I felt indignation the first time I heard about Caster Semenya as she is a good athlete that was told to use medication if she wanted to continue competing at international level. You see, I believe that people with special talents are blessed and they should use those talents to stand out and inspire others. So, I started to admire her determination and firmness to be authentic in a world where being different is increasingly difficult.
Semenya is a South African athlete that identifies herself as a woman. She has high levels of testosterone in her body, more than the expected in women. Her condition is known as hyperandrogenism. This is the timeline of her struggle with the International Association of Athletics Federations, IAAF.
What is hyperandrogenism?
(Genetics, n.d.) Chromosomes are made up of DNA (DNA is a material that carries our genetic information). They are present in the nucleus of each cell of our body, which usually contains 23 pairs of chromosomes. 22 of these pairs look the same in both males and females. The 23rd pair differ between males and females, females have two Xs (XX), and males have one X and one Y (XY).
Biology is biology! A woman has the pair: XX and a man has XY. That would be the first step to determine Semenya’s situation. As we don’t have access to that information, I assume it was verified in 2009 (see the previous figure) by IAAF. Now, hyperandrogenism is the condition in which some women have high levels of a type of androgen known as testosterone (men’s hormones).
Summarising, Semenya biologically would be a woman (with two Xs chromosomes) with a medical condition of producing higher levels of testosterone (men’s hormones).
What are the effects of high testosterone in females?
Evidently, this hormonal disorder produces several effects that can’t be generalised for all women. These are some of them (Leonard, 2018):
I spoke with a doctor about the effects of testosterone on physical performance, this was his reply:
- It increases the production of red globules
- It increases muscle mass
- It increases blood flow
- It increases oxygenation
- It improves respiratory performance
- It increases basal metabolism
- It increases cardiovascular performance
- It has advantages at the neurological level, such as increased coordination and strength.
In my personal view, Semenya really has an advantage over other athletes, and that advantage would cause unfair competition. However, if biologically she is a woman with XX chromosomes, she is a gifted woman that was born with a talent given by nature, so she should not take any medication to remove her gift.
Should every person that has a “gift” given by nature, remove it? Just for the sake of having “fair competitions”?.
- Genetics Home Reference (e.d) (n.d.) How many chromosomes do people have?.Available from: https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/basics/howmanychromosomes[Accessed 30th May 2019]
- Leonard, J. (2018) What causes high testosterone in women?.Available from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321292.php[Accessed 30th May 2019]
- Mayo Clinic (e.d) (n.d.) Male hypogonadism. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/male-hypogonadism/symptoms-causes/syc-20354881[Accessed 30th May 2019]
- The Guardian (e.d) (2019) How the Caster Semenya controversy has unfolded since 2009 – a timeline. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/may/01/how-caster-semenya-controversy-unfolded-since-2009-timeline[Accessed 30th May 2019]
- The Sun (e.d) (2019) Who is Caster Semenya, what is hyperandrogenism, can she still race and who is her wife?.Available from: https://www.thesun.co.uk/sport/2568578/caster-semenya-gender-row-hyperandrogenism-iaaf-testosterone-wife-race/[Accessed 30thMay 2019]
- Picture1: here