This morning, I am thinking about this bullshit.
We celebrated Michael Phelps’s genetic differences. Why punish Caster Semenya for hers?
2-time Olympic Gold Medalist Caster Semenya
Semenya is an incredibly powerful runner from South Africa, a two-time Olympic champion. She has also been the subject of controversy since the beginning of her career a decade ago. Semenya is believed to have an intersex condition, though she doesn’t publicly speak about it: Her body allegedly produces testosterone at a higher level than most women. On Wednesday, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that if Semenya wanted to continue to compete, she would be required to take medications to lower it.
The CAS, which was upholding a previous ruling by the International Association of Athletics Federations, admitted that the decision was tantamount to discrimination. But, a statement read, “discrimination is a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of achieving the IAAF’s aim of preserving the integrity of female athletics.”
“Preserving the integrity of female athletics.” What a remarkable way to phrase a ruling that has nothing whatsoever of integrity in it.
What a remarkable decision: in a world where sports fight tooth and nail to keep people from doping — that is, using artificial chemical treatments to give some athletes an advantage over others — the IAAF is going to use artificial chemical treatments to give some athletes an advantage over others. It’s just that in this case, the chemical treatments are meant to make the other athletes win, rather than the one being forced to take the drugs. The one being doped.
Make no mistake: that’s precisely what this is. The arbitrators here decided to chemically handicap Caster Semenya because she is a better athlete. Because she is more likely to win. When criminals fix horse races, they use two different strategies: one is to give the winning horse a boost, and the other is to give the losing horses a drag. Since the term “dope” comes most prominently from references to opium, it seems likely that the use of the term to represent cheating through chemical substances springs from precisely this: using dope to slow someone down so that someone else can win. [History of the word “doping” found here, which also includes the magnificent user comment, ‘I believe “dope” has also been used as slang for “good”, or “excellent”.’ Thanks, Craig J.!]
I presume the next step is to cut off Usain Bolt’s legs, and replace them with shorter legs; because a large part of the reason why Bolt has won nine gold medals and holds three world records is because he is 6’5″.
But even among top sprinters, Bolt stands out, and this is partly because of his height.
“Bolt is a genetic freak because being 6ft 5ins tall means he shouldn’t be able to accelerate at the speed he does given the length of his legs,” says former Great Britain sprinter Craig Pickering.
“At the beginning of a race you want to take short steps in order to accelerate, but because he’s so tall he can’t do that. But then when he reaches top speed he has a massive advantage over everyone else because he’s taking far fewer steps.”
[Emphasis added] [Source]
So clearly, Bolt has an unfair advantage. Seems to me that is because of his sex: men are taller than women, and so if Bolt has too much height, it’s because he’s a man. A more mannish man than other men. We should add a third category of sports: women’s sports, men’s sports, and super-manny men’s sports; Bolt belongs in the third group, along with Lebron James and Michael Phelps. The only way to maintain integrity in sport is to prevent Bolt from taking advantage of his genetic aberration and unfairly dominating his event.
This entire argument is, of course, preposterous. It’s obscene to take an athlete with a natural advantage — the same description that could be applied to every single dominant athlete in the history of sport; the first article comparing Michael Phelps to Semenya does this well — and decide that their natural advantage is somehow unfair. The whole point of sport is to reward those who have natural advantages. Of course we like it better when the people who have trained harder and worked harder are able to win; but we love cheering for the genetic aberrations who have the natural gifts that give them an advantage. And really, in the modern world of competitive sports, there is no such thing as a top level athlete who doesn’t have genetic advantages: it’s just that some of them are more visible than others. We can talk about Lebron James’s size and strength as part of his gameplay, but though Michael Jordan lacked those genetic advantages, there’s no question that he had agility and speed and coordination and reflexes that were inborn and greater than a normal person’s. Look at Muhammad Ali’s speed, which was unmatched by heavyweight boxers and allowed Ali to dominate over stronger men: wasn’t that a genetic aberration? Wasn’t that an unnatural gift? Am I supposed to believe that the only reason Ali could float like a butterfly was because he trained harder? Ridiculous.
No: the point here is that Semenya has an advantage that we as a society (and by “we” I mean the fucksticks at the IAAF, not myself and probably not you) think is wrong. She has “an intersex condition,” I keep reading, which means her body produces more testosterone than most women’s bodies and which therefore makes her a better athlete.
When someone has a hormonal “condition” that makes them abnormally tall, and therefore gives them an advantage in basketball, we don’t see that as unfair, nor as wrong. When someone has a hormonal “condition” that gives them greater body mass, and therefore an advantage at sumo or in football, we don’t see that as unfair or wrong. Again, as the article points out, Michael Phelps has a genetic aberration that means his body produces less lactic acid than the normal human body, and yet he was lauded as having a lucky gift — not sentenced to inject lactic acid in order to give other swimmers a fighting chance against that unnatural freak Phelps.
The entire argument, the only argument, against Caster Semenya is that she is not really she, that she is more he than she, and therefore she can’t compete against shes unless she becomes more she-ish. That’s it. If she was abnormally tall and therefore had the same advantage Usain Bolt has, it wouldn’t be a question. If she had less lactic acid, and therefore the same advantage Michael Phelps has, it wouldn’t be a question. She probably does have greater reaction time and naturally greater twitch-muscle mass, as that is what sets sprinters apart; but the IAAF isn’t talking about that. Just about her lack of sheishness. I mean, it’s not even subtle:
The combination of her rapid athletic progression and her appearance culminated in the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) asking her to take a sex verification test to ascertain whether she was female. (Wikipedia) [Emphasis added, but unnecessary. You saw it too.]
Do you think it’s also a factor that Semenya is a married lesbian?
Of course it is.
This case is much more about humanity’s discomfort with gender. We (Again, not me, and probably not you; mostly fucksticks.) want to think that there is an easy line to draw, and that line has value. Sports is one place where we really, really like drawing that line. Because men are generally stronger and larger, and therefore have an advantage in most sports, we like to think it’s fair to separate men from women and have them only compete against each other. (You want to talk about unfair advantages, let’s throw some men into women’s gymnastics. Watch some 6-foot dude try to compete on the uneven bars. That will be funny as hell.)
But there’s nothing fair about that. Caster Semenya shows that. Transgender athletes show that, and the fact that most people have far less of a problem arguing that transgender athletes shouldn’t be allowed to compete with their identified gender simply goes to show that this argument is really about what kinds of gender identifiers we are comfortable with.
It’s clearly not about a level playing field. Serena Williams has won 23 Grand Slam titles partly because she is taller and stronger than most women tennis players. (Being taller gives her more reach and a more powerful serve because she can swing the racket in a wider arc, generating more speed and thus more force.) That’s not to say she’s not an incredible athlete; she is. I like using tennis s an example because it requires an inordinate amount of training in addition to the physical gifts that make a player great, and Williams has obviously mastered the sport to an unprecedented degree. But the simple fact is that one reason she wins is because she hits the ball harder and faster than her opponents can, and part of the reason for that is because she has the genes to be taller and stronger than most people. But because Serena Williams is more she-ish, nobody argued that she should be given performance-debilitating drugs in order to level the playing field and give all the other women a chance.
An even better example is Shaquille O’Neal. Shaquille O’Neal is 7’1″, which is extraordinarily tall, though not unheard of in the NBA: but he was also 325 pounds when he was playing, which is entirely unheard of in the NBA. He outweighed everyone he played against. Because of that, he had an advantage, and in O’Neal’s case, it was his only advantage: I watched him play hundreds of times, and believe me, that man had not a single skill when it came to basketball. No, I shouldn’t say that; he was a good passer, which is a skill and helped him win championships. But as an offensive player, he had exactly one move: he would catch the ball (using his height to reach above any player between him and the person passing to him) and then, with his back to the basket, he would dribble the ball and simply– step backwards. When he was close enough, he would turn around and shoot the ball, from the kind of range that allows anyone with eyes to hit the shot. He could do that because none of the men defending him could push back, because O’Neal outweighed them. If they tried to set their feet and shove him, it would be a foul; if they tried to out-muscle him, he would win, every time. Because he was bigger. And stronger, which surely came partly from lots and lots of physical training; but mainly because he was bigger. He pushed his way into the Hall of Fame with his enormous ass.
That is an unfair advantage. But because it doesn’t have anything to do with gender, nobody ever investigated O’Neal. Nobody ever ordered him to lose weight before he would be allowed to play. Nobody ever questioned whether he should be allowed to play with other men.
Either accept that Caster Semenya is a woman by any rational standard, and allow her to compete and crush all of her competitors like bugs the same way that Shaquille O’Neal was allowed to use his genetic aberration to win NBA games; or else accept that the separation of men’s and women’s sports along gender lines is stupid, and change to something that makes more sense.