Posts Tagged ‘queer’

Toronto Bathhouse Raids 30yrs On

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

Interesting piece by Alan Sears on the 30th anniversary of the Toronto bathhouse raids and the relationship between sexual and gender liberation and anti-capitalist politics: http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/471.php#continue

The Not So Curious Case of Caster Semenya

Saturday, October 24th, 2009

Caster Semenya, the South African runner and 800m women’s world champion, has been subjected to a very public interrogation of her identity. Following her victory in Berlin last August, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) ordered a group of doctors to conduct a “gender test” to determine her future in international athletics. Pre-empting the IAAF, an Australian newspaper reported in early September that an inside source “revealed the test found Semenya to be a hermaphrodite.”

The South African government expressed outrage at the treatment of their prize athlete. The Minister of Sports said, “Caster’s human rights have been violated and her privacy invaded.” President Jacob Zuma decried the IAAF and the media’s exploitation of the Semenya affair. Rallying behind their “golden girl,” thousands of supporters gathered at Johannesburg airport to welcome their beleaguered athlete home to South Africa.

The IAAF’s handling and the media’s coverage of the case have been abhorrent on many levels. Apart from the violation of Semenya’s privacy, the first point at issue has been the confusion of sex and gender. After the case became public, a number of notable South African feminists and queer activists issued a public statement which included the following corrective aimed at the IAAF and world media:

“Gender is the dominant society’s views on how women and men should look, behave, what roles they should play in society, how they should perform and frequently what rewards they receive – hence gender inequity… Gender is not a politically correct term for sex. Sex testing would be just that – establishing whether a person is biologically female or male. So gender testing is not the term that should be used this case, but sex testing.”

Secondly, the media has continued to describe this “case” as “curious” and to deny and question Semenya’s identity after she has stated clearly and repeatedly that she is a woman. If Semenya is found to be intersex then she has the right to define herself and make that definition known to others when, and if, she so chooses to. Dismayed at the public discourse surrounding the affair, Intersex South Africa, an intersex advocacy and activist organization, was quick to issue a statement clarifying intersexuality as a “general term that can relate to various conditions. Many intersexed people are born with ambiguous genitalia, or sex organs that are not clearly female or male.” Furthermore, the organization noted, the term ‘hermaphrodite’ was “commonly used in the past to describe and consequently oppress intersexed people” and should therefore not be in the lexicon of the modern media.

Nor has the media given much attention to the fact that Semenya is a black South African. South Africa’s Young Communist League, in old-left fashion, called Caster’s treatment “racist and imperialist,” without mentioning gender discrimination. But the fact that Semenya is a black woman from the so-called Third World is not insignificant. Writing in South Africa’s Mail and Guardian, Antje Schumann commented, “The point is not merely that athletes from the First World are not also subjected to sex tests. It is rather that, given the history of slavery and colonialism, the exposure of a black woman’s body has a very specific context.”

And that’s why the case of Caster Semenya is really not that curious at all: there exists a long history of subjecting colonized bodies to prodding, study, and sterilization in processes of dehumanization and subjugation, whether it is in the name of science, ‘civilization’, or even sport.

Published in Canadian Dimension Volume 43, Number 6, Nov/Dec 2009