Links to Gender Commentary Re: Semenya
I just wanted to throw these links out there because I think they’re worth reading.
World-class female athletes have long made people anxious, particularly gorgeously muscle-bound black ones. The splendor of their world, which a bystander like myself can only imagine, must be one in which conventional barriers of the body are left behind in the dust.
As in Semenya’s case, female masculinity is often associated with forms of disguise and deceit (the stigma of “doping” and of South African Athletics perhaps trying to “pass off” a male runner as a woman is clearly relevant here). But it is also associated, and for related reasons, with the extraordinary. Runners like Semenya are as much virtuoso performers as are players like [Billy] Tipton. And the virtuoso always risks being scapegoated as a freak, even as they exhibit a skill that is, in a sense, always already in all of us.
We are drawn to the virtuoso, the virtuoso draws us out, but it is that very intensity of response that can lead to the kind of panicked rush to quarantine virtuosity, or explain it away as plain freakishness. Female masculinity like that of Semenya or Tipton can be thought of as virtuosic performances of gender.
Women’s sports has always been the source of a dichotomy. Designed and promoted in the recognition of the bars of sexism against competition, it is supposed to serve as proof that women need not be traditionally feminine, need not bar “masculine” activities such as athletic competition from their lives to be women. It is to promote athleticism amongst women so that more may compete and thus more may begin to rival the times and outputs of those in the male world.
But this world, like the greater world it inhabits is striken by the same disease of sexism. The assumption is made even at the highest levels that women are naturally inferior in all competitions and that not only will an elite-level athlete defeat an elite-level female, but a “mediocre” man can defeat and blow-out elite-level female competitors just by putting on a wig. And so the lines must be enforced.
Now, it is important to note here, critically, that Caster Semenya has always been a woman, has always defined herself as a woman, has lived her life as a woman, has to this date considered herself to be a woman, not transgendered, not a transman. It is critical to note this here as to understand both the statement to come as well as what a public scrutiny of gender is like.
It is a horde of people thinking they have a right to decide where you belong with only an ignorant impression of your gender proclivities and expression with zero understanding of your internal sex. And their opinion is to be given credence over your own.
And for her there’s no point at the end of it, just the threat of the removal of everything that has brought you joy, the threat that all of this can be taken away because you were suspicious. Now the public and an arbitrary standard noone fully understands can remove the one passion that has defined your life and remove from you the dream of a little girl (to compete, perchance to medal in the Olympic games, to bring honor to your country and family, and most importantly to yourself).
Gone in an instant.