAIS, as did Miss Teen USA 1991.

From the Internation Amateur Atletics Association rules on the subject :

(The crux of the matter is that the athlete should not be enjoying the benefits of natural testosterone predominance normally seen in a male)

6. Conditions that should be allowed:- Androgen insensitivity syndrome (Complete or almost complete - previously called testicular feminization);- Gonadal dysgenesis (gonads should be removed surgically to avoid malignancy);- Turner’s syndrome.

(b) Those conditions that may accord some advantages but nevertheless acceptable:- Congenital adrenal hyperplasia;- Androgen producing tumors;- Anovulatory androgen excess (polycystic ovary syndrome).

Unlike other women, she cannot get the full performance benefits of testosterone, since she's almost immune to the stuff. Having three times the female average could well be less effective when it comes to building muscle mass than a normal amount in an average women. Many female athletes have high natural levels of testosterone anyway - though still a third or less of an average male, and a tenth of a male athlete.

As regards the "dangerous condition" of internal testes, the danger isn't exactly immediate. There's a tenfold normal risk of cancer, and it would be wise to have 6-monthly checks, and gonadectomy if any pre-cancerous lesions are found, but that's it. At worst, 1 in 50, and the estrogen, the female sex hormone also produced by the testes, is useful for preventing oteopyrosis and other conditions, so it's swings and roundabouts. The real reason for gonadectomy is to stop other people from being upset about the idea of a woman with testes in her body.

I've stated the IAAA's policy - but that policy is not always followed. The Indian athlete Santhi Soundarajan had CAIS, but was stripped of her medals by Indian authorities, not because she had an advantage, but purely for being Intersexed, a sub-human. She attempted suicide shortly thereafter, as Ms Semanya may do.

She's an 18 year old girl from a backwoods African rural village who has given her all to become a world-class athlete. Now she's had the double blow of being told she'll never be able to have children, and having her life and ambitions shattered by a global surge of ignorant bigotry.

Some of which is apparent in these comments.(actually no, not at Bilerico...)

Oh yes, I'm Intersexed too. I'm also 51, a middle-aged woman old enough to be a grandma, and used to this kind of thing. She's only a teenage girl. Some here forget that. (Present company excepted - Bilerico is alas, atypical)

I don't understand how someone who is heavily muscled, as she is, and reportedly has a deep voice, could be immune to the effects of testosterone. Are you saying that the amount of testosterone she is producing would effect a "normal" person more dramatically?

Also, when you talk about testes producing estrogen, do you mean that the body is converting extra testosterone to it, or that it's producing the estrogen itself?

Without ovaries, I'd imagine that she doesn't have any female secondary sex characteristics. It's unfortunate that her lack of menstruating wasn't investigated.

Not completely immune, but almost. If she wasn't almost completely immune, she wouldn't have female external genitalia. There are degrees, and hers is particularly high. Lesser degrees would lead to ambiguous genitalia, lesser still to mostly masculinised genitalia.

Second Type Woman has a good page on the subject.

There are two types of AIS: most (90%) girls have completely normal female type external genitalia, but they lack a uterus or upper vagina. This is known as Complete AIS (CAIS, technically AIS Grades 7 & 6). The remaining girls have Partial AIS (PAIS), their outward genital appearance usually lying anywhere from almost completely female (AIS Grade 5) through to almost completely male (Grade 3).
In some types of PAIS (AIS Grades 2 & 1) the male genital deformity is so minimal that a baby's gender assignment will be male. Excessive breast development is likely to occur (often unexpectedly!) at puberty, but this can be removed by surgery and the PAIS male may even prove fertile....

All people (pretty near) produce both testosterone and estrogen, regardless of whether they're male or female. Most comes from the ovaries or testes, but some comes from the adrenals. The amount of course varies between the sexes, that's all.

So she'll have some female secondary sex characterisatics, as do biological males who have their testosterone levels suppressed.

It's by no means unusual for female athletes undergoing rigorous training not to menstruate, more usual than not in fact.

FWIW I was (mis)diagnosed as PAIS-1 in 1985. I had all the symptoms. It was only in 2005, after I had a partial female puberty, that it was determined (via gene tests, MRI scans, Ultrasounds...) that I was actually biologically female rather than male. Such labels are only approximations in cases like mine, anyway.

Otherwise though, I'm a standard Trans woman. I used to look male. I now look female. That the change was natural is interesting, but irrelevant. But regardless of my looks, I've always been a woman.

So she'll have some female secondary sex characterisatics, as do biological males who have their testosterone levels suppressed.

Well, you seem to know more about this, but I don't think the mere lack of testosterone (for whatever reason) is sufficient to produce female secondary sex characteristics without the addition of estrogen. Otherwise, MTFs would only need to take spironolactone (testosterone blocker, for the uninitiated) without estrogen.

It still puzzles me how someone who cannot utilize testosterone can build her level of muscle mass. Typical women aren't able to have that type of definition no matter how hard they hit the gym because of insuficient testosterone levels.

You're asking a good question...and the question will probably be answered when the IAAF make their official announcement of the study results, which they haven't done yet.

It is very sad to see the major media indulging in all the irresponsible rumormongering and speculation about the true nature of Caster Semenya's genetic makeup. Just this kind of jumping the gun was what caused the security panic in Washington D.C. today when CNN rushed to report a "breaking story" without doing their homework.

The IAAF have said they probably won't have the official findings till November, since they haven't even been able to talk to the athlete herself yet.

We have a woman at church who looks as manly as Caster and has used to her advantage, being a father for the father-daughter dances (partner's child and grand child) and a woman when she needs to be. She is 67, been with her partner (female) over 20 years and says she has looked like a boy all her life, even doing drag king shows. She is happy with herself, an important member of the church and is quick to tell you that she is a girl. If you ask her if she considers herself trans or lesbian she says, "I'm just me".

God does not make mistakes although we are free to change ourselves if that makes us more comfortable. I just hope Caster is able to deal with this without becoming severely depressed and/or committing suicide, but she needs to be protected. She is really just a young kid and should not have to go through all this. They need to let her run and win and have a life as the woman she is.