She is Not a Man

Caster Semenya’s gender controversy has raised serious questions

As soon as South African track athlete, Caster Semenya, crossed the finish line of the 800-meter race at the 2009 World Championships of Athletics, everyone began to cry, “She’s a man!”

I am ashamed that we indulged the sore losers before proving anything conclusively. As rumors spread and hermaphrodite jokes surfaced, international sports organizations and South African authorities were still trying to figure things out. Nothing was confirmed, but plenty of damage was done.

Although this is a cliché saying to mention, journalists and gossipers often forget it: Everyone has feelings. Yes, Semenya is “actually” a hermaphrodite. But we have always known that she is human. And most people do not appreciate getting their genders questioned. Semenya is surely no exception.

So the matter of conducting gender tests and other investigations should have been handled with more sensitivity. The media should have been less enthusiastic about conveying rumors before anything was verified, especially because this was never a matter of cheating. Semenya did not identify as a female all her life just to gain an advantage over her fellow runners.

I understand the concerns of competitors and authorities. “Does Semenya’s physiological makeup give her an edge?” some may ask. It is a worthy question. I like sports that are fair, too. I would probably be angry and hateful if I were the runner that got bumped down to second place. It would be wonderful to strip the gold medal from a DQ-ed athlete. Oh, how proud I would be.

Um, kidding. Not really.

I am not a runner. But if I were, I would have to accept that second place is second place. The disaster has already happened. We all wish that Semenya had been tested before the race, but that was simply not the case. What angers me the most, though, is that she was not given the basic respect that journalists – and others – ought to give every athlete and every human being.