"Compromise is often necessary [in politics], but entire marginalized identities are not expendable chess pieces." -- Sarah McBride, from her book, "Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss and the Fight for Trans Equality."
“I've got my own mind. Wanna make my own decisions. When it has to do with my life, I wanna be the one in control.” — Janet Jackson, 'Control'
It has been three weeks since the Court of Arbitration for Sport, or CAS, ruled in favor of the International Association of Athletics Federation’s rules on restricting female track athletes with high level of testosterone, a case that was spurned on by women’s two-time 800-meter Olympic champion South African Caster Semenya, who will be running in next month’s Prefontaine Classic out in Stanford since Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, the normal location of the meet, is going through renovations in preparation for the Olympic Trials in 2020. Semenya will be competing in the 3,000, the only event she can compete in because of the ruling.
The 3,000, 2,200 meters longer than the event she has dominated over the past decade, is the one event she’s allowed to run because of what a group of men had to say.
To get you up to speed, since Semenya was 18 years old, she has ruled the 800. She destroyed the competition so badly in the 2009 World Championships that immediately fellow competitors believed that she was a man mainly because of her masculine appearance. So the IAAF conducted a gender verification test on Semenya which led to her being known for having Disorders of Sex Development. We may better know the terms “intersex” or “hermaphrodite” instead of DSD. The ruling against Semenya means that she has to get doped up to lower her testosterone levels if she ever wants to compete in the event — that she has made hers — ever again.
“I always want to inspire the world,” Semenya said after what essentially is her final 800 back on May 3. “I just want to show them that nothing is impossible. It is possible if you believe.”
Semenya, who is reported to have said ‘Hell no’ to taking the medication that would make her more feminine, has support. Said Allyson Felix according to espnW, “I’ve been disappointed from the beginning — how she’s been treated. … This has been mishandled from the start.”
Asked one person according to The Guardian, “In line with the recent judgment from the sporting world, will we then insist that such children are medicated to counteract their genetic makeup, in order to ensure that fairness exists in the highly competitive environment of the academic and artistic worlds?”
Then … you have the fastest man to ever put on a pair of spikes Usain Bolt say according to msn, “I heard about her story without following it very closely. For me it’s just the rules. I don’t make the rules but I enforce them.”
Now, fast forward to two weeks later. The legislature of the southern state of Alabama passed a law that bans abortion in the state that could lead up to a prison sentence for any doctor who performs the procedure. And on cue, people protested their disgust of the ruling across the state. Governor Kay Ivey is reported as saying, “The Legislature has spoken. It underscores the sanctity of life the people of Alabama value so highly.” [Ivey must have forgotten that Alabama lynched over 300 blacks in the late 1800s and early 1900s so obviously lives weren’t valued too highly but I digress.]
It’s a coincidence that both rulings came down at nearly identical times. But both rulings demonstrate the unpeeling of societal rights that marginalized peoples have been picking up arms and fighting for since the early 1900s. Either in the guise of “competitive balance” or the rhetoric of “value of human life” the struggle remains the same even now. I’m not writing this to opine if I agree or not. Neither CAS’s ruling or Alabama’s law isn’t about right or wrong in the linguistical sense, it’s about the notion of dictatorship, about men (both figuratively and literally) dictating to peoples viewed as the weaker being as to how they should live their lives; which is reminiscent of everything that the justice warriors bled, jailed and oftentimes died to change. But like many others before her, Semenya epitomizes the hope of a better tomorrow.
“This is all about people who are watching all over the world,” she said. “When you’re a living testimony of God, nothing can stop you from giving what you were given to deliver.”
Chris Harris can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter: @ChrisHarris_DLJ