Caster Semenya is a South African runner who could emerge as one of the most compelling figures of the Rio Olympic Games.
She is favored to win gold at 800 meters while perhaps breaking track’s longest-standing world record, even as her stunning speed is leading to uncomfortable controversy at the uncertain intersection of gender and athletics — and of human rights and athletic fairness.
Her unique costuming and makeup, strong performance skills, and outrageous persona easily set her up as the target for rumor.
In a reprise of the canard that has long dogged actress Jamie Lee Curtis, in 2009 whispers grew in the online world that during a performance in August 2009 in which she appears wearing a red dress and leaning against a blue motorcycle.
In that photo, reclined as she is against the bike, her underthings can, and have been (at least by some), mistaken for a vestigial penis. At first it was very strange and everyone sorta said, ‘That’s really quite a story!
Each has variations that shade into the neighboring point.
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Semenya has never said she is intersex — a word preferred to the stigmatizing hermaphrodite — but speculation follows her around the globe, her private parts a mortifying matter of public debate.
(Intersex is an umbrella term for people who are born with sex characteristics “that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies,” according to a definition by the human rights arm of the United Nations.)Track observers believe Semenya is hyperandrogenous, meaning her body naturally produces high amounts of testosterone, the hormone that helps build muscle, endurance and speed.