Masculine Femininities Zine

Masculine Femininities Issue 3

Posted in Issue 3 by Misster Raju Rage on November 19, 2009

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Introduction

I’m finding it unusually difficult to write something for MF 3. Since the last two issues, (well I’ll try sum it up in a brief sentence!) my biological family have found out that I am transgender. They googled me and found ‘Masculine Femininities’, read it and partly freaked out with all the personal information and their discovery. I have felt exposed, which I guess is to be expected. I mean I wasn’t hiding anything or at least not well at all, leaving traces of myself around like dirty laundry, as they say.

So for this issue I started off writing something less personal and more objective, in order to protect myself, about the in’s and outs of perceptions of masculinity and femininity in the world around me, but I found it difficult not to mention certain personal accounts and experiences and relate it to something tangible. It’s just not my style but most of all I felt silenced… as well as bored to death, as if falling asleep in my own gender theory lecture. Not good, no!

That would be the exact opposite of what this zine is about so I immediately stopped and pressed the delete button. Well nearly, I didn’t scrap it all but I started again with a different attitude and those wise words that a good friend had recently reminded me of, by the great Audre Lord – ‘when we speak/we are afraid our words will not be heard/nor welcomed/but when we are silent/we are still afraid. So it is better to speak/remembering/we were never meant to survive.’

Yes, this is what this zine is about, hearing those voices that are often silenced. The first 2 issues have received such amazingly positive feedback that I felt I owed it to you and this 3rd issue. No pressure (ha).

So this is an ode to all those who should never be suffocated, forgotten or pushed out of the way, into the corner, stuck in closets or told to shut up and that what they have to say or do is not important. My love for you is strong and infinite….

My fellow femmes: Lola, Candi (Lola misses you), Ana Bolica (for amazing courage and strength)

Apphia Mythologist (for simply just understanding the things I say or think)

F-Crew (you know who you are, for keeping me (in)sane and for loads of hurting laughs)

Roh (even though you are no longer in this world you are still in this heart)

and last but not least my bio/logical families and all the readers of the first 2 issues, who have taken the time and effort to read this. This is for you…

‘We shall not be silenced or live in fear’

 

Misster Scratch

 

Please note Blogs have been taken from the internet. Some permission was gained in use of blogs but others have not. Bloggers are therefore not necessarily associated with Masculine Femininities as a publication but are examples of voices, ideas and discussions that I wanted to showcase.

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An ode to Lola by Misster Scratch

….So dirty laundry makes me think of clothes and closets. Clothes to cover up gendered bodies and closets to hide them in. Except that if it’s a femme’s closet, Misster Scratch is no doubt in there looking for pretty dresses for Lola. In fact, Misster Scratch is now beyond femme partners and friend’s closets and has started his own wardrobe!

So am I or aren’t I in the closet?

I mean Misster Scratch is often in there looking for Lola. Does that mean that even though Misster Scratch spends a lot of time in closets he isn’t actually in the closet but that Lola, even though she spends most of her time escaping out of the closet, is in fact in one?! *

*Just so you know I’m speaking about these identities consciously in the third person as they are parts of myself. The danger in speaking about them or even showing them is that you may get accused of ‘multiple personality disorder’ (as I have been) which is why I actually suppressed Lola for a long time as I thought it was shameful and wrong and would only explore my femininity through my partners and only in secret i.e. in the closet which was my inspiration for writing this. However as we know well if you suppress something it WILL surface and manifest…. sooner or later!

So who is this Lola anyway?

I don’t think I’ve really asked myself that question or actually felt the need to. I try to refrain from the constant regurgitations of explanations, to mainly cis gendered people, and well it didn’t seem important to ask myself. I mean Lola is an impulse born purely out of desire and instinct.  Do we always have to question ourselves? Regardless of that, I have been asked the following questions:

Is Lola a she or a he?

Why am I only Lola part time and not full time?

Am I still Scratch when I am Lola and vice versa?

Is Lola a better femme that Misster Scratch?

Why do Lola and Misster Scratch have different names when they are the same person?

Does Lola have different desires to Misster Scratch?

Why do I feel the need to be Lola?

Is Lola or Scratch a FTM or MTF?

I’m sure the list is familiar to some of you and well it goes on and on…

I’m not set to answer all those questions but what I can say is that Lola is in fact an alter ego of Misster Scratch’s. She is equal to him but doesn’t surface quite as much but generally has much more fun and is much more liberated. Y’see even though I feel essentially ‘male’ and ‘masculine’ I don’t always feel very free being that way. I probably am a bad transgender person for saying that. I have found the male world to be so harsh and alien, unless I surround myself with genderqueers, femmes or sissies, but then you also get the threat of being beaten up or attacked for that.

This year I have been attacked a few times by various males thinking I’m either a batty boy or equivalent straight young male and on their radar. I have also been targeted by police whilst in masculine Scratch mode (I was read as male of colour and in these situations I didn’t know whether it was safer to be read as male, female or transgender and of course not being able to change anything about the colour of my skin). But I have never been attacked as Lola, though I have been sexually harassed. I do notice that people will try to get away with crossing boundaries much more with Lola than they will with Scratch like being patronising and invading physical personal space and thinking if they give you something you will give them sex in return (the usual shit I was glad to escape from and have to see other femmes constantly put up with, though of course there are also many positive responses to being femme). Still, Lola doesn’t seem to be as vulnerable as Scratch, I guess this obviously has a lot to do with my perception of femininity as ‘strength’ and masculinity as ‘weakness’ and so what I put out there is what I get in return, right? That’s all fine of course until someone else (and their own perceptions) come into play and complicates things further. Lola it seems can hold onto her identity much better than Misster Scratch can. Does that make her stronger than scratch or is it just safer for Lola to stand up for herself? When she does it she is ‘feisty’ and ‘in control’ but when Scratch tries he is viewed as a trouble maker, aggressive, violent and very likely security will be called. If for some reason scratch does show his femininity (in a male expression or presentation) there is a risk he will be abused and/or beaten up for it, but Lola will not, for showing her femininity. So it’s safer to be Lola in some ways and obviously not in others? It’s true I have learnt what I can do and get away with as Misster Scratch and Lola respectively and what I can’t. So for now I need both identities, does that mean if it was more acceptable to transgress gender boundaries that I wouldn’t need to be Lola at all? But then would I have to choose between Lola and Scratch? I hope not. It still seems so hard to transgress these boundaries and categories. I’ve discovered that you can call yourself whatever cool label you want on the queer scene but it doesn’t always mean that that will be your reality. What you perceive of yourself will not always be read by others in the same way, but that goes for everyone right, just with differing levels of violence?

Y’see Misster Scratch is a combination of masculinity and femininity but he struggles as a trans-guy to express the later for many obvious and not obvious reasons such as rejection of femininity growing up when it was imposed on him by males and females alike. As well as due to a struggling desire of achieving authenticity as a transgender guy in order to be taken seriously in a world where being male generally means being big built/macho/strong/tough/masculine/having a deep voice/being hairy and having to clutch a tight grip on hormones to achieve it if you were not biologically born into this heritage. Or is it because of failing as a femme in (an ethnic) culture of extreme femininity with very successful femme role models that I did and didn’t relate to? I understood and admired our heritage which inspired me, but not its limitations or the pressure to measure up. I didn’t want to dress up or be who I was for a man or society. I didn’t even desire straight heterosexual men who instead in my teenage years I teased, led on and then dropped at my disposal. Yes I used them for my own gain to learn about my own masculinity since I was attracted to their male energy but not in the way I was supposed to. Rather, I wanted a gay relationship with gay men, a straight relationship with straight or bi women and later learnt to have queer relationships with whomever! Back then though, essentially I wanted to be femme for myself and on my own terms which didn’t seem possible and so I just buried that part of me for years and focused on my masculinity which seemed safer to express and more of whom I was, yet whilst still surrounding myself with femmes and feminists who were my ultimate adult role models after my boyhood with mainly boys.

Years have passed and now Lola is everything that Scratch wants to be and because she is more anonymous she often has more freedom to explore her femininity, on her own terms and not those ideals imposed on her from childhood, the media and so on. Quite simply Scratch was feeling stifled as a trans guy and so Lola was born out of that.  Kind of like a transvestite coming out story I guess, but with a difference…

Lola embodies a ‘fuck you’ to all femme standards she has never conformed to, including imposed western ones and those unsaid rules within queer and butch-femme communities, yet embracing the standards she does feel connected to. Playing with a performative persona that can do just what she likes with her femininity. She also plays on people’s exoticisation of bodies of colour by embodying her ethnic ancestry, purging the younger scratch who had to ward off countless white men when he was perceived as a ‘young brown exotic subservient female’. Lola is a real life experiment, a vessel for liberation, summoning the Goddess of Kali before she puts on her eyelashes of destruction and lipstick of vengeance and gets ready to take on the white world she lives in. She will now quite happily put on that sari or salwar kameez that her mother would force onto her and claim the South Asian identity that she has been stripped off for being trans and queer, that is rightfully hers. Her bindi and Misster Scratch’s nose ring come together as visible symbols of heritage because she is sick of being asked if she is Italian or Spanish or insert any other white euro centric culture in the white dominated scenes she finds herself in.

So if I don’t answer your questions it is because I don’t relate to them. These are the answers I have to give. It seems I am having to answer for a lot these days and losing people I care about in the process.

I recently explained my gender identity to my aunt and she recounted a story to me from when I was 14 that I’ve heard before but she obviously thought I had forgotten or not seen the insight involved. We were on a packed train in France. I was sitting on my mother’s lap and the lady next to us interrupted us to ask how old I was. I was extremely shy and awkward as a child and so my mother answered on my behalf. The lady then announced that she was from a famous modelling agency and gave me her business card and instructed me to get in touch in a year’s time. This story had been recounted several times over the course of my growing up. It is supposed to confirm some normality in my gender when I was an obvious ambiguous child and considered a tomboy. It validates conformity of being female and living up to that title simply because I could and questions why I have chosen not to. It enacts and provides reassurance that others opinions about my body matter more than my own. It suggests that being viewed as exotic was to be embraced and not rejected in light of facing a lot of racism when I was growing up because of the country and dominant culture that I had been displaced to. But there was never any question about whether I wanted or cared about being a model, or about being female or about what kind of femininity I wanted to express or whether other people’s perceptions could be questioned or in fact were questionable.

My brother said recently, when he discovered I was transgender and wanted to be regarded as male, that it couldn’t be true as I had ‘always been femme’. This is his own perception of my forced and reluctant femininity whilst  ignoring and denying the masculinity he bonded with as a child, but regardless, the simple ‘fact’ being that to him femme = female and masculine = male. Am I the only one who doesn’t get this? I didn’t explain it to him. The thing is I know a lot of people think this. There is a common trans dialogue of authenticity being judged by how you behaved and expressed gender as a child corresponding to your chosen gender identity as an adult. God forbid you were a drop dead gorgeous femme read as conforming female even if you did/didn’t feel that way and then want to become a man! (Or insert other variations of course). We don’t want people changing gender willy nilly! This will be viewed as confusion or a mistake instead of/vs. being true to yourself. I mean how often have we lied to doctors to get what we want from them in our ‘transitions’ and can we really trust their prescriptive dosages of hormonal medications when they want us to transition as quickly as possible from one gender to another to avoid any of the shameful in-between phases. I mean some of us want it to be quick but some of us would also like to explore the in between phases or are happy being gender queer, ambiguous and fluid or want to experiment with hormonal intake and our gender expressions. And we do, but we have to sell ourselves out, lie and are still treated as minors and not allowed to express our gender on our own terms even though we are adults we must seek other people’s permissions and validations. Is this the trans heritage we gain? Can we ascend from this designated path?

I swallow my aunt’s story and tell myself at least my family haven’t disowned me like some of my other friends. That they are trying to confront their ignorance and fears and for that I am also trying to be true to myself, to be myself, to allow it, even if others will not. Even if it is unsafe and violent to do so because I can’t really do anything else as I don’t know how and it wouldn’t feel right and I wouldn’t be alive that way either. They ask me where I am heading or want to be in my gender expression and they require a straightforward answer. Truth is that I am so many things and want so much and there isn’t one. I know that I don’t want my choices to come from fear or having to always think about safety. My aunt asks ‘but what do you want’ as opposed to the negative. Truth is that what I do want seems too idealistic and out of reach and that is simply to just be myself without any negative consequences, without having to think about every move I make, every outfit I wear, whether I’m carrying relevant documents and identification or protection, whether I will get work, or whether I will make it safe to my next destination or not.

For now Lola has to think about less of those things than Misster Scratch. She is my one way of surviving and challenging this oppressive world whilst still having some much needed fun.

So to all those questions that I have been asked I do want to say one more thing. I am one and all… all for one and one for all.

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by Elisha Lim

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macho adjective

/ˈmætʃ.əʊ//ˈmɑː.tʃoʊ/ informal mainly disapproving

behaving forcefully or showing no emotion in a way traditionally thought to be typical of a man

He’s too macho to admit he was hurt when his girlfriend left him.

I can’t stand macho men.

femme (fm)

adj.

Slang Exhibiting stereotypical or exaggerated feminine traits. Used especially of lesbians and gay men.

n.

1. Slang One who is femme.

2. Informal A woman or girl.

a Sentence

–adjective

1.pertaining to a woman or girl: feminine beauty; feminine dress.

2.having qualities traditionally ascribed to women, as sensitivity or gentleness.[1]

I got a tattoo a few days ago. It reads Macho at the top of my right arm. It has splashes of ink.

A sailor’s arm. Maybe a few ladies a girl in every port will come and complement it, one arm performing the word.

I am not sure any more of who I am. Years of S&M practice, a theatre degree and countless Genet books later, things dissolve so much easier than they used to. I sometimes long for the time of being an angry bisexual riot girrrl offering endless rants to my long string of lovers and drunk fucks at the end of parties. Or even the less distant days of being a queer top squatter femme dyke. I used to fit into categories so well, explain them at length, explain what they meant to me what they should mean to others why we all need them. Sanctimonious bitch, but relatively safe. Any deviance from the alternative could be squeezed out of the little boxes as long as I could argue at myself how in the end of the day the boxes were what mattered, and my energy spent on fitting into them.

And I used to hate it when people said ‘ I’m queer, shouldn’t that be enough’.

I’m queer. But that’s not enough.

I definitely am femme. But that’s not enough.

At lesbian bars, a lady.

At university, a tomboy.

At the gym, a gym queen (I’m many things but not a rabbit).

At a gay bar, a fag hag.

My mother’s daughter, lusting after academia.

My father’s daughter, endlessly baking cake.

My teenage friend’s friend, drug fuck up.

The list goes on.

I am a macho, it’s worse since I go to the gym.

I feel I can’t even theorise my gender at all anymore, even less my sexuality, just describes that it feels like waves pushing me about a bit blank it’s all words or a nice ass perhaps sometimes the pain of the treadmill replaces my libido and it’ s been better to me than all my lovers. I have dissolved.

I lost a lot of weight last year. People always used to comment about my breasts, but I always hated them. Having had many trans-men partners I felt I was probably less entitled to hating my tits because I seemed quite happy to be Id-ed as female outside of that factor. I still am, but something happened. I got really skinny. People thought I was a boy sometimes and definitely thought I was 16 (I’m 27 but 1m57). I stopped having my period I had had extremely regularly from the age of 10. Slowly the mirror was showing me a sort of imagined neutral self, and I relished the genderless figures I inevitably played in various ‘official’ performances. Relishing being un-placeable. Whether adding lipstick or putting on jeans, I felt I was adding, not emphasising. And no more breasts. I felt I was entirely choosing to be femme, that it had nothing to do with curves, that every mascara stroke and pair of high heels was a choice I was making rather than the warped image reflected by my lovers and friends. God to not hear: Your tits look great in this, ever again.

I am female, I suppose.

I am femme.

I am a feminist of sorts.

But I am not a woman.

That is what it comes down to.

Macho femme.

I enjoy carrying theatre sets in vinyl heels, stronger than some male friends. I enjoy extremely complex cooking, ‘show cooking’. I enjoy having bitches and being the bitch, sometimes. I like being vulgar and loud. I won an arm wrestle against a tall clown the other day. He was sitting on a chair, I was squatting on thin air. I’m slightly ashamed that my cock is still hard from that victory, his surprised face at the small blonde that beat him.

And now I remember. I was a tomboy until the age of thirteen. A lot of it had to do with finances and lice, as my rough games and scratchy head resulted in torn tights and time my mother was not willing to spend combing her screeching daughter. So it was jeans and short hair, running and climbing, but also a very limited skill at skipping rope and an extremely violent manner. Boys wouldn’t play with me because I was stronger than them, ironically the tallest and biggest of my age group for years.

I had a fascination for all thing perceived as feminine: make-up, dresses-weddings for god’s sake- but every time I toyed around with these, it felt like exactly that, toying, performing or adding on beautiful shiny things and delicate demeanour to my rough and aggressive person. It was never a chore or a violation to dress in skirts, attempt heels, even plucking eyebrows for a laugh, I do not think I believed I was a boy, but it always felt a bit like a rehearsal for some possible imagined future or alternative self. The wardrobe was my costume cupboard. But then no one had told me about what breasts and period might entail. Suddenly I stopped playing the princess as I was made a woman. Secondary Sexual Characteristics.  Arrived too soon and took the fun out of acting.

There is no end to this reflection. The mirror distorts and loses me, my body has betrayed me countless times, words kill and die. And so, for the while being, macho-femme/inist (and western European mongrel, but that’s another story, maybe, maybe) doesn’t seem enough but it will do, my only possible temporary concession.

With much love and respect to MF, Scratch, cakes, performance running and performance playing, all things shiny and all things heavy.

Cece Disco/Caoimhe

Cece.disco@gmail.com


[1] These are all  from various online dictionary definitions. Trawling through various online sources, I feel I need to add that I was shocked to discover that whilst mavcho, quite unsuprisingly came up in all its performative chracteristics, many online dictionaries still equate femininity with femaleness. Maybe I’m naïve.

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By Ze

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So this year one important media focus and interesting debate online has been about Caster Semenya, the South African Athlete who has been subjected to horrific tests in order to discover a gender outcome. I have chosen the following blogs as I feel that they have highlighted and dosumented the story well as well as giving uncommon emotional accounts and I feel generally do justice to the discussion. It has been incredibly difficult o decide which blogs and ideas to include in this discussion as far as the Caster Semenya ‘issue’ has been claimed by many which in itself is problematic since people of colour and non conforming bodies are quite often claimed, disected, scrutinised and taken apart by usually white ‘academics’ or ‘professionals’ who often do not relate to the bodies they discuss or represent.

One example being a medical professional, Alice Dreger, stating . “And the science actually tells us sex is messy. Or as I like to say, ‘Humans like categories neat, but nature is a slob.’ ”

Another being the New York Times offensive misrepresentation of the Bantu speaking people in an article about Caster Semenya for which they submitted this apology:

Correction: August 28, 2009
An article last Friday about Caster Semenya, the 18-year-old runner from South Africa whose victory in the 800-meter race at the track and field world championships generated controversy over concerns about her sex, referred incorrectly to people in South Africa whose sex characteristics have been studied because of the prevalence of hermaphroditism among them. They are Bantu-speaking people — not “Bantus,” a term considered offensive because it was used by those in power during apartheid in reference to black people.

Unfortunately, I cannot retrieve the original article but this is one post that critically referred to it:


“The Bantu, a group of indigenous South African people, often are hermaphrodites but they do not always have obvious male genitalia, said Dr. Maria New, an endocrinologist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.”

“The Bantu” are a language community spread across sub-Saharan Africa, the predominant language group in most sub-Saharan countries. In each, they are divided into distinct sub-groups often called “tribes.” (Thank you for not following that lead, by the way.) In South Africa, there are nine recognized “Bantu” groups – recognized to the extent that their languages are among South Africa’s eleven official languages.

I’m not sure “the Bantu” could be called “a group of indigenous South African people” in any meaningful, accurate sense. Meaningful and accurate are probably of interest to news editors.

A second point has to do with “often.” The Bantu are often hermaphrodites? How often? Perhaps a note on comparison with other [ahem] “groups” would be in order.

To be honest, it sounds an awful lot like 19th century fears/fantasies about African sexual prowess/deviance. Colonials fantasized about oversized genitals, exposed breasts, oversexed and/or rapacious men, enslaved or dominant women, desexed men… It’s a bit disturbing to have the doctor resurrect this casually and have the paper of record publish it uncommented upon.

 

The following blogs i have chosen stand out from the rest of what I have seen on the internet

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The Caster Semenya case: sports and sexuality

Farida Iqbal

20 September 2009

Eighteen-year-old South African athlete Caster Semenya has done nothing wrong. Yet she has been accused of deceiving the world about her gender. There is nothing wrong with Semenya’s body. Yet her body has been paraded in front of the world by the mass media as if she were a sideshow freak.

Semenya is a talented athlete. Yet her career is at stake.

Semenya won the 800 metres in the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships on August 19. She was accused by the international media of having won the race due to her unfair disadvantage of “really” being a man.

Semenya, like many other female athletes, has been subjected to sexist judgement of what a female body is supposed to look like.

Semenya is an intersex woman. But intersex women are not the only women who have been subjected to such scrutiny. The accusation of looking “too masculine” has always been used to degrade female athletes, including Martina Navratilova. For years the media focused on her highly developed biceps.

Semenya was subjected to invasive “gender tests” (actually testing biological sex, not gender). The test results were leaked to the international mass media. Australia’s Daily Telegraph was the first to run the story, revealing Semenya has internal testes and no womb. This may or may not be true.

If it is true, it is a discovery that would prompt any 18 year-old to do some profound soul searching about their identity, their relationship to their body, and their relationship with the world.

Ideally this soul searching would be done in the person’s own time, in their own way.

Yet for Semenya there was no question of privacy. The most intimate details of her body were revealed to the world in lurid headlines in the international mass media: “Semenya has male sex organs” (September 11 Sydney Daily Telegraph) “a woman… and a man!” (September 10 NYDailynews.com) “Is SHE a he?” (August 19 Melbourne Herald Sun).

Semenya is now traumatised and has gone into hiding. She is not the first athlete to have had this experience.

In 2006, Indian athlete Santhi Soundarajan was found to be intersex. She was stripped of her gold medal and publicly ostracised. The discovery ended her sports career and she attempted suicide.

Intersexuality

An intersex person is somebody with male and female biological characteristics. There are many different ways this can happen.

A person with XY chromosomes can be insensitive to testosterone (Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, or AIS). Different clusters of cells in the same person’s body can have differences in their biological sex (known as mosaicism).

A person can have XXY chromosomes rather than the typical XY or XX. There is nothing abnormal about this. It is all part of the natural variation in humans. Yet there is no clear cut dividing line between who is intersex and who is not. All of us have both “male” and “female” characteristics.

All males had female bodies once in the womb. Testosterone is supposed to be the “male hormone” and estrogen is supposed to be the “female hormone”, but all human beings produce both.

The dominant understanding of biological sex in our society is that all human beings are either male or female: there is nothing in between. The existence of intersex people exposes the falsity of this very crude notion. It shows that biological sex is a continuum.

The binary understanding of gender is certainly not universal across different cultures. Outside the West, many of the world’s people have a much more compassionate, sophisticated and realistic view.

The Bugis people in Indonesia recognise five distinct genders. They see intersex people, or “Bissu”, as a legitimate third sex. Rather than being vilified, Bissu are revered as priests. They are understood to be a combination of the other four genders, and are therefore able to mediate between them in sacred ritual.

Should intersex people be barred from sport?

It has been argued that intersex people have an unfair advantage over women in sport because they have male physical characteristics, such as a higher testosterone level. Yet such male physical characteristics have a cultural significance that is not necessarily the same as their actual effect on the body.

People with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome often have a higher level of testosterone than non-AIS women. People with the syndrome do not develop fully fledged male bodies because their bodies respond to testosterone poorly. Their bodies produce more testosterone to compensate for the body’s poor response to it.

The AIS Support Group in Victoria says it is possible that Semenya has AIS (if the leaks to the media about her body are true). So even if Semenya’s testosterone level is three times that of non-intersex women, it does not necessarily give her an unfair advantage.

But more importantly, “maleness” is not the ultimate advantage in sport. Other factors, such as the athlete’s nutritional level, training, muscle strength and length of their legs have much more impact on sporting prowess.

Perhaps it would be more realistic to stop segregating athletes according to gender at all. Perhaps athletes should be graded according to these factors instead, as weight lifters are divided according to body weight.

There should be an end to sex testing in sport. It is a discriminatory practice used to bar intersex people from competing, and it is meaningless when there is no natural, clear cut dividing line between male and female. Many athletic organisations have some understanding of this already.

Intersex athletes are not necessarily barred from competing — only if they are found to have an unfair advantage. According to its website, the IAAF isn’t due to decide on Semenya’s case until November. In the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, eight women with Y chromosomes were allowed to compete in women’s events, said a September 9 article on the Science of Sport website.

Intersex rights, queer rights and feminism

Many “experts” have been interviewed during the mainstream media’s frenzied response to the leaks about Semenya. What’s missing are the perspectives of intersex people themselves.

In most of the world, gays and lesbians have not yet won full legal equality. In the First World, we have come far enough that our main battle now is for the right to marry.

Queers have already won many other basic civil rights: the right to work; the decriminalisation of gay sex; and the right not to be chemically castrated on the basis of a classification of our sexuality as an illness.

Intersex people, meanwhile — as well as having to fight for the right to marry — still come up against archaic laws and barbaric medical practices that belong in medieval times. Perhaps worst of all, they come up against society’s ignorance.

The gay and lesbian struggle sets a precedent for other sexual and gender minorities. Inspired by this historical example, intersex people in the US began politically organising in the mid 1990s in the Intersex Society of North America (now defunct).
Previously isolated intersex people found each other over the internet and developed support networks, which became politicised over the issue of intersex genital mutilation.

It is still a standard practice in the United States and Australia that if a baby is born with a penis deemed too short by the doctor, or a clitoris deemed too long, it is amputated. A US group calling itself “Hermaphrodites with Attitude” formed to campaign against this barbaric practice. They picketed hospitals and medical conferences.

Intersex activists have not yet won an end to this genital mutilation. But there have been some positive outcomes from their campaign. Opinion about the practice is now divided in the medical community.

The campaign for equal marriage rights is today mobilising more people than any other queer rights campaign. Legislation discriminating against same-sex couples having the right to marry also commonly discriminates against intersex people.

Most intersex people identify either as male or female. Intersex people who are legally identified as male or female can marry the opposite sex. Yet a minority of intersex people do not identify as male or as female but as androgynous. These people, as well as intersex people who are same-sex attracted, are denied the right to marry by legislation that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

The campaign for equal marriage rights is commonly seen as a “gay marriage” campaign, yet we could do a lot more to embrace the concerns of intersex people. This would strengthen the unity of the campaign, and could increase the political confidence of intersex people.

In Australia, the next round of rallies for equal marriage rights will be on November 28. Organising committees should encourage intersex activists to speak. Other speakers should also be conscious to address intersex issues, including Semenya’s story.

The ostracism of Semenya doesn’t just affect intersex people. Gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people are affected too. Semenya’s ostracism reinforces the rigid notion of binary gender, a notion that excludes all of us. In Australia, we have a particular responsibility to defend Semenya because it was the Australian media that led the world in ostracising her.

This is also a feminist issue. The incredible scrutiny under which women athletes perform, the media commentary about their supposed “masculine” bodies, and the pressure put on them to assert their “femininity” — by say, posing nude in men’s magazine’s — has nothing to do with their strength as athletes. It is related to society’s commodification and sexualisation of women’s bodies, and its unwillingness to recognise diversity.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

For Caster Semenya


This is an outpouring of love for Caster Semenya. Wrong is not her name. What is wrong is the way she has been treated in global media. As three queer women, we have struggled with our own relationship to the feminine as it has been constructed in mainstream society. As a black woman set adrift in a sea of whiteness, it was hard to see myself as beautiful. My curves and skin color made me unattractive in my world. As a white, feminine woman who is also intersex, I have struggled hard to come to peace with my body. Doctors and the world around me have told me I am defective or have denied my existence entirely. As a disabled Korean adoptee, I grew up as an outsider, rarely seeing people who moved like me or reflected me in my community or in the media. I was constantly told that my body was something that needed to be “fixed;” that it was “wrong;” and that it, that I, was “undesirable.” We engage with each other as comrades, three queer women uniquely shaped by our lived identities and experiences. We were the odd ones out, queered by our bodies, but later we claimed our queerness with fierce intention and pride. Now we choose our difference, embrace what sets us a part from a constrictive mainstream. It is for these reasons that we feel a deep kinship with Caster Semneya. Her story unfolded internationally without her consent and knowledge. We write to right wrongs done to someone whose only crime was daring to be all that she is.

Moya Bailey

My quirky black girl heart is breaking for Caster Semenya, the South African runner who has lived her life as an athletic woman until the IAAF decided she was just too good to be all female and did some probing to find the “truth.” Now she’s in hiding and on suicide watch, her genitalia, sexual organs and hormone levels the subject of a global discussion and dissection before she’s had a chance to make sense of it all. Did I mention she’s 18? Unfortunately, this is nothing new in the world of sports, women’s lives destroyed because their remarkable performances caste doubt on their femininity. “Real” women aren’t that fast, that strong, that masculine.

Black women have long been portrayed as masculine and inappropriately feminine in popular media with athletes particularly targeted for their muscles and physical prowess. Earlier this year Sarah Gronert, a white tennis player, was being harassed by other coaches and players because she was believed to be intersex. Calls were made for her to be removed from competition but no such action occurred. “There is no girl who can hit serves like that, not even Venus Williams,” said the coach of one of her rivals. Black women are (barely) women but Gronert, though described as “beautiful” in more than one article, surpasses the limit. Too much, Too good. Note: Gronert is ranked No. 306 in the world.

And everyone (I guess now including me) feels the need to add their two cents to the fray. An article I read wanted to claim Semenya in the realm of queer and trans identity and even went so far as to say that the comparison made by the South African Government between Semenya and Sarah Baartman was simply a nationalistic one. A more apropos comparison, the author opined, would be Billy Tipton, a female born singer who lived his life as a man until he was discovered in death. Billy was “outed” by medics who were attempting to save his life which is not at all like Semenya, an 18 year old girl who was outed not as trans but as a “hermaphrodite” to the whole world. An intersectional lens is needed. Pieces of Semenya’s story need not be parsed out for the advancement of singular movements.

The feigned concern for Semenya on behalf of the IAAF is perhaps the most disturbing. After performing tests, lying about what they were for and then leaking the results, they revealed that they hadn’t yet gotten in touch with her. They aren’t ready to discuss the findings though they were published in papers around the world. This is after an initial professed need for urgency because there are “risks” associate with her “condition.” The audacity to test Semenya after accepting the South African certification for her to compete is indicative of the racist and imperialist ideology of the organization. The IAAF had to check on the SA sports authorities as if they were incapable of making that determination. The paternalism of the IAAF’s concern must be pointed out as they claimed to be acting in Semenya’s best interest.

And doesn’t all of this call professional sports practices into question? Why do we persist in validating a two sex binary and a gender dichotomy when we are repeatedly reminded that these divisions are limiting and not reflective of natural human diversity? What does it mean that the word “hermaphrodite” can be used in news articles as a legitimate term in 2009?! How is it possible within the context of the supposed proliferation of women’s studies that more people aren’t aware that the sex binary does not accurately reflect the diversity of human bodies? How does a common human variation become a freakish spectacle for the world to consume, again and again?

Our refusal to accept the biological reality of more than two sexes and more than two genders has driven someone to (possibly) contemplate ending their own life. Why won’t we let Caster Semenya be great? It’s time to look within ourselves and see how our own beliefs and behaviors support the myth of a two gender, two sex world. I feel like if I had been doing my job or my discipline had, this wouldn’t have happened. That people around the world would understand that it is not as simple as male and female, not as easy as man and woman.

I want to call on communities not to repeat the IAAF’s mistreatment of Semenya by partitioning her story and using her to make claims for your particular group. Black people have called out the racism and some of the sexism that is swirling in the press but still use offensive ableist language that is indicative of a certain distancing from female masculinity and a subtle homophobia. More than one group has taken up her story as a new Raison d’être for the cause of gender and sexuality. The way she has been treated in the media and by the IAAF is racist, sexist, queerphobic, ableist, imperialistic, all at the same time. May this incident be the impetus to ensure that this never happens again and a rallying cry for intersectionality in our movements so that everyone acts with the understanding that their humanity is linked with someone else’s.

Caitlin Childs

When news first leaked allegedly confirming that Caster Semenya is intersex, my stomach dropped. I began to brace myself for the onslaught of offensive ignorant media and blog coverage and it didn’t take long to appear. In fact, within the hour that the story broke, I received an email from a CBS producer calling Semenya a “hermaphrodite” and requesting my presence on their live morning news show as I “have the same condition.” The word “hermaphrodite” (which is inaccurate, misleading, and offensive) was used in most of the articles I have read and immediately the inappropriate speculation about Semenya’s body, hormones, and chromosomes began.

Intersex is a set of medical diagnoses that feature “congenital anomaly of the reproductive and sexual system.” Intersex people are born with chromosomes, external genitalia, and/or internal reproductive systems that are not considered “standard” for either male (penis, testes, XY chromosomes) or female (ovaries, vagina, uterus, XX chromosomes). Intersex is a fairly common occurrence. It is estimated that 1 in 2000 babies are born obviously intersex. That number does not include the large number of people who are diagnosed as intersex later in life (myself, and perhaps Semenya included.) Intersex people’s bodies have historically been, and continue to be, viewed as “social emergencies” by doctors. When discovered at birth in most Western countries, unnecessary cosmetic surgery is performed on the majority of intersex babies to force them to conform to either male or female aesthetic binary standards. These surgeries often require multiple follow-up repair surgeries and are ridden with complications. Obviously, an infant can not consent to having surgery, and adult intersex people are often haunted by a lifetime of these unnecessary procedures that rob them of their sexual sensations and have long term affects on their ability to feel present and safe in their bodies.

When an intersex diagnosis is made later in life, surgery is often pushed as a necessary and expected solution. The idea of a person whose body does not fit the narrow standard for male or female is unthinkable and unacceptable under the current medical and social model.

Multiple public genital examinations are standard for most intersex people in doctor’s offices and medical schools. Pictures of naked intersex children and adults fill medical text books and journals with a black bar across the individual’s face in a weak attempt to preserve their anonymity. Many intersex people struggle with severe post traumatic stress from these public genital displays, multiple surgeries, and genital exams. When a person is either open about being intersex or is outed, as appears to be Semenya’s case, our bodies are again put on a type of public display. People seem to think they have the right to see pictures of our bodies, ask intimate details about our genitals, how we have sex, etc. People feel they have the right to have speculative conversations about intersex people’s bodies in a way few other groups ever experience. It is no one’s business what Semenya’s genitals looks like, what her gonadal tissue consists of, what her chromosomal make-up is, or how much testosterone her body produces. My website, which features my writing and information on intersex, has always gotten the majority of hits via people searching for pictures of intersex people’s genitals. I wrote a blog some time back addressing the problems with this “curiosity.” Before the Semenya’s story broke, I got between 40 and 50 hits a day. Since then, my hits spiked to over 500 a day and haven’t dropped much lower since. With very few exceptions nearly every single search sending people to my site was for pictures of intersex people’s bodies and specifically, their genitals. The fact that people think they have a right to access the bodies of Semenya and other intersex people is the direct result of many years of historic exploitation and medical abuse of intersex people.

Intersex people exist and have existed for as long as humans have. Intersex is a natural variation in sex. Despite what most of us are taught, sex is not a binary (and neither is gender!) Binary sex segregation has always caused problems for many of us who do not easily fit into one of two boxes. Semenya is as much a woman as any non-intersex woman is. One’s gender identity isn’t contingent on what is in their pants or what their chromosomal make-up is. The IAAF has no right to penalize anyone for being intersex. The fact that it is still acceptable to put individuals through these types of “gender” tests, is disgusting. Further, the fact that they did not go to great lengths to preserve her safety and privacy during this matter is absolutely sickening and unforgivable.

I was 15 when I found out that I had been born with an intersex body. I was initially misdiagnosed, given an unnecessary and painful surgery, underwent multiple genital exams with multiple doctors and other medical staff and students, and was told that my body was unacceptable, freakish, and in immediate need of correction. This experience was incredibly traumatic and shaming for me. This was NOT due to being born with a body that doesn’t fit what is deemed “normal” for a girl or a woman, but was a result of being told that my body was “wrong” and needed to be fixed. It was due to doctors medicalizing this variance in my body and treating it as if it were a true medical emergency. On the larger scale, my shame was a result of living in a world that refuses to accept the fact that sex is a social construction that exists (and always has existed) outside of the binary. I had lived the 15 previous years perfectly happy in my body. Fortunately for me, I discovered the intersex movement 3 years post-diagnosis and was able to finally work through the shame and embarrassment I had felt. I was able to get angry at the system that told me I was a freak, a mutation, an accident, defective, and unacceptable. Through this, I began to learn to accept and love my body again. I was lucky enough to escape surgery and have learned to not only love the body I was born with, but feel pride in it.

With all of the attention Semenya’s story has received, one can’t ignore the impact of race and white supremacy on how the situation has been handled not only by the IAAF, but by the international media, and individuals discussing it around the world. White and western ideas of gender most certainly had an impact on the way Semenya has been treated and the reasons her sex was called into question in the first place. Gender standards of how a man or a woman should look and act are based on white/western standards of beauty and gender roles. Women of color who deviate from white/western ideals of how women should look and act often have their gender and femininity called into question. Further, white supremacy has historically created a sense of entitlement in white people to the bodies of people of color. White people feel entitled to gawk at, interrogate, and investigate the bodies of black people. Not surprisingly, many comparisons have been made between Caster and South African slave Saartjie Baartman who was known as the Hottentot Venus in the early 1800s. Baartman’s body was literally paraded around Britain during her life and even after her death for the eyes of white Europeans.

My heart goes out to Semenya. I can’t imagine how it would feel to find out that you are intersex from reports that were leaked into the international media. I have struggled heavily over the past week with whether it is even appropriate for activists like me to discuss the situation at all. For one, it is still speculation (Semenya’s intersex status has not been confirmed at this point); two, if it is to be discussed, Semenya is the only person who has a right to disclose such information; and three, when I was diagnosed, I didn’t want to discuss it with my closest friends and family, let alone with strangers (no matter how well intentioned). That said, it *has* been leaked and people are discussing it, and doing so in inaccurate, hurtful, and dehumanizing ways. I think it is especially important to have intersex voices speaking out in support of Semenya and against the oppressive systems that try to force intersex people into boxes and binaries that simply do not fit and never will, no matter how much shaming and surgery occurs. I hate that this successful and talented young woman has been thrust into the spotlight essentially erasing the reason we all know her name in the first place (she is a talented athlete, remember?) I hate that despite the work of the intersex movement, the majority of the world still doesn’t get it. Intersex people are your friends, neighbors, and co-workers. We have feelings, hobbies, and talents. We are not theoretical, sensational, or mythical. The stuff you say and write affects real people! I can only hope that Semenya has the support she needs to take care of herself and get through this. I hope that she can rely on the strength that is apparent in her quote to You Magazine “I see it all as a joke, it doesn’t upset me,” she says. “God made me the way I am and I accept myself. I am who I am and I’m proud of myself.”

Mia Mingus

First, a breath. For this moment, this historical moment, this moment of existence, as precious and fleeting as all moments are. For hope, even at the edge of despair. For love. For loving ourselves and each other, fiercely, even when the world tells us not to.

How do I write out my thoughts about what is happening to Caster Semenya, an 18 year old gold medal winning South African athlete who was recently out-ed to the world as intersex by the IAAF? How do I write about my rage, my pain and my fears in a way that makes sense? How do I write something that can convey how dehumanizing, violating, disturbing, offensive and heart-breakingly saddening it all is? How do we talk about trauma, as we race to try and understand all the different things that are happening simultaneously and feeding off one another? How do we acknowledge that there is a human being at the center of all of this, whose life’s work is on the line?

As someone whose body has been and is still seen as public property, to be commented on by strangers giving unsolicited advice or asking intrusive questions, to be starred at and made fun of, I fight daily to claim my body. Growing up as a disabled child, I went from doctors to brace makers from surgery to surgery to physical therapy to doctors. I ached for people who looked like me, people who moved like me; people who could tell me that my body was beautiful the way it was and no surgery would ever make me able-bodied, just as sure as no surgery would ever make me white. The idea of trying to make a brace that went from my heel to my hip that could be “hidden” beneath my clothes “so boys wouldn’t detect it,” was at once an attempt to make me more desirable by making me seem less disabled and an assumption about who should desire me and who I should desire. It wouldn’t make me more of a girl or a woman, something I never really completely understood or felt like. Women were the people who wore high heels, ran, were desired by and desired men; they got married and had kids and I never saw anyone who moved like me who was married or had kids on TV.

I see what is happening to Caster Semenya and so much of it is rooted in how we think about bodies and what gets considered to be a “normal” body. So much of it it rooted in ableism, a system that oppresses disabled people, privileges non-disabled people and maintains able-bodied supremacy. Ableism tells us how bodies should function, move, smell, sound, and look; including male and female bodies, black, brown and white bodies, queer bodies–all bodies.

What happens to Caster Semenya is connected to and impacts all women of color. After all, women of color’s genders (and bodies) are always under surveillance. Caster Semenya is not the first and she will not be the last. Santhi Soundarajan, an Indian athlete, also lost her 2006 Asian Games silver medal for failing a gender test and also found out the results of her gender test from newspaper and television reports. The twisting and wringing of individual women of color’s gender (in the U.S. and globally) reinforces the violent racist gender stereotypes about all women of color and leaves us all hung out to dry.

As disability justice activists, we must connect how ableism gets leveraged in service of heteronormativity, in service of white supremacy, in service of misogyny. Ableism gets used all the time to divide us and we must fight it at every turn. How do we begin to understand that it was Caster’s extraordinary able-bodied and gender-non-conforming abilities that threatened ableist notions of gendered bodies and propelled the exposure of her gender through the use of a medical “gender test” to expose her sex. This is not just about defining what a “woman” is, it is also about defining what a “normal body” is and what “able-bodied” is and what it is not; it is about defining what “intersex” is and what it’s not.

We must understand how the medical industrial complex and science are being used to profit off of our bodies and medicalize our genders, our abilities, and render, in this case, an 18 year old intersex South African black woman a spectacle for the world to stare at, gawk at, and examine—at her expense. We must see how this spectacle is connected to the spectacle made of disabled bodies everyday behind closed doors, in sterile white rooms, under florescent lights, in homes, at family dinners, birthday parties, a trip to the mall, to the park, down the street.

As reproductive justice activists, we must challenge the notion that women are only as valuable as our wombs and the children we are expected to produce. We must challenge definitions of “woman” and “reproduction” that exclude intersex people and work to create a movement and framework that integrates an intersex analysis in to our work.

Where are the radical women of color feminists, building homes with fierce intersex poets, forging alliances with trans and gender queer immigrant gardeners, eating dinner with queer disabled dancers, making music with southern artists? Where are our voices, bringing an intersectional, multi-issue, multi-lived politic and analysis to all of this—amidst the white media frenzy, gender binary enforcers, medical experts, athletic officials and government heads? We need more than just a gender analysis, or a nationalist racial analysis. These are opportunities to speak across the lines and tiny definitions of ourselves that keep us self-righteous, isolated and apart.

Our voices are crucial because people who reflect Caster Semenya and reflect us are listening and learning what it means to have extraordinary bodies.

To close, we want to invite everyone reading to look within themselves and ask yourself how do you know what gender you are? How do you know what sex you are? How does your race, nationality, ability, class, etc. impact how you experience your gender and your body? What are the messages you receive about your body and how it should be? Where or who did those messages come from? Ask these questions of your friends and family. Read. Learn. Open yourself up to a discussion you may not have had before this moment. Stop saying hermaphrodite! Everything in society that we think of as static is something we created and we don’t have to support ideologies that aren’t useful to us. We can create a world where all bodies, where all people, are celebrated, loved, and cherished.

We are not wrong. She is not wrong. Wrong is not our name.

Posted by quirky at 3:27 AM 11 comments Links to this post

Labels: #werenotwrong, ableism, black, caster semenya, castersemenya, disability, imperialism, intersex, racism, sexism

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Match Points? September 14, 2009

Posted by bullybloggers in Current Affairs.
Tags: female masculinity in sport, foot faults, Serena Williams, US Women’s Tennis
13 comments

By Jack Halberstam

In the 1980’s I remember watching John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors and other bad boys of tennis throw their racquets around, yell at referees, jump up and down in anger on the court and generally vent like spoiled schoolboys about a missed shot or a lost point. McEnroe’s favorite cry of disappointment – “You cannot be serious!” – even became a popular catchphrase. People thought of this behavior as “passion,” as evidence that white male American players in particular were invested in the game, and on-court outbursts stood as proof of a kind of emotionality that made the player “human” as opposed to the robotic coldness of a Scandinavian player like Bjorn Borg or the explosiveness of an Eastern European player like Ilie Nastase. Last night when Serena Williams was called for a foot fault at 5-6 and 15-30 in the second set, when she was already down a set, she turned to the line judge and directed a few choice words of disbelief her way. Later Serena Williams commented at a press conference that she had almost never been called for a foot fault in her whole career, let alone at such a crucial point in a match at the US Open. After Serena’s outburst, the line judge, an Asian American woman, approached the chair umpire and complained that she felt threatened by Serena! The big wigs were called onto the court and Serena was given a point penalty that, at match point, gave Kim Clijsters the match. This was a terrible call, a terrible moment for women’s tennis and more evidence of a double standard in sports around male and female behavior and in relation to what is perceived as racially specific conduct.

As Tavia Nyong’o commented in his superb blog on Caster Semenya: “World-class female athletes have long made people anxious, particularly gorgeously muscle-bound black ones.” What was true for Semenya might be true for Williams – the public and the media has no neutral language with which to describe and explain the extraordinary performances of Black female athletes. Black female athletic performances that are, literally, beyond the pale have tended to solicit suspicion and disdain while white female athleticism, especially when it is packaged in a Playboy ready form, receives acclaim and respect. It is no secret that the Williams sisters in tennis have had a love-hate relationship with the media and the public, nor that Serena in particular has been berated for her “masculine” physique. In fact, in February 2009, The Huffington Post ran an interesting op-ed on the omission of the Williams sisters from the 2009 Australian Open’s “list of the 10 most Beautiful Women” in the tournament. The list was topped by Jelena Jankovic and included more than one blond Russian. The absence of Venus and Serena from this list spoke volumes about the misplaced emphasis in women’s sports, and women’s tennis in particular, on appearance over performance but it also implicitly referenced the lurking charge of “lesbianism” or “gender transgression” that hangs over many a performance of female athletic excellence. The recent case of Caster Semenya is just the latest in the long history of gender confusion in relation to women’s sports and Serena Williams’ outburst illuminates the treacherous path walked by female athletes who compete at the highest level, blow away the competition and refuse to or simply cannot conform to normative standards of female beauty.

Again, as Tavia noted in his analysis of the freak show attitudes provoked by Semenya’s extraordinary athleticism, virtuosity is both compelling and confusing to people. Many, many athletes who win at the highest level of competition also have some unique physical attribute, what NYT sports writer Maurice Chittenden calls a “freakish advantage” (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article555183.ece).  In an article from 2005 on top athletes and their physical oddities, he notes that Michael Phelps, the US swimming champion, has outsized feet that work like flippers; the same was true of Ian Thorpe. David Beckham has “bandy legs” that help him to put curves into his kicks; Lance Armstrong has very low lactic acid levels so his legs can keep going and going. And so on. Sports champions are often, literally, freaks of nature, so why we would stumble over the spectacle of a woman with a six pack but not a man with size 17 feet? Obviously, the boundaries for female athletic virtuosity must not leave the domain of acceptable femininity where femininity is too often defined in opposition to athleticism, activity and aggression.

So while the female body draws negative attention for athleticism that tips into muscular masculinity, behavior and conduct for female athletes is also judged according to a different set of rules. When Serena Williams cited John McEnroe and his antics as an influence for her own on court passions, McEnroe quickly distanced himself from her and suggested that she had crossed lines he would never have even approached. In fact, almost any kind of showy behavior by athletes of color draws negative attention while almost any kind of bad behavior from white athletes is thought of as “spirited.” When Justine Henin showed terrible sportsmanship at the French Open in 2003 by not backing up Serena Williams’ complaint about an obvious missed call, the French crowd began to boo Williams instead of Henin and Williams became so unnerved that she went on to lose the final set after having led 4-2. The headlines after Serena’s defeat and the hideous display of group racism within the crowd, crowed about the end of Serena Williams’ unbeaten run. When a Williams sister wins easily, it is called “boring”; when she fights hard, she is labeled erratic; when Venus or Serena question a call, they are charged with petulance but when they are don’t, they are pegged as indifferent to the sport.

Tennis has often been cast as the sport of ladies and gentlemen. It is implicitly a class bound activity that favors the kids who grew up with tennis courts in the backyard and expensive coaches. Much has indeed been made of the humble beginnings of the Williams sisters who spent the first years of their life in Compton, LA before moving to Florida and training with other teen tennis stars. Implicit in all of the coverage of the Williams’ family—including their mother Oracen and their father Richard—is that somehow, the Williams just don’t behave properly in the dignified world of tennis. When Venus won Wimbledon in 2000, her father danced in the stands shouting: “Straight out of Compton!” When Venus started a clothing line, it was seen as a distraction from tennis; in general, Venus and Serena’s outfits on court have been seen as unbecoming to the game and they are both characterized as excessive, too much, more spectacle than tennis.

Just to put the focus on Serena Williams’ behavior in perspective, imagine a discussion about Roger Federer’s effeminacy in relation to his designer sports wear or his tendency to cry when he loses. Imagine a real interrogation into the fist-pumping behavior of all kinds of white American tennis players who leave their sportsmanship in the locker room and resort to “mission accomplished” tactics while crushing opponents who have often learned to play tennis in far less rarefied and privileged circumstances. In fact, the most recent fist-pumping, great white hope for US women’s tennis, Melanie Oudin, a nineteen year-old blond pony tailer, has been discussed as a “Cinderella” figure, as someone who will single-handedly rescue US women’s tennis! This Cinderella story consigns Venus and Serena to the role of the “ugly sisters” and promises a new queen, a palatable tennis princess and a return to tennis whites.