Australian News Report Describes Semenya As "Hermaphrodite," Sparking Anger, Outrage

Illustration for article titled Australian News Report Describes Semenya As Hermaphrodite, Sparking Anger, Outrage

An Australian newspaper has reported that Caster Semenya is a "hermaphrodite" with internal testes and no womb or ovaries — and unsurprisingly, many people are disgusted and outraged.

Mike Hurst of Australia's Daily Telegraph (cover image above) spoke with an anonymous "source familiar with the IAAF inquiry into the Semenya affair." The source reportedly said,

There certainly is evidence Semenya is a hermaphrodite. But the trouble is the IAAF now have the whole ANC and the whole of South Africa on their backs. Everything is going to have to be done absolutely by the book, no question of a challenge to our findings.


The IAAF's Nick Davies hasn't denied the substance of the leak. Instead, he says,

The statements should be treated with caution as they are not official statements by the IAAF. We have received the results from Germany, but they now need to be examined by a group of experts and we will not be in a position to speak to the athlete about them for at least a few weeks. After that, depending on the results, we will meet privately with the athlete to discuss further action.

The IAAF also says it will make no official statements about Semenya until after its council meeting on November 20-21. Meanwhile, many in South Africa are reacting to the leak angrily. Athletics South Africa president Leonard Cheune says,

The IAAF told us this week that the tests are inconclusive and they could not give us the results just yet. So I really do not know where the Australia media got this latest one from.


The South African National Assembly's sports committee chairman Butana Komphela is pushing for a lawsuit. He says,

We will ask the minister to take drastic measures to protect Caster Semenya. Someone is guilty of leaking her confidential medical information to Australian newspapers.


Semenya's father called the Daily Telegraph "sick," and said, "They are crazy. Are they God?" Her grandmother agreed, saying,

They are crazy. It can only be jealousy that makes them say that she is a man. I raised her as a young girl and I have no doubt that she is a girl. As the family, we don't care who is saying what and we also don't care, even if she won't be running internationally, but we will always support her athletic talent.


Xeni Jardin of BoingBoing takes issue with coverage of the leak for its use of the word "hermaphrodite." Jardin calls "hermaphrodite" a "derogatory term," and also criticizes a New York Daily News article for saying Semenya might need surgery "to fix the potentially deadly condition." Jardin adds,

Some BB commenters have pointed out that the "potentially deadly condition" of which they they speak may be the belief that having male sexual organs "embedded" within the body means elevated cancer risk in intersexed people. Another BB commenter who says they're an intersexed person argues the purported risk is a ruse to pressure intersexed people towards altering themselves through surgery.


On the word "hermaphrodite," The Intersex Society of North America says,

The mythological term "hermaphrodite" implies that a person is both fully male and fully female. This is a physiologic impossibility. The words "hermaphrodite" and "pseudo-hermaphrodite" are stigmatizing and misleading words. [...] The terms fail to reflect modern scientific understandings of intersex conditions, confuse clinicians, harm patients, and panic parents.


The ISNA website does discuss possible medical risks of intersex conditions, including gonadal tumors. On the issue of surgery, it says,

Like all sane people, we believe it is appropriate to have competent surgeons perform operations necessary to resolve a life-threatening metabolic crisis. For example, if a child is born without a urinary opening, the child needs surgery to create a urinary opening. If a child has active gonadal cancer, the cancer should be treated immediately. [...] What we object to are elective surgeries done on people (usually children) without their informed consent.


It's possible that Semenya, if she does in fact have an intersex condition, may choose surgery. But she's already been denied the right to choose whether her medical information is made public. As in so many aspects of this case, the leaker clearly didn't consider Semenya's well-being before speaking out.

Semenya Tests As 'Inter Gender' [BBC]
Treatment Of Intersexed African Athlete Appalling [BoingBoing]
Caster Semenya 'Hermaphrodite Claim' Should Be Treated With Caution – IAAF [Guardian]
IAAF Urges Caution Over Semenya Intersex Claims [CNN]
Caster Semenya Has Male Sex Organs And No Womb Or Ovaries [Daily Telegraph]

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I want to write her a letter. . .we can all sign it. . . and tell Semenya that we are in awe of her athletic ability, her discipline in training, and her courage to compete on the world stage. And then I want to write a letter to all of those that don't think its "fair" for her to compete, or are sensationalizing her internal organs and chromosomes. I will tell them to suck their own preciously-unambiguous-genitals. And I would like to ask them the last time they did something productive or inspiring, or even the last time they supported their own body weight by getting out of their ergonomically designed computer chair (I'm not sure why I'm so angry today)