Do you recognize the name “Caster Semenya”? I wouldn’t if I didn’t listen to NPR on KERA.
Last week, I heard a report on NPR about this amazing middle-distance runner from South Africa, a young woman named Caster Semenya who won the 800m race at the 2009 World Championship in Athletics with a time of 1:55.45 — the fastest time this year.
Semenya had also won the 800m and the 1500m races at the African Junior Championships. But after she won, some other runners decided to raise a little ruckus. Seems Caster looks a little too “butch” for some people’s tastes.
After the junior championships, when other runners raised questions, the International Association of Athletics Federations requested that Semenya take a gender test, just to make sure she is really female.
Then she turned in a better time at the world championships, and people started raising the issue once again.
A lot of people have criticized the IAAF for requesting that Semenya undergo the testing. People have called it racist and sexist. IAAF officials said they weren’t saying she cheated, they just wanted to make sure Semenya doesn’t have “a rare medical condition that would give her an unfair advantage.”
And now Semenya is on the cover of South Africa’s You magazine sporting a pretty girly makeover — a new hairstyle, a lovely black dress, makeup, the works. And so people are questioning that now: Did her “handlers” force Semenya to do the girly makeover? Did she do it because she wanted to?
The fact is, that the girl, who is 18, looks masculine, and people are trying to use it against her. I’m not trying to say, in any form or fashion, that Caster Semenya is gay. I have no idea about her sexual orientation. I’m just saying that any butch dyke out there knows the feeling of being treated differently because you don’t conform to gender norms in terms of the way you look, dress or speak. I know I do.