This is Caster Semeya. Caster was assigned female at birth, without controversy, and raised as a girl. She always loved athletics. She found her calling as a runner, and trained hard, day after day, for years. In 2009, at age 18, she won gold in the World Championships 800 meter race. She was elated. But a competitor claimed to the officials that she did not believe Caster was really a woman. Caster was subjected to “sex verification” by an endocrinologist, a gynecologist, an internal medicine expert, an “expert on gender” and a psychologist. And it was found that she has an intersex status. In fact, the media found out before she did.
Caster has had to live her life under a gender-policing spotlight ever since. She’s been forced to take drugs to suppress her body’s naturally-high levels of testosterone, and had constant social media attention paid to how she dresses, the fact that she is a lesbian, and debates over whether the muscularity of her Black, athletic body reveals her admirable hard work and dedication to her sport, or some intolerable natural advantage.
Lately, transphobic “feminists”, otherwise known as the TERFs, have really been piling on Caster Semenya, in ways that reveal deep hypocrisy. Consider:
TERFs: There are only two sexes, you’re assigned one at birth, and that is your real eternal sex.
Also TERFs: I don’t care if Caster Semenya was assigned female at birth, he’s a man.
TERFs: Being raised as a girl socializes you to be a woman. Being raised as a boy socializes you to be a man. That determines your personality for all eternity and cannot be changed.
Also TERFs: You can tell just by looking at Caster that any attempt to raise him as a girl failed. Caster’s father says that as a child, Caster hated wearing dresses and liked to play sports with the boys.
TERFs: Trans boys are just girls who are tomboys with transgenderist parents! Their parents hate gender transgression and want to convert their inconvenient toyboy daughters into gender-conforming sons! Feminists must stand up for butch girls and save them!
Also TERFs: Caster Semenya walks like a man, dresses like a man, makes muscles like a man, and therefore is a man.
TERFs: When someone says a child or teen is a trans boy, the truth is that the youth is a lesbian, and their parents reject that and are forcing conversion therapy on their lesbian daughters to try to make them appear heterosexual by convincing the poor girls that they are really straight boys! We must stand up for lesbians!
Also TERFs: Caster Semenya married a woman, and the partner wore the white dress while Caster wore pants! Therefore Caster is a man.
TERFs: Prescribing medication to suppress someone’s sex hormones is pointless, as it doesn’t change who you really are. Also, it’s experimental, goes against nature, and is an intolerable thing to suggest to anyone.
Also TERFs: It is absolutely vital that Semenya be made to take testosterone suppressants, and be tested before every race.
TERFs: Taking testosterone or estrogen can’t change your sex. You are the sex you were assigned at birth.
Also TERFs: It’s irrelevant that Caster Semenya was assigned female at birth. Caster’s body was flooded with testosterone at puberty, making him male.
TERFs: Transgenderism is based on enforcing gender stereotypes. It equates being a woman with looking pretty and delicate and wearing makeup and being submissive. That’s evil misogyny!
Also TERFs: I can tell who is really a woman by looking at them, and that’s not a real woman. Caster’s too muscular, never wears makeup, is aggressive, and looks like a man. It’s not misogyny if *I* do the gender-policing.
There’s so much hypocrisy in all of this. And lest we forget, in Caster Semeya’s case, a whole lot of racism as well. The competitors who have challenged Caster’s right to compete have all been white women, crying white-women tears for the cameras. The TERFs who’ve been serving as talking heads in media interviews? Also a bunch of white women. There’s one who seems to find every Twitter conversation on the topic and post photos contrasting women athletes she claims are “really men” due to presumed intersex status—every one of them Black or brown—with women she says have been cheated of their rightful medals—all white.
(This makes me recall the weird racist claims made by a certain fringe about Michelle Obama—that she was really a trans woman or intersex, because she was too strong, and seemed to the racist detractors to have overly-broad shoulders.)
In the end, what we see are that trans-exclusive “feminists” are largely white women who believe they have ownership of the category of woman by right. And they seem to have no problem with deploying one set of arguments to exclude trans women, and totally opposite arguments to exclude intersex women. It’s sad and it’s ugly.
Yet Caster Semenya continues to rise up to compete, enduring intrusive media questions about her genitals, endless discussions of her dress and demeanor, and years of being forced to take testosterone-suppressant drugs against her will in a way that no person competing in men’s sports, no matter how high his natural testosterone levels, has ever been forced to do. Sometimes she’s allowed to compete and sometimes barred from competition, depending on rules that keep being changed for how typical a woman’s body must be in order for her to qualify for the Olympics.
Remember this: virtually every person competing in the Olympics has an atypical body. These athletes may be endowed with atypical levels of fast-twitch muscle, or unusually flexible joints, or huge lungs, or extraordinarily long legs. We don’t police these biological differences, or require that to compete in the Olympics, you must have an average body. We don't randomly pick citizens of each nation to compete in international sporting events--we get to see average people running for the bus all the time. We don't find this exciting, and it's the very atypicality of elite athletes' bodies that enthralls us. It's only this very specific type of atypicality--being a woman with hormonal or genital or chromosomal variance--that has been policed. And it's policed intensively, intrusively, punitively.
And it’s all based on magical thinking about what testosterone does. Ten percent of cisgender women have PCOS, which makes them produce high levels of testosterone, but doesn’t magically make them athletic. And actually, when studied, it turns out that 17% of elite male athletes have testosterone levels below the bottom of the "male range." These men are not disqualified as "cheating by being intersex." They aren't regulated at all, probably because it's presumed that their low testosterone must be a disadvantage. Yet these men with low testosterone are not lesser athletes; they are just as extraordinary in their performance as the men with typical testosterone levels. This illustrates how there's no direct relationship between the amount of testosterone a person produces and their athletic abilities.
I myself am an intersex man, who has been taking testosterone for many years. My athletic abilities? Well, they’re better than those of a potato. But they are poor. What sort of feminist would argue that I should not be allowed to compete against women Olympians, because I have an innate male advantage over them and would win? That’s magical thinking, of a sort that posits a binary of male superiority and female inferiority. And it’s ridiculous.
The last thing a feminist should be doing is gender-policing women, telling them if they get too strong and muscular, they are no longer women. That refusing to wear dresses makes them men. That marrying a woman discredits them.
That’s not feminism, friends.
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