When Things Go Too Far: Caster Semenya Suicide Watch

17 Sep

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From YouthNoise.com

The Associated Press is reporting that 18-year-old South African runner, Caster Semenya is on suicide watch after recent tests revealed (in front of the entire world no less) that she is intersex.

A few weeks ago I wrote about Caster Semenya and the politics of gender identification in sports.

At the time of posting, Semenya’s test results were still unknown.  I posed a hypothetical and futuristic scenario about gender neutral Olympics where all is well with athletes competing in non sex-segregated sporting events. A utopic scenario, I admit.

Now it all seems to have taken a turn for the worst.  According to the AP report “officials as saying that psychologists are caring [for] the 18-year-old round-the-clock after it was claimed tests had proved she was a hermaphrodite.”

South African lawmaker Butana Komphela, said: “[Semenya] is like a raped person. She is afraid of herself and does not want anyone near her. If she commits suicide, it will be on all our heads. The best we can do is protect her and look out for her during this trying time.”

The mere fact that it’s gotten to the point that Semenya is reportedly on suicide watch indicates that we’ve all failed; sports officials, consumers, and media.  We’ve done what we always do; react like vultures when consuming someone else’s personal story and personal tragedy. Probing so deeply into this woman’s life while taking away her voice in the process illustrates our failure as a global society to care for our own; our daughter.

I’m not being hyperbolic either.  Within the past few weeks, I’ve encounter some disturbing commentary on popular blog sites and so-called “news sources” (for obvious reasons, I won’t like back to these sites).  Folks calling Semenya out of her name, insisting she’s a ‘freak of nature.’ Otherizing her so much to the point that somewhere along the line she felt it necessary to perform her gender on a magazine cover, just to prove to us – the voyeurs – that she is who she identifies as.

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The damage has been done.  Semenya is a victim of modern-day voyeurism. Without context and without care, we, the folks, raped her by violating her personhood. By casting a chastising eye on her, we’ve denied her the right have the quality of life she deserves.  Having an open and fair-minded discussion about gender identity in sports is fair game, (and I’m sure the debate will only explode from this point on) but exploiting a person’s story as a way to essentially mask our own fears of the Other is (what Tweeters would refer to as) an #epic fail.

Caster Semenya’s story also indicates another important issue concerning women of color and mental health.  I recently wrote about this very topic highlighting yet another woman of color apparently suffering from mental illness while in the virtual world spot light.

Should sports and government officials have handled Semenya’s situation differently? Absolutely.  Especially when considering that her personal medical tests results were revealed to the entire world.  She has nothing, I repeat, nothing, to prove to you or me.

Should bloggers and commenters have self-censored themselves before posting derogatory and misleading commentary about Semenya, intersexuality, and hermaphroditsm? Without a doubt.

Sadly, none of the above occurred, and because of these blunders of epic proportions a young 18-year-old woman reportedly sits contemplating her life’s demise, despite being one of the most promising track & field athletes of our time.

Enough is really enough. Even though so much damage has already been done, it would behoove us as a collective to support our daughter during this time with prayers, meditations, reflective blog posts, supportive Twitter/Facebook updates; whatever suites your fancy. We’ve got some serious redeeming to do.

Caster Semenya, you have my love and support.

Tara

(AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

**UPDATE: Former track & field Olympian, Carl Lewis, speaks out, stating that ASA officials are to blame for how the Semenya story has been playing out around the world.

“It’s your fault.” Lewis goes on to say that athletics officials should have protected Caster Semenya from the controversy: “She is your athlete in your country and you didn’t deal with this before. To put it out in front of the world like that, I am very disappointed in them because I feel that it is unfair to her.”

5 Responses to “When Things Go Too Far: Caster Semenya Suicide Watch”

  1. BONES September 22, 2009 at 1:22 pm #

    I PRAY EVERYTING GOES WELL FOR HER. SHE DIDNT DO ANYTHING WRONG BUT WON A RACE. ITS NEVER A PROBLEM UNTIL YOU HAVE GREAT ADVANTAGE OVER THE WORLD’S FAVORITES…SHE IS NOT OF THIS WORLD, A BETTER PLACE I WOULD SAY.I ACCEPT HER AS A HUMAN, A GREAT RUNNER, A LADY..I ASK THAT GOD TALK TO HER AND HELP GET HER MIND RIGHT DURING THESE ROUGH TIMES..

  2. David Pylyp September 22, 2009 at 1:57 pm #

    Your point is very accurate “Probing so deeply into this woman’s life while taking away her voice in the process illustrates our failure as a global society to care for our own”

    Where does our need to know end and the privacy of the individual begin.

    David Pylyp
    Living in Toronto

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