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Father of South African intersex athlete outraged at handling of case

BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

runner As South African running sensation Caster Semenya dropped out of sight Friday following reports that she has hidden male sex organs, her father expressed outrage and confusion -- emotions very often felt by families of intersex children, according to one local expert.

``This is an extremely difficult -- you could say traumatic -- experience for parents when they have a child with this kind of problem,'' said Dr. Gary D. Berkovitz, chief of pediatric endocrinology at the University of Miami's medical school.

``At birth, the first thing parents want to know other than if it's a healthy baby, they want to know if it's a boy or if it's a girl. In some situations, very rarely, it's not possible to tell.''

Semenya's father, Jacob, angrily said that people ``are sick, they are crazy'' for insinuating his 18-year-old daughter is not a woman.

Semenya, of a poor village in South Africa, didn't know she had internal testes until after gender testing was performed, according to Australian newspaper reports.

The International Association of Athletics Federations, which ordered the testing, refused to confirm or deny the reports in The Sydney Daily Telegraph and The Sydney Morning Herald that Semenya has internal testes that produce large amounts of testosterone, and no ovaries.

The IAAF said it is reviewing the test results on the runner and will not issue a final decision until November.

South African Sports Minister Makhenkesi Stofile expressed his horror at the handling of the affair and insisted Caster, who won the 800-meter race at the world championships in Berlin last month, is female.

``We think her human rights have been violated and her privacy invaded,'' Stofile said. ``I don't know why she is being subjected to this.''

The South African Press Association quoted her coach, Michael Seme, as saying she would not take part in a women's 4,000-meter race at the South African Cross Country Championships in Pretoria on Saturday because she was ``not feeling well.'' Seme had said earlier in the week that she would run.

Semenya burst onto the scene by posting a world-leading time of 1 minute, 56.72 seconds at the African junior championships, and in July, the international federation asked South African track and field authorities to do a gender verification test.

Semenya won the 800 in Berlin on Aug. 19 by 2.45 seconds in a world-record 1:55.45, but her dramatic improvement, muscular build and deep voice sparked speculation about her gender.

In the past, intersex people were called hermaphrodites. ``We don't use that anymore,'' Berkovitz said, noting that the phrase doesn't fully describe the condition.

People who are intersex often have physical characteristics of the opposite sex. A girl might be born with testes or a greatly enlarged clitoris that resembles a penis; a boy could have hidden female characteristics such as a misplaced urethra or, less commonly, a uterus, said Berkovitz.

There are many complicated reasons why a child might be intersex: too many hormones or two few; perhaps a genetic imbalance of chromosomes that help determine a baby's gender.

Doctors don't routinely screen babies for these imbalances. Usually, a parent notices something unusual.

``Looking at the genitalia. That's the first clue,'' said Berkovitz, who has treated intersex children since 1980.

In girls, it could be a larger-than-expected clitoris. Boys might have hidden testicles.

``In almost all the cases, the genitalia are normal and that what the families are seeing are a variance of normal and of no concern,'' Berkovitz said. ``However, once in a while, perhaps several times a year, we do indeed encounter a child where there is a problem.''

Doctors then investigate whether the problems are hormonal. Surgery often is performed, usually followed by hormone treatments, said Berkovitz.

Treating an intersex child ``requires hours and hours of discussion and counseling'' for the family, he said.

Miami sexologist Dr. Marilyn Volker has often worked with intersex kids and their parents.

``I always ask people who are pregnant, `Are you having a boy, a girl or an intersexual?' '' Volker said. ``They're pretty shocked.''

Approximately one in 1,000 babies have surgery to ``normalize'' the appearance of their genitals, according to the Intersex Society of America.

People often mistakenly confuse intersex with being gay or transgender, Volker said.

``That runner could be heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual,'' she said. ``Asexual could be in there, as well.''

This report was supplemented with material from the AP.

Caption: In this Aug. 19, 2009, file photo, South Africa's Caster Semenya celebrates after winning the gold medal in the final of the Women's 800m at the World Athletics Championships in Berlin. Anja Niedringhaus, File / AP Photo

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Wow, what a mess, don't you think? Is she a girl, or is she a boy? That still remains the question. The fact of the matter is that the situation must be dealt with. The other runers have to be treated fiarly. Most important is the fact that she or he, or whatever is a human being and let's not forget that!

Shakespeare

"Outraged I tell you, totally outraged", "Why, we NEVER had ANY idea that our daughter was anything but the perfect model of femininity." "Outraged that anyone would think otherwise".

i have to say that if the organs are only "internal" then she should keep her title. what does a middle sex child do? they r told that they cannot win a medal or legally compete in a race because they have too much natural testosterone? if she were a boy, born a boy, who was cheating the system to gain an unfair advantage, then stripping her of medal would be understandable. but this situation does not seem the case and it would be disastrous imo if she does not win because of only having "internal testes"

she looks like a dude, and no one in their right mind would say otherwise.

Sounds like a male

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-bqET22vEU

It is very sad. My prayers go out to Caster.

THIS IS HORRIBLE THE WAY THIS YOUNG LADY IS BEING TREATED. THE TRUE FACT IS THAT IF SHE WAS LOSING THE RACES NOTHING WOULD BE SAID. WETHER SHE IS A GIRL OR BOY, THE MEDIA HAS DESTROYED HER SELF WORTH AND EVEN IF SHE PROVED TO BE A FEMALE. LOOK AT THE DAMAGE THAT HAS BEEN DONE. I PRAY THE THE JUSTICE OF GOD BE UPON EVERYONE INVOLVED IN THIS OUTRAGEOUS ACT UPON THIS YOUNG PERSON. IN LEGAL TERMS. THE MEDIA HAS RAPED HER WITHOUT PHYSICALLY TOUCHING HER. THE EMOTIONAL DAMAGE WILL PROBABLY NEVER GO AWAY. PSALMS 119:98

Your either a male or female! None of this intersex BS. What are these wacko's trying to do, create a new sex catagory? He's a guy and should be disquilified!!

As usual the comments run a gamut, from compassionate through to downright ignorant.

For those with a conviction that the complexity of human sex biology can be reduced to a couple of chromosomes try reading these.

http://intersexnews.blogspot.com/2009/04/cbx2-age-of-chromosomes-is-over.html

http://cmj.org/Periodical/PaperList.asp?id=LW9058

I have to say, gay or straight, nothing much changes when it comes to this topic.

I guess the Adam and Eve model of human sex is just plain bad biology!

Board Organization Intersex International

I know that the amount of ignorance about this issue is high. Not many people know about the feminising CAI syndrome (Complete Androgen Insensitivity - basically immunity to the male sex hormones). Not many know about maculinising CAH (Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia), or PMDS (persistant mullerian duct syndrome), or 5ARD or 17BHDD or any of the hundred or more Intersex conditions.

I can understand this - people aren't educated about it, because it's about sex, and that's just sooo embarassing.

So we try to put the facts before people, so when they say "XY is male, XX is female" we refer them to XY women who have given birth, or XX men who have fathered children. And XXY people too, Kleinfelter syndrome, just to show them that while sex may look like a binary, and the earth look flat, neither is true.

What I can't understand is not just the pig-ignorance, it's the sheer venom, malice and spite of some of the SFM - Standard Factory Model commenters. I won't call them Human, as they lack an essential qualification : basic humanity.

The ironic thing is that it's likely that at least some of these bigoted commenters may be Intersexed too, and not know it. Some IS conditions are almost asymptomatic, and would only be detectable by a laboratory.

Somebody should have helped this young person a long time ago. Their excuses are somewhat lame. The people at school and her family. Everyone is overlooked nowadays, because everyone is so concerned about themselves. When you start competing with adults, you have to take what comes... The other athletes work really hard and are noticing things out of the norm, they have a right to speak up. South African system seems to hide behind slogans and not just get busy and take care of business. I don't feel sorry for them just Caster.

wow i would be careful what i say...u could have a child or kid born with this condition

why is this story on the herald's gay blog page? is the athlete gay? is her father gay? is hermaphrodite a code word for gay? I dont get it.

I think is getting more attention than it should. There is no reason for this person to be treated like this.

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