Caster Semenya, And The Debate over Hyperandrogenism and Intersex Athletes

Raghav Harini
Jul 05, 2017 07:30 IST

The gender paradigm is quite complex. Not all bodies can be fit into the binary gender structure. The sex of a person is a synthesis of genetic material, i.e. XX and XY patterns of the chromosome, levels of androgen and testosterone and visible female or male genitalia.


Relying only on the physiological component of presence or absence of male genitalia to arbitrarily decide the sex of a person, results in whether a person is raised a male or female. However, since the incongruity of a person’s sex anatomy and the social structure of gender is figured out during adolescence, the person assumes a different gender identity, which might lack perfect harmony of all the three components.

Also Read: Dutee Chand: The unusual story of a woman and an athlete

 The non-recognition of other forms of sexual orientations is challenging and difficult, especially when the society believes in heteronormativity. The struggle gets very real in the sex-based segregation, like competitive sports, where other forms of sexual orientations are hardly recognised.


As a physically precocious child, her dream was to become a world-class sprinter. She was trained meticulously and her pace increased each day, better than that of the previous day. She won the most evasive trophies and set an unprecedented record. But little did she know that a catastrophe was unfolding itself. " I’ve been subjected to the unwarranted and invasive scrutiny of the most intimate and private details of my being,” she protested.

This is the story of Caster Semenya, a South African teenage sprinter, one among the many who fell prey to the strict gender boundaries of IAAF (International Associations of at Athletics Federation) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The humiliating gender verification test that ousted many female and male athletes, has been stewing in the controversy for not less than half a century.


The athletes who have failed the test, due to the presence of high levels of testosterone, are not allowed to compete under the female category. But none of them, due to the very same reason, are allowed to compete in the male category.

Hyperandrogenism in female athletes is perceived as an unfair advantage and thus the participation of intersex athletes in competitive sports is invalidated. But the federation also fails to understand that not all athletes with natural advantages are precluded in sports. Usain Bolt, due to his beanstalk physique is able to accelerate his legs at an unparalleled speed. Michael Phelps’ disproportionate height is known as the Marfan syndrome. It is only his rare physique in consonance with his rare talent that got him to a global arena like the Olympics. Not all natural advantages are deemed antithetical, but why gender bipolarity?

Shortly after, Semenya’ body was scrutinised by her fellow athletes and the federation, the court of arbitration of sports demanded evidence from I.A.A.F that female athletes with hyperandrogenism did enjoy an edge over cisgender women. But the federation’s failure of producing evidence resulted in Semenya performing in Rio Olympics. As she crossed the finishing line with a happy face, her innate, uncontrollable urge to succeed was conspicuous. At the end, it is just confidence and nothing else matters.


Pic Credit: Daily Mail

 Also Read: Grace under Fire: Female athletes at the Olympics by Elsamarie DSilva

Raghav Harini is an intern with SheThePeople.TV


#hyperandrogenism #intersex #Gender Boundaries #Rio Olympics