Caster Semanya: 'Being Born With Internal Testicles [Doesn't] Make Me Less a Woman'

Brittany M. Hughes | November 7, 2023
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A biological male athlete wants you to know his male parts don’t make him any less of a woman.

Despite, you know, literally making him less of a woman - by virtue of the fact that he’s not one.

Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic gold medalist in Track and Field, says his male anatomy, male hormone levels, and lack of female organs shouldn't keep him from living - and competing - as a woman.

"The medical terms, what they tell me, you know, or my testosterone, being born without a uterus, being born with internal testicles, those don’t make me less a woman. It’s just the differences I was born with,” Semanya said during an interview with the BBC this week.

Now, to be fair, there are documented cases of genetic females being born with certain male-typical parts thanks to various Disorders of Sex Development, or "DSDs". Congenital adrenal hyperplasia, for example, can cause a biologically female child to be born with male-appearing, or "virilized," genitalia. There are also extremely rare chromosomal abnormalities that can leave a person's biological sex genuinely in question.

But that's not what's happening here.

Semanya, a biological male, was born with 5α-Reductase 2 deficiency, a medical condition in which a clearly genetic male embryo with XY chromosomes has a problem utilizing testosterone during physical development in utero. Because testosterone plays such a key part in the development of male anatomy, this disorder often leads to underdeveloped internal male parts and external genitalia that can either be female in appearance or ambiguous at birth, with each case being unique.

But at the end of the day, the person - both on a chromosomal level and hormonal one - are still very much male, without any of the female reproductive organs, chromosomes, or hormones indicative of a normally developed woman. In fact, men with this condition still experience many of the same physical changes during puberty as any other man, including increased muscle mass and a deepening voice.

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Likely due to his physical appearance, Semanya was assigned “female” at birth, despite having testicles and other physical male attributes - including male testosterone levels, which allows him to compete at a massive advantage over his female rivals. In fact, it was his startlingly impressive performance during the 2009 World Championships that questions were raised about then 18-year-old Semanya’s biological sex, sparking rounds of testing and a massive controversy that lead to him being publicly outed as a biological male with this rare disorder.

But while Semanya’s case may be more complex than that of a normally-developed man who simply thinks himself a woman, the truth still remains: Semanya is a man. A man whose body didn’t develop correctly thanks to an unavoidable medical anomaly, perhaps - even a man who was told he was a woman early in his life thanks to his disorder - but a man nonetheless.

And while that may entitle him to our sincere compassion, it certainly does make him less of a woman.

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