Semenya’s treatment is monstrous, and reflective of the disgusting, dehumanizing treatment Black women have always received from the medical establishment and other institutions that are supposed to be inclusive. The specific method of testing — an invasive pelvic exam — is reminiscent of the torturous gynecological experiments Black women have been subjected to in the name of science. Semenya doesn’t even feel able to speak up for herself: according to Talk Radio 702, “She refused to be recorded, saying her deep voice has been used by the media to fuel the gender controversy.” Silenced, diminished, and disembodied; that’s what white supremacy does to Black women.
Gender is Different Than Sex — and Neither Predicts Identity
Gender is not the same as sex, and sex is not determined by biology. For example, my estrogen levels are zero, thanks to weekly HRT injections. My testosterone levels are equal to or higher than the average cis man, and they didn’t reach those levels until more than two months at a full dose of testosterone. You can’t tell that by looking at me. Two years into my transition, I still don’t “pass” — which is fine with me. I am a tall, androgynous-looking, masculine-ish person. Some people perceive me as female and others as male. It is impossible to look at my body and know my identity, pronouns, or sex. A hormonal profile doesn’t reveal that. Only the individual person does.
Semenya’s only transgression here was being better than her competitors — and not apologizing for it or backing down. She is a woman with naturally high testosterone levels, and her excellence challenges rigid notions of gender, and the idea of biological sex. Chromosomes, body parts, and hormones are not what defines a person. If she had been allowed to run longer events without hormone blockers, it may have been the first step toward helping build the case for including intersex, transgender, or gender non-conforming people in sport.
For now, it seems unlikely she’ll compete in any race above 200 meters in the Tokyo Olympic Games. She’s said multiple times that she refuses to alter her body through testosterone blockers or surgery, and in a statement through her lawyers as reported by the Associated Press on Tuesday, September 8, said, “I am very disappointed by this ruling, but refuse to let World Athletics drug me or stop me from being who I am. Excluding female athletes or endangering our health solely because of our natural abilities puts World Athletics on the wrong side of history.”
Semenya was born to win. Her passion, dedication, and talent allow her to withstand brutal hours of training, competition, and recovery and the colossal pressure of performance in front of millions of people, on the world stage. She will need that strength, and advocates who are willing to challenge arbitrary, binary, bigoted standards of sex and gender.
After the ruling was announced, Semenya tweeted, “Chills my people, a man can change the rules but the very same man cannot rule my life.”
Spoken like a champion.
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