Caster Semenya's Story Has the Power to Educate About Intersexuality

Steven ResnickSenior Writer INovember 22, 2009

Caster Semenya is a 18-year-old woman from South Africa who became headline news after winning the gold medal in the 800m World Championship race. Here's the clip of the 800m race .

The reason her story came to the forefront of the sports world was that she had an above average testosterone level after a random drug test after she won the gold medal.

It was leaked to the media that Semenya had no ovaries and internal testes. Here's a link to an article from the New York Post "Runner has No Ovaries ." The actual genetic testing will be kept confidential.

South Africa has allowed her to keep her medals and the money she earned for competing in the World Championship. This story can be found on CNN with the article titled "Gender-Test Runner Semenya to Keep Gold Medal, Says South Africa ."

I can't imagine being Semenya, who again is only 18, having to answer questions about her own gender when throughout her life she has been considered a woman.

Then a leak to the media questioning her gender is not really something that should be acceptable in the sports world.

This story it brings gender into the forefront. So, here's a question: how do you define gender? When children are little, they are taught the external parts of the body between a male or female.

As a child grows there is sexual education classes and the internal structures of both males and females is taught.

But, what is not taught about is the fact that there are individuals in this world who do not fit the definition of being male or female.

The term that is heard most is a hermaphrodite, but that's actually considered offensive.

This can be explained in the article from The Daily Beast titled "Don't Call them Hermaphrodites . Another helpful website can be found here .

Actally what the term that is used for these individuals is intersexed. According to the Intersex Society of North America's website, an intersexed individual is a term used to describe a person born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn't fit the typical definition of female or male.

Here's an example of a scenario that could happen not just to an athlete, but could happen to anybody. You're in a relationship with someone that you truly love and care about and you want to have children, but no matter what you do, she just isn't able to become pregnant.

You go to a doctor in regards to the problem and the doctor does a thorough examination and finds that she has no ovaries, so she is unable to get pregnant.

There was actually an episode of House on the subject of an individual being intersexed. In the episode, Cameron Richardson plays a model who suddenly becomes ill and lashes out at other models.

Basically after running the medical tests on Richardson's character, House determined that she had testicular cancer.

There's a quote from the episode that House said which went "See we all start out as girls and then we’re differentiated based on our genes. The ovaries develop into testes and drop. But in about 1 in 150,000 pregnancies a fetus with an XY chromosome, a boy, develops into something else."

The question though becomes what if there are more and more athletes that are intersexed? Do these individuals become disqualified for tournaments based on the fact that they don't fit into the definition of a male or female?

In the case of Semenya she had an above average testosterone level for a female, but still her level isn't anywhere near that of a male, so it's not like Semenya can compete with males.

Also, when Semenya won the 800m in the World Championships, she didn't set a world record either.

I have a feeling if the situation with intersexed athletes doesn't get resolved, there's going to be more stories like that of Semenya.

In my mind, there's really one solution on what to do with athletes that are intersexed and that is to let them compete in the events they identify themselves as. So, in Semenya's case she obviously identifies herself as a woman, so let her compete against other women.

Another solution which isn't very plausible considering that intersexed individuals are a minority is too create seperate events that call for the intersexed individuals to compete in. I just don't see that happening because it would cost money.