Judith Butler in London Review Blog, “Wise Distinctions”, on Caster Semenya

Judith Butler, London Review Blog, Wise Distinctions
Judith Butler writes in the London Review Blog, in an essay titled “Wise Distinctions”, on Caster Semenya:

…The whole debate also elides the condition of intersex. We might say as well that the institution of world sports rests upon a certain denial of intersex as a persistent dimension of human morphology, genetics and endocrinology. What would happen if the IAAF or any other world sports organisation decided that it needed to come up with a policy on how those with an intersex condition might participate in competitive sports? If they refuse to come up with such a policy, then we could say that they have preemptively excluded intersexed peoples from competition, making discrete sex determination into a prerequisite for entering competitions. This would not only be blatantly discriminatory, it would make the ideal of sexual dimorphism into a prerequisite for participation.

So rather than try and find out what sex Semenya or anyone else really ‘is’, why don’t we think instead about standards for participation under gender categories that have the aim of being both egalitarian and inclusive? Only then might we finally cease the sensationalist witch hunt antics of finding anyone’s ‘true sex’ and open sports to the complexly constituted species of human animals to which we belong.

Editorial comment by Gina Wilson

A supportive and somewhat useful article. It contains a little academic arrogance on gender – but the issue was sex embodiment and not gender. There has never been any doubt Ms Semenya’s gender was ‘woman’.

The question of what sex Ms Semenya really is has in no way been separated from her qualification for further competition – indeed it remains fundamental to it. The IAAF has simply decided to keep Ms Semenya’s medical records private. Sports officials may yet attempt to bar Ms Semenya from further competition based on the outcomes of medical tests, or even insist on certain surgery to make her compliant to sex expectations for female competition.

The officials have separated out Ms Semenya’s honest achievement from society’s need for compliance with the sex binary construct. They have not ceased their pursuit of and discrimination against athletes who are sex diverse.

Michael Phelps, who may have Marfan’s Syndrome that can give swimmers a competitive advantage, is hailed as a hero. There was never any suggestion he should be disqualified because of this difference. Likewise with basketball players who are unusually tall.

The concern is about physical differences of sex. Other differences have never been a cause for such outrage, exposure and threats of disqualification.

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