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WE ARE YOU!

 

By Moya Baileys from Quirky Black Girls

 

Thursday, September 24, 2009.

 

This is an outpouring of love for Caster Semenya. Wrong is not her name. What is wrong is the way she has been treated in global media. As three queer women, we have struggled with our own relationship to the feminine as it has been constructed in mainstream society. As a black woman set adrift in a sea of whiteness, it was hard to see myself as beautiful. My curves and skin color made me unattractive in my world.

 

As a white, feminine woman who is also intersex, I have struggled hard to come to peace with my body. Doctors and the world around me have told me I am defective or have denied my existence entirely. As a disabled Korean adoptee, I grew up as an outsider, rarely seeing people who moved like me or reflected me in my community or in the media. I was constantly told that my body was something that needed to be "fixed;" that it was "wrong;" and that it, that I, was "undesirable."

 

We engage with each other as comrades, three queer women uniquely shaped by our lived identities and experiences. We were the odd ones out, queered by our bodies, but later we claimed our queerness with fierce intention and pride. Now we choose our difference, embrace what sets us a part from a constrictive mainstream. It is for these reasons that we feel a deep kinship with Caster Semneya. Her story unfolded internationally without her consent and knowledge. We write to right wrongs done to someone whose only crime was daring to be all that she is.


Moya Bailey

 

My quirky black girl heart is breaking for Caster Semenya, the South African runner who has lived her life as an athletic woman until the IAAF decided she was just too good to be all female and did some probing to find the “truth." Now she’s in hiding and on suicide watch, her genitalia, sexual organs and hormone levels the subject of a global discussion and dissection before she's had a chance to make sense of it all. Did I mention she’s 18? Unfortunately, this is nothing new in the world of sports, women’s lives destroyed because their remarkable performances caste doubt on their femininity. "Real" women aren't that fast, that strong, that masculine.

 

Black women have long been portrayed as masculine and inappropriately feminine in popular media with athletes particularly targeted for their muscles and physical prowess. Earlier this year Sarah Gronert, a white tennis player, was being harassed by other coaches and players because she was believed to be intersex. Calls were made for her to be removed from competition but no such action occurred. "There is no girl who can hit serves like that, not even Venus Williams," said the coach of one of her rivals. Black women are (barely) women but Gronert, though described as "beautiful" in more than one article, surpasses the limit. Too much, Too good. Note: Gronert is ranked No. 306 in the world.

 

And everyone (I guess now including me) feels the need to add their two cents to the fray. An article I read wanted to claim Semenya in the realm of queer and trans identity and even went so far as to say that the comparison made by the South African Government between Semenya and Sarah Baartman was simply a nationalistic one. A more apropos comparison, the author opined, would be Billy Tipton, a female born singer who lived his life as a man until he was discovered in death. Billy was "outed" by medics who were attempting to save his life which is not at all like Semenya, an 18 year old girl who was outed not as trans but as a "hermaphrodite" to the whole world. An intersectional lens is needed. Pieces of Semenya's story need not be parsed out for the advancement of singular movements.


The feigned concern for Semenya on behalf of the IAAF is perhaps the most disturbing. After performing tests, lying about what they were for and then leaking the results, they revealed that they hadn't yet gotten in touch with her. They aren't ready to discuss the findings though they were published in papers around the world. This is after an initial professed need for urgency because there are "risks" associate with her "condition." The audacity to test Semenya after accepting the South African certification for her to compete is indicative of the racist and imperialist ideology of the organization. The IAAF had to check on the SA sports authorities as if they were incapable of making that determination. The paternalism of the IAAF's concern must be pointed out as they claimed to be acting in Semenya's best interest.

 

And doesn't all of this call professional sports practices into question? Why do we persist in validating a two sex binary and a gender dichotomy when we are repeatedly reminded that these divisions are limiting and not reflective of natural human diversity? What does it mean that the word "hermaphrodite" can be used in news articles as a legitimate term in 2009?! How is it possible within the context of the supposed proliferation of women's studies that more people aren't aware that the sex binary does not accurately reflect the diversity of human bodies? How does a common human variation become a freakish spectacle for the world to consume, again and again?

 

Our refusal to accept the biological reality of more than two sexes and more than two genders has driven someone to (possibly) contemplate ending their own life. Why won't we let Caster Semenya be great? It's time to look within ourselves and see how our own beliefs and behaviors support the myth of a two gender, two sex world. I feel like if I had been doing my job or my discipline had, this wouldn't have happened. That people around the world would understand that it is not as simple as male and female, not as easy as man and woman.


I want to call on communities not to repeat the IAAF's mistreatment of Semenya by partitioning her story and using her to make claims for your particular group.

 

Black people have called out the racism and some of the sexism that is swirling in the press but still use offensive ableist language that is indicative of a certain distancing from female masculinity and a subtle homophobia. More than one group has taken up her story as a new Raison d'être for the cause of gender and sexuality.

 

The way she has been treated in the media and by the IAAF is racist, sexist, queerphobic, ableist, imperialistic, all at the same time. May this incident be the impetus to ensure that this never happens again and a rallying cry for intersectionality in our movements so that everyone acts with the understanding that their humanity is linked with someone else's.

 

With thanks to New Black Man.

 

Moya Baileys blog at Quirky Black Girls.

 

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