Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Middle Ground

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If you haven't heard of the South African world class runner Caster Semenya, get your head out of the sand already. What I love about this controversy is the fact that an entire country seems to be on the right side for a change.

Semenya won the gold in the 800m event at the 2009 World Championships in Athletics. Then, under suspicion of not being "truly" female, she underwent gender testing.

Genetic testing proved that Semenya has two X chromosomes rather than the male XY pair, or some variation such as XXY or triple X that can sometimes cause abnormalities. But a recent report suggests that Semenya may be intersex - she has three times the amount of testosterone in her blood as most females, and may have a combination of male and female reproductive organs.

Despite the typical bigotry associated with intersex people on a global scale, her native country is backing her with great enthusiasm, which says a lot about the changing views of gender and sex in our generation.

So let's take this opportunity to lay some facts bare: human sex cannot be divided into only "pure" males and females. There is an entire spectrum in between the two common extremes, known as intersex.

Traditionally called hermaphrodites, the common belief is that intersex people have a complete set of male and female parts, all crowded together down there. While this may be true in worms, it is not so in humans. There is usually a combination of parts, with, for example, an individual appearing female on the outside but with internal testes instead of ovaries. Or they may have reduced male parts that are fully functional, but don't "look normal," resulting in "corrective" surgeries forcing people to live their lives in the wrong body.

Intersex people are often classified into some disorder, and while this may be reasonable in a medical setting, what does this do in a psychosocial setting? In my opinion it is society's way of trying to fix what they perceive as wrong, when in reality, they are only marginalizing a natural segment of the human population. Perhaps this controversy can shed some light on these historical wrongs.

~Rheanna Sand

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