Baby, We Were Born This Way
The GIST: On Wednesday, Caster Semenya lost her landmark appeal case against the IAAF (track and field’s world governing body) and will be forced to medically limit her testosterone levels in order to continue competing.
Quick, remind me. Who’s Semenya?: She’s a 28-year-old South African runner and two-time Olympic champ in the 800m. She’s believed to have been born intersex, meaning not traditionally male or female.
Though she has always identified as a woman, she has higher levels of testosterone than the average female, which some argue gives her an unfair competitive advantage—though this hasn’t been definitively proven.
Testosterone is a banned substance in athletics when taken as a performance enhancer, as it can create larger and stronger bones and muscles. Semenya has never taken testosterone; her body simply produces higher than average levels.
What was the case about?: On one side, the IAAF proposed that athletes with “differences of sex development (DSD)” be forced to limit their testosterone levels to below a certain level. On the other side, Semenya was fighting for the status quo: to compete as she is naturally. She was not the only DSD athlete in this fight, but she was definitely the most high-profile.
So, what was the ruling?: The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), the highest court in international sports, decided that the IAAF’s rule on limiting hormone levels is discriminatory but should be applied anyway, and that the “discimination is necessary” to preserve the integrity of female athletics. Sorry, what? When did discrimination become okay, let alone necessary?
What can she do now?: The new IAAF rule applies to only some events: track races from the 400m to the mile. To compete, Semenya (whose specialty is the 800m) will either have to restrict her testosterone levels (the side effects of which are unknown) or change events. Not great options.
What’s the bigger picture?: Where the rest of the world is (arguably) making huge strides towards anti-discrimination policies and gender equality, sport still seems to be one giant step behind.
While the genetic gifts that men are born with are celebrated (massive hands like Kawhi Leonard, incredible height like Shaquille O’Neal, superhuman biology like Michael Phelps), this ruling tells us that women must, quite literally, limit their bodies medically so as not to upset the careful gender balance. Gender policing at its finest.