Tag Archives: discrimination

Caster Semenya and the postgendered future

You’d have had to be living under a metaphorical rock not to have heard about the story of Caster Semenya, the record-breaking athlete whose superior performance caused the regulatory bodies of the athletics world to have her tested thoroughly – not for performance-enhancing drugs, but to determine her gender.

The results indicated that Semenya is in fact intersexed – a natural (if rare) state wherein she possesses both male and female sexual organs – and as such has a higher level of testosterone than the “average” woman. The media coverage has been a deeply unpleasant display of almost Puritanical horror with an undertone of carnival freakshow; the implicit racism was bad enough, but to have the biological status of a teenager discussed in terms of her “abnormality” on the pages of newspapers across the world is – at the very least – deeply insensitive. I guess there’s no way that the tests and inquiry could have been kept secret, but even so: the story doesn’t say nice things about our attitudes to difference.

Transhumanist thinker George Dvorsky takes that ball and runs with it in a post that asks whether postgendered athletes should be allowed to compete alongside “normal” male and female athletes:

The IAAF has already admitted that Semenya is not at fault here. This is not a doping issue. According to the IAAF, “These tests do not suggest any suspicion of deliberate misconduct but seek to assess the possibility of a potential medical condition which would give Semenya an unfair advantage over her competitors. There is no automatic disqualification of results in a case like this.”

Their decision will be an important one because it will determine whether or not intersexed persons will be able to compete against regular males and females. If they rule that Semenya cannot compete, the IAAF will essentially be saying that there are some ‘natural’ physical conditions that have to be sanctioned against.

[…] it may also set a precedent for a prohibition against the deliberate blurring of male and female traits for competitive advantage. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that some professional athletes — women in particular– may willingly adopt traits of the opposite sex to give them an edge. And as medical biotechnologies continue to advance, there’s a very distinct possibility that such interventions may become more available.

If you’re thinking “hang on there, George, that’s a bit of a sweeping discriminatory statement,” you’d be quite correct. But it’s a rhetorical play – Dvorsky’s point is that the target of that discrimination will shift. Resentment of postgendered humans – a term that I think Dvorsky is using here to differentiate between those born with intersex characteristics and those who choose to blur the lines within themselves – will be huge… not just in sports, but in general.

It has been my contention that, as the human species enters into a transhuman condition, strictly stratified gender designations will begin to blur. Men and women will consciously trade-off advantageous gender-specific traits (both physical and cognitive), while discarding some gendered traits altogether. Gender may eventually become a thing of the past — a legacy of our biological heritage.

Now, should the IAAF rule against intersexed persons, and by logical extension postgendered humans (including transgendered individuals), it would appear that the future has no place for these type of athletes.

This will clearly become a problem of discrimination. And it will likely be compounded by all the other ‘enhancement’ related interventions that future holds.

Indeed it will… just look at the polarised attitudes to simple present-day enhancements like cognitive performance drugs. Where is the line between doing as you please with your body and giving yourself an “unfair advantage” over others? Should the law control that line, enforce it? Is enforcing that line a defence of the median or a suppression of a minority? How is self-enhancement any different to being born with a natural advantage by comparison to the human baseline?