Hida Viloria, author of the upcoming book Mighty Hermaphrodite, has an inkling of the pain Caster Semenya's going through. Like the South African runner who was tricked into having her sex verified (she's now in hiding and on suicide watch), Viloria is an intersex person.
Formerly known as hermaphrodites, intersex people, says Viloria, are hard to classify either as male or female. Intersex is a group of conditions where there is a discrepancy between the external and internal genitals and the normally corresponding chromosomal makeup. For example, an intersex person can have female chromosomes and ovaries but have male genitalia. Or, they can have male chromosomes and either ambiguous male genitalia or female genitalia. These are just a couple intersex variations. Hear more about Viloria and what she has to say about Semenya.
Unlike Semenya, who, along with the whole world, learned that she didn't have ovaries, Viloria has ovaries, menstruates, and can get pregnant. How is she different? She has a larger than average clitoris and probably more testosterone than your average woman. (She says she remembers being more aggressive than most girls at school.) Because she was raised female and didn't quite realize her body was different until she began dating girls, she evaded the painful "remedies" that many intersex teens have to undergo, like corrective surgeries or hormone therapy.
Viloria recalls an interview on 20/20 in 2002, during which she was disheartened to be featured with a urologist and expert on intersex conditions who supported corrective surgeries in part because society otherwise has a hard time accepting intersex people. (By one estimate, more than 2,000 children are born every year with intersex condition or a disorder of sex development.) "Intersex folks are not some new invention that people need to be 'ready for,' " says Viloria in response to the urologist's attitude. "We exist and always have. Resistance to accepting us has created the mess that Semenya now finds herself in."