Thursday, June 14, 2012

The disappearing act the IAAF is working on

Caster Semenya is on something.
Say that about almost any other track and field athlete (or cyclist-- even the now officially retired "I've- never tested positive" Lance Armstrong remains under scrutiny) and you think doping. An athlete seeking an unfair advantage.
But not Semenya--and not, according to secret and not-so-secret sources--are numerous other female athletes who apparently are meeting standards of performance, of hormone levels, of muscle mass not associated with the socially acceptable definition of female. Interventions have been made. Drugs administered. Surgeries completed. At least that's the impression given by this article.
We all know the controversy over Semenya's performance and appearance. When it was seemingly over, the horror over the whole experience--the invasion of privacy, the (largely undiscussed) racism and colonialism, the general ickiness of it all--was supposed to be a closed chapter. An additional stain, but one that the The IAAF and other administrators, coaches, and people-who-should-know-better, promised to handle things differently in the future.
And apparently, they are. Except now it's all hush-hush and arguably even more confusing and shaming than ever before.
And there a lot of rumors. For example, certain scientists are saying that almost entire teams of women have had undescended testes or excess testosterone. Such statements are purely inflammatory. Women who look and act too masculine must have testes hiding somewhere inside them, right? It's bad for any non-normative-appearing woman and for women who have intersex conditions.
Also part of the problem is that no one is talking about the exact conditions that are allegedly being encountered worldwide in the wake of the Semenya situation. But sources in the above-linked article make it seem like there is some kind of intersex epidemic sweeping the population of female athletes.
Part of the problem is that no one seems to be able to discuss any of the conditions. I understand that Semenya is not saying what kind of treatment she is receiving, but the lack of even viable hypotheticals is problematic. There are over a dozen intersex conditions and even more situations that have not been nearly as pathologized. For example, every 1 in 100 people are born with bodies that differ in some way from "standard" men or women.
But we don't like to talk about these things--in part because it throws into question the idea that a binary sex system is natural. And two, because we don't like to talk about genitals and their alleged connection to the sex/gender system.
The IAAF wants to make blanket rules about how much of this and how much of that athletes can have in order to be able to compete as women and then dictate what these athletes need to do to their bodies to morph them into compliance. The IAAF has not proven to be reliable or trustworthy on these issues.
Blanket rules will not work on situations that are far more complicated than most can comprehend. And again, there does not seem to be any kind of movement toward transparency here. What conditions? What are the supposed results? What kind of advantages are being deemed unfair? And why?
And we haven't even started with the question of what is natural.
Caster Semenya shouldn't have to be at the center of these questions. (The recent articles about how much prettier and more feminine she is these days are difficult enough to stomach.) I think the IAAF should have to answer for its proposed policies and rationales though.

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