Thursday, September 17, 2009

Intersexuality & Hermaphrodites

Mokgadi Caster Semenya (South African middle-distance runner and world champion) has been the centre of controversy the last few weeks. Doubt about her gender started to surface and consequently she had to submit to some rather degrading tests to determine her gender. It has been rumored that Semenya is a hermaphrodite (having both male and female reproductive organs) or is an intersex (term adopted by medicine during the 20th century applied to human beings whose biological sex cannot be classified as either male or female). This led me to ask, what are our own attitude towards people like this and where do they fit in society.

Having seen and heard Semenya on television admittedly she does not seem to sound or appear very feminine. With a muscular build and deep voice it is easy to understand how the rumours developed. Having now submitted to tests the result of which will be made known only in November this year, the public and local- and international media continues to speculate. The manner in which the issue have been dealt with is, in my opinion, deplorable. The poor woman has been degraded and her athletic achievement diminished and now could be permanently tarnished. If she is found to be a hermaphrodite or intersex it could be argued that she had an unfair advantage and how this will affect her career one can only assume it’s going to be utter devastation.
The exact number of hermaphrodites and intersex individuals in the world is unknown to me. The little that I do know is that in some hermaphrodite cases the parents are given an informed choice by a doctor to decide what gender the child would keep when corrective surgery is preformed. However, even after corrective surgery it can not be guaranteed that the person will be comfortable with their assigned gender later in life and their sexual preference could also pose a challenge.

Being born intersex or hermaphrodite and having a relationship with a person of any other gender, could that person be classified as being in a homosexual relationship? In Semenya’s case her physical appearance and traits could make one assume that she might be a stereotypical “butch lesbian”, and if she is found to be an intersex or hermaphrodite even in a “heterosexual” relationship her biology could qualify her “technically” to also be homosexual.
In the gay community we seem to prefer to only include Gays, Lesbians, Bi-Sexuals and Transsexuals (GLBT) and noticeably omit hermaphrodites and intersex people. This made me to further wonder why this is. Is the gay community purposefully shying away from this group due to the stigma associated with them or is their case so highly unique that their inclusion is not justified?
In the case of hermaphrodites and intersex people it is often congenital and is a physical biological anomaly that occurs in 0.1% to 0.2% of all births, therefore making the condition rare, unique and a physical deformity. Yes, it can be argued that no matter whether corrective surgery have been preformed on them or not they would inevitably end up being in a homosexual relationship no matter what their actual sexual preference. It is my opinion that this segment of society does not qualify for inclusion in the GLBT community, as true homosexuality entails both parties in a relationship to be attracted to the same gender and that the chromosome and genital anomalies of the one party does not truly make such a person or that relationship gay. Being a member of a minority group I have a natural tendency to be fiercely protective of any other minority groups, hermaphrodites and intersex people are no different. They are people that didn’t choose to be born in the bodies they have, some living with an embarrassing secret and others when exposed are left to pick up the shattered pieces of their lives alone.

The case of Caster Semenya truly is an interesting one, but she is by no means the first athlete who has been shrouded in this type of controversy. The same happened to the Indian athlete Santhi Soundarajan who was stripped of her medal at the 2006 Asian Games after failing a gender verification test and was found to be a hermaphrodite. Perhaps the earliest case was Stanislawa Walasiewicz (aka Stella Walsh) a Polish athlete who won a gold medal at the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, but who after her death in 1980 was discovered to have had partially developed male genitalia. What will happen to Semenya? I guess we will have to wait and see. Did she want to become world famous due to perhaps being a hermaphrodite, I think not. Never the less, what ever the outcome I believe Semenya should be supported.

Till next time.

Michael Johnson's views on Caster Semenya


Anonymous said...

I feel sorry for the girl/guy but it's not fair if someone competes in a woman's category if you're not a woman. The homosexual thing didn't even cross my mind, made me think. It's a weird situation.

Pierre said...

Anonymous, I agree that it's not fair if it does show to be the case but I am quite troubled about the manner in which this has been dealt with. What happened to compassion and discretion? Even if the results show that she's a hermaphrodite surely there could have been a better way to deal with this matter.

Regarding whether hermaphrodite are homosexuals by default, that is a tricky one.

GLBTQ Jamaica Linkup Mod said...

Great post as per general overview, however that youtube clip has ticked me off, why is the interviewer suggesting that because Caster didn't celebrate after her win that somehow she may be guilty of something?
That's an unfair gest I think

Pierre said...

Thanks H, I purposefully posted the YouTube clip. It shows just how biased people can be without realizing it. Just because there is a rumour people start reading more into things than they should. There could have been a multitude of reasons for her reaction after her win.

Rene Monroe said...

I find this quite interesting. Mainly because of the entire debate that it would not be fair for her to compete in a "women's" even if she is not biologically a woman.

To me, I find the whole seperation between mens/women's sports to be rather dumb. I say this because I know many men who can out play a woman in certain sports, while certain women can outplay other men. Take the Williams sisters for example. They could probably outplay some of the men, like Tim Henman of Britain. However, Roger Federer or Rapheal Nadal could outplay them.

Any person can learn a sport, and with the right training and commitment, defeat any other player. Thus I find the gender of a person to be irrelevant.

Pierre said...

Rene, to a certain degree I do agree with you. However men and woman's bodies are different, yes with the right training woman can outplay men. But in all honesty, if a man competes in a woman category (in any sport) and wins nobody will take his win seriously apposed to when a woman winning in a men's category.

Anonymous said...

katty says...

I think that as an 'alternative' sexuality group we should support and include everyone and anyone that does not fall within the 'gay' or 'straight' dichotomy. Our biological inclination does not fall within this paradigm as set up by society, and intersex people are a perfect example of this.

Why are parents and doctors making choices for intersex children? Why are they considered 'disabled'. As a gay person, this sounds kinda familiar. We should be fighting for the right of intersex people to make their own sexuality/gender choices. We should be fighting society's need to stereotype everything into a yes/no or male/female paradigm.

As far as the YouTube interview goes, I think their comment is about the fact that Semenya is under a lot of strain, and Johnson comes out to say that the whole situation is being handled badly. Competitions have rules, and anyone thought to be breaking those will be challenged.

As South Africans we should support Semenya regardless. As a society we should apologise to her for the humiliations she has been put through her whole life.

Caster, I think you are beautiful and magnificent, and I apologise to you for the way you've been treated - not only by the international community, but by us as South Africans.

I bow to you. You are my champion.

Pierre said...

Katty, I agree with you that we should fight for the right of intersex people and hermaphrodites to make their own sexuality/gender choices. It's an important decision to make and I believe they have the right to make decision about their own bodies.

Supporting Caster Semenya, not only South Africans should support her but everyone should. Like what has been voiced in the media and on my blog, she has been done a grave injustice due to the manner in which this issue has been handled.

Joanne said...

OII would like to thank some of you for your comments. Sadly, not others:

1. The word hermaphrodite is highly offensive to many if not most intersexed people.

2 Were such a thing as an hermaphrodite exist (no such case has ever been recorded)The only way they could possibly be 'gay' would be to have sexual relationships with other hermaphrodites.

3 Caster Semenya is not gay, or lesbian. or bi-sexual, or queer. Ms Semenya's sexual preferences are unknown. She has not articulated them. Given her cultural heritage it is unlikely that she would express it in such terminology.

4. Caster Semenya is not 'transgendered.' She has shown no indication of wanting to alter the way she presents or expresses her social or cultural gender role and behavior.

5. Ms Semenya indicates no desire to alter her sexual embodiment opposite to anatomical sex that she was born. Ms. Semenya is not transsexed.

OII-NZ invites you all to read this:

We invite you visit OII in all its scope, around the world. We hope that you will learn and grow from the experience.

What we do not want to see is intersexed people meeting the fate of transsexed individuals. Their voices buried and subsumed into the ideology of transgenderism and a GLBTQ ('T'for transgender, not transsexed) maw.

Some intersexed people identify as gay. Most do not.


Pierre said...

Hi Joanne,

Thanks for your comments and interesting points you made. I am sure everyone can do with further familiarizing themselves on this topic. I have found that we as a society easily pass judgements on others and certain issues without really taking the trouble to fully understand the issues.

tmdobsonfdlservicescom said...

Hello Pierre,

Well stated words that should make any rational minded person think before taking a stance.

I for one am gay as you are and agree with your sentiment, but I have been urging gay and lesbian people to be inclusive of everybody else in the world. We can no longer stand aside seeking to know what our differences are with this person or that person. We are all inter-connected and must learn to Love, Honor and Respect all who join us within it. That includes anyone who might be intersex.

I will have to say I take a slightly different and maybe more spiritual approach to why someone may be born with both sexes, born gay or with any other classification that might seclude them as apposed to include them. We all agree to learn and to teach certain lessons during our time in this life. We agree to take on with any harshness in order to learn those lessons we must learn and/or to teach those we must teach. Who is to say that she is not here to teach the world how to accept and love intersex people? I for one think that any person who rises to the ranks of world recognition has the ability to either profoundly impact us positively, negatively or neutrally. I hope she takes this opportunity to ignight the world with Love and Acceptance as she teaches us a lesson that so many need to learn.

Well said thoughts and with much love - Todd

Pierre said...

Hi Todd,

Thanks for your comment, I could agree more. I am sure Caster will set a good example as she has been handling the situation very gracefully thus far.

Even though what she has gone through have been extremely taxing, I am grateful that it happened because it brought the world's attention to the issue and plight of people who are intersexed. So often we as a society want to shy away from issues like this because it makes us uncomfortable. I think the time has come to deal with it and our own prejudices.

Again I would like to thank Caster for being who she is, handling this issue tremendously well and trust that no matter what happens she get to the other side a stronger person and better athlete.

tmdobson said...

Hey Pierre,

Here is a link back to my site and the post I wrote based on your remarkable words. Thank you for the inspiration and for accepting my take on this human interest story.

Pierre said...

Thanks Todd

Anonymous said...

hi this really is disgusting to make a spectacle of a person because they have varied chromosomes,the reality is boy girl intersex,the reality is one in every 200 births are actually intersex,come on world wake up and see varied peopel everywhere,you too may be intersex and not know it yet,cheers a chimeric beauty.

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