Who determines womanhood?

Last week it was announced TO THE WORLD that Caster Semenya is in fact a woman and is able to compete in athletic events as a woman. Why the global effort to determine the gender of one person on this planet? Caster is a runner from South Africa who was beginning to compete on an international scale and as she blew away the rest of the pack the other competitors and coaches began questioning her gender.

It has been almost a year since she was force to undergo testing to determine if she was in fact a woman and able to compete at the highest level she could as an athlete. This testing included specialists in the areas of gynecology, endocrinology, psychology and gender testing. (What if we all had to go through such invasive tests to determine our female hood?)

It was suspected that she was intersex or what was once called hermaphroditism. She could have ambiguous genitalia - testes that may be inside of the body rather than outside or an extra y chromosome instead of the double x that we’ve been told makes us female.

Last year, when this story first broke, the media was agog with Caster; pictures showed her as very muscular with little perhaps non-existent breasts. Even though she was taunted as a child, South Africans seemingly rallied around her when other parts of the world also taunted, criticized and defamed her.

How do we handle it when people are so seemingly different from us?

Are we truly as kind as we should be? Can we go beyond tolerate?

In my book tolerate means I won’t say anything until something sets me off and then I can rant (with those who feel the same way as I do). Again, I tolerate pap smears.

I simply hate the thought of someone being an outcast because of circumstance of birth. Why? Because it sets all of us up to be an outcast. Who determines female hood? Is it simply chromosomes or does it go further into physical attributes; the size of breasts, the width of hips, or the use of our uterus in giving birth to children. It is estimated that approximately one percent of live births in the U.S. are either intersexed or are sexually ambiguous. That includes those people whose genitalia are either not readily apparent or whose chromosomal makeup does not coincide with their physical appearance. Sometimes, we can see the difference, but other times it is left to science to determine.

Being intersexed seems to be purely a physical thing and not something that makes someone a serial killer, rapist, or pedophile. It’s just physical. And while we base many things on someone’s outward appearance shouldn’t we all just be a little bit kinder? In fact, one of the reasons why gender testing on female Olympic athletes was dropped in 1999 was that that they found more than one athlete to have chromosomal differences. (This certainly flies in the face of the high school biology I was taught.) Those women were allowed to compete and so should Caster.

As I listened to some radio disc jockey's make fun of her and read how the other runners viewed her, I was disappointed. It’s so easy to make fun of someone who’s seemingly different from us and challenges our own beliefs of what should be true. But, in this instance, unless we all drop our pants and submit to a chromosome analysis, we will never know for sure if that claim of her being different from us is actually accurate.


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