The Cult: Caster Semenya

As an 18-year-old, Caster Semenya had the implications of her body considered by those sensitive souls in the media. She is different, and in The Cult that is worth celebrating.

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28 July 2015, 11:25am

Photo by PA Images

From the column 'VICE Sports Presents: The Cult'

Cult Grade: The Difference

First a little disclosure, because I know you like it. There's something of a gay guy inside me, and it's a complete headache sometimes. I get what's going on, I think – she (it's a she) is my X-chromosome, man's gift from women, unpredictably firing. She spots men in the supermarket and has a glance; she speaks – and this fucking sucks – in the voice of Daniella Westbrook, she of the annihilated septum, saying 'oooh hello' about Brad Pitt.

And when she does it makes me feel gay, for a moment. And this is a promise: every single man on Earth gets some version of this, at different volumes. That's why homophobia is the thing most felt by men on this planet – because the dimmer they are, the less sure in themselves, the more the whole thing unnerves them. And boy, does this planet have its supply of dim men.

Anyway, Caster Semenya. The treatment meted out to her in 2009, after she performed the very unladylike feat of mashing the field in her 800m debut at the World Championships to the point that she was on the flight back to South Africa by the time second place arrived, showed the conditions by which this stuff works.

READ MORE: The Cult — Goran Ivanisevic

As far as I know, you're absolutely permitted to be born and live with messy genetics, as compared to the average human, with no-one making you feel uncomfortable about it. We're all nice people. Unless of course you try to use those genetics to your advantage, perhaps to hammer a field of 'normals' in an 800m race. Then, as far as I can gather, you become guilty of some kind of crime, if I'm interpreting right the endless repetition of the phrase 'Caster Semenya cleared after gender controversy' in the articles I've waded through to put this together.

Because, as it turned out, she is a woman. She's just a different kind of woman. An 18-year-old, at the time. Care to wonder how you'd feel, as an 18-year-old girl – who would always have felt palpably different to other 'girls' – having the implications of your body considered by those sensitive souls in the media? Here's a phrase to warm your heart: 'In an interview with 'YOU' magazine, Semenya stated "God made me the way I am, and I accept myself." She also took part in a makeover for the magazine. That's lovely Caster – now, let's get you done up properly, eh? Sometimes the human race is just the biggest load of bullshit ever.

Point of Entry: Medium

Because it was thrilling, what she did. It was different. It was alive, in that very human way. I lose my rag a bit sometimes with how corporate and staid and enslaved to the average the 21st century seems, all these people trying their damndest not to annoy Twitter. Who gives a fuck what Twitter thinks? Twitter is, for the most part, the stupidest of us compounded.

So when I witness something, anything, that is an aggressive misfit carelessly owning the competition, it gives me a shiver. That's the difference. 'These kind of people should not run with us'. So said Elisa Cusma, sixth place in the wreckage of Caster's 2009 obliteration. She's a definite woman who we should applaud for her dose of fast-twitch fibres that have allowed her a career spanning a decade, which has left her with a sour expression and a single bronze medal at the 2009 Indoor Championships.

READ MORE: The Cult — Shane Warne

Painfully, though, Caster can't attain High entry into The Cult. The best thing she did in senior athletics was the first, when she ran with the freedom of the body she'd been born into. After that, it became public property, and for whatever reason – psychological, or potentially off the back of treatment she felt compelled to get – her times have become progressively slower ever since.

The Moment – 800m Final, London, 2012

Tell me it was deliberate, her strategy in the final Olympic race, to slink to the back of the pack and stay there for most of it, only getting her arse into gear when Mariya Savinova became uncatchable. It's not the strategy I'd anticipate, had it been just the gold medal she'd taken with her from her 2009 triumph. Still, once it was too late, she barrelled past the entire field to take second, thighs and biceps pounding down the home straight past the crowd of skinnier girls.

At the start of the race, as they introduced the field, she brushed a little dirt off her shoulders for the camera; but the way she ran wasn't like someone who felt unencumbered. Or maybe she just misjudged it, and maybe the plan really was to hang in the back and then just deck every single person in front of her. That would be pretty badass, if not the kind of overthought approach you come up with when every single trashy newspaper is whistling in your ear about what you are and what you aren't. If only we lived on a planet where she's different didn't still make a whole bunch of people go crotchety-eyed.

READ MORE: The Cult — Michael Jordan

Final Words on Member #5

Dr Katrina Karkazis, a medical anthropologist at Stanford University, said the IAAF's decision meant some athletes would now have repressive hormone-therapy: "There is enormous pressure on sports governing bodies to find a clear, objective way to say 'this person is male and this person is female.' The problem is that the body doesn't work this way. No marker is present in all males or females. But they felt it better to do something, even a wrong thing, even an arbitrary thing, than do nothing."

Go team.

@tobysprigings