Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Don't Meddle With Her Medal

Now that I have turned forty, I seem to be viewing life differently. Or perhaps, I am just viewing it more deliberately. With my daughter now in kindergarten, I have plenty of time to watch the news, catch up on reading and cleaning, so there’s no more kid TV during the day to keep me from what is going on in the real world. Sometimes, that’s not always a good thing. At least kid TV is friendly and nice.

I have been reading with interest the case of Caster Semenya. Some of you might not be familiar to you, so allow me to introduce you to her. She is an athlete, a runner from South Africa. She won Gold in the 800 meters last month in Berlin. But that is not where her story ends, rather, it is where it begins.

Judges were amazed at the speed with which Ms. Semenya won the race. They felt that something was amiss. So they required her to undergo various tests, one of which was a test to determine gender. It was discovered and announced to the globe that Ms. Semenya was intersexual, or, as it is sometimes known, a hermaphrodite. And of course the tacky jokes started.

“Caster….like castrated! She’s a dude!”

“Semen-ya! Yuk, yuk, she’s got semen, ya!”

Pathetic, folks. Really pathetic.

Intersexuality is a rare condition affecting less than one percent of live births. And while I have not writing a biology lesson here, suffice it say that on the outside, Ms. Semenya looks like a woman, but instead of ovaries, she has testes. If you don’t know what any of this means, shame on you! Take an anatomy class! At any rate, she identifies herself as a woman. She did not ask to be born with this condition, and happily, has refused to allow it to hold her back from living a
full and rewarding life.

I first heard about this condition as a child. I used to spend summers with my maternal grandmother, who we called Dug. Dug was a first generation German immigrant and a Southerner so you can imagine what those summers were like. Anyway, Dug was enjoying a little Mateus Rose one day and decided to tell me the story of her childhood pet, a cat named Hephzibah. Hephzibah is a biblical name meaning, ‘My delight is in her.’ Which I found strange because Dug said Hephzibah was a boy. At any rate, I knew this because Dug said that he still had his testicles but then gave birth one day to a litter of kittens! I thought this was the coolest, funniest thing ever so when I returned from my visit to Dug’s house, I laughingly greeted my
parents with the question, “What’s a morphodite?”

Daddy sent me outside to play while Mother called Dug, ostensibly to read her the riot act. After that, my mother sat me down to explain what hermaphrodite meant, and how it impacted people’s lives. I felt such sorrow at that moment, and knowing firsthand the spite of people towards those who are deemed different (I remember the ‘fat kid’ thing) I made a vow, with the earnestness of a child, never to laugh at people just because they are different from me. And while that didn’t completely stop me from being mean, I have never stooped to pick on anyone with a disability.

Because this condition is so rare, I would imagine that many who have it are ashamed or embarrassed. No one asks to be born with a disability, or any condition that leaves them vulnerable to the taunts of others. It was bad enough being the fat kid in school. Could you imagine, at such a young age, dealing with confusion about your gender identity? Or the cruelty of other children?

“She-male! Chick with a dick! She can do it with herself…haha!”

Trust me, when I became aware of this story, I heard them all. It made me physically ill. Now comes the news that The International Association of Athletics Federations wants to strip Ms. Semenya of her medal because of her condition and the fact that her intersexuality causes her to produce testosterone. She didn’t use steroids, she didn’t take hormones deliberately. This is just, for her, a fact of life. To take her medal away is such a slap in the face to any person who is differently-abled. To make her condition such fodder for public gossip and spite is wrong, and evil. Caster Semenya is living her life as she sees fit. She is refusing to allow her condition to hold her back. I admire that, and I believe she deserves to keep her medal. And for the people who find her condition amusing, who make fun of her because of her intersexuality, take your sick jokes and go screw yourselves.

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