Opinion | Caster Semenya: I Shouldn’t Have to Change My Body in Order to Race

While my body was returning to its natural state, the World Anti-Doping Agency discovered that some of my peers were purposely altering theirs. Russian athletes had been bribing I.A.A.F. officials to look the other way while they continued competing, even though they had taken illegal drugs. Doped athletes had been winning medals and prizes, yet despite the I.A.A.F.’s talk of cleaning the sport of illegal drugs, it was people like Chand and me whose natural bodies were seen as abnormal and were being targeted and shamed out of the sport. We were the ones enduring public humiliation when people who had taken illegal drugs were often portrayed as just victims of their government’s thirst for medals. (Years later, a former head of the I.A.A.F., Lamine Diack, along with his son, would be convicted of corruption after accepting bribes linked to Russia’s doping program.)

In 2018 the agency announced new regulations that would apply only to athletes with D.S.D. and only to those competing in distances ranging from the 400 meter to the mile. So a woman with a difference in sexual development could compete against other women without altering her body in five of the eight main distances in competitive track racing but not in the distances I ran. I knew these rules would affect several other runners, but I had become the face of this thing. To me, this was personal. I was the runner closest to the 800-meter world record, and I felt the I.A.A.F. wanted to shut me down. To me, its restrictions aren’t about leveling the playing field; they are about getting certain types of women off the field completely.

(The spokeswoman for World Athletics told The Times that the regulations for female athletes running those distances were established after “scientific and medical research from athletes competing in our sport was clearly able to show that advantages existed.” In March, World Athletics replaced these regulations with a stricter rule that applied across a broader range of events.)

The guidelines announced in 2018 set a maximum testosterone level that was 50 percent lower than even the low level I had taken so many drugs to achieve. And I would have had to achieve and maintain that level for six months before I was eligible to compete. I refused to again subject myself to the mental anguish and physical torture of the poison. I was no longer an 18-year-old girl desperate to run. I was a world champion, an Olympic champion. I had achieved my dreams.

When they announced the regulations in 2018, the I.A.A.F. offered women with D.S.D. who refused the medication but still wanted to compete what it surely felt was a generous and sympathetic offer: We could change our distances, run any distance we wanted in the male category or run in some future intersex category, should it ever become available.

Both of these suggestions are insulting. I am not a man. I have spent years in legal battles, fighting to be able to race without restrictions. But today I could compete only if I altered my hormone levels. For me, participating in a third category of human gender identity would be accepting being othered, accepting the discrimination that I had fought against. It would mean giving up the identity I’d been born with and had never questioned to take on a new one I didn’t believe. Even though I understand that those in the medical community call me an intersex person because of the way my internal organs are structured, I do not call myself intersex. That identity doesn’t fit me; it doesn’t fit my soul.

Ms. Semenya is a runner from South Africa, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and the author of “The Race to Be Myself,” from which this essay is adapted.

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