by Jai Dulani
Stringing together found footage from news media outlets all over the world and bits of popular culture, “Caster Semenya: Wrong Is Not Her Name” (the title a nod to June Jordan’s “Poem About My Rights”) strives to honor the story of award-winning athlete Caster Semenya and call out gender policing in sports and sports media.
Caster Semenya: Wrong Is Not Her Name
Sports Announcer: …Semenya, South Africa, on the inside. <__> behind <__>, Great Britain in the inside. <ringing sound> Semenya pushes on again and she’s breaking away. There is no response now from <__>. <__> is in third. Semenya looks over her shoulder and she’s away. 10 meters. 15. 15 to 20. The others cannot respond. <__> is holding on. The winning time is going to be terrific. She comes in at 155. 155!
Title Card: Women’s 800 Meter Final World Championships in Athletics
Sports Announcer: 1:55:46! Well that smashes the world <__> by almost 2 seconds.
Title Card: One Brilliant Victory / Throws An Athlete / Into An Invasive International Spotlight
Sports Announcer: As this athlete goes on a lap of honor … 1:55:45 smashing the national record ofcourse. An amazing performance we’ll be hearing about no doubt.
TV Newscaster 1: Controversy is brewing Monica over the gender of an South African athlete.
TV Newscaster 2: The world of athletics is in turmoil tonight over claims that controversial world champion Caster Semenya is an hermophradite.
TV Newscaster 3: She apparently had testosterone levels three times higher than those normally expected in a woman.
TV Newscaster 4: A gender test has been ordered officials say, not because Semenya is suspected of cheating but to determine if she has what’s been called a medical condition.
Pierre Weiss, IAAF General Secretary <on Anderson Cooper, CNN> “If at the end of this investigation it is proven that the athlete is not a female, we will withdraw her name from the results of the competition today.
VISUAL: Billboard of Ad for Strip Club reads ‘No Need for Gender Testing’
TV Newscaster 5, Mark Phillips, CBS News: A gender test it turns out is a lot more complicated than you might think, involving more than just a physical examination. It also involves psychologists and experts in internal medicine and in internal gland function. And it can all take weeks.
Jimmy Kimmel: The governing body says they will not issue a decision until November. And by the way if it takes 3 months to figure out if you’re a woman or not, you’re probably not.
<laughter> <tv turns off> <soundtrack: scream>
Title Card: Caster Semenya: Wrong Is Not Her Name
A Film By Jai Dulani
<Audio, Voice of Sherry Wolf> First of all this exposes this idiocy of gender testing in sports and the particular case of Caster Semenya, who is a brilliant athlete, who should be celebrating the most extraordinary moment of her 18 year old life but instead is on suicide watch, exposes not a social crisis, but a socialization crisis because we are taught to think that there are fixed gender, you know realities, fixed sexuality – the fact is our sexualities, our genders, are far more fluid in reality than we are often taught to think:
<clip from Kindergarten Cop> “Boys have a penis. Girls have a vagina”
Dave Zirin: And lost in all of this discussion is any understanding of what are known as intersex athletes, of people who may have male and female chromosomes. That’s what they don’t want to talk about. S you have to be a man or a woman. It’s very binary. And at the end of the day it absolutely stains people who may not fall into their very casual gender categories.
Oprah: Here Dr. Dreger answers the question, What is intersex: Intersex is when people are born with various kinds of sex anomalies.
When a person develops, you begin with an egg and a sperm, and they each contain something called a sex chromosome. The mother’s contains an X and the father’s usually contains either an X or Y. If the embryo is XX that’ll develop into a female. And of it’s XY, it’ll usually develop into a male. But that doesn’t actually tell you anything about their sex development. Sex development has about 100 different steps to it.
Oprah: In girls, the reproductive organs become ovaries. In boys, they become testes and descend.
Dr. Dreger: When we say penis and clitoris, they’re really the same organ in development. And what can happen when you get intersex is something happens different.
If you count how many children are born with really obvious anamolies of the genitals, that’s about 1 in 2000 children.
Oprah: There are said to be about 30 known intersex conditions.
Staceyann Chin: I wonder then, why is it so important to define at birth. I think it comes from this idea that girls behave a certain way, women behave a certain way, and men behave a certain way, which is why homophobia exists because homophobia, it comes from the idea that a girl should not partner with another girl. A girl who is normal partners with another boy. Etc So when you have people who fall out of this, whether it is behaviorally, or phenotypically or medically or chromosomally, it kind of throws us off.
Title Card: Any disturbance of the stereotypes seems like an attack on the foundations of the universe. – Walter Lippman
Newscaster 6: If she runs like a man, and talks like a man, is she a man?
Newscaster 7: For Caster Semenya, who was transformed into a covergirl by a women’s magazine here, it is all brutally public. The 18 year old has tried to prove her femininity.
Little boy from Late Night Show: “That’s a boy because he got muscles”
Little girl from Late Night Show: “Serena Williams has muscles but she’s a girl.”
<black and white clip of white woman and man sitting in grass talking>
Man: “You’re different from other girls”
Woman: ‘’That’s what you think.
Man: “You’re smarter. You’re almost like a man.”
Woman: “Oh no – I’m very much the woman.”
Dykes to Watch Out For Comic: “Excuse Me! Aren’t you in the wrong bathroom?”
“Of course she’s not! Take a closer look, hon!”
<song lyrics: we are homeless>
Title Card: “If we define “woman” as a fixed entity, we will draw borders that would need to be policed.” Leslie Feinberg
Newscaster 8, voice on Anderson Cooper 360: Gender testing is extremely complicated. It’s happened before in track and field. Indian runner S Saja ahan, had her silver medal in the 2006 Asian games stripped after failing a gender test. She reportedly showed a male chromosome. Sprinter Ava Cabaskafska, of Poland won 2 medals in the 1964 Olympics. But failed a gender test 3 years later and was banned from professional sports. And then there was Polish American runner Stella Walsh, who won a gold medal for the Polish Olympic team in 1932. After she died, a post mortem showed she had female and male chromosomes as well as ambiguous genitalia. It’s an unpleasant situation. And the rules for determining gender are not always clear.
Anderson Cooper: Cuz essectially they are now invading this person’s privacy in the most public way possible. I mean you would think by now race officials would have determined well alright you need – you know on the chromosome level you need this .. on the hormone level you need this. It’s amazing to me that they’re just now saying ok let’s test and try and figure it out.
Dr. Maddie Deutsch: Well, I agree with you. I think that if we’re going to start invading people’s privacies and questioning people’s gender just because the happen to be a high performer or because a woman happens to be more masculine, than what is typically expected, that maybe we should start testing everyone as routine testing when someone enters competition. And again like I said because there are so many characteristics that define one’s gender, that you can come away from that with a number of people and still not have a clear answer.
Anderson Cooper: They basically have to come up with their own benchmarks for athletic competition – their own definition of what a male is, what a female is, and then take it from there.
Dr. Maddie Deutsch: They do but then that can actually get you into a corner as well because you will always find someone who does not meet any of your definitions.
Newscaster 9: Both the South African Government and the public at large have rallied behind the teenage runner. The country’s parliamentary sports committee has threatened to take athletics body, the IAAF to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, calling their actions racist and sexist.
Julius Malema: Is it because she comes from a village? Is it because she comes from a humble beginning? Is it because she’s African? And therefore <image on screen of Venus Hottentot> by virtue of our appearance, everything else we do which is positive, there must be doubt.
Voiceover translating Dorkus Smenya: I am not worried at all. I am not even stressed. I know what my child is because I gave birth to her.
I’m not going to be shaken by anyone,
Says her mother.
She believes jealousy and racism are to blame for the whole debacle. White people don’t want to be outperformed by Black people. She says, that’s why they are causing all this trouble.
Newscaster 10: The international athletics body, the IAAF has denied racism. But admitted it could’ve handled the matter more sensitively.
Newscaster 11: Many people here are feeling that the international athletics body had really mishandled this. The public humiliation of an 18 year old girl no matter what these test results are finally confirmed to be is just insulting and many South Africans are quite indignant about the whole affair.
Woman being interviewed (1): I feel she did well. And if they treat her like this, they are treating her unfair. They shouldn’t do this to her because it will discourage her. In order to encourage women in sports and also to encourage her, they shouldn’t be doing investigations like this.
Woman being interviewed (2): The pressure to this girl – what this could do to her as a young athlete, it could totally crush her. It could totally finish her psychologically in the sense it could really have a bad effect on her. Because already, remember she’s 18 and she’s grown up feeling she is a woman.
Dave Zirin: There is a twisted sexist, racist, and heteronormative history that involves the way track and field Olympic officials understand gender. A lot of people don’t know this but 40-50 years ago, Olympic officials said that African American women maybe shouldn’t compete because they looked “hermaphroditic” is the word that they used. 25 years ago, as recently as then, they would have women parade naked in front of Olympic and track officials to make sure that they were not men.
Jacob Zuma: Miss Semenya, has also reminded the world of the importance of the rights to human dignity and privacy.
Title Card: On November 20, 2009, South Africa’s sports ministry announced that Caster Semenya would keep her gold medal and her 800 meters world title.
However, Semenya was barred from competing as a woman until the IAAF determined the results of gender tests. On July 6, 2010 Semenya was “cleared” to compete, after an 11 month long suspension from her career.
For more resources and information on intersex issues and gender justice, please visit:
Sherry Wolf: All world class athletes have something “abnormal” about them. Shaq O’ Neil is 7 feet tall. Michael Phelps has flipper like feet. Lance Armstrong has a capability of holding oxygen in his lungs at an abnormally crazy rate that allows him to climb the pyrannies in a way that you and I would pass out in the foothills. So what are we talking about here? She is a trained professional athlete who beat other women.
Caster Semenya: Oh man, I don’t know what to say. It’s pretty cool to win a gold medal, bring it home. … He said you know girl, you can do it eh! Before the final he just told me, the race, let them lead, then last 200, kill them J
Jai Dulani is a queer south asian writer, filmmaker, and social justice activist who has been active in anti-violence, immigrant justice, youth and LGBT movements for the past 15 years. He is co-editor of the anthology, “The Revolution Starts At Home: Confronting Intimate Violence in Activist Communities.”
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