Intersex Athlete Boggles ‘Ill-Informed. . .Predatory Press’

Thomas Rogers of Salon‘s Broadsheet (9/10/09, ad-viewing required) reports that world champion South African runner Caster Semenya recently “was tested (possibly without her consent) by the International Association of Athletics Federations” and “now the results of her gender testing have leaked, and, if the reports are to be believed, they show that she is, in fact, biologically intersex.”

After an informative look at the real biological meaning of the test findings that “led some media outlets to call her a ‘hermaphrodite‘ (and some even more inaccurately calling her ‘a woman — and a man‘),” Rogers writes that, to him,

Caster’s story, however, is particularly poignant. She’s only 18 years old. She only recently asserted her girly side on the cover of a magazine. More tragically, though, it’s likely she had no idea about her sexual condition before today. Many intersex people don’t learn about their biological history until well into their life, and the discovery can be predictably traumatic if not destructive. To make things worse, in Semenya’s case, her discovery is being played out on an international stage, under the microscope of an ill-informed and often predatory press, while she’s being faced with the knowledge that her career is likely to end.

If there’s an upside to the story, it’s that it’s likely to put intersex issues into the spotlight in a way that they’ve rarely been before. Unlike transgendered people (who benefited from films like Transamerica), intersex people haven’t had many great breakthroughs into mainstream culture.

But that’s a pretty big if, considering corporate media’s record of unenlightened gender reporting; see the FAIR magazine Extra!: “Transforming Coverage: Transgender Issues Get Greater Respect–but Anatomy Remains Destiny” (11-12/07) by Julie Hollar.