Saturday, September 12, 2009

Hermaphrodite? What is the Right Response?

There is a great deal of interest in Caster Semenya, the person who won the 800m at the recent world champs. Word is out that she is an hermaphrodite or 'intersex' as some call it. This means she has both male and female reproductive organs. In some animal groups like slugs, creatures do not have separate sexes and they reproduce with both partners acting as 'male' or 'female.' The term is drawn from the Greek god Hermaphrotus, the son of Hermes and Aphrodite. In the case of Caster, what should happen? What is the right response to this situation?

First, on a human level, Caster should be afforded complete integrity. She (using this for want of a better term) should be respected. She is human, made in the image of God, and to be shown grace and love. This has already been violated with her situation all over the public eye. Mind you in this world, this is unavoidable. The IAAF is naive if they think that the situation would not break. It would have been better to do the tests and release the results in a controlled manner. They should make their decision in the public eye.

Second, as an athlete she needs to be tested to assess whether she fits biologically into male or female categories. This will have to be based on her hormone levels and genitalia etc. It seems from the information leaking that she fits more into the male category. On the basis of the data she should be informed that she must in the future run as a man or can run as a woman. If, as is being reported, she has 3x the testosterone levels of a 'normal' woman, and has internal testes, has no ovaries and can produce sperm, it would seem that she can no longer run as a woman but must run as a man. It makes a mockery of the sport to allow her to run putting other middle distance female runners at a complete disadvantage.

Third, that being said, she deserves grace and compassion. I think she should keep her gold medal from the Worlds. Perhaps the woman who finished 2nd in the race should receive a gold as well, with the 3rd and 4th runners receiving silver and bronze as well. She should be honoured for her victory. However, as I see it, she can't keep running in women's races. This would be utterly unfair to every other female athlete.

Fourth, I suggest we pray for Caster. I feel for her and all connected to the situation. She is a human being.


dale said...

Well said, sir!
I agreed with every sentence (which, of course, means that they are correct! haha - yeah right!) :)

p.s. - you might consider changing the comment settings to allow Name/URL commenting, etc.?

Anonymous said...

Hi Mark,

knowing your personal situation this must be an interesting discussion point around the dinner table at home. Sadly there is no solution that I see that will please everyone and of course many who will talk the loudest are probably likely to be those who have the least personal stake in the outcome.

One cannot help but 'feel' for Caster and for that matter her family (as a parent if must be incredibly upsetting to see your child in such a situation), however from a sporting perspective there must always be rules and there is always the chance that some will appear to be disadvantaged but that sadly is life.

Maybe one of our prayers should be that her athletics is not 'all' her life is about nor the only area in which she finds self worth.

ps Sadly I think many who have been so vociferously in her corner will disappear once the media limelight does

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