Real Talk: What if Caster Semenya was White?

By Jorge Rivas Sep 11, 2009

The results of the gender tests run on South African runner Caster Semenya are in, but the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) refused today to confirm or deny reports that Semenya has the biological make-up of an intersex person. However, an Australian newspaper is reporting that the IAAF tests have confirmed Semenya has male and female sexual organs. The IAAF press release acknowledges that there are reports with results of the gender tests but they "would like to emphasize that these should not be considered as official statements by the IAAF." Reports are now saying that she has withdrawn from a forthcoming race. Official results will be released in November, but for me the real question will still remain: Would her gender even be a question if she was white? I posed this same question to a friend yesterday and she thought it had more to do with people being uncomfortable with differences and their need to put people in categories. She continued on to say the real "argument is going to be how do we categorize intersex athletes, and at the end of the day I bet they will say she can’t compete…That’s the saddest part to me." That doesn’t answer my questions about how this was allowed to proceed. There’s the question of privilege — what did Caster do, exactly, to lose the privilege not to have the most intimate details of her very biology questioned? In public, by strangers and the media and officials, with the pride of her nation riding on her, based on nothing but appearance and a two-second time advantage over her fastest competitor? She certainly didn’t volunteer for it. And there’s the question of embedded eurocentric standards — not just beauty standards, but standards on how human beings are supposed to look and behave, extrapolated arbitrarily onto everyone from one group of people. How much of this do you think has to do with race?