Caster Semenya sparked an immense amount of controversy after the 2009 World Championships when she received criticism concerning whether or not she had a “physical condition” that enabled her to surpass her competitors. Questions were then raised about her gender and suspicions arose because of Semenya’s outstanding athletic ability and her masculine appearing physique. It was eventually discovered that Caster Semenya had an intersex condition. It was up to the medical establishment to determine what they thought to be her “true” sex, a discovery which was prompted by societal skepticism. This example of an intersex condition relates to the story of Alexina/Able in Alice Domurat Dreger’s “Hermaprodites and the Medical Invention of Sex.”

These cases are similar in that neither individual was aware of their condition until later in life, chiefly due to the curiosity of others, including “medical men.” While Caster Semenya was led to the medical determination of her “true” sex through societal coercion, so too was Alexina/Abel. Alexina/Abel sought the “truth” concerning her sex to explain her sexual attraction to Sara, a concept that could not be explained by the other women living in the convent with Alexina/Abel and Sara. According to Dreger, “A combination of a weighty conscience and a painful abdomen finally led the tormented Alexina to a series of priest-confessors and medical men, the result of which was a consensus that Alexina was a man, a male who had been mistaken at birth for a female, and that therefore her legal and public identity ought to be “rectified” to match her “true sex” (Dreger 18).  By contrast, Caster Semenya still identify’s as a woman. Both cases led to the medical “discovery” of each person’s “true” sex, male for Alexina; not “totally” female for Caster. Abel eventually committed suicide, whereas Caster Semenya still participates within the framework that first scrutinized her. The outcomes of each individual’s “true” sex determination were different, but both individuals were subjected to the societal and medical scrutiny that was placed upon their bodies.

– Sophie Reynolds

 

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