Semenya's only crime was to be born the way she was, Athletics South Africa's president, Leonard Cheule, told the media at the 2009 Athletic World Championships in Berlin. Cheule was responding to what, beginning as murmurs at the 2009 African Junior Championship, had grown into loud protestations that Caster Semenya was a gender cheat. That she, Caster Semenya, winner in the Women's 800m Final, was actually a 'he'. The response from her camp and supporters was a miffed one, and acceptably so, had it not been drowned by the standard fare — racism & sexism — of the international kneejerk protests brigade.
As all this was happening and the most intimate details of this teen were speculated and fought over by strangers across the globe, the people expected to protect her betrayed her, her fans and her sport. Athletic's international governing body, IAAF, (having more leaks than the Kibaki cabinet) revealed that they had ordered gender verification tests on Semenya. With these revelations, Semenya's privacy was cast out of the window as even idiots generally incapable of an opinion made categorical remarks on what lay beneath the pants of a stranger they had only seen on TV.
Now the farce has quickly turned into tragedy as once again, on IAAF's watch, information on Semenya's supposed gender has been leaked. The news, emerging from the Australian press and gobbled up by the rest of the world is, brace yourself, that Semenya is neither a man or a woman. That Semenya, despite having the external genitalia of a 'she' has no womb and ovaries and instead, internal testes. Semenya is, technically, a hermaphrodite.It has neither been confirmed or denied, but the international media has alleged it and that is now a truth.
Fine. But why in hell did I need to know that?
Somehow, in the light of Semenya's humanity, all the arguments and counterarguments I have been having with myself and others about 'undue advantage' don't seem to matter any more. I am beginning to worry a lot more about this young teen who had a great future ahead of her and who will now lose it. I am thinking about what it means to be that person that grows up with one conception of the self and then has it shattered and smeared with public humiliation. But most important of all, I realise that because I know and you know what Semenya is then she has, in own foul sweep, died and been resurrected in public as a freak show.
The punishment for the crime of her birth will not be gentle. Semenya has been accused of and charged with being born different. Whatever the verdict, in official spaces, will be, the court of public opinion has sentenced her to a lifetime of self-loath.