Sarah Graham writes to Ms Semenya

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Sarah Graham, UK intersex activist has written two excellent pieces on the Caster Semenya affair in her national press.

The Independent

The UK’s Independent newspaper has published an excellent open letter from Sarah Graham to Ms Mokgadi Caster Semenya in her support. We recommend it and we commend Ms Graham for writing it.


Since you hit the headlines, every intersex person (that’s about 4 per cent of the population) has been exposed to outdated, inaccurate, offensive words such as hermaphrodite. Self-appointed “medical experts”, who often aren’t working in this area of medicine, keep popping up to peddle prejudices and dangerous myths. Such as AIS XY women must have their testes removed straightaway. Wrong! We can keep them. It should be our choice, not that of doctors or fearful, ashamed parents. It means a slightly-increased risk of cancer, which can be monitored. But it’s far better to produce your own hormones naturally rather than have a lifetime of HRT. I take a daily oestrogen pill and a small amount of testosterone gel. I’m a guinea pig. No-one knows what the future holds.

If you are a woman with testes, do not let the doctors, the IAAF, or embarrassed family members rush you into the operating theatre. You are lucky because you can choose to remain a woman with balls! One day you may even be able to laugh at this and enjoy the double meaning. But it will take a long time.

I didn’t get given any choices. My doctors even lied to my parents and, aged seven, my “ovaries” were removed. We were told that if they weren’t, I would “get cancer as a teenager and die”. I am still traumatised by what happened in hospital 32 years ago: being treated like a fascinating “special little girl”/lab rat, prodded and poked by an army of medical students; held down and given an enema. And I can still picture the bloody scars on my little-girl body, and trace the start of the chilling loneliness; the only child in the Chelsea Hospital for Women.

Intersex is part of all creation and has an important place in the order of things. Operating on intersex children’s bodies to “normalise them” is often damaging to future sexual responsiveness and sometimes fertility. It’s not about what’s best for the child or adult – it’s politically driven, to make society feel safer and reinforce the gender boxes: male/female, pink/blue.

The Mirror

In The Mirror, Sarah Graham writes:

… I was 25 when I found out the extent of the cover-up.

The shock of suddenly being told the true nature of my diagnosis – with no support and after being systematically lied to for so many years – nearly killed me. I went into an emotional meltdown.

What I found out – after years of being stonewalled – was that I’m an XY woman. I have a rare intersex condition called Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS).

Through reading my medical notes I found my doctors knew the truth about me when I was seven. They operated on me to ‘take out my ovaries, because they would become cancerous when I was a teenager’.

This was a horrible lie to tell a child and her family and left me living in fear that I would get cancer. The big dark secret about my body is that I’m the living embodiment of an apparent contradiction, (both female and male).

Put simply, my body looks outwardly female but I have male chromosomes and one or two other surprises internally. …


More information

Read the full article in The Independent
Read the full article in The Mirror