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A Closer Look Into the Discrimination of Olympic Athlete Caster Semenya

caster semenya intersex athlete
Mark Schiefelbein/AP

Last week, South African Olympic champion Caster Semenya’s hopes of competing in the Tokyo Olympics took on a sad turn as a Swiss tribunal sided with the track and field’s policy for athletes competing in women's sports, calling the rules ‘necessary reasonable and proportionate to ensure fairness in competition.’

This ruling was in response to an appeal filed by Semenya when she lost her case in May of 2019 to change the rules and allow women with naturally high testosterone levels to compete in the women's competitions.

Editor Notes: According to reports, it is alleged that Semenya is intersex, however we are unable to completely verify. Gaye has concluded from research that Semenya is a cisgender woman, a term for people whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth.

The way it is set up now, Semenya would have to compete with men if she doesn't lower her testosterone levels. Semenya calls the rules 'discriminatory, irrational, and unjustifiable.'

To someone not informed on sports related issues, this can look pretty cut and dry. Caster must either lower her testosterone level in order to compete with other women or be barred from doing so. But, like with all things in life, this is way more complicated.

The fact of the matter is a rule like this won't only exclude trans women and intersex people with high testosterone levels. It’ll exclude cis women (with high testosterone levels as well. According to a Washington Post article, 7.1 in every 1000 female athletes have elevated testosterone levels.

Laurent Gillieron/Keystone, via Associated Pres

According to the Mayo Clinic, the most common causes of this condition in cis women are: Hirsutism, which is a hormonal condition that causes excessive bodily hair growth, polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition related to fertility, and congenital adrenal hyperplasia, a condition that affects the adrenal gland, which produces the body’s hormones. If a cis woman chooses to undergo treatment, it may not work or it could lead to other health issues.

This ruling also shows a lack of understanding that biological sex is complex, and not at all the hardlined binary we've been led to believe it is.

Semenya is alleged to be intersex, and if this is so, she'd most likely have XY chromosomes, which would be the cause of her high testosterone levels.

Finally, this perception that women with higher testosterone have some type of advantage is based on science that is inadequate at best. Testosterone is estimated to make a maximum of a 12% difference to times.

Semenya's best time is only 2% faster than her competitors. There's no clear cut way of knowing how much of that 2% is testosterone and how much of it is other factors. We


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