gender benders

Caster Semenya Has No Womb and Internal Testes. Does That Make Her a Man?


No makeover is going to hide South African track star Caster Semenya’s insides from on-lookers. Results from those “gender tests” show she has no ovaries, internal testes, no womb, and ultra-high levels of testosterone.

What does of any of this mean? That Semenya is intersexed — which, while a curious revelation for the media to pounce on (especially because they get to use the word “hermaphrodite”), is not all that abnormal.


The International Association of Athletics Federations, which conducted the tests, is reportedly ready to disqualify Semenya — and is advising her to have surgery immediately. Okay, so that’s a tabloid newspaper’s version of events, and we’ll wait to conclude whether IAAF is actually, seriously, making that recommendation, especially since surgery won’t fix the “not having a womb” thing, and the reason she doesn’t have ovaries is because her body grew them as testes, which didn’t descend like they do on males.

Now it’s only a matter of time before everyone starts demanding to see her genitalia, too. (Soon, the IAAF could demand her gold medal back, too.)

In the meantime, should someone who is intersexed be prohibited from competing in a women’s league? Well, she wouldn’t exactly be welcome to compete with men, so were does that leave Caster?

And we can get into a whole debate about male-vs-female athleticism, but as it stands, Semenya is, for all intents and purposes, a female. That’s how she was raised. That’s how she identifies. And that’s how she competes. On the other hand, we can see why her competition would have a problem racing against her; their “unfair advantage” claims are hinged on the equivalent of having to race against men.

The real loser in all of this, however, is Caster, an 18-year-old girl who became an international spectacle for being a strong competitor who didn’t fit gender norms.

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  • William Day

    Oh, Gods above, that poor girl… Is the implication that she was hiding this, or that she never knew? If it’s the latter, can you imagine finding out something so world-shaking, and having it splashed across the world media at the same time?

  • Belinda Gomez

    Why can’t she compete with men? Testosterone maketh the man, right?

  • Sean

    re: William Day: My impression from previous articles about her and her hometown was that everyone in her family believed she was purely female, not simply supporting her because she identified as female.

  • Jerrold

    Actually, the biological abnormality usually makes the brain overproduce estrogen too. Or that was my understanding. I’m not her doctor, but her estrogen levels should be elevated as well. I am sure we will hear a lot more about this. I hope they don’t take her medal away, it is unlikely that she knew. And I feel horrible for what she’s about to go through, I hope she doesn’t kill herself and assuming this is new information, can accept it.

  • j

    They won’t take her medal away, due to pressues put on them by the africans who, understandably are a bit annoyed that their gold medalist should be stripped of her prize for something she knew nothing about. And she didn’t know about it.

  • D.B.

    Sad story. But I imagine her South African sports federation probably knew (or suspected) this might be the case — after all, sports-related gender issues are one of their responsibilities. They could have acted differently early on to stop this from becoming a media circus. And while she identifies as female, her genetic advantages over other women will most likely end her competitive career.

  • Darrien

    I feel so sorry for the poor girl. It’d be bad enough to have to cope with this privately, but to be a teenager and having the world’s press concentrated on her must be almost unbearable.
    Mind you, she shouldn’t have had to face this – there’s an aspect that the IAAF either screwed up or deliberately saw an opportunity to generate some press because all of this speculation on her gender could have been done outside the international spotlight.

  • Alexander

    God, that poor girl. If she didn’t know previously, this is going to be so hard for her.

  • polerin

    The title is really really sorta filled with ugly. Intersexed people have to deal with enough hate from the Straight media without the GLBT peeps adding in.

    It does not make her a man, She makes her a woman. And no they don’t “get” to use the word hermaphrodite, but they will anyway, regardless of the negative implications that go along with it. But thanks for bringing THAT up too. Cus you know, You “get” to use it now too.

  • Erick

    Poor girl and what a complicated issue. Unfortunately, competition is about physical prowess not about how you identify or socialize, so if all of this is true, there was an advantage. If it was unfair or not depends on who knew what and when, if any one person knew other that her, it was unfair advantage because she not only represents herself but a federation as well. Sadly her competitive career is most likely over.

  • Stephen

    As a physician, it sound like she has what we used to call Testicular Feminization Syndrome, now called Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. Her genetics are that of a man (XY) but because her body lacks androgen receptors, she developed as a female with a “blind womb” (vagina, no uterus) and “intraabdominal testes”. This is what Jamie Lee Curtis is rumored to have as well. It would explain why her parents thought she was female (that’s what she’d look like externally). I won’t comment on how this should change the competition results.

  • Fitz

    So at 18, she finds out that she is infertile, and that her gender is part of a public debate. Oh, and her life’s work is also at risk. And if you are right, Stephen, she can add higher risk for serious cardiac problems, and for some reason that I can’t find a reference for, all sorts of digestive problems. (??) More likely PAIS anyway.. but still— the real issue for me is the loss of privacy. These are hard issues to deal with in life, and she deserves some respect.

    Oh.. and certain worms are hermaphrodites… people never are. In order to be hermaphrodidic, you need to be able to reproduce as either “male” or “female”. She can do neither. It’s just an insult to use that term on a human.

  • dgz

    @Stephen: but don’t people with that specific condition typically develop large breasts? Caster demonstrates (at least to my eye) exclusively male secondary sexual characteristics.


    Semen-yeah?! This is all too tough to swallow.

  • Orpheus_lost

    The IAAF has destroyed this girl’s life in the most callous way possible. They’ve ripped away her career, her passion, and even her own understanding of herself – and they did it in the glaring spotlight of the international media. They could have handled this privately and with compassion but instead chose to make it a media circus. I hope Semenya wins an extremely large settlement from them.

    And @Deepthroat: People who think that the destruction of innocent lives is funny are the worst kind of vermin on earth. You deserve all the pain that life brings you.

  • holla

    Another article I was reading about this ( contains the following very disturbing piece of information: “The Sydney Morning Herald said the IAAF was trying to contact the athlete to inform her of the results.”

    I’m sorry,IAAF you have let the news hit the press, but noone could be bothered to track her down and let her know before everyone with an internet connection could find out. She should not have to find out the results the same way as everyone else. And noone is that hard to track down these days. I could probably find her if I needed to, without leaving the chair I am sitting in, I imagine.

  • D.B.

    @Orpheus_lost: I wouldn’t put all the blame for the media circus on the IAAF just yet. In track & field, each country has its own athletic federation — for South Africa, it’s Athletics South Africa (ASA). It’s a little complex, but it seems that ASA wasn’t exactly cooperative with the IAAF, and their own very public criticism of the IAAF just added fuel to the media fire. And some are even claiming that ASA did their own gender testing well before the story broke, and kept the findings under wraps.

  • AA

    There are no easy answers here for sure, when it comes to her racing career.

    When it comes to her private life, she is a woman. That’s how she identifies, that is her gender, although her sex is intersex.

  • Stephen

    @Fitz, I am certainly not an expert (primary care doc here) but in this situation, one could expect the same range of breast formation as one would see in any other female…from flat as a cardboard box to DDD+. It’s not uncommon for gymnasts and female atheletes to have smaller-than-normal breasts, likely due to complex hormonal issues that I’m not smart enough to fully explain here. I DO agree with the need for surgery for her soon, as those proto-testes are at very high risk of becoming cancerous. And you are correct–hermaphrodite is an unfortunate term. Intersex is what is probably the most appropriate here. She’s neither “man” nor “woman” as the general population would like to label her…but rather, she’s what she intrinsically feels she is (and yes, I’m using the female pronoun on purpose).

    Honestly, I don’t blame the IAAF, nor do I blame the her. If she’s from a community without sophisticated health care options, she probably had no idea she had this medical condition until now.

  • anonymous

    Ok, so she wipes forward with nothing to worry about as most women wipe backwards to prevent infection. On with the race.

  • Umbabula Nkosi Hlatswayo II

    Lol. How could she/he not have known? In Africa, south of the Sahara, many people run around NAKED. Especially young childen. Her/his parents have probably more children or had / have brothers ans sisters and know quite well that they have a child with a difference.

    She/he was dishonest by not stating the facts. What about all the other people with this condition? Why can’t they also take part. They are the ones that get punished because they were honest and followed the rules and did not take part.

  • Smelda

    No 21. IDIOT.

  • Celia

    @Umbabula Nkosi Hlatswayo II: Because, as has repeatedly been stated, she has female genitalia on the outside, so she looked like any other little girl as a little girl. Furthermore, athletes often do not menstruate, depending on their levels of body fat – even women with wombs need a certain percentage of body fat to be able to menstruate.

    Of course, you’re a troll, but if we have to repeat ourselves to get it through the thickest skulls, then we shall

  • Abbie

    I wonder, if this had been a US citizen, and if the controversy and investigation originated in the US, how would this have been handled differently to comply with the HIPPA privacy protection clauses?

  • Cam

    @Abbie: you said “I wonder, if this had been a US citizen, and if the controversy and investigation originated in the US, how would this have been handled differently to comply with the HIPPA privacy protection clauses?”

    My guess is not much differently, because they would be handing the report over to an international sports agency that doesn’t really have to abide by U.S. privacy laws.

  • Ted B.

    It strikes me as implausible that the South African sports authorities didn’t know about this; don’t their athletes have routine medical examinations and other tests routinely conducted? I suspect they knew all-along and hoped to take advantage of the situation…and of her.

    And at what point is a physical abnormailty an unfair advantage over other competitors?

  • M Shane

    If she’s amale genetically, then sh ewould have a decidedd advantage against women. as far as developing other secondary Fcharacteristics, she has high levels of teststerone, whcih it seems wi=ould prevent that. If I’m not mistaken, women who run often miss periods , have small breasts low body fat etc.
    It would be unfair for her/him to compete with women. It would be like taking testosterone or steroid injections.

  • vic

    If “she” has internal testes but no ovaries or uterus than she is a deformed male-not a hermaphrodite. Hermaphrodites have both male and female organs of reproduction. The fact is, it would be wise for this person to seek surgery as undescended testicles result in testicular cancer all too frequently.

  • John from England(used to be just John but there are other John's)

    @Umbabula Nkosi Hlatswayo II:

    Naked?? Really?? I’ve never seen em!

  • Ruth

    @ Celia – Even the best women athlete were young girls once and menstruate at age 12 to 13 (in Africa).

    As a women athlete I would be highly offended if I knew that this person shared our ablution facilities and probably goggles at us.

    No 21 is right. He / she knew and was not honest when she / he registered. Maybe he or she hoped that the race card would save her / him from any further consequences. I hope that sense will prevail and that she / he returns everything.

    She / he won because she / he is not a 100% women running in a race for women. That’s why she / he won unfairly!

  • randomlady

    This is truly awful this girl has been stripped of what she has and under the glare of the media! I’m impressed with her composure and dignity even with all these people questioning her integrity. I’m sure that now she will be unable to compete as she has advantage over other women and I heard her coach resigned too. She needs all the support she can get and he resigns. Her life has been destroyed by this and as she was unaware of this I’m sure how she sees herself has changed completely. I sincerely hope they do not take her medal away, and though the test proved informative I do hope they apologize. Profusely.

  • Tertia

    @ 32. What a befuddled comment from you.

    She is a HE. HE knew exactly what HE was doing. He was happy to have an unfair advantage over the women. He was happy to take the medal, even when it was not his to take.

    He, like Obama, are both usurpers and therefore dishonest!

  • rudy

    @Tertia: You may wish you hadn’t posted that when you find yourself dragged before one of those Sarah Palin death-panels.

  • Matt

    She is a man no vagina here testys are inside her

    plus look at that 8 pack in the photo come on she or he needs to race against men. none of the other womwn will race her

  • Bri

    I’ve been avoiding this topic because I’m not into sports. But I just came here from an article on Yahoo where the writer, of course, refers to her as a “hermaphrodite.” WTF. What kind of animal uses that term?

    I can’t find his email otherwise I would bitch him out.

  • rudy

    @Bri: It’s an old word for people of one sex having organs or features of the other, but it’s no insult.

    The origin of the term is actually very beautiful derived from Hermaphroditis, the handsome son of Greek gods Hermes and Aphrodite.

    He had the misfortune of attracting a lovely Naiad named Salmacis to pray that they would be together forever, and tragically their bodies were fused into one. (If you watch “True Blood,” the Maryann character is a Naiad)

    These lines were written in Victorian times in regard to the beautiful statue of Hermaphroditus by Borghese in the Louvre (and obviously before sexual modification surgery.)

    “Love stands upon thy left hand and thy right,
    Yet by no sunset and by no moonrise
    Shall make thee man and ease a woman’s sighs,
    Or make thee woman for a man’s delight.
    To what strange end hath some strange god made fair
    The double blossom of two fruitless flowers?”
    – Algernon Charles Swinburne, 1863

    Hermaphrodite is also still in use in descriptions of Hindu gods.

  • kentuki

    i find this quite an odd story. many have said that she did not know about this but this fact is near impossible because by 18 a females monthly cycle would have been in full swing and as she does not have a womb she would not have the regular monthly cycle. also the external appearance of her genitalia would be different from male and female wouldnt it?
    but i believe that if she identifies with herself as a woman then she is a woman but i dont believe that it is fair for her to race against other women although this is so cruel as she wouldnt be allowed to race men either. let her keep her medal but she should unfortunatly retire from international athletics.

  • jason

    The media should just lay off her. I sense homophobia.

  • tjr101

    This is really sad. To find out personal info about yourself through the media is terrible. This situation was poorly handled. It’s quite true that she would have an unfair advantage over other female runners. She should however be able to keep her medals but as far as competing in future events I’m not so sure about that.

    Semenya should sue after all this is resolved!

  • catherine yronwode

    Those who say she must have known she was male are being foolish. She is an intersex individual. If she has CAIS or PAIS (Complete or Partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome), she has a short “blind” vagina which does not lead to a uterus. She has a vulva and a clitoris, not a scrotum and a penis. From the outside, she would look female. No one would know that she is not female. She herself would not know. Inside, where the ovaries would be in a female, she would have testes. She would not have much or any body hair. That’s what folks with CAIS or PAIS look like. There are many different types of intersex, but CAIS or PAIS is most likely what she has. Doctors recommend that people with internal testes should have them removed, as they tend to become cancerous. The vagina can be surgically lengthened to permit her to have sex with a man who has a normal size penis. She will then be “genetically” male but will be able to live as a physically female person, which is what she is. I hope they don’t take her medal from her. I hope she has a happy life.

  • kentuki

    @catherine yronwode: sorry to say this but dont be so harsh on those who have said their opinion. as i said before she would have started her PERIOD!!! every woman gets them, fact of life, so by 18 i think she would know that she was different as it is extremely rare for periods to start that late. thats 5 years later than the normal age to start. if they dont start by 16 then the girl should get it checked out and then she would have found out that she was intersex.

  • David

    It doesn’t matter. True equality means no segregation. Men and Women are equals. Segregating the sexes in competitions or whatever is so Jim Crow.

  • Cam

    @David: You said “It doesn’t matter. True equality means no segregation. Men and Women are equals. Segregating the sexes in competitions or whatever is so Jim Crow.”

    I don’t think we should confuse true equality with what is sensible. Women and men have different physical and genetic realities. Just like there are studies saying women would make better high speed fighter pilots because of their builds and lower centers of gravity, you also wouldn’t have women and Men competing against each other in a sport like weightlifting or Tennis. The Williams sisters once played the number 200 ranked men’s tennis player in the world after bragging that they could beat the high ranked men….here was the result.

    Karsten Braasch competed in a ‘Battle of the Sexes’ contest against Venus Williams and Serena Williams at the 1998 Australian Open when he was ranked 203. A decade and a half older than the sisters, Braasch “was a man whose training regime centred around a pack of cigarettes and more than a couple bottles of ice cold lager.”[1] He nonetheless handily defeated the sisters in an individual set, 6–1 on Serena, 6–2 on Venus, while rubbing it in by smoking cigarettes during the changeover.

  • whitefaerie

    @kentuki: People have already stated that it’s very common for female athletes not to have periods because of low body fat, but you seem very dense.

    @Ruth: Unless she was already an elite athlete at 12 or 13, which, if she’s Olympic-bound at 18, she probably was. Also, while that may be the average age of first period in Africa (it’s a similar age in the U.S., so that’s believable) it’s still considered “normal” not to menstruate up to age 16, at which point it’s considered “delayed” and medical tests start. “Normal” for most medical things is a wider range than people think. If she grew up in an area with less medical care, they may not have been able to get her checked out at 16 and assumed it was only because of her running. On the other hand, it is entirely possible she got a test from the government or athletic commission that showed she was intersex and it was hidden for the team’s benefit. (They may have told her she was “just fine” and it was only low body fat that was preventing her from menstruating.) If so, this is very sad. I do NOT think that Caster Semenya herself or any of her family knew.

    @kentuki: No. People have already explained this. She is genetically male but appears externally female. No one would look at her on the outside and think there was anything “abnormal.” There are many, many different intersex conditions. Some look like a “mix” of “male parts and female parts.” Others do not, with the “opposite” parts being on the inside only.

    @anonymous: That “joke” really makes no sense since she still have a vagina and female urethra and is therefore presumably capable of getting the same infections as any other externally anatomical female. (She is genetically and internally male, but that has no bearing.)

    @vic: That is what “hermaphrodite” means in animals, but it is *very* rare for humans to have both ovaries and testes, which is why “intersex” is considered a better term. You are right, she is not a hermaphrodite, but she is intersex, which just means she has some characteristics of both sexes. This article uses the term “hermaphrodite” as a reference to the sensationalism of other articles, not as a direct reference to Caster Semenya. You are right, and this article is wrong, about the importance of having undescended,nonfunctional testes removed because of the risk of cancer. However, I can understand why the author made that mistake; he/she probably had a kneejerk reaction to the idea of surgery on intersex people, which has a very ugly history (especially genital surgery, which may be what he/she was thinking of) is usually not advised unless there is an important medical reason, which there is in this case.

  • Pissed Off

    If SeMANya is some sort of hermaphrodite, how fair is it to declare him a woman and allow him to race against women when he probably pumps out 100 times more testosterone than any of the women he races against? Also, if the media reports are correct and Semenya has testes but no ovaries, then he produces sperm, not eggs, and therefore he is a MAN. I think the women who are forced to compete against this man should all withdraw, walk up to the start line and when the gun fires just stand up while SeMANya takes off.

  • Gloria Stynum

    I’m tired of this nonsense. We’ve got a person who is at most half female and he is declared fully female. And we’ve got a President who is at most half black and he is declared fully black. As a white female, I am offended. White female pride, people. Right on.

  • William

    It is clear that Caster is a man with undecended testes and feminine external genitalia (unfused). It is highly likely that Athletics South Africa were aware of his charasterics and have acted unethically in a bid to gain a medal.
    He is genitically a man with incomplete development and should not be competing as a woman. ASA should be taken to account for putting Caster into this situation.
    He is not competitive as a male athlete and has no place competing with woman. It was a womans event and the medal should go to the best woman competitor.
    My Apologies to South Africans. I feel that your athletics association has let you down badly for perpetrating a blatent medal grab and exposing Caster to unfair public scrutiny.

  • davenielsen78

    Semenya is, for all intents and purposes, a female. That’s how she was raised. That’s how she identifies. And that’s how she competes.

    Nonsense. How she was raised and how she identifies is irrelevant. If you only have to identify as female to compete as one the women’s events will soon be dominated by men. If you’re coming in 4th or worse in the men’s, identify as a woman and compete there.

    She’s in fact not a female. No ovaries, and instead testes. Three times the testosterone of any other woman. She knows she’s a cheat. Personally I would not want to win that way. The medal is meaningless.

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