Friday, August 21, 2009

The Hermaphroditic Sprinter?

Am I one to judge? Of course I am. But this is a case where there needs to be some sort of judgment. Technically, I suppose I don't need to be the one doing it, but what fun is that really? Not much. Let's begin.

Over there in Berlin at the IAAF World Championships in Athletics competition (it's Track and Field, not to be confused with Field and Stream), there's a bit of controversy. Well, maybe just a question. I don't know if it qualifies as a controversy just yet, but it's ramping up to get there. It makes you stop and think, though. It at least makes you wonder. But whether you stop and think or you just wonder, both can be expressed in this situation with the extremely apt expression "WTF?" That's because in the women's 800m race, the winner...well...see, some folks's just because.....and can't really....oh, for cryin' out loud, here! This is the person who won the race. Behold!

Aaahhh. Now do you see what all the hubbub is about? I'm sure you do. That is a picture of a one Caster Semenya of "....a remote, rural part of Limpopo province in South Africa", according to our friends over there at The Telegraph. Caster is 18 years old and has apparently improved her performance in the 800m race by incredible amounts over just a few months (7-ish, to be more vaguely precise). Usually with such a wide margin of time being shaved off of your previous time there is usually talk of doing so by artificial means, aka 'roiding up. Steroids. And while Semenya is muscle-y, that's not what they're concerned about. They're concerned about whether she's running with the appropriate opponents. That is to say, she might be a man.

Again, who am I to judge? Well, I'm me. And I'm gonna. Judge that is. Upon first glance, all I could hear was the Aerosmith song "Dude Looks Like a Lady" running through my head. Well, that and the thought that she's a guy. Simply put, that's a man. But I looked at some footage of how she ran and I also looked at a whole bunch of pictures and in some of them, I'll totally admit that there was a slight hint of a female. I couldn't say what it was. I could say what it wasn't. It wasn't the unshaven legs. It wasn't the rippling muscles. It wasn't the short hair. But there was something. (Ironically though, if there is "something", that won't bode well.) Maybe it's that there isn't a whole lot of room in that outfit to, um, tuck...if you know what I mean. (And while I don't have one, I'd imagine that if you did have that thing all tucked up there, you'd chafe quite a bit if you were running 800m with it like that. You might even rub it down to a little nub, like the eraser on a pencil, if you had really picked up some speed.)

Some of the things that caused others to question Semenya's gender shortly after her arrival in Berlin were her "...muscular development, her narrow figure, deep voice, a dusting of facial hair and her masculine looks." I'm going to take issue with the deep voice part. There's nothing wrong with chicks with deeper than usual voices. Nothing! They're still chicks. They just sound like dudes...mostly on the phone. And they get called "sir" a lot....again, mostly on the I've heard. So just because someone has a deep voice, that doesn't mean that you need to be calling them "sir" because they're really a man. Then again, it does help if they don't look like a man as well as have the deep voice. That's all.
But as far as the rest of it goes, the "dusting of facial hair" is definitely cause for concern, if not alarm. Just because you're female and athletic doesn't mean that you have to sport a "dusting of facial hair". You an be a female athlete and still be able to be identified as a female. Look at these two from Jamaica that were also at the World Championships. No one is questioning whether they're female or not. Behold!

So now what's in store is that they're going to do a gender verification test which, according to IAAF spokesman Nick Davies " an extremely complex procedure." Wait. What? Extremely complex? How many pairs of pants does she have to drop?

According to a one Dr. Richard Auchus, a specialist in disorders of sexual differentiation, "We can get quite philosophical here -- what does it mean to be male or female?" How non-philosophical do you want to get, Doc? Because it's really pretty basic as to what it means either way. Why must it always be so complicated?

There's going to be a series of tests to determine if Semenya is female. (Rumor has it they will include attempting to parallel park, seeing if she stops and asks for directions, has any interest in football and can work the remote control.) These tests would seem to include "...a physical medical evaluation and reports from a gynecologist, endocrinologist, psychologist, an internal medicine specialist and an expert on gender." That seems like a lot. But apparently, just dropping the ol' pants isn't good enough if someone happens to have been born with ambiguous genitalia (which is not a bad name for a band).

But even without the ol' AG (ambiguous genitalia), it's not like this sort of thing hasn't happened before, where a person of one sex can somewhat pass for a member of the opposite sex and therefore does the most logical thing which is to compete in athletics as a member of that opposite sex. Of course. Take the case of a one Samukeliso Sithole. According to the BBC he "...won seven gold medals in women's competitions in 2004." And then it was discovered that she was a he, a fact that he tried to weasel out of by claiming he was a hermaphrodite. That didn't fly and he "...was charged with impersonation and causing psychological damage to fellow athletes." (Wow. If they had that sort of charge here in the US, half of the sports players out there would be charged.) Once they figured out which prison to send him to (they chose a men's prison) off he went, where he later claimed " have periods and feared becoming pregnant. Sithole said the male organs became enlarged after a traditional healer took revenge after not being paid for treatment last year." Nice going, Sithole!

Seriously, what kind of a guy wants to win something so badly that he'll pretend to be a chick and go run against a bunch of women? That's really pathetic, yes? It's also nothing new! This goes back at least to 1932 with the case of a one Stella Walsh, later nicknamed Stella the Fella (you can see where this one is going). According to an article over at The Mirror , she won "...Olympic gold for Poland in the 100 metres at the 1932 Los Angles Games", then in 1936 won a silver in the same event and went on to set "...100 national and world records, including 51 Polish records, 18 world records, and eight European records." That was all fine and good until 1980 when, as a bystander to an armed robbery in Cleveland, Ohio, she was shot dead and her subsequent autopsy revealed that she had male genitalia. Holy canoli! I'm still wrapping my head around this one. Mainly because I've been looking at photos of "Stella" and wondering if there were any questions at the time that this was going on. I look at these photos and I think "You could have at least tried to alter your appearance. Maybe shave or something." She's pretty manly. Behold!

See?! What did I tell ya? But get this! At the Berlin Games in 1936 high jumper Hermann Ratjen "was forced by Hitler and the Nazis in Germany to pretend to be a woman and call himself Dora". I guess that if Hitler is asking/telling you to be a woman, you be a woman. ("Would you like me to put on a sundress, Fuhrer?") They did this because the Nazis "...wanted to ensure that Germany won much more medals than they had done the previous Games." That didn't go over so well when Hermann came in fourth in the women's high jump. And that is why Hermann Ratjen did not go down in history as one of Germany's most famous athletes. He was found out in 1938 when on a train where he was recognized by a couple of women. Even though he was wearing a dress (still going with the Pretend-like-I'm-a-woman-for-Hitler ruse), it was something about his beard stubble that gave him away. Go figure!

But again, I have to ask, was anyone questioning this at the time it was happening? Or, in this case, were folks just going along with it because of the Hitler factor? I'd be OK with that, you know. Not saying anything as to not upset Hitler? Not a problem. Seems reasonable.

The "extensive gender tests" on Semenya are expected to take a while, so we won't know right away whether she's all woman or all man or some sort of hermaphroditic sprinter (another really good name for a band. Hermaphroditic Sprinter.). But until something or someone says otherwise, she's a chick and she won the 800m race and that's how it should be for the time being. While this likely won't be the most pleasant public relations incident that she'll ever be involved in, at least when it's done, it's done and she won't have to go through it again. In the meantime, just a slight touch of femininity can go a long way. Just something to think about.

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1 comment:

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Mokgadi Caster Semenya is a great middle-distance runner but she had a big controversy because the people said that she had a physical condition that might give her an unfair advantage over other female racers.