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Runner’s gender testing tests prejudices

When the world poked and prodded at prodigious South African runnerCaster Semenya, musing whether she was a he, I assumed feminists woulduniversally come to her aid — not so.

When the world poked and prodded at prodigious South African runner Caster Semenya, musing whether she was a he, I assumed feminists would universally come to her aid — not so.

Take Germaine Greer, who advocated sexual liberation in her book The Female Eunuch, yet once opposed the appointment of a transwoman colleague to a fellowship at a women’s college because she used to be male, and named a chapter in one
of her books “Pantomime Dames.”

She wrote this about the gender-ambiguous in the Guardian two weeks ago: “Nowadays we are all likely to meet people who think they are women, have women’s names, and feminine clothes and lots of eyeshadow, who seem to us to be some kind of ghastly parody, though it isn’t polite to say so.”

Funny ... as a biological female I often feel like a ghastly parody — my curves not globular enough; too much makeup or not enough. Men, women and in-between all fear they don’t resemble their idealized images.

Woe be to the individuals whom genetic roulette places on the middle of a continuous spectrum somewhere between male and female. We’ve learned to tolerate most every kind of change in stride (politics, religion, lifestyles), but not gender-bending.

The historical outcome of gender testing, before it was discontinued in 1999, was mostly a bunch of identity crises when female athletes learned they had chromosomal disorders. Most recently, India’s Santhi Soundarajan was stripped of her Asian Games silver medal in 2006 after she was found to have androgen insensitivity syndrome, in which a genetic male appears female because the body is resistant to male hormones.

Poor girls. Never mind the garbage that passed as evidence of maleness in the media (Semenya dislikes dresses, dolls and romantic movies, her friends and relatives say) — merely being athletically competitive is a transgressive act that thrusts women into a man’s world. If anyone should have understood, it was Semenya’s colleagues, but they, too, turned against her.

“These kinds of people should not run with us. For me, she’s not a woman. She’s a man,” accused Italian Elisa Piccione, who finished sixth to Semenya.

Luckily for Semenya, her urine test results showed high but acceptable testosterone levels.

Soundarajan, shamed into giving up a promising career, told Time magazine the experience left her “physically and mentally broken.” She had advice for Semenya, too: “A gender test cannot take away from you who you are.”

 
 
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