Note: There is another article in this morning's NY Times about Caster Semenya, the 18 year old South African woman whose Olympic Gold Medal for the 800 meter Track and Field event is being challenged, based upon questions of her gender.
This morning on the House of Bishops / Deputies (HOBD) listserve, I posted a link to the story along with these comments.
Caster Semenya is an 18 year old South African woman who won the Olympic gold medal for the 800 meter Track and Field event this week in Berlin. However, her gold medal is being challenged some of her team mates because of her speed - and because she doesn't "look" like a woman.
“Just look at her,” said Mariya Savinova of Russia, who finished fifth. Elisa Cusma of Italy, who was sixth, told Italian journalists: “These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she’s not a woman. She’s a man.”
We can get philosophical and ask, "What does it mean to be a man or a woman?" but the issue is far more complicated than that.
As a woman, I find the comments made by the athletes from Italy and Russia deeply insulting. If you check out the story in the NY Times and look at the picture of the three winners, Caster does not look as traditionally-defined 'feminine' as the other two women on the stand.
But to say that an 'unfeminine looking woman' who is muscular and strong enough to 'run like a man' is someone ("these kind of people") who "should not run with us" displays an alarming level of ignorance, prejudice and bigotry, based on the conviction that women are, in fact "the weaker sex."
Some South Africans and others have suggested that there might be an anti-African bias at work. “The question I ask is if this were a European person, would these questions be raised?” said Ruben Ramolefi, a track athlete for South Africa. “It seems there’s hypocrisy behind it.”
The NY Times article reports:
Complicated cases are common. For example, a disorder known as congenital adrenal hyperplasia gives women excess testosterone from a source other than the testes — the adrenal glands. In mild cases, genitals may appear normal and often no one suspects the problem. Women with the disorder are allowed to compete as females.
The Bantu, a group of indigenous South African people, often are hermaphrodites but they do not always have obvious male genitalia, said Dr. Maria New, an endocrinologist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. They are genetically female yet have both testes and ovaries.
To spot the condition, doctors sometimes must do a laparoscopic exam, remove tissue from the gonads, and biopsy it, New said.
Then there is a list of rare genetic disorders that can confuse sexual identity. Some genetic males, for example, have mutations in a gene needed to form testes. Although they look like women, genetically they are men, with an X chromosome and a Y chromosome.
I bring this article to the attention of this list because of our conversations in Anaheim about Transgender issues - specifically, the resolution to include "gender identity and expression" in our anti-discrimination canons.
As I recall, the resolution passed the HOD but was seriously altered by the HOB. All of the many years of careful discussion about each of the classifications of people against whom the canons prohibit the church to discriminate were wiped away with the well-intended by ill-advised word "all".
The Senior House wisely - if not without difficulty - defeated the resolution which had been amended by the HOB. The difficulty we had was due to the fact that we now must wait another three years before we are able to provide canonical assurance to our Trans sisters and brothers of protection against discrimination in the church.
The case of Caster Semenya, dear members of the Junior house , is why "all" does not necessarily mean "all".
At the end of the day, I trust Caster Semenya will be allowed to keep her Gold Medal, but what she has really won is the more-than-much-fine-gold respect, admiration and appreciation of Trans groups and women around the world for helping us all take another look at the strength and beauty of women- and men - that is not defined by cultural assumptions, prejudice, bigotry and ignorance.
Dr. Alice Dreggor, a professor of medical humanities and bioethics at Northwestern University is quoted as having said:
“But at the end of the day, they (the IAAF) are going to have to make a social decision on what counts as male and female, and they will wrap it up as if it is simply a scientific decision,” Dreger said.
“And the science actually tells us sex is messy. Or as I like to say, ‘Humans like categories neat, but nature is a slob.’ ”
I feel a psalm coming on, singing the praises of the Holy Messiness of God's Creation, which praise the One who created the Holy Mess.
Oh wait! I think it's already been written: Canticle 12 (BCP 88) "A Song of Creation" Benedicite, omnia opera Domini (Song of the Three Young Men, 35-65)