Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Challenging the Binary

Recently, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding Caster Semenya, a South African world champion runner. There was debate over her biological sex after some rival athletes made accusations that Semenya was a transgendered woman. This prompted a “battery of gender tests” by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), which recently reported that Semenya is actually intersexed.

Now, there are a myriad of things wrong with this whole situation. I have concerns with: the way that the IAAF handled the case, along with the clear ethical questions surrounding Semenya’s rights, and the lack of political correctness by some “progressive” sources, particularly where the term “hermaphrodite” is used profusely and incorrectly.
The term hermaphrodite refers to an organism that has both male and female reproductive organs and has the ability to reproduce - there are no cases of a human being a hermaphrodite. Intersex on the other hand is a condition where chromosomes are atypical and create different degrees of biological maleness and femaleness. Thus, a person who is intersex may have an ambiguous biological sex, but is not a hermaphrodite because of the lack of reproductive ability. Often, the term hermaphrodite is used in a derogatory/incorrect manner.

With all of the innacurracies and injustices surrounding this case, one can only hope that this will challenge people’s views of binary restrictions on sex and gender. Furthermore, if any good can be taken from this injustice, let it be increased awareness and hopefully progress towards eradicating discrimination; we should not allow this woman to have to endure this experience in vain.

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