The Caster Semenya decision is a regressive disgrace

Caster Semenya is a woman. She’s not transgender. She hasn’t wilfully altered her hormone levels. She’s just a woman who has elevated levels of testosterone. This biological quirk helps her to be world class athlete. And now she’s being punished for it.

The IAAF’S ruling will force Semenya to artificially lower her testosterone levels or stop competing. This is a regressive disgrace that should be immediately reversed. Semenya deserves an unreserved apology for the vile idea that she should change her body chemistry. And the IAAF should acknowledge that their decision is driven by a campaign of jealousy, opportunistic bigotry and misinformation.

Some outlets reported the news by calling Semenya a transgender woman – a bald faced lie, not a legitimate mistake. Some coverage referred to testosterone as a ‘male hormone’ – unscientific nonsense. All humans have testosterone (and oestrogen, incidentally). Still others hosted female athletes who felt aggrieved by Semenya’s performance. Presumably she had ‘robbed’ them of medals they thought they deserved.

Worse than the obvious envy were the conspiracies. On social media, we learned that Semenya wasn’t a woman at all. In what appears to be a sincere attempt to clear things up, some claimed that Semenya’s gender had been misidentified at birth. After all, the claim goes, she’s from South Africa and that primitive country doesn’t have western medical expertise. They simply failed to notice she was male. This racist trash is unforgivable. The people of South Africa, and black people generally, have every right to be outraged.

Another one: Semenya is just a man born without a penis. Crude, untrue and moronic, but a favourite among a group of self-styled ‘feminists’ who spend their time attacking transgender women. Popularly called ‘TERFS’ (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists), these people are merely bigots. And they have form on conspiracy theories. It’s this group that pushes the idea that butch lesbians will be ‘forced’ to become physically male. Odd that their concern for the gender assigned at birth doesn’t apply to Semenya.

But why? Because Caster Semenya’s elevated testosterone levels place her outside TERFs’ definition of womanhood? Because her physical abilities go beyond what TERFs believe ‘real’ women should be able to do? Or just plain old, anti-black racism? It’s a disgusting mixture of all three, with varied measurements depending on the particular bigot you’re talking to.

The reaction to Caster Semenya has put the lie to the idea that anti-trans activists are interested in protecting women. In 2009, Semenya was forced to submit to humiliating sex verification tests, partly because she had improved her performance, partly because of an outcry from the very people now celebrating this attack on her.

You can judge any person, and any movement, by the conspiracies it spins. Transgender panic is rife among the groups praising the IAAF’s decision: the trans bathroom panic, the lesbian erasure panic, the ‘transgenderism is infectious’ panic. Their bigotry rests upon a mountain of lies, debunked talking points and wackadoo conspiracy theories.

And let’s not ignore their fellow travellers. The Alt-Right,who are nothing more than Paleoconservatives with memes, love this decision, as they love every anti-trans measure and every setback for black people. And as those Christians pushing trans panic know, “Ye shall know them by their fruits.”

This ruling is a grave injustice for a wonderful athlete. But it’s also a huge psychological victory for a loose coalition of bigots who want to tell women what they are and what they should be. Attacking genuine transgender women was just the start. Even those born female are not immune from being defined out of existence by a reactionary mob. What’s next?


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