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Womens 800m Champion Not Exactly A Woman September 10, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Sports, Transhumanism.
Tags: , , , , ,

I have been following this story since I first heard about it but I must admit that this is a twist I didn’t see coming.  For those of you who don’t know there has been a bit of controversy hanging over the current women’s 800m world champion, Caster Semenya.  A few months ago the South African runner won the 800m at the world championships, absolutely destroying her competition in the process.  Almost immediately questions were raised about whether or not Semanya was actually a woman, those questions being fueled by her dominating performance, her deep voice and masculine features.

Well, the IAAF tested Semanya and discovered that she is not a man, but neither is she technically a woman.  It turns out that while Semanya possess a vagina she lacks ovaries.  Instead she has a pair of internal testes making her technically a hermaphrodite.  Those testes have been producing an abundance of testosterone which probably accounts for her masculine voice and features.

The presents a bit of a problem for the IAAF.  It’s clear that Semanya didn’t violate anti-doping rules and she probably was unaware herself of her condition.  However, the fact remains that Semanya is not technically female.  Oddly enough, had Semanya been transgender (i.e. male to female) this would have been a much easier process.  While I’m unsure about the IAAF I know that the IOC has guidelines allowing for the participation of transgender athletes in athletics.

But Semanya isn’t transgender, nor is she technically female, nor technically male.  She is something sports hasn’t had to deal with yet, at least not at this level of competition. You can be sure though that we’ll see more episodes like this in the future as technologies like germline genetic engineering become commonplace.  If we have controversy over a competitor who isn’t technically female, what will we see with competitors who aren’t “technically” human.

On a side note, I personally think she should be allowed to keep her medal as she clearly wasn’t trying to cheat and thankfully that seems like what is going to happen.



1. Debbie - September 11, 2009

Wait a minute.. While I dont have “Testees”, I also dont have ovaries any more. So by your own statement does this declare me “technically not a woman”? That really seems to be a Dark ages statement.
The condition this person was born with is a very rare and complicated Issue. While I have a hard time believing the racer and her support crew were ignorant of condition. I do believe it wasnt something that was public knowledge. Our society still has a hard time accepting “difference” it people. If the racer was raised female.. then female with complications SHE is. The issue of elevated testosterone should be what is addressed.. not declaring a gender. THis person is female with a small birth defect. Is there any one on our great planet that can claim to be born PERFECT?
THe media needs to leave the racer and officials alone to figure this out in a fair and timely manner.

2. Matt Brown - September 11, 2009

The problem here is we have to differentiate between Semanya’s gender and sex. Gender is defined as what a person identifies them self as. Semanya identifies as a woman, therefore her gender is female. Sex is determined biologically and that’s a little more complicated. A person with male and female sex organs cannot be said to have a biological sex of male or female and as such, biologically speaking, she is a hermaphrodite. The issue here is not Semanya’s gender, it is her sex. The question the IAAF is addressing is whether or not her testees gave her an unfair advantage over her competitors. That however is a different issue that I won’t get into here.

I know nothing about your situation but I would assume from your statement that you do not possess male sex organs. Therefore, biologically, you are a female. I apologize if my statement came off as insulting as that was not my intention. You may notice that throughout the entire post I never referred to Semanya as anything other than she.

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