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View count:238,368
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Duration:03:12
Uploaded:2009-09-13
Last sync:2019-06-13 22:20
Lauren McLaughlin's brilliant blog entry: http://bit.ly/hnXR9

Correction: In Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, the person is XY chromosomally but has a female external appearance. For more info: http://bit.ly/5oeij

In which John discusses track star Caster Semenya, sports, sexual identification, internal testes, the ambiguity inherent to life, and the arbitrary rules of a sport that cannot accommodate such ambiguity.


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A Bunny
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Good morning, Hank. It’s Sunday - it’s News Day – and today the news is: no more wall!

Actually that’s not the real news. Today we’re going to talk about sex. Specifically the sex of distance runner Caster Semenya.

[Intro]

So Hank, Caster Semenya is an 18-year-old South African runner who burst out of nowhere to win the 800-meter race at the World Championships in Berlin. And then several of her competitors said that Semenya had a distinct advantage in the women’s 800-meter race – the advantage of not being a woman.

So this poor 18-year old had to undergo a gender test. And it’s now being widely reported that Semenya may have an inter-sex condition – specifically Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome is this thing where chromosomally you may be a woman but you have small un-descended testes.

Now Hank, before we go any further, I want to say that a lot of teenagers sometimes feel uncomfortable about their bodies. And they can be quite vulnerable to teasing. I just want everyone to take a moment to imagine how it would feel to have millions of people around the world discussing your internal testes.

Hank even though Caster Semenya is only 18 she has responded to all of this heroically by saying she’s proud to be the person God made her, and she’s proud of her achievements, and that she is a woman.

Now a lot of people say that the complaints of Caster Semenya’s competitors are just sour grapes.

Hank, remember that time I said “sour grapes” and talked about internal testes in the same video? [heh heh] I love my job!

But I would argue that the problem is not with Semenya or her competitors, but with Sports itself.

So Hank, we like to think of sex as an either/or proposition - you’re either male or female. Even though about 1% of human beings are born neither male nor female but with some kind of inter-sex condition.

Hank, my friend Lauren McLaughlin wrote about all of this in a really interesting blog post – link in the sidebar – and she argued that sports is basically an attempt to remove ambiguity from the human condition. Like, one of the problems of the human condition is that no victory is ever final or assured. Right? That’s why you don’t put a “mission accomplished” banner on your aircraft carrier. Being a person means never really knowing if you can celebrate. Like, a wedding is wonderful – unless it leads to divorce. Winning the lottery is awesome – unless it allows you to develop the cocaine habit you’ve always wanted.

In life, all the things we wish could be clear and unambiguous like victory and love and sex never end up being clear. Sports allows us to have that lack of ambiguity. So often when people win trophies in sports they hold it up and say: “They can’t take this away from us.” They say that because in the non-sports world fraught with ambiguity, everything else can be taken away. You always hear sports guys say, like, “Sports is like life,” but what we love about sports is that it’s not like life. There’s no room for ambiguity in sports, that’s why we have photo finishes and instant replay, and that’s also why sports will always be, while fun, kind of insufficient.

Hank, it seems to me that the people who failed here are the administrators of the sport, who should have decided in advance whether Semenya would be eligible to compete. And as always in sports, we’re gonna have to live with some dumb, arbitrary, but unambiguous rule. It’s been widely reported that Semenya’s testosterone levels fall within the range of normal for a woman in which case she should be allowed to compete with women. But regardless, Hank, I for one will remember Caster Semenya’s performance on and off the track as unambiguously heroic.

Hank, you’ll see me tomorrow!

Cue the outro!

[Outro]