Friday, September 11, 2009

I'm Really Confused



I haven't been writing about the South African runner Caster Semenya because I was waiting for the tests she took to come back. I didn't want to say something that was wrong, but when the tests came back yesterday and leaked to the media all it did was make me more confused.

Apparently the tests showed that Semenya is a man and a woman. She has three times the normal level of testosterone that a female would have. She has no womb or ovaries and she has male sexual organs inside her body. So, it sounds to me like she is a hermaphrodite and yet is much faster than Lady GaGa. It's good that each of them have their own talents. Anyway, the International Track & Field people are thinking of taking her gold medal from her but don't want South Africa to go berserk and they would.

My question is this. If she can't compete as a woman and she can't compete as a man, then where is she supposed to compete? I think that it is wrong for her to not be able to compete. It isn't like she did this on purpose. She was born this way. She can't control it. I mean I guess she could have surgery and remove the testes, but what if they are providing a necessary function to her body? Are there that many hermaphrodites out there that this is going to pop up frequently? It hardly seems fair to make her sit out from any kind of racing just because of something she was born with. It seems discriminatory. It seems wrong.

63 comments:

mikey said...

Sometimes life just isn't fair. It is what it is.

Quintessential Southerner said...

God is awesome! He makes us all so special and different.

caster should be able to compete how she feels. it's obvious she feels like a woman.

A Pimp Named DaveR said...

My question is this: if you can't play guitar, and you can't play drums, and you can't sing, why shouldn't you be in the Beatles?

I feel bad for her (since she identifies as female, I'll use "her" and "she"), but she doesn't have any RIGHT to compete if she doesn't meet the qualifications. And, unfortunately for her, she doesn't.

Merlin D. Bear said...

She is living as a woman, she identifies as a woman, her external genitalia is a woman's.
She's a woman. Plain and simple.
Okay, so she's potentially a hermaphrodite. So what?
If she were a man posing as a woman then yes, she should be disqualified.
However, since she's a woman, then no...aside from the testosterone levels, she has done nothing to warrant disqualification.
To disqualify her on the basis of a birth defect is blatant discrimination and plain ignorance.

AnonMom said...

Well, in cases of sex changes, the individuals legally change their gender, even if their dna is still xx or xy. How is this any different?

Patty C said...

I think what this actually comes down to is her unfair advantage over normal women in this division who do not produce three times the normal tosterone. If there is discrimination, it would be toward the normal women. If her/his tosterone level is on the same level as a normal male, then let him/her compete with males on an equal standing... To me, that would be the fair thing.

Priscila said...

To put in awful words, she is a man without a penis. I read long time ago about the gradations of hermaphrodites, it is never on a 50/50 basis, and if she doenst have ovaries and womb, so....she is not a woman at all, except if you consider a woman all human beings born without a penis....

And there is a group of intersex people totally against the male fenake classification, but in terms of this competition, it is unfair for her to not have a place to run anymore, but it would be also unfair to the women that dont have this extra factor in their bodies too..so, though luck

I mean, if she feels like a woman, that is another story..

Ayesha said...

Sorry, but she's not a biological woman. If she was born with no ovaries or uterus, she is not a woman. That's what makes you a WOMAN.

juliea said...

Until she ditches her dual testes, she cannot compete in sports as a woman. The excess testosterone gives her an unfair advantage.

Pookie said...

"It seems wrong."

that's b/c it is.

Syd said...

It's all so confusing to me. I just feel bad for the kid.

amazonblue said...

Her system has been developed primarily by male hormones that have affected her body in such a way to make competing with other women unfair.
She is hormonally a male and if she wants to continue racing she needs to run with the boys.

Mooshki said...

Michael Phelps has an obvious genetic advantage over other swimmers, but no one says he shoudl be disqualified. She is a woman, and should be allowed to compete as one.

RocketQueen said...

I'll bet this isn't the first time this has happened - we just have the testing now to confirm it. For what it's worth, I feel terrible her business is being shouted to the world, but I'm very glad that people have the opportunity to learn that intersexed people are more common than they might thing.
Good luck to Caster.

RocketQueen said...

*might THINK

Lisa (original) said...

I agree with most of you, especially Ayesha.

From what I understand, Ms. SEMENya identifies as female, yet has more MALE characteristics. That said a tranny can glam up and pretend to be a girl quite fabulously. They're STILL MALE.

SEMENya should compete with the other men where it would be a fair race.

Would YOU want to compete against someone who had an unfair advantage?

Lisa (original) said...

Merlin dear, "she" has TESTES. Girls don't have those. They have a uterus and ovaries; "she" doesn't.

Drcocks said...

I am not aware of the medical aspects of this situation so I won't even try to address it. I just can't help wonder how horrible all this must be for her. To have this information plastered all over the news that is so personal and painful. I don't know the answer but I do hope every effort is made to be kind in whatever decision is made.

valerie said...

Sorry, but life isn't fair. Many of us cannot compete in the Olympics because we were not born with the athletic advantages of height or body type. If she was not born physically a woman, she cannot compete as a woman. Period. You cannot go on how they identify themselves - imagine if a transgender had a sex change to a woman and then wanted to compete. Would that be acceptable?

If they have a penis, they can't competus. Bring on the "hermaphrodite/TG" category in the Olympics if you need, but don't turn the female Olympics categories into a competition for which men want to identify themselves as women so that they can be a champion.

Erin said...

Having a uterus and ovaries is NOT what makes you a woman. Are you saying those that have gone through a hysterictomy are not women anymore?

Your chromosones are what determine your sex. Nothing I have read has said what those were and they did a chromosonal test.

I did read, however, that her testosterone levels were within an acceptable range for women, just higher than most.

Kimberly said...

It would be great for us to continue to keep this discussion as classy as possible. Caster is only 18 years old and her most private medical information is being shared with the media...where is a lawyer when you need one? Enty??

She has underdeveloped testes and no ovaries or womb. She will have to have the testes removed because of a fear of malignancy. Without the testes, will her testosterone levels return to "normal" female levels? If so, she should be able to race with women.

For those saying she should race with men, her body produces testosterone, but not the amount a "normal" male would produce. So, if she disadvantages the other women in a female-only race, she is the disadvantaged party in a male-only race.

The ITF should allow Caster to keep her medal, yet award a second gold to the silver winner, a silver medal to the bronze medalist, and the bronze to the 4th place finisher. This seems the only legitimate solution as Caster was under the assumption that she was a "normal" female when she entered that race.

Mooshki said...

"It would be great for us to continue to keep this discussion as classy as possible."

Kimberly, I was just thinking of an article I read yesterday about how the internet has killed civil disagreements. This is a complex question, and there is clearly no "right" answer, just different opinions. :)

Patty said...

No uterus or ovaries? Where's the estrogen. How exactly is this person a she? If she is more man than woman, she should compete with the boys.

Actually, I think the Beatles comment above sums it up best.

Persephone said...

As a world class athelete, I'm surprised that this wasn't discovered before now. W/out a womb or ovaries, I'd have to assume that she can't have a period. Not finding out what the problem is just gross negligence due to the part of her parents, coaches, etc.

Kimberly said...

Mooshki,
Exactly! I'm specifically referring to the person who called Caster "SEMENya" The tone is mocking and cruel. Can we agree this not the classiest thing to do?

I'm always respectful of others' opinions...especially when I disagree with them. I try to conduct myself on the internet in the same manner that I conduct myself in person. I love this site because I can get my gossip, but also read the civil discourse!

SFG said...

I don't know where I stand on this issue but I DO agree that we should try to keep this classy. Name calling, capitalizing certain parts of her name, etc. is gross and unfair. She's 18 and having some of her most private business broadcast to the internet. Can you imagine? I was awkward enough about my sexuality at 18, let alone if I had the WORLD weighing in their opinions on it.

K said...

The term 'inter-sex' has far more relevancy today than just plain hermaphrodite, due to the fact there are so many variances and a greater understanding of genes.

I went to school with an hermaphrodite who was more male in mind, but quite female in body. Poor guy.

As someone previously said, she must, in her mind, still associate more strongly with her female side, but her body is showing the symptoms of the high testosterone and gene combo.

Shabbily done by whoever leaked this, and shabbily done by those in charge of athletics in general!

I'm sure there are a few more inter-sex athletes competing today who are not identified because they show fewer outward physical symptoms and have never been tested!

whole_lotto _luv said...

You cannot go on how they identify themselves - imagine if a transgender had a sex change to a woman and then wanted to compete. Would that be acceptable?

Well, there was the Renee Richards (tennis player) case of the 1970's. Renee was born a man, had gender reassignment surgery, and was denied entry to play in the U.S. Open as a woman. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in her favor.

__-__=__ said...

This poor, poor child. I can't imagine how she's dealing with this now. I can't imagine how her parents are dealing with this, having followed whatever doctors told them. Now she knows she will never be able to have children, and so does everyone else. I can't imagine dealing with this at 18. Her whole life changed in a matter of minutes. Good luck to her as she has done nothing wrong.

J-Mo said...

A great athlete who still has tremendous potential. She'll have to adjust her goals accordingly but with her drive, determination, and focus she can accomplish extraordinary things in other fields.

Kara said...

I can not agree with anyone that says she's not a woman because she doesn't have a uterus or ovaries. That type of commentary is what has made many, many women who have had to undergo hysterectomies feel labeled or shameful.

That being said, it's not the end of the discussion either. Every female produces testosterone. The levels vary wildly from person to person. My understanding as that the levels vary MORE within genders than BETWEEN genders.

So If the high testosterone is what gives her an advantage, where do you draw the line? Do you start testing women's testosterone levels and even women with a uterus can't compete if their level is higher than average? Is it POSSIBLE for women with a uterus to have a level higher than hers?

Just the discussion on here calling her a he/she is horrible. I'd hate to be 18 and have people calling me a hemale because of this test.

RocketQueen said...

Kimberly - love your comments. Hear, hear.

Sara Bellum said...

My heart goes out to this poor girl. How terrible to be questioned like that, and to find out what's really going on. It's not like she intentionally had 3X the testosterone in her body. Unfortunately, it does give her an unfair advantage, and so she really shouldn't compete. I don't think her medals should be revoked, it's not like she was juicing, so she should not be penalized in such a way. Yes maybe a second set should be given to the 2nd place person.

And to have this in worldwide news. How terrible. And also to find out that she is unable to have children. Granted, we don't know if she wanted any, but to be faced with the finality of that diagnoses so young is a heavy load to bear. Now, her running career is over too. It's a lot for a kid to deal with.

vamp said...

actually she has AIS....it is when a fetus is forming to be male but something interupts the process so only the internal organs are male...all fetuses start with the potential to be male but at about 2 months, a biological process occurs to make it become male...if it doesnt happen, the fetus remains female...hermaphrodites occur in animals only because they can procreate with themselves...i took a human sexuality class in college and learned this...AIS makes a person female, just infertile and with more testosterone...

vamp said...

***i meant "all fetuses start with the potential to be female", not male.

figgy said...

I hope the GBLT -- emphasis on the Ts especially -- community will rally around Caster, and show her and the world that her situation is not unique.

I feel for the kid, but the opportunity is there if this is handled right to spread understanding and decrease the stigma of transgenderism, ambiguous genitalia, etc.

figgy said...

Chromosomes are not always definitive of gender. Girls with fragile-X syndrome don't have the typical "female" chromosomes. Yet no one questions their gender.

The only way to resolve gender is to ask what the person "feels." Does Caster "feel" like a woman? Want to be a woman? Or a man? That's the only answer.

lutefisk said...

In all seriousness, because I am confused here, what female characteristics does she have?
Is it because her male sex organs are internal that she considers herself a woman? Or is she a male without an external penis? Looking at her, I can't see any signs of being a female, so I am really not sure technically what opinion to have.

nancer said...

i'm with the first poster. it's too bad but she can't compete as a woman. 'it is what it is.'

and her genitalia is not normal. i've seen this condition and it wouldn't look normal to any of us, but not abnormal enough to say 'that's a man.'

it's a very complex condition but she is a genetic male with ambiguous genitalia, testes which secrete lots of testosterone and she has no estrogen at all since she has no ovaries.
it's still an unfair advantage for her to compete against other women. she'd have an easier argument competing against men.

ardleigh said...

I feel sorry for her. Caught betwixt and between and in the public eye. It's just sad.
What gender does she wish to be?

Majik said...

Only a couple of you have hit the real issue...what do her chromosomes tell us? The article fails to mention whether she is a chomosomal male (XY) or female (XX). In any anomolous genetic manifestation (i.e. XXY, XXX, XYY, etc.) it is the presence of the 'Y' that is defining characteristic of being a male. If there is no 'Y', she is genetically female and should be allowed to compete as such. If there is a 'Y', then she should be competing with the men, even if she chooses to self-identify as female.

Judi said...

Totally agree with Erin, Kimberly and Whole_Loto.
Who says Caster doesn't produce estrogen? Have any of us seen her test results? And why should we? Because what should be private medical info is now public, for the rest of her life, she's going to have to deal with this crap.

Big Sur Expedition 2008! said...

I agree with Patty C. It's not the organs, its the testosterone that should disqualify her....

Little Miss Smoke and Mirrors said...

Sounds like she's an XY based on the testosterone and the undescended testes (which she should have removed for medical reasons... undescended testes put one at an exponentially higher risk for testicular cancer than those that are descended).

It's not just the testosterone, primarily it's the muscle mass that gives her an unfair advantage. My heart absolutely goes out to her, but she shouldn't be allowed to complete in the women's category. It's not discrimination, she has has a biological advantage over the other women competing that they can never overcome. Again, my heart goes out to her.

Little Miss Smoke and Mirrors said...

p.s. For anyone interested in at least one variety of hermaphrodism, check out the Pulitzer prize-winning epic novel Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.

f00bby said...

Just thought I'd point out that there are no human hermaphrodites..
A hermaphrodite has both male and female sexual organs and can inpregnate themselves and carry a fetus to term.
Semenya is an intersex person.

watcher said...

On 9 September 2009, ABC Radio National (from Australia) presented an interesting program titled "A question of gender: the sex testing of female athletes".

Sex testing for elite athletes goes back 50 years. The tests have changed over time.

This the main page for the radio program Rearvision: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/rearvision/

You can listen to or download the audio program, or read the transcript here:

http://www.abc.net.au/rn/rearvision/stories/2009/2673067.htm#transcript

Jamie's Girl said...

Actually, she is a man. Do you know why? This happens all the time in the middle east from malnourishment in the 5th month of pregnancy when sex organs are formed. The testes in the male child descend out of the abdomen. They fail to make the decension and they remain in the abdomen. They are still male, but because of their malnutrition are pretty much gender neutral by outward appearance. Inward appearance, they are 100% man.

Jamie's Girl said...

oh, and because they come out with no outward sex organs, by default, the parents and the doctors think they are women. This happened in Iran where a man had 4 daughters, but one got deathly ill, went in the hospital and they found 2 testicles in her abdomen. Overnight, it made her a male, and gave her independence. Then....her 3 sisters were tested...yep, you guessed it, all 4 children were male. The mother was always malnourished, because the women are animals alloted a pitance of tiny food, so the babies were underdeveloped.

f00bby said...

Good link, thanks Watcher. They also spoke to Raelene Boyle on our local ABC radio yesterday who said that there are three other cases like this in Olympic history - one was a Nazi propaganda move though where they just switched the jewish german highjumper (female) for a male imposter.
aah those Nazis, the kicker - the kicker was the gold was won by a jewish woman representing another country :)

Robin the Mad Photographer said...

Because there seems to be a great deal of misinformation out there:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Androgen_insensitivity_syndrome

From what I've heard, it sounds as if Caster has complete androgen insensitivity syndrome, which is an inherited genetic anomaly, and not something that happened due to any external causes during her mother's pregnancy. Yes, she would have internal testes and no uterus or ovaries, but she would also have normal-appearing labia and a shallow-but-still-functional vagina. CAIS females do indeed produce estrogen (some of the testosterone is converted in the body), and while they never menstruate, breast development is usually pretty normal, and their overall appearance is well within the normal female range. If anything, in some ways CAIS females might appear to be ultra-feminine; they usually don't have very much body hair, but do have thick head hair, and acne isn't usually as much of an issue as it is for karotypical people. FWIW, it's been rumored for years that Jamie Lee Curtis has CAIS, and nobody seems to have any issues with her identifying as female, eh?

Whether or not Caster continues with her (and she IS a "her", thankyouverymuch) athletic career is up to the various athletic governing groups; while she may have considerably more testosterone than most women (although levels vary far more among karotypical females than most people realize), she still wouldn't have enough to compete with men.

This poor girl is not only having her entire life turned upside down and her plans for the rest of her life thrown into disarray, and the most intimate details of her physical being discussed in the streets, but she's also having to deal with far too many ignorant comments from all and sundry who don't understand the complex nature of such anomalies, and whose discomfort with anything that doesn't fit into a strict male/female binary gender system leads them to make all manner of cruel and thoughtless comments about an innocent young woman who's done nothing to deserve such abuse other than simply being born. In fact, it's entirely possible that some of those who have no qualms about being hateful towards her may themselves be far more complex chromosomally than they might ever suspect. (Didn't think of THAT, did you?) Whether or not she's allowed to continue competing as a runner, it's obvious that she's been raised as a female and has always seen herself as such, and, assuming this is the general role with which she feels the most comfortable, she should certainly be allowed to stick with it when it comes to simply living her life.

Jasmine said...

Did anyone really read what Mooshki said?! Phelps has obviously genetic makeup that most people dont have that enables him to win literally head and shoulders faster than the competition but he is stil allowed to compete.
I think that some of the fanfare is based on predjiduce and close mindedness. She sounds to not have knowned how advanced her condition was and since many female atheletes dont get their period and retain muscle this was probably a huge shock to her. She obviously identifys as female and as long as the testosterone limit is within female possiblilities then the rest shouldnt matter.
End of story.

Sue Ellen Mishkey said...

All I want to say is that the caption on the South African magazine is the cheesiest thing ever. Like, ever, ever.

Jerry said...

Forget the chemical tests. One question: does she put the toilet seat down? That's the only answer we need for this.

Michelle said...

Robin is correct in his/her explanation above. I'm a physician who is very familiar with AIS (also called Testicular Feminization Syndrome). Due to a genetic defect, the fetus lacks the proper receptors in their cells which allow testosterone to act on the body as it develops. While technically AIS have an XY genotype, their body makeup is actually very feminine because their cells respond to mainly estrogen and not testosterone. Her increased levels of testosterone would have much less effect on her muscles and other tissues than it would in a regular man or woman. Hence you don't see facial hair on her like you do in women with other types of conditions that cause elevated testosterone levels.
As for her never getting a period, some girls don't start menstruating until 16 or later, especially if malnourished. She was likely training very hard in those years and would have had very low body fat (estrogen is produced in body fat as well as by ovaries). They would have attributed her lack of periods to her intense athletic training. Many high performance female athletes, as well as professional ballet dancers go for years without periods and run the risk of getting premature osteoporosis as a result of having low estrogen levels.
In the medical community we regard AIS individuals as developmentally females who have rudimentary testes deep in their abdomen (essentially shrunken and nonfunctioning) who unfortunately did not develop a uterus. Other than having to adopt kids, and having "technically" XY chromosomes, they are regarded as absolutely female by the medical community.

mikey said...

I'm confused as to what genetic defect Michael Phelps has. DS has competed against MP. MP has arms that are longer than what would be expected for his height - so does DS. Big flat feet - DS, too. MP's ankles are double jointed - DS, no. But all in all, every sport has a body type that lends itself to the sport. Gymnastics, basketball, swimming.

I was too short to be a Rockette, by 1 1/2 inches.

Jewels said...

And Mikey is the grand prize winner for making me spit water all over my laptop... Thanks Mikey... o.0

linnea said...

Michelle and Robin - thank you for clearing up some misunderstandings. When it comes to this issue, so many "facts" are thrown around and it is just great when someone takes the time to actually bring some sense into the discussion.

missyg said...

I am so livid about this- 1) the insensitivity with which the whole investigation was/is handled. More protection for potential drug cheats? That makes sense! 2)even now, this is a leak that is still yet to be confirmed or denied. Legally, they don't have the jurisdiction to take away her gold medal without opening themselves up to a HUGE and embarrassing lawsuit. Where's the next Football/soccer World Cup, people? Yup, SA and it's next year.

Until IAAF has done their homework or invent a set of rules they clearly don't have in place, we the public shouldn't be hearing anything about this. It needs to be dealt with properly

f00bby said...

hear hear missy, its been handled atrociously and this poor girl should never have had her medical details handled with such disregard.

bionic bunny! said...

some of this conversation is just crap!
i'm commenting several days after this was posted, so this comment may never be seen, but, for heaven's sake, people!!
i am a hetero woman about to hit 50. i was a bit of a tomboy because i had an older brother, and even with a bad shoulder, i still have damn good aim with a baseball, better than my husband, or even my son who WAS fairly athletic. i was discouraged from trying out for the boy's soccer team because i was better than some of the guys and would never live it down. instead, i was a competitive ice-skater, a sport i was not built for, wasn't that great at, and had to work twice as hard as most of the other girls.
any of that make me less female?
now, add this:
before age 30, i had an ovary removed, so i had early menopause, am now entirely past the whole damn mess, and my testosterone count is actually higher than my estrogen.
TMI?
her estrogen vs. testosterone has nothing to do with her skills and vice versa.
and btw, i saw a really great show last night on either discovery or nat geo about transgenders (a new one) that was fascinating. i don't thing the definition of a hermaphrodite includes being able to impregnate oneself, i don't think one's genetic make-up would allow such a thing to happen, not possible. but one of the scientists on the program said that over 50% of ALL LIVING THINGS on the planet have transgenders.

bionic bunny! said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kait said...

Jamie's Girl, you're confusing two very different conditions. Those kids you mentioned were suffering cryptochordism due to a *congenital* issue, while AIS is a heritable *genetic* condition with far-reaching implications. Yes, Caster has a masculine appearance, but she doesn't have testosterone levels anywhere NEAR a male athlete of her age, and what she does have is limited in effect. The medical community accepts people with extreme AIS as female, and they're permitted to compete in sports as women.

I wonder if people would say these things if Caster looked less masculine. Many people with AIS appear to be perfectly normal women, and live as such.