Last night I had a massive argument with my partner about a 25-year-old female athlete, Caster Semenya.
The South African 800m runner has been thrust into the savage centre of a gender politics row playing out on the world stage. And she had made her way to our dinner table.
Semenya has done nothing wrong. Yet she is being treated worse than some doping athletes by people who believe the Olympian should not be allowed to compete tonight due to certain intersex physiological traits normally associated with men.
There is no denying Semenya’s powerful physique. The sportswoman has a striking muscular frame. She also has testosterone levels three times higher than the usual level found in women.
But she is a woman. She was raised a woman. She identifies as a woman. And being intersex does not buy any athlete a one-way ticket to gold.
Semenya caught the globe’s attention when she annihilated her competition in the 800m race at the 2009 World Championships.
Soon after, questions began swirling about her gender and a secret investigation was launched – the results of which were shamefully leaked to the media.
She was found to have internal testes instead of a uterus and ovaries and a condition named hyperandrogenism, meaning she produces high levels of testosterone.
With her personal, medical information out in the open, Semenya found herself being picked apart by the public, turning her into the involuntary poster child of intersex athletes.
At the time, she addressed the controversy, declaring she had been “subjected to unwarranted and invasive scrutiny of the most intimate and private details of my being.”
In 2011, her sport’s governing body introduced rules forcing female athletes with naturally occurring high testosterone to either give up competing or undergo hormone treatment.
But this was overturned last year by the Court of Arbitration for Sport after another athlete with the condition, Dutee Chand, challenged the guidelines as unscientific, invasive and potentially harmful. The court agreed: the scientific evidence around testosterone was lacking.
This was monumental for female athletes like Semenya. And tonight, she will unleash her full, natural ability in the 800m race (11.45pm AEST).