Monday, August 31, 2009

I lived as a woman for 17 years


He kept it a secret, until he could not keep quiet any more. Eunice Rukundo writes about a man who was brought up as a woman until he stood his ground
He is not your ultimate tight abs guy with a firm behind and muscular arms, but Julius Kaggwa is in all essence, a man. A notch too chubby maybe, slightly below average height and a bit too rounded but he is still not the least masculine man you have come across.

For the first 17 years of his life however, Kaggwa, 39, lived as a female and is in fact referred to as Gayaza High School’s only ‘Old Boy’. Registered there as Juliet Kaggwa, he did his O’ Levels between 1984 and 1987, sleeping in Hutchinson House.
“When I first came out with the truth about my gender, some of my OGs admitted they’d at one time found me weird. One even said she’d suspected I could have been male but banished the thought instantly,” he reveals.

At the time, he was 17 at Makerere High school, a mixed school where he had relocated for his A levels. “We’d been praying with one OG of mine who was still at Gayaza when I’d blurted out ‘You know I’m not exactly a girl’. That was the first time I’d ever said it out loud and it felt good, light on my shoulders, to have let out the secret without fearing I was going to die,” recounts Kaggwa.

Kaggwa had first noticed ‘she’ was different from the other girls in Primary Six in Natale Primary School in Kyaggwe, when she followed them up the hill to perform girl rituals commonly known as ‘visiting the bush’ among the Baganda. “It was when the girls took off their panties that I realised they didn’t look like me.”
Where she had a vagina with a penis protruding at its base through which she urinated, the other girls only had a vagina.

“I had only been in boarding school that year. I think mum had taken me there to protect me from possible gossip from the slummy neighbourhood in Ndeeba where we lived,” he says. At home, the fourth born with two brothers and three sisters, Juliet had been brought up to be secretive about her nakedness, never visiting relatives or playing about naked like other children for fear of being found out and stigmatised. Now for the first time, she thought she knew why, but it seemed too complicated for a 10 year old to comprehend. She became more guarded and withdrawn, awaiting her mother’s next weekly visit to inquire about why she was different.

“First she told me we were all different but I insisted I had been the only one among all the other girls like me.” Left with no choice, Aida Kaggwa must have realised then that she couldn’t protect her child from the truth much longer. Then would be when she admited to her daughter that indeed she was different, per the circumstances of her birth.

Born both a girl and a boy
When her baby was born and Ms Kaggwa inquired after its sex, the midwives looked at each other and said nothing. They just whispered in bewilderment. When she saw her baby, she understood why. The baby was neither boy nor girl. It was both. Ms Kaggwa was both religious and a traditionalist. Her first instinct however was that this was witchcraft. At the shrine, she was told it was no mistake that her baby was born ambiguous, she was in fact a special child chosen to serve the spirits when the time was right. In the meantime, they were to concentrate on bringing her up as a girl or it would die since the responsible spirit was female, the great grandmother’s.

While his father, loving and gentle with his strange daughter, was a fleeting image in his life because of his business that took him far from home most of the time, his mother was around and seemed to have dedicated her life to keeping him comfortable, alive and as normal as possible.

“She got me herbs which were to keep me feminine, talked to nurses in school who helped keep my secret from other people when I joined boarding school in P.6 and changed my schools too often for anyone to realise I was different.”

Until the incident at the hill, the burden of his identity crisis had only been incurred by his mother. As puberty hormones set in though and ‘she’ started to experience the effects of this difference. He started to understand that his difference wasn’t as minor as his mother tried to make him believe.
“I believed her when she said everything would be fine but I started to struggle with more differences internally especially when I joined Gayaza. The usual girl chirping for instance irritated me. I always felt like doing more vigorous non-feminine things like escaping from school and I felt myself involuntarily responding to girls’ nakedness in a confusing way,” he says.

He developed breasts but along with them hair on his legs. “I felt more male than female inside. Puberty was a very confusing and difficult phase for me,” he says. To keep his confusion in check, Kaggwa started to add hormonal pills to a much bigger collection of herbal medicine by now, which he bathed, steamed herself in and drunk, under the school nurses’ protection. Bathing was a challenge; when he didn’t bathe long after bathing hours, he missed it altogether and got in trouble for it sometimes.

He would have wanted to let go and be whatever he felt but for the warning that he would die if not brought up as a girl. He took refuge in the school chapel instead, preaching, singing and praying that he would one day wake up a normal girl. When he found himself developing funny feelings for his choir mates too, Kaggwa knew he wouldn’t survive much longer in Gayaza and therefore went to a mixed day school for A’ Level.

There he meditated on his life seriously for the first time and knew he didn’t want to live in fear and hiding forever. “I wanted to be whatever but freely like everyone else. Blurting out my secret was like testing the waters. It worked wonders.”
Kaggwa never looked back after that first confession. In no time he had sought counsellors who explained what was happening and linked him to medical personnel. He discovered his problem was more biological than spiritual and could have in fact been treated much earlier. It took a lot of psychological and physical treatment but by 2000, Juliet was Julius, with proper male genitalia and no breasts.

His parents had both passed on by then. On her death bed, his mother begged him to stay far away from this land. “There’s a belief, spirits don’t follow one beyond the oceans. She believed I would be safer away now that she wasn’t around to protect me,” he explains.

Julius was scared for a while too and kept away in South Africa, Nairobi and other countries but later decided enough was enough. God must have preserved him for a purpose, most likely to help others like him be free. Today, married with two children, Julius’ life story is published in a book he wrote in 1997, Juliet to Julius. He has started up the Support Initiative for People with Atypical Sex Development (SIPD), and even appeared on Betty Tibaleka’s The Unstold Story show on UBC, to encourage others like him out there to speak out and be helped.

It’s many years since he was a young man trapped in a girl’s image but no one shades 17 years of their life that easily. Julius still has to consciously hold himself back from responding whenever anyone calls out Juliet in his hearing and he admits the no bathing habit also stuck to a significant extent.

Kaggwa was born with an intersex condition

What most parents, like Julius Kaggwa’s, would instinctively blame on witchcraft is medically referred to as an intersex condition, biologically explained as the unusual development of physical sex characteristics.

Kaggwa’s condition was evident at birth due to the abnormality in the external genitals. There are incidences however where the abnormality is with the internal reproductive organs, sex chromosomes, or sex-related hormones. Dr E.B. Mwesiga, a gynecologist consultant at City Hospital says that in this case, the condition becomes apparent later in life around puberty when one lacks or has something extra.

“I sit in a taxi sometimes and see someone I’m almost sure is an intersex case even if they may not know. Muscular bearded women with deep male voices, men with breasts and hips and the like,” says Kaggwa.

Many intersex conditions discovered late in life are associated with infertility and sexuality issues., an American Psychological Association website explains that delayed or absent signs of puberty may be the first indication that an intersex condition exists; a hairy girl who doesn’t menstruate for instance, and develops more masculine than feminine features around puberty, or a boy who among others develops breasts.

“There are drugs, disease and environment conditions that could result in development of these features though so it is not necessarily always an intersex condition when a man develops breasts or a woman beards. Their genetic constitution has to be determined first to confirm,” warns Dr Mwesiga.
Intersex cases are otherwise also most likely to display gender-atypical behaviours or interests; for instance some forms of intersexuality in the females will result into girls being tomboys.

Sexually, says, although most intersex persons grow up to be heterosexual, some specific intersex conditions seem to have an increased likelihood of growing up to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual adults.

Kaggwa says unsuspected incidences like infertility, intolerance of sex by a female because it hurts among women could be due to existence of an intersex condition. “If her reproductive system inside is male, it means she has no vaginal canal or functioning ovaries hence infertility and obviously painful sex because the penis has no where to penetrate to,” reasons Kaggwa.

According to Dr Mwesiga, the basis for allocating gender, while it may be due to raring or physical composition, should be according to the chromosome composition. He explains that gender determining genes are XY and if one’s composition contains a Y, they are male and if they lack it, then they are female.

“These could however get distorted during development in the womb resulting into gender ambiguity,” he says. Kaggwa for instance had XXY composition, which means although he was male the extra X resulted into female hormonal production and feature formation.

Unfortunately, the lack of information about intersex conditions makes it more unbearable in a country like Uganda.
“The standard solution among the most women is that a child that is born like I was is killed or dumped because it is attributed to witch craft or bad omen,” says Kaggwa. He tells of a woman with a three month old daughter with ambiguous genitalia whose mother has looked for ways of disposing her off but only been held back by motherly love.

“It is a bad omen I know and I have tried to leave her on the road or bush but I can’t take the thought of her being eaten by a wild animal or car crashing her,” lamented the mother as she begged Kaggwa to take the baby because she was a bad omen for her family and would be killed.

Intersex conditions are correctable
With surgery, the physical abnormalities are corrected, even as early as at birth. The hormonal imbalances that will make a man bear breasts for instance can also be corrected with hormonal therapy.

From experience however, Kaggwa says in cases when this correction comes later in life, it also takes a lot of psychological treatment to heal the trauma of leaving with the confusion and stigma of being intersex.

He tells another story of a boy here in Uganda who was dumped at his uncle’s place by the mother as a baby because he was born intersex and was only discovered recently, now undergoing treatment. “He will be a normal boy now but the trauma he has gone through will leave its mark,” regrets Kaggwa. When his uncle couldn’t look after him anymore because of poverty, he published his condition in the media hoping to make money out of his condition. 16 years old now, he had dropped out of school in P.6 to escape his school mates’ taunts about his condition.
“He got help through the same publicity but it was late; he had become a sort of attraction for the locals who paid to see him and we don’t know how to get him back to school now,” explains Kaggwa.

What if the condition is not corrected?
With the inadequacy of the information on intersexuality, there are definitely many people that don’t get treatment especially those with the subtler forms.
Even when one can take the discomfort of the effects like infertility and identity ambiguity after puberty, lack of treatment poses health issues. “The tests had found that I had an ovary much as I had testes. It was first left inside because the doctors thought it would be harmless. I had to have it removed recently however because it had started to become infected and could have gotten cancerous,” says Kaggwa.

Where to get help in Uganda
Support Initiative for People with atypical sex Development (SIPD) located in Rubaga-Wakaliga provides support for intersex people with counselling, information, and referrals for medical and other social support. SIPD has established support networks with doctors at International Hospital in Kampala, at Kampala Family Clinic and at CoRSU rehabilitation hospital in Entebbe. “We are working to widen medical and psychosocial support all over the country,” says Kaggwa, Director, SIPD.

Contact SIPD on P.O Box 16618 Wandegeya. Uganda

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The journey from Selwyn to Sally

The life of Sally Gross challenges many of our preconceptions about who we are, especially in a society that accepts only two genders, male and female. Born Jewish, Gross later became a Christian and a Dominican priest. This was possible because she was classified male at birth. But Sally Gross is not transexual, she is intersexed. This article by Stephen Coan tells her story and examines the issues raised by intersexuality in a gender-stereotyped society. (This article was first published in The Natal Witness in three parts from February 21-23, 2000.)

Sally Gross is the founder of Intersex South Africa. To visit their website: Click here

To read the complete article about Sally Gross: Click here

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Doctors "playing God with children's sex"

It's a boy! It's a girl! But what happens when life doesn't fit in with greeting cards and the defining moment of childbirth becomes a bewildering puzzle?

Swiss intersex activist Daniela Truffer is spearheading a campaign to stop genital surgery and hormone treatment on children born with indeterminate sexual organs.

Truffer argues that affected individuals should be given the time to grow up and decide for themselves whether they wish to become male or female or remain in-between.

"Forced surgery can not be the answer," she said, quoting medical studies that reveal poor outcomes and show that most patients suffer a lifetime of frustration and regret.

"These surgeries are painful and irreversible and most likely to reduce or remove sexual feeling. Non-consented cosmetic surgeries violate the right to physical integrity and self-determination. It's a human rights issue," Truffer told

A condition that is seen in one in 2,000 births, people born neither fully male nor female have been an acknowledged part of society since Antiquity. But over time they became an invisible minority, particularly since "corrective" surgical intervention became the norm in the 20th century.

Sense of urgency

Doctors and parents are acting under the cultural imperative that when elements of both sexes are present in a child, one sex has to be chosen over the other without delay.

Truffer, who started campaigning publicly for intersex rights two years ago, claims her case history is not atypical.

She was born in 1965 "without clear sexual characteristics". She had male chromosomes, a micro penis and an underdeveloped scrotum that looked more like labia.

"For her own good" she was surgically assigned a gender as soon as possible. Daniela's testicles were removed when she was just two months old. "They castrated me," she said.

When she was seven, her micro penis was shortened to a clitoris and she received an artificial vagina at the age of 18. "Most of the people I know have either less sexual sensations or none any more. They are trampling on human rights here, it is cruel."


Although she knew she was different, neither her parents nor doctors ever adequately explained to Daniela about her condition and she grew up with a deep sense of shame.

Her anger is now directed at the medical establishment which is slow to change the practice of gender assignment surgery.

"They are playing God. Doctors push the parents. It's very secret, it's a taboo and the parents are overwhelmed, they don't know what to do."

As part of the Swiss campaign against genital operations on intersex children – – Truffer submitted an open letter of protest to Bern University Hospital earlier this month calling on medical practitioners to put a stop to "forced operations".

Many doctors still adhere to the general view that a child needs a clear-cut biological appearance. The question is not whether to operate but in what direction.

In a recent newspaper interview, Bern-based paediatric surgeon Doctor Zacharias Zachariou said it was important "if possible in the first two years after birth to come to a decision".

Gender choice

But biological sex and gender are not the same thing, as sociologist Kathrin Zehnder of Basel University points out.

"Most people think that not carrying out surgery means giving no gender identity and this is, from my understanding, completely wrong," she told

"You can give a child a gender anyway. Even though it looks a bit different in its body, it doesn't mean that you have to call the child an intersex child."

Zehnder knows one mother who calls her daughter a girl but explains to her in an age-appropriate way that she also has the potential to become a boy one day.

"I'm not sure if you can protect a child from being different through the surgery. What do you do when the child feels different? You can't operate the difference away," Zehnder added.

Informed consent is the critical issue, according to Truffer. In a recent landmark case in Germany a patient raised as male was awarded €100,000 damages for having her female reproductive organs unexpectedly removed during routine surgery (see Völling case right).

Could this spark similar legal proceedings in Switzerland? According to Zurich University law professor Andrea Büchler, it is possible. "A medical intervention requires the consent of the person involved.

"Normally parents can decide for their child. However, gender assignment surgery touches on the highest personal rights and should not be undertaken without the consent of the affected child – unless medically necessary."

Winds of change

Some hospitals, such as the Wildermeth Children's Clinic in Biel, have already renounced the scalpel to deal with intersex babies. Christine Aebi is a consultant paediatric endocrinologist there.

Chromosome tests are carried out on infants of unclear sex. "Regardless of the results we advise parents to wait until their child can choose a gender itself," she said. Surgeons only intervene in Biel if the configuration of the genitals adversely affects urinary function or the bowel.

Truffer acknowledges that parents of intersex children are faced with a dreadful dilemma but she stresses that although "it is very difficult to raise a child in this world with ambiguous genitalia, the other way hurts body and mind".

Clare O'Dea,

Source: Click here

Sex typing is fuzzy science

Verifying physical sex assumes a sharp line between male and female

Inclusion of ‘expert on gender’ implies assumptions have been made, writes Sally Gross

  • Athletes: Sex vs gender

    CASTER Semenya’s situation strikes powerful chords in my personal experience. About 15 years ago, the determination that I am intersexed pulled my life comprehensively apart.

    It brought a brutal end to my career as an academic pedagogue and teacher of philosophy and it killed an almost completed doctoral thesis in which the Oxford University Press had expressed interest.

    The ostracism I experienced and the shattering of expectations and hopes left me a dead person on leave.

    A few years later , medical evidence documenting the ambiguity of my genitalia led to the denial of any official South African identifying documents, making me a non-person in the South African legal context, unable even to return to my land of birth.

    The two examinations that informed the documentation I was required to submit were respectful and gentle, but I still remember them as deeply traumatising.

    I became a person in South African law again only after a 15-month battle leading to ad hoccery on the part of the authorities, for which I am grateful.

    Given my background, I have some sense of the extent to which the tests and the controversy are bound to have an impact on young Caster, notwithstanding the brave face she puts on, and I feel obliged to challenge what is being done.

    Semenya is not suspected of pretending to be female. Nor is she thought to be a post-operative transsexual — regulations permit post-op transsexuals to compete in their new genders from two years after surgery. What seems to be in question is whether she is perhaps intersexed, and this brings her right to compete as a woman into question.

    Information in the media about the character of the testing indicates that this involves, inter alia, a chromosomal screen, gynaecological examination, an endocrinological screening, examination of internal structures of reproduction and sex glands, as well as a barrage of psychological tests. An “expert on gender” is also to be involved.

    Chromosomal screening focuses primarily on whether the chromosomal pattern is XX, typically female, or XY, typically male.

    The far less likely “genetic mosaicism”, where some tissue is XX and some XY and, though extremely unlikely in this case, the OX pattern of Turner’s syndrome and the XXY pattern of Klinefelter’s Syndrome, will also be covered.

    The gynaecological examinations will presumably examine the external genitalia, the endocrinological screening will look at levels of testosterone, oestrogen and progesterones. The internal medical screening will presumably look at gonadal structure, ovarian or testicular, also screening for mixed gonads or streak testicular tissue.

    An impression of rigour and scientific objectivity is given. The process, after all, is to be conducted by experts in their fields, apparently yielding a panel with unassailable expertise in the domain of the verification of sex and gender. Applying good sense and logic to what is proposed and what is alleged suggests that the appearance of scientific rigour and objectivity is deceptive.

    Suspicion that Caster is not a “real woman” is based on purely secondary sexual characteristics: muscular build, deep-ish voice, and some facial hair. OK, she is butch; but are butch women barred from women’s events?

    A female athlete who turns out to be intersexed is most likely affected by one of two syndromes: complete or near complete androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS), or congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH).

    In complete or near complete AIS, the chromosomal pattern is XY and gonads in the abdomen turn out to be testes churning out testosterone. However, no cell of the body is able to respond to testosterone in a way that allows the body to be masculinised.

    AIS women lack facial, underarm and pubic hair. Semenya’s hairiness, as well as her physique, seem to rule AIS out. Should tests indicate CAH, where chromosomes are XX, classification of sex is likely to be as female.

    Odds are thus that Semenya is not intersexed. So she’s butch — not a big deal. And if she’s intersexed, so what?

    The process of verifying physical sex assumes a razor-sharp boundary-line between male and female. The theory: investigation will always uncover an underlying “real sex”, either male or female.

    In fact, boundaries are often awkwardly fuzzy. Physical sex in real-world terms is better viewed as a continuum with two poles, one male and the other female.

    There are XY women and XX men. Both testosterone and oestrogen are found in male and female bodies. Setting sharp boundaries, whatever the consequences and ignoring the fuzziness, flies in the face of objectivity and is anything but scientific.

    Including psychological testing and involving “an expert on gender” are extremely worrying. Sex and gender are different. Sex is physical; gender, by contrast, is a social construct. Gender norms vary radically in different cultures and social contexts, and stereotypes are part of gender.

    Psychological gender-screening and bringing a so-called gender expert to the party suggest that far-reaching assumptions about masculine and feminine patterns of behaviour and mind-sets taint the process.

    Given the extent to which gender norms vary across cultures and the known oppressiveness of gender-stereotyping, inclusion of psychological testing and the gender expert makes it clear that the process is neither objective nor scientific. Against the backdrop of media speculation, it is a humiliating ritual.

    It is reasonable to ensure that someone born and reared as male and, who is unequivocally male, does not masquerade as female. Examination of the external genitalia should suffice. Lifting the skirt of Hermann “Dora” Ratjen in the 1930s resolved the issue once and for all.

    The panoply of both physical and psychological tests in Semenya’s case goes way beyond what is reasonable and infringes her dignity as a person.

    Support for her in South Africa is heartening. All who support her should lobby for the arrogant and humiliating process of “gender verification” to be ended once and for all, be it in athletics or elsewhere. Whether or not Semenya turns out to be intersexed, her supporters are also honour-bound to support an end to any prejudice against the intersexed.

  • Sally Gross is the founder of Intersex South Africa —

  • Source: Click here

    Sunday, August 23, 2009

    OII continues to grow

    Check out OII-New Zealand

    and also our new official non-profit organization in France.


    Saturday, August 22, 2009

    Excellent article about Caster Semenya

    Excerpt from the article by Luminis:

    "Some basic themes that will be familiar to anyone intersex arise over and over in the news coverage. There's ignorance of the very existence of intersex people, evinced in frequent speculation by laypeople that Caster must have had a sex change or engaged in doping. There's confusion of physical sex with gender identity, with detractors, including some of Caster's competitors, referring to her with male pronouns and speaking disparagingly of her butch appearance. There's racist scientific hubris, with Western sports scientists asserting that they can determine Caster's "true" dyadic sex after doing an exhaustive investigation of her chromosomes, hormone levels, anatomy, gonadal tissue, and psychology, while speaking derisively of the ASA's investigation as being unsophisticated. And most of all, there's the overwhelming belief in the myth of dyadic sex. Caster must be female or male; intersex cannot exist as a sex category."

    To read the complete article: click here

    Friday, August 21, 2009

    Sign the Petition for Caster Semenya

    Have you heard the news about Caster Semenya, the champion South African runner?

    She’s got the world’s attention, but it’s not about her athletic ability – it’s about who she is, and who gets to decide her gender.

    XX – why?! Why does Caster have to endure invasive tests just because she looks different? Why does the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) get to decide who she is?

    I’m outraged. Are you? Then tell the IAAF to stay out of Caster Semenya’s pants:

    Sign the National Sexuality Resource Center's XX-Why? petition now.

    Caster Semenya

    Caster Semenya (born 7 January 1991 in Pietersburg) is a South African middle-distance runner.

    Semenya participated in the 2008 World Junior Championships, but did not advance past the 800 metres heats. Later that year, she won gold in the 800 m at the 2008 Commonwealth Youth Games with a time of 2:04.23 in the final.[1]

    Semenya won the 800 m and 1500 m at the 2009 African Junior Championships with times of 1:56.72 and 4:08.01 respectively.[2][3] The 800 m time was the fastest in 2009 when it was set.[4] It was also a national record, championship record, and she bettered a previous personal best (2:00.58) by almost four seconds. The previous South African record, 1:58.85, was held by Zelda Pretorius and she also beat Zola Budd’s national Junior record (2:00.9) [5].

    Semenya won gold in the 800 m at the 2009 World Championships in Athletics with a time of 1:55.45 in the final, a personal best and the fastest time in the world that year.[6]

    In August 2009, amid growing speculation, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) conducted a gender verification test in the weeks before the 800 m event at the World Championships.[7][4][8][9] The results of the test have not yet been published. Semenya states she is unconcerned about the test and rumours.[10][7]

    Reaction in South Africa towards the IAAF's actions has been mainly negative, and a number of athletes, including Michael Johnson, have criticized the way that the governing body handled the situation.[11][10] The head of Athletics South Africa and Caster's family have dismissed the speculation.[12]


    1. ^

    2. ^ African Athletics, 2 August 2009: Nigerian Ogoegbunam completes a hat trick at Africa Junior Championships

    3. ^

    4. ^ a b Tom Fordyce (19 August 2009). "Semenya left stranded by storm". BBC Sport. Retrieved 19 August 2009.

    5. ^ IAAF, 31 July 2009: South African teen Semenya stuns with 1:56.72 800m World lead in Bambous - African junior champs, Day 2

    6. ^ "800 Metres Women Final Results". 19 August 2009. Retrieved 20 August 2009.

    7. ^ a b "Caster Semenya faces sex test before she can claim victory". The Times. 19 August 2009. Retrieved 20 August 2009.

    8. ^

    9. ^ "Semenya told to take gender test". BBC Sport. 19 August 2009. Retrieved 19 August 2009.

    10. ^ a b "Semenya dismissive of gender row". BBC Sport. 20 August 2009. Retrieved 20 August 2009.

    11. ^ "South Africans unite behind gender row athlete". BBC News. 20 August 2009. Retrieved 20 August 2009.

    12. ^ "SA fury over athlete gender test". BBC Sport. 20 August 2009. Retrieved 20 August 2009.

    External links

    § IAAF profile for Caster Semenya

    § Interview with Semenya after the 2009 World Championship 800m Semi-final Part 1, Part 2

    Thursday, August 20, 2009

    Gender Test After a Gold-Medal Finish

    Caster Semenya, an 18-year-old from South Africa, after the women’s 800 meters at the world track and field championships in Berlin.

    Published: August 19, 2009

    BERLIN — On the blue track at the Olympic Stadium, all three medalists celebrated after the women’s 800 meters at the world track and field championships. But when it came time for the postrace news conference, the gold medalist, Caster Semenya, was nowhere to be seen. She had been replaced on the rostrum by Pierre Weiss, the general secretary of the International Association of Athletics Federations, the sport’s governing body.

    Earlier in the day, I.A.A.F. officials had confirmed that Semenya, a muscular 18-year-old from South Africa competing in her first senior championship, was undergoing sex-determination testing to confirm her eligibility to race as a woman.

    According to Weiss, track and field officials had not had time to resolve the issue before this meet because Semenya had emerged at the world-class level only in the past month. Weiss said that I.A.A.F. officials and South African track and field officials had agreed that it would be too much to ask of an inexperienced teenager to field questions about the gender issue from the news media.

    But Weiss stressed that the testing had been initiated because of “ambiguity, not because we believe she is cheating.”

    It was an unprecedented scene at a major sports event, one that eclipsed the night’s other finals, including Yusuf Saad Kamel’s victory for Bahrain in the men’s 1,500 meters withBernard Lagat of the United States taking the bronze medal.

    But despite the controversy, Semenya had no apparent difficulty handling the pressure of her first major final. She broke free of her much more experienced competitors on the final lap and won by the huge margin of more than two seconds, finishing in 1 minute 55.45 seconds. (That was still more than two seconds slower than the world record.)

    The silver medal went to Janeth Jepkosgei, the defending world champion from Kenya, who finished well back in 1:57.90. The bronze went to Jennifer Meadows of Britain in 1:57.93.

    Weiss said that the medal ceremony for the 800 would take place as scheduled on Thursday evening in the stadium but that if the investigation proves Semenya is not a woman, she would be stripped of the gold and the other medalists elevated. The investigation could take weeks, he said.

    “But today there is no proof and the benefit of the doubt must always be in favor of the athlete,” he said. “Which is why we had no reason, nothing in our hands, to forbid the athlete to compete today.”

    Not all of the finalists agreed. “These kind of people should not run with us,” Elisa Cusma of Italy, who finished sixth, said in a postrace interview with Italian journalists. “For me, she’s not a woman. She’s a man.”

    Mariya Savinova, a Russian who finished fifth, told Russian journalists that she did not believe Semenya would be able to pass a test. “Just look at her,” Savinova said.

    But sex-determination testing is a complex process that has often not been handled effectively by sports organizations.

    “It turns out genes, hormones and genitals are pretty complicated,” Alice Dreger, a professor of medical humanities and bioethics at Northwestern University, said in a telephone interview. “There isn’t really one simple way to sort out males and females. Sports require that we do, but biology doesn’t care. Biology does not fit neatly into simple categories, so they do these tests. And part of the reason I’ve criticized the tests is that a lot of times, the officials don’t say specifically how they’re testing and why they’re using that test. It should be subject to scientific review.”

    Sex-determination testing was once obligatory for female athletes at the Olympics because of persistent allegations that some competitors were not really women. Sanctions are very rare. One case came at the 2006 Asian Games, where a middle-distance runner, Santhi Soundarajan of India, was stripped of a silver medal after failing a verification test.

    The sex-determination testing was phased out in 1999 because of concerns about inequities. The testing is now reserved for specific cases in Olympic sports.

    Nick Davies, a spokesman for the I.A.A.F., said that Semenya, who is listed at 5 feet 7 and 140 pounds in her I.A.A.F. biography, first came to his organization’s attention this year by slicing more than seven seconds off her best time of 2008 in the 800.

    That is a huge drop in a relatively short race, but after running 2:04.23 and winning the 2008 Commonwealth Youth Games, she ran 2:00.58 in a local South African meet on March 9 and burst to prominence by winning the African Junior Championships on July 31 in Bambous, Mauritius, in 1:56.72. That was the fastest time of the year, senior level included.

    Davies said that potential doping was the first concern when a dramatic drop in time occurs, but in Semenya’s case, he said the I.A.A.F. had moved on to examining other possibilities.

    “We just acted in a way we thought was sensible,” Davies said. “If we would have sat back and done nothing, it would have been very strange of us as well.”

    He said the I.A.A.F. had decided to confirm the existence of the investigation only when asked about it in Berlin by reporters. “The choice is that you lie, which we don’t like to do,” said Davies, acknowledging that it was unfortunate that Semenya’s privacy had been violated.

    Weiss said there had not been enough time to reach a conclusion. “She was unknown three weeks ago,” he told reporters. “Nobody could anticipate this one. Sorry. We are fast, but we are not a lion.”

    He said the I.A.A.F. would have “preferred not to have the controversy” at its marquee event, but not at the price of depriving a potentially eligible athlete like Semenya from competing.

    “If none of it’s true, I feel very sorry for her,” said Meadows, the British athlete who sat next to Weiss during the medalists’ news conference.

    Weiss said that the two-pronged investigation was being conducted in South Africa and in Berlin in hospitals that specialize in sex-testing issues. He said that Dr. Harold Adams, a South African on the I.A.A.F. medical commission, was helping to coordinate the work in South Africa.

    Davies emphasized that the testing is extensive, beginning with a visual evaluation by a physician. “There is chromosome testing, gynecological investigation, all manner of things, organs, X-rays, scans,” he said. “It’s very, very comprehensive.”

    Dreger, the Northwestern professor, said the doctors could examine genes, gonads, genitalia, hormone levels and medical history.

    “But at the end of the day, they are going to have to make a social decision on what counts as male and female, and they will wrap it up as if it is simply a scientific decision,” Dreger said. “And the science actually tells us sex is messy. Or as I like to say, ‘Humans like categories neat, but nature is a slob.’ ”

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    Wednesday, August 19, 2009

    South African teen wins 800 amid gender-test flap

    By RYAN LUCAS, Associated Press Writer
    BERLIN (AP)—Facing questions about her gender, South African teenager Caster Semenya easily won the 800-meter gold medal Wednesday at the world championships.
    Her dominating run came on the same day track and field’s ruling body said she was undergoing a gender test because of concerns she does not meet requirements to compete as a woman.
    Semenya took the lead at the halfway mark and opened a commanding lead in the last 400 meters to win by a massive 2.45 seconds in a world-leading 1 minute, 55.45 seconds. Defending champion Janeth Jepkosgei was second and Jennifer Meadows of Britain was third in 1:57.93.
    After crossing the line, Semenya dusted her shoulders with her hands. Semenya did not speak to reporters after the race or attend a news conference.
    About three weeks ago, the international federation asked South African track and field authorities to conduct the verification test. Semenya had burst onto the scene by posting a world-leading time of 1:56.72 at the African junior championships in Maruitius.
    Her dramatic improvement in times, muscular build and deep voice sparked speculation about her gender. Ideally, any dispute surrounding an athlete is dealt with before a major competition. But Semenya’s stunning rise from unknown teenage runner to the favorite in the 800 happened almost overnight. That meant the gender test—which takes several weeks—could not be completed in time.
    Before the race, IAAF spokesman Nick Davies stressed this is a “medical issue, not an issue of cheating.” He said the “extremely complex” testing has begun. The process requires a physical medical evaluation and includes reports from a gynecologist, endocrinologist, psychologist, internal medicine specialist and gender expert.
    South Africa team manager Phiwe Mlangeni-Tsholetsane would not confirm or deny that Semenya was having such a test.
    “We entered Caster as a woman and we want to keep it that way,” Mlangeni-Tsholetsane said. “Our conscience is clear in terms of Caster. We have no reservations at all about that.”
    Although medals will be awarded for the 800, the race remains under a cloud until the investigation is closed, and Semenya could be stripped of the gold depending on the test results, IAAF general secretary Pierre Weiss said.
    “But today there is no proof and the benefit of doubt must always be in favor of the athlete,” Weiss said.
    Semenya’s rivals said they tried not to dwell on the issue before the race.
    “I’ve heard a lot of speculation, but all I could do was just keep a level head and go about my business,” Meadows said. “If none of it’s true, I feel very sorry for her.
    One thing not in doubt was Semenya’s outstanding run.
    “Nobody else in the world can do that sort of time at the moment,” Meadows said. “She obviously took the race by storm.”

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