The words are from Caster Semenya, who is the topic of an article by Ariel Levy, in the New Yorker, Nov. 30, 2009. The article places the questioning of Caster Semenya’s sex in a complex context. The article opens with the poverty of the region CS grew up in:
The land is webbed with brambles, and the thorns are a serious problem for the athletes, who train barefoot. “They run on loose stones, scraping them, making a wound, making a scar,” Sako, a tall, bald man with rheumy eyes and a big gap between his two front teeth, said. “We can’t stop and say we don’t have running shoes, because we don’t have money. The parents don’t have money. So what must we do? We just go on.”
Another factor in the picture is the enforced categorizations from the colonizers:
South Africans have been appalled by the idea of a person who thinks she is one thing suddenly being told that she is something else. The classification and reclassification of human beings has a haunted history in this country … Taxonomy is an acutely sensitive subject, and its history is probably one of the reasons that South Africans—particularly black South Africans—have rallied behind their runner with such fervor. The government has decreed that Semenya can continue running with women in her own country, regardless of what the I.A.A.F. decides.
Another comes from the dehumanizing curiosity of the European look:
South Africans have compared the worldwide fascination with Semenya’s gender to the dubious fame of another South African woman whose body captivated Europeans: Saartjie Baartman, the Hottentot Venus. Baartman, an orphan born on the rural Eastern Cape, was the servant of Dutch farmers near Cape Town. In 1810, they sent her to Europe to be exhibited in front of painters, naturalists, and oglers, who were fascinated by her unusually large buttocks and had heard rumors of her long labia … Many South Africans feel that white foreigners are yet again scrutinizing a black female body as though it did not contain a human being.
In addition, the article picks up on the immense complexity of the biology of sex and secondary sexual characteristics. The facts make it clear that it is hardly likely for there to be some simple texts for sex; Ann Fausto-Sterling’s words on natural kinds are made especially relevant. That is in contrast to the role of gender duality:
There is much more at stake in organizing sports by gender than just making things fair. If we were to admit that at some level we don’t know the difference between men and women, we might start to wonder about the way we’ve organized our entire world. Who gets to use what bathroom? Who is allowed to get married? (Currently, the United States government recognizes the marriage of a woman to a female-to-male transsexual who has had a double mastectomy and takes testosterone tablets but still has a vagina, but not to a woman who hasn’t done those things.) We depend on gender to make sense of sexuality, society, and ourselves. We do not wish to see it dissolve.
And there are still other issues: the politics of sports organizations, the way CS, a child, was poked and prodded without any parental consent, and more. And, finally, the impact of it all on the child, who has decided she can only walk away.
Addition: Here’s a link to a piece on Caster Semenya by Judith Butler. Do note that Butler’s piece is more an opinion piece; she is not trying to get the details of the biology right, and that’s one of several respects in which the much longer NYorker article has more information. In particular, levels of testosterone do not necessarily tell us whether the hormone can be used; some intersexed people may have higher than average (for females) levels of the hormone without being able to use them. (Thanks to Rob.)