August 26, 2009

Caster Semenya and gender expression

Commentary by a Canadian trans-activist.

I was very happy to read on the news of the Young Communist League of South Africa and the World Federation of Democratic Youth’s campaign denouncing the International Association of Athletes Federations for its racist, chauvinist and patriarchal attacks against South African gold metalist, Caster Semenya.

When I heard the news on the radio for the first time, it piqued my interest. It sounds like Caster didn't exactly fit into one of two neatly ascribed gender roles in white capitalist society. This isn't the first time that a gender non-conforming athlete has been accused of 'tricking' authorities.

There could be so many reasons she looks the way she does. If she was taking testosterone it would have been easily detected. The main point here is that this isn't an issue of her biological sex - that is easy to tell and any steroid test would give away the testosterone. The worry is the way she presents - i.e., short-hair, muscular, athletic, natural eyebrows.

The accusation is totally reflective of a white definition of gender roles. African women have historically resisted a lot of the "damsel in distress" expectations of femininity. No one said "Caster is a boy because I saw her penis" or "Caster is a boy because she has testosterone in her". Because they know she doesn't.

Instead I hear "She is too muscular to be a girl" or other comments on her physical appearance. That's a clear attack on her gender expression and it's also sexist.

And now as more gender non-conforming athletes enter the playing field, the hurdles faced by these athletes are becoming more visible. In fact, it was not until 2004 that the ban was lifted against transgendered people from competing in the Olympics!

RY magazine stands with Caster against this attack!

Sign a petition in support of Caster

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