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Changes: Caster Semenya

The audio version of this episode is available here.

Caster [00:00:00] When we talk sports, we talk about people who are special, people with differences. You know, genetically, we can never be the same as people, men, women, it doesn't matter. At the end of the day our differences does not define us. 

Annie [00:00:23] Hello and welcome to Changes, it is Annie Macmanus here. Today's guest is fighting for change. Caster Semenya is a South African runner. She has won two Olympic gold medals and three world championships in the women's 800m. She is also one of the most recognisable intersex women in the world. In her book The Race to Be Myself, Caster explains herself. "On the outside, I am female. I have a vagina, but I do not have a uterus. I do not menstruate and my body produces an elevated amount of testosterone, which gives me more typically masculine characteristics than other women, such as a deeper voice and fewer curves. I cannot carry a child because I don't have a womb. But contrary to what many people think, I do not produce sperm. I can't biologically contribute to making new life". In 2009, when Caster was 18 years old, she had her first world championship win in Berlin, but her incredible performance was overshadowed by questions about whether she was really a woman. Since 2009, Caster has had a long battle with the sport's governing body now known as World Athletics. She's been on and off hormones, and most recently after new eligibility regulations were introduced requiring hormone suppressing treatment for six months before competing, Caster took her case to the European Court of Human Rights. She won, but the case was about her human rights being violated, not her right to compete. Currently, she's not able to run unless she takes the drugs to suppress her hormones, and she's not willing to do that. She says in her book, it is hard to think of another athlete who has endured as much scrutiny and psychological abuse from sports governing bodies, other competitors and the media as I have. Welcome to Changes, Caster Semenya... Can we start this conversation by you telling me what your name means? It's Mok- *both speaking over eachother* Mokgadi Caster Semenya. What does it mean in your language? 

Caster [00:02:34] It means the one who guides. I think we've been given names, you know, for a reason, mainly because of our character and our personalities *both laugh*. I will say my name resonates, you know, with everything that I do. Resonates with my actions, you know, things I do for people. So, yeah, it means the one who guides. Yes. 

Annie [00:02:56] The one who guides. 

Caster [00:02:57] Yes. 

Annie [00:02:58] You call yourself in your book, 'a different kind of woman'. How are you different? 

Caster [00:03:03] Different means, of course, I live my life how I want, basically. And of course, I'm born with differences, which is I have a condition, medical terms they call it DSD. And obviously I'm born, you know, without a fallopian tube and no uterus, which is, of course it makes me a different woman but it doesn't make me less a woman. I know my identity. I know who am I. That's how I always tell people, look, I'm a woman, but a different kind. Yes. 

Annie [00:03:38] Well, let's start this conversation with your change that you talked about in childhood, or the lack of change! Because you say in your book, 'I am lucky to have had a family who never tried to change me'. So tell me about your childhood and I suppose your memories of that time. 

Caster [00:03:53] Well, my childhood, I think it's one of those, you know, that are beautiful, filled of joy and good memory, but basically because of people who are, you know, around you, they treat you with love, they treat you with respect, they accept you, they appreciate you, and they always celebrate, you know, you for who you are. Growing around my cousins, you know, mostly they're male, and they make sure that they had to protect me, they had to make sure that they prepare me for anything that comes in life and my siblings as well, you know, they did the same. 

Annie [00:04:26] How many siblings do you have? 

Caster [00:04:28] We're six at home, you know, I have five siblings. I'm the number four, I'm in the middle. 

Annie [00:04:32] What kind of a kid were you? 

Caster [00:04:35] I was a very naughty kid. 

Annie [00:04:37] Were you? 

Caster [00:04:38] Yeah, I've always messed up *both laugh*. 

Annie [00:04:41] Naughty- naughty in class? Like speaking out in class and at home?

Caster [00:04:45] Naughty in class, I was that one kid that don't listen. I'm always noisy, you know, in the class. If they say keep quiet, I'll keep on talking *Annie laughs*. But of course, I've always done my work. I've always done my schoolwork, you know, I've never failed any class in my education system. I was always bubbly, funny, you know, fun, outgoing, adventurous. I feared nothing, you know, I was fearless so, yeah, I've lived a great life, you know, from young, I cannot lie *laughs*.

Annie [00:05:16] Yeah. And tell me- I loved reading the passages about your house growing up and your family and how you all worked to keep a house and to keep each other fed and the hunting scenes, I mean, they were incredible. And would you mind telling me, I suppose, what was expected of you as a kid in terms of the work that you had to put in to be in your family? 

Caster [00:05:38] Oh, I don't think it was more for what I'm expected, it was more for what I can offer in the household. What is it that I can do to contribute in the house to make sure that, you know, we run the --- in a, in a good way. So everyone has their own, you know, responsibilities. For me, my responsibilities were more where I feel comfortable, which is erm, I liked, you know, gardening, I liked you know, doing electrical work, I like painting and hunting part is more for- because we had livestocks, I always liked, you know, being around my male cousins. I played in the bush most of my childhood. And the hunting part was more for where- because we need meat of course, that's where, you know, you get your meals. That childhood, you know, it prepares you to be, you know, a better person. You become responsible.

Annie [00:06:33] And strong, no? 

Caster [00:06:33] Of course! Athletic wise, that's where, you know, I think I got my strength and power because I've been running from a young age, from one place to another so- 

Annie [00:06:43] How long would you be running for, like on a day out hunting? How far? 

Caster [00:06:48] The whole day. As long as you don't catch anything, you not gonna give up, you understand? So you have to have enough skills to be able to catch. So it's not an easy way, not like, you know, in the Western, you know, culture, you use guns. We don't use that. We use our own hands, we use stones, we use any objects that we can, you know, use to make sure that we can catch, you know, those wild animals, yeah.

Annie [00:07:13] So you had this idyllic childhood, you were so free! And you were allowed to be who you want. You were playing football with the boys, you were, you know, you were going hunting, you were doing your thing. And it's interesting because there's an instinct, it seems, where, you know, you know you're not changing like the other girls around you, but- and you say to your mom, you go, you know, this isn't going to- I don't feel like I'm going to get the breasts or the period or whatever. But you're very calm and it's like, you know exac- Instinctively you know!

Caster [00:07:41] Of course I understood. I understood myself to say look, I'm the kind of a woman who's not going to go through all these things because I see all my sisters, we talk about it. 

Annie [00:07:53] Yeah, because you have 4 sisters.

Caster [00:07:54] And they asking me- you understand, we are more open about it. And they'd be like, they wish that they had my situation because I don't know how it feels, but I know what they go through, you know, period pains, you know, but my identity remained the same. I always knew that, look, I'm a woman, regardless of what. It does not matter if I don't get periods, it doesn't matter if I don't develop the breast and stuff like that. End of the day, I'm a girl that does not have those. 

Annie [00:08:24] It's like what you say, there's nothing confusing about having a vagina *laughs*. 

Caster [00:08:27] Of course there's nothing confusing, the same as a man-. 

Annie [00:08:29] Yeah! 

Caster [00:08:29] You understand? And the thing about genetics, those things that we cannot control, it's just about you embracing yourself, accepting the person you are, and then it becomes easier for you because even when people judge you, people question you, you'll always stand for yourself to say, 'hey, I know who am I!'. So regardless of what you're saying, that's your opinion, so it's not my opinion. That's not how I see myself. That's not how I view myself. So it comes with the self-belief, self-confidence, knowing who you are. 

[00:09:02] *Short musical interlude*

Annie [00:09:12] Let's talk about your adult change then, you talked about the transition from moving from a rural setting into a city setting. So where did you come from and where did you go? 

Caster [00:09:22] Oh, I came from the rural areas in Limpopo, came from the, you know, the village. And 2009, that's where I moved from those small villages to the main city, you know, in Pretoria, where I would further my, you know, my studies and continue with my athletics career. And obviously, that's a new life, that's a new transition, but for me the focus was never more on the city life, my focus was more on being the person, you know, I am. Making sure that I make a living out of it. It was all about success, all about, you know, pursuing my studies, making sure that I graduate, making sure that I perform in sports. So for me, I had goal. The only one goal was to make it out there and make sure that I'm a great athlete. It did not matter how long it would take me, it did not matter. 

Annie [00:10:16] So let's then fast forward a little bit to when you're 18 years old. It's August, it's 2009, you are doing the world Championships in Berlin, the 800m which is your race of choice. Can you tell me what happened before that race and after that race? 

Caster [00:10:38] 2009 I run, you know, I ran the African Junior Championships. You know, I ran 800m in --- which is around 156, where you know, that 156 standard raising a lot of questions. 

Annie [00:10:51] Yeah. Because one- can I just confirm 156 is a really, really fast time for the 800m, right. It's it's- I mean *tripping on her laugh* you're, you're, *speaking over eachother* you're looking chilled. That's a really fast time for someone that young! 

Caster [00:11:02] It's a good time for someone in their prime, you understand, and people start questioning that but- 

Annie [00:11:08] Questioning it how? 

Caster [00:11:09] They say it's questionable for a young girl to run, you know 800m from nowhere. And in my mind I'm like, what do you mean from nowhere?! 

Annie [00:11:19] Yeah. 

Caster [00:11:23] Nowhere, what is nowhere?! After African Junior championships, I was preparing to, you know, I was picking my stuff, you know, to prepare to come to Berlin. And ASA was told to perform, you know, the gender test, you know, to me. They send a psychologist to come, you know, do the counselling but the psychologist was not brave enough to tell me, you know, about this situation that it's a gender test. 

Annie [00:11:51] So you were just told you had to do some tests? 

Caster [00:11:53] I was just told, you know, things are going to- you know, people are going to talk because of now you doing good, you are running good, you running good times. And then later on, my coach tells me that I have to go do the doping test, you understand?

Annie [00:12:06] Oh a doping test. So you thought it was a doping test? 

Caster [00:12:09] Yes, for me, personally, I thought it was a doping test. 

Annie [00:12:12] And the ASA is the-?

Caster [00:12:14] The South African Federation. 

Annie [00:12:16] Thank you. 

Caster [00:12:17] Athletics Federation. 

Annie [00:12:18] Yeah. 

Caster [00:12:18] And when I get to the hospital, the doctor start talking to me. When he's unfolding, you know, the information I'm like, but this is not doping test. 

Annie [00:12:29] Yeah. 

Caster [00:12:30] This is a gender test, right? Yeah, I'm of course, I'm 18, you know, I've been studying sports science, I understand all these terms. I'm like, but thats gender test, why am I doing gender test? They say, look, didn't your federation tell you that you're doing- no! Gender test? I said no, I was not told I'm doing that. I said no, fine, there's nothing to hide. I'm a woman. I know the woman I am, regardless of knowing that I'm a different woman but I'm a woman. 

Annie [00:12:58] Yeah.  

Caster [00:12:59] When I get to Berlin, I run the heats. After I run the heats, I think that the results came in. 

Annie [00:13:07] Okay. 

Caster [00:13:07] When the results came in, no one told me about the results. They took me to the hospital, when I got there they took the blood and they say they want to evaluate. 

Annie [00:13:17] But bearing in mind you're in Germany, you don't speak the language- 

Caster [00:13:20] Yes, in Germany. 

Annie [00:13:21] You're 18 years old. 

Caster [00:13:22] Ah, I'm 18 years old. 

Annie [00:13:22] You're in there on your own. It's very intimidating. 

Caster [00:13:25] Yeah, yeah I went and I was like, okay, it's fine. Oh, you're doing the very same thing that they did in South Africa, it's fine. They took the blood and then they say, we need to do evaluation again. There comes a tricky part where they say but, they had an object *Annie sighs*, you know, they wanted to penetrate me with it. 

Annie [00:13:43] Yeah. 

Caster [00:13:44] I say you're not going to do that. 

Annie [00:13:45] Yeah. 

Caster [00:13:45] You're not going to do that. They did what they did, they finished. When I get to the hotel, the president of the Federation South Africa sent the vice president because I was close to the vice president, we coming from the same province in Limpopo. 

Annie [00:14:04] Yeah. 

Caster [00:14:05] He comes and tells me, Caster I have bad news for you. The results, you know, have came. The ones that you took in Pretoria, the ones that you took this side, it appears that you have a high testosterone, you know, level, which is- they say it gives you advantage for you to compete, I say no ways, nonsense. He's afraid that they need to withdraw me. I say, that's not your choice to make, it's my choice to make. So you guys only have one choice, to step out as the council members in the IAAF to support me with this fight, or I'm just going to go to the track and see who's going to drag me off the track. And the end of the day I'm running that final. I'm running that final, you understand? After the semi-final, I passed through the media zone, I did the one interview with the our guy, and he tells me that umm, 'Caster Semenya there are results leaked that you may be a man, what do you say about it?'. I'm like 'ahhh, I don't know who gave you the news but I don't give a damn, I don't care what you say'. And I walk away! 

Annie [00:15:12] So the results, have been leaked! 

Caster [00:15:14] Yes! It's leaked. 

Annie [00:15:15] The media knew the results, and now they were confronting you and questioning your gender. You're 18 years old. 

Caster [00:15:21] Yes. And they say they accidentally leaked? No, they did purposefully. They wanted to make me feel like not wanted, make me feel like I'm not enough. They wanted me to feel like I don't belong in this sport. But of course, they made their own calculations wrong because for me, I did not care about that. I only care about competition. And the day of the final, the South African people made sure that I don't see anything. No newspaper. 

Annie [00:15:53] Yes. 

Caster [00:15:53] Make sure that I stay away from TV. Anything that they put on the channel, they make sure that it's not sports. The day of the final when I walk into the warm up truck, I could see, you know, everyone now is looking at me. But the only lady that spoke to me was the British athlete, you know Marilyn Okoro? 

Annie [00:16:13] Yeah. 

Caster [00:16:13] She's the one who, you know, came to me and said, hello, hi, how are you? You know, I hope you're good and I wish you the best of luck, you know, with the final. And then that was it. I went, run the final, I win the race. You know, so for me, people need to understand one thing. I don't do sports because I need any validation. I do sports because I love sports. I do sports because it makes me feel good. When I do running I'm free, I'm in my own zone, I'm happy. We done with the championship, then we travel back home. 

Annie [00:16:47] And then it's everywhere! Everyone's talking about it. Everyone's questioning you. Everyone's- 

Caster [00:16:51] Yesss. Everyone is talking about it but one thing people need to understand, one thing is that I know how to mind my business. 

Annie [00:16:59] Mhm. 

Caster [00:17:00] When we get to the airport, I start seeing you know, the airport is packed! Now I see the boards you know saying, you know, the golden girl, you know, she's a girl. You know some of the board, you know, prove that you're not a boy, you know and stuff like you're not woman enough and stuff like that. I'm like, oh! Is this what's happening? Now obviously, you know for me, being celebrated, you know, people questioned me. And for me did not matter because I don't really care about 2% of the people in the world who are just negative, you know, about life, about people who are different. I only care about that 98% that really understand, you know, purpose of sports, understand humanity, understand the purpose of human rights, making sure that people live for what is right. 

Annie [00:17:56] Can I ask how- because your family didn't know you were in Berlin. How did they take the news that you'd had to go through these gender tests? 

Caster [00:18:04] No, of course they were not happy. You know, they were not happy but end of the day, it's out of their control. What they can do is just live for what is right, speak for what is right. The only solution is for you to care about me, to make sure that I'm supported. I live a good life. I'm happy. That what they had to do. I know it affected them, you know, personally but- 

Annie [00:18:26] Your mother always seems to say the right thing, you know, she said, you know, this is your home, you will always- this is always your home. We love you. Like there's a constant, a constant kind of reassurance of love in all of this. Yeah. Yes. 

Caster [00:18:39] Yeah, that was a rea- I was reassured about, you know, love, support. All South Africans they did support me. 

Annie [00:18:45] Yeah. Your whole country came around you, yeah. 

Caster [00:18:48] Obviously IAAF started you know, having this, you know, talks and then come my legal team, they wanted to file a case. And I said with the legal teams to say, look, I'm still young to fight better like this, you need to find a solution for me, for me to get back to the track. And IAAF had one option to say, she needs to do a surgery *Annie gasps* or she walks away. Yeah, they wanted me to have an operation. And for me I said- 

Annie [00:19:16] So what was the operation they wanted you to have? 

Caster [00:19:19] I did not care. I didn't want to know anything about it. 

Annie [00:19:21] Oh, I see. I see. Okay. 

Caster [00:19:23] Because at the end of the day, yes. At the end of the day, it was never an option for me to do that. 

Annie [00:19:28] Yes. So they wanted you to change your physical body in order to be more womanly, thus be allowed to run on the track. 

Caster [00:19:36] Yes. 

Annie [00:19:36] Okay. 

Caster [00:19:37] And I sat with the team and then they told me, look Cas, if you wanna do this, it's not gonna be nice, this option you can take, which is taking, you know, a gel. 

Annie [00:19:49] And what was the gel? It was like an oestrogen- it was like a hormone thing? 

Caster [00:19:53] It was oestrogen gel. It was hormonal gel. 

Annie [00:19:56] In order to de-elevate your testosterone. Yeah. 

Caster [00:19:58] Yeah, it's to de-elevate the testosterone. And I did that, took the, you know, the gel. But I was not happy because it affected my skin. My arms started becoming thin, it's like I have anorexia, and I said no, I'm not going to do that, let's get another, you know, option. Then they agreed to contraceptive pill. I took the contraceptive pill. 

Annie [00:20:21] So how did they change you, physically and mentally? 

Caster [00:20:24] I think physically it's more for- I gained a lot of weight. Mentally, it messed me up because I always, am always under the stress. I always get irritated. You know, small things will irritate me. I always wanted to be on my own. I never wanted to be around people. It made me feel sick, always nauseous, burning stomach. I started having panic attacks. But the doctor told me that this medication, because it's not meant for your body, you have to know that a lot of risk. It can be the risk of cancer. You can have blood clots in your body. It may lead you into heart attack. So you have to know that your health is not safe. So for you to take this, you know, they said I must take it for six months, it was fine, you know, the testosterone was down and now they approve, they said okay, you are cleared. 

Annie [00:21:20] And this isn't public. It's important to say this was just between you and the federation. It isn't public, it's a silent agreement. 

Caster [00:21:27] No, it's not public. It was a deal between me and them, it's a deal that we we took and we agreed is not going to be publicised. You know, to be honest, it's one of those things that when you do things out of desperation, you'll never be happy. Because it was something that I did because I wanted to run. I did not do that because I wanted to do it, I wanted to change, you know, the person I am, I wanted to change my body. No, no, no, no. I did it for running. 

[00:21:55] *Short musical interlude*

Annie [00:22:05] How in your knowledge are women with DSDs treated by world athletics? Like what is the procedure now that they have to go through? And is there a lot of women that have to go through what you went through? 

Caster [00:22:16] Of course, ummm I think we've been treated, you know, like animals. 

Annie [00:22:21] Yeah. 

Caster [00:22:22] There's no respect, of course, in that. And IAAF does not respect us, they just talk as if they are pleased. But it has affected us in a way that, you know, most of you know, girls now, they are depressed, you know, they're stressed, they're not happy in their lives, you do the operation. 

Annie [00:22:44] So the operation is a gonadectomy, what do you know about those people that had to get that? 

Caster [00:22:50] There are people who had to do that and they're messed up. They can't even run at all. 

Annie [00:22:57] Wow. 

Caster [00:22:57] There's one girl from Uganda that did that, and they did that without her consent. They lied to her that this is a good procedure. 

Annie [00:23:08] So the gonadectomy is the removal of descended testicles, am I right in saying that? Excuse me if I'm not.

Caster [00:23:14] I have no idea what they removing. 

Annie [00:23:16] They remove something. 

Caster [00:23:17] I'll be lying because I don't know what they doing there, you understand? 

Annie [00:23:22] And Caster, there seems to be a pattern, again you infer it in the book that a lot of these women who are approached and kind of forced to change in order to keep their career going, are a certain type of women. They're from certain places, economically a certain- yeah, tell me about that. 

Caster [00:23:36] Of course, it's a one sided thing because all of these women that are targeted are Asian, you know, women and African women. Nothing else. It's clearly a racial issue because you can't discriminate against one. You can't go out there and target one certain group of women based on the colour of their skin or their religion or where they're coming from, just because you don't want them succeed or you don't want them do good because your mind tells you that they are not woman enough, they don't deserve to run in women's sports, you understand? --- target them. And as we speak now, I know my neighbouring country, you know, those girls are taking the medication now. I don't know what medication they're taking, but for me I feel sorry for them because they don't know what they're getting themselves into. It's not a process to take. 

Annie [00:24:35] Do you think you would have been treated differently if you were like a white European woman? 

Caster [00:24:41] Yeah, I'm 100% sure. I'm 100% sure, on that one, definitely yes. Particularly, let's say if I was coming from, you know, Britain. 

Annie [00:24:49] Mm hmm. 

Caster [00:24:50] If I was a- in his country, do you think he could have treated me like that? No, he wouldn't. 

Annie [00:24:57] He being Sebastian Coe, the head of the World Athletics? Yeah.

Caster [00:25:01] He wouldn't, he wouldn't treat me like that. He wouldn't treat me like animal. He wouldn't be calling me by names insulting me. He would be doing anything that he can to make sure that I'm protected. 

Annie [00:25:16] Yeah. 

Caster [00:25:16] I feel safe. I'm happy as a woman. You understand? So for me, it's a disappointing story. 

Annie [00:25:23] And what about, um, other women? Like there's a few British women who gave you a really hard time. Like, how do you feel like you've been treated by female athletes in your career? 

Caster [00:25:33] For me, I'm not gonna focus on 2 or 3 women who are, who feel threatened by success, who are threatened by other women. That's their own problem, is their own lives. It's their own opinion or how they see things. I really have no feelings for them. I really don't care what they do, what they say about me, because at the end of the day, you know, that perception of me has got nothing to do with me. I have to deal with myself as I am. I make myself happy. I am happy. I'm a woman. I know I'm a woman. So I don't really need no validation from them or for them to accept me to be a woman. 

Annie [00:26:14] It's quite ironic, isn't it, that, you know, you have this huge doping problem where women are doping themselves to be stronger, but then you have other women who are told legally that they have to like dope themselves in a different way, in an acceptable way, in order to be less strong in their opinion. If you don't want to dope yourself, if you don't want to go through an operation, what do they suggest is the answer? 

Caster [00:26:37] That's what they say, they call you a man because *laughs* they will insult you and say-

Annie [00:26:41] They call you a man? So they say you can run with men?

Caster [00:26:44] They say if you don't want to take medication, go run in men's category which is an insult. For  me, disrespect. That's the things that they will do when they're desperate to rule, when they are  desperate for power. I'm not a man. I'm not gonna run, you know, in men's category. 

Annie [00:27:00] So their only option is, you can go and run in men's events? 

Caster [00:27:03] That's what they say, because if you don't run in men's sports, they say you take medication which is of course, they know you're not going to run in men's sports if you're not man. 

Annie [00:27:12] Yeah, I find it interesting that of all the factors that can make a woman win a race, why do they zoom in on testosterone, like I'm interested in that. Like, there's so many different reasons why you will win a race, right? 

Caster [00:27:25] There are many different things and one thing that makes a woman win a race is the time that you dedicate in training, is the hard work that you put in. It's you studying the event that you run. 

Annie [00:27:40] Yeah. 

Caster [00:27:41] 800m is a tactical race. It's you putting the hard work, nothing else. As we speak now, if they say I have an advantage, let them allow me to go run now without training. As they speak, they say high testosterone plays a role... Do you think I'll run 154. 

Annie [00:28:04] Yeah. 

Caster [00:28:04] No! 

Annie [00:28:05] Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Caster [00:28:06] All those girls they will beat me, I will be number last because I am not fit. I have not trained. So if high testosterone really played a role- but you have to understand that our high testosterone, it comes as a disorder. 

Annie [00:28:22] This is what's really interesting to me, is the fact that you are seen as someone who has a disorder of womanhood because you have a higher, elevated sense of testosterone. And that's really interesting to me, and I suppose just the kind of parameters of womanhood and how suddenly you are not allowed to fit in that neat box of what a woman is, in a lot of people's ways. And that makes you a threat to their kind of idea of gender and that's, that's interesting to me. 

Caster [00:28:49] But that's not a threat. The looks cannot be a threat. Looks can never be a threat. There will never be any fairness in sports, number one. 

Annie [00:28:59] Why? 

Caster [00:28:59] People are different. People are coming from different backgrounds. People are not given the same genetically. We are all different. There are people who are tall, there are people with fast twitch muscles, there are people with slow twitch muscles. Our body does not respond the same. And it disappointed me that Sebastian is very interested only in women's sports. So that means only men's sports matters the most, because men can have their differences. They can gain from, you know, their muscles, their tall stature, boldness or anything. 

Annie [00:29:39] Yes. You use Michael Phelps as an example, right? 

Caster [00:29:42] Yes. --- same example about Michael Phelps, you look at Usain Bolt. Usain Bolt is special. He's given. He's way different from all the sprinters in the world, you understand? If you look and analyse, you know everything about him, you'll start understanding that when we talk sports, we talk about people who are special, people with differences, you know, genetically, you know, we can never be the same as people, men, women, it doesn't matter. At the end of the day, our differences does not define us. 

Annie [00:30:22] Yeah. And it's like, you have a difference in hormones to some other women. 

Caster [00:30:28] Of course. 

Annie [00:30:29] But in the same way, Michael Phelps would have a difference in extraordinary shoulder width compared to other men. So why are the physicality of hormones and the physicality of a shoulder width, like why are they deemed different? It's all your body. It's all your natural makeup. 

Caster [00:30:42] That's why I always question those things to say, IAAF needs to set the facts straight. They must stop regulating women's sports because we as women, we are the one who needs to decide what is right and wrong in women's sports. 

Annie [00:30:57] Yes, it's all white men telling you what to do which is annoying. 

Caster [00:30:59] Of course, that's what they say. And it makes me angry when we as women, we allow a man come tell us how we should look like, how we should treat one another. It's so bad. 

Annie [00:31:14] But then there is female naysayers too. You know, Paula Radcliffe, there is other athletes who don't feel like it's fair. It's not just men, is it? It's kind of-

Caster [00:31:24] There is only those few women. And even if you look into who's talking, she's British. She's supporting, you know, Sebastien Coe. You come to Africa, there is no African women who can come tell me, you are not woman enough. They know I'm from Africa. They know we Africans, we built to different from Europeans. Americans, particularly brown skinned coloured people, they are built different because their genetics get a mix of nations. You know, you look at the Kenyans, they come from high altitude, there's nothing you can do about it. Our geographical, you know, situations are the ones that gives us those advantages. You understand? 

Annie [00:32:12] Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Caster [00:32:12] You only get advantage from your locations, weather conditions, all those things. You come to Europe, European people are not built the same as Africans. Asians are not built as Europeans. Americans are not built as Africans. So if we're going to question how people are born with their differences no matter what, then that's where we get it wrong in sports because when you say the sport is for all, you say no to racism and discrimination, but you still come and tell us it's necessary to discriminate one. It's necessary to be a racist. That's what you're telling us. And for me personally, coming from Africa, coming from a colonised nation, you start getting me a wrong  conception of seeing a different person in a different way, because now when I start to see you, I start evaluating how you look at me, how you treat me. You understand? Because I'm coming from a country that is coming from apartheid, a country that was colonised by the British, you understand? So it's for me, me and Sebastian, our forefathers have got history. For him, he needs to know better when it comes to treating people. He needs to treat people with respect, with dignity. 

Annie [00:33:40] Have you ever had it out with him, Caster? Have you ever seen, like, met him in a room and told him what you think? 

Caster [00:33:44] Nooo, I met him once, just in the elevator. Just had two exchange of words. But for me and that guy will never see eye to eye. And I have no feelings towards him. 

Annie [00:33:54] I wonder, is he going to read your book? 

Caster [00:33:55] I don't care if he reads my *Annie laughing* my book or what. 

Annie [00:33:58] He should *laughing*. 

Caster [00:33:58] *Laughing* I really don't care. Because me and him, we just not good for one another. I don't have a problem with him. I respect his job. I just don't respect his principles. 

[00:34:11] *Short musical interlude*

Annie [00:34:17] Can I ask with regards to, you know, what we're talking about, you know, the parameters of womanhood, how do you feel about your situation being conflated with trans issues? I'm sure that comes in a lot for you. 

Caster [00:34:28] Yeah ummm, yes, It's a- it's more- these are two different issues, two different situations where a woman with DSD is born with differences, you understand, which is, it tells. And then we talk about a transgender who you are born a different gender, transitioning to another gender, which is a different, you know, a situation when it comes to governance and, you know, regulating, it's not up to me to say because I don't have a problem with anyone, because- 

Annie [00:35:02] Yeah. 

Caster [00:35:03] I don't judge. I don't discriminate. For me, I accept any one. 

Annie [00:35:07] Would you be comfortable racing a woman who had transitioned from a man's body? 

Caster [00:35:11] I don't have a problem. At the end of the day what I know is that I work hard, as they work hard. 

Annie [00:35:18] Yeah. One of the bits about the book that surprised me is when you talked about the Olympics and you came silver initially, to a Russian woman who was then found out to be doping. And in the book you were like, you know what? It's still a win. Like, she still beat me on that day-

Caster [00:35:33] Yeah! She still won because- 

Annie [00:35:35] On that day, yes she was doped, but you were doped too, the other way because you had to be. 

Caster [00:35:40] Yes. 

Annie [00:35:41] And so some people would see that as kind of, you know, as her- as being like no obsolete, that is, you know, completely unfair but you were like, you know what? A win is a win.

Caster [00:35:51] Of course, it's unfair to cheat, but people need to be practical about the race. You can't undo the race. My point on that particular day, she won. She made me feel pace. I felt her. She beat me like I don't know. But at the end of the day, yes, it's not fair for someone to cheat, but if you go back to the Internet, the race is still there. She crossed the line first, you understand? You don't change that. She won the race. She beat me. Whether she's doped or what, it can't change that I lost the race against her.

Annie [00:36:29] When you came off the drugs, you were allowed to come off the drugs, you just went for it. You were on a roll. I think it was something like 31 800m, you won consecutively. You just won. You won. You won. You won. You won. You won. But the one thing you weren't able to do that you speak of in the book is actually break the world record for the 800m. How did that make you feel, I suppose, when the rules came back in and you weren't able to run anymore and you knew that you could have done that?

Caster [00:36:53] No, I knew. But you have to understand that breaking a world record is a process. It takes a lot of years, a lot of preparation to break a world record, it does not take a day. For me, it was never about breaking the world record at anything, it was about me portraying resilience in sports, enjoying the running and making sure that people who support me, they are always happy to come see me run. If it was meant to be for me to break the world record, I could have broke it long time ago. The record was not meant for me. Sebastian want me to stop running, so I did not really care. I say whenever he does that, he does it, but I'll continue on doing what I do best because at the end of the day, I'm an athlete, I'm a woman, I'm fast. I'll keep running. 

Annie [00:37:43] Yeah. Yeah. Mokgadi, what is the change you'd still like to make or see? 

Caster [00:37:50] The only change that I'll like to make is that I focus more into women. So for me, what I want to see in the future is that women, we should stand for one another. We should fight for one another. We should love one another for who we are. We shouldn't judge. We shouldn't criticise. We shouldn't categorise one another. We women to women, we need to build one another to empower one another. That's what I want to see. Yeah. 

Annie [00:38:18] What do you want your legacy to be? 

Caster [00:38:21] Oh, my legacy. I'm already living that legacy. 

Annie [00:38:25] Yeah, yeah *laughing*. 

Caster [00:38:26] I want my legacy to be more into sports development. Being able to develop young girls, you know, out there, you know, in the rural areas. You know, fighting for what is right. Making sure that, you know, young girls are being heard. Making sure that they, you know, they're courageous enough to fight for what is right. That's me. To advocate for what is right for human rights and to make sure that I fight, you know, for what is right. Yeah. 

Annie [00:38:57] As a mother of daughters, two daughters, am I right? 

Caster [00:39:00] Yes. 

Annie [00:39:01] How do you feel about bringing women up in the world? 

Caster [00:39:05] Uhh, it's a fear. Cause as a young girl, me being treated like that, it bring me fear because I don't want them to face, you know, what I faced. I don't want them to face, you know, to endure, you know, what I've endured. But the best that I can do for them is to love them, support them, care for them, protect them in any cost, and make sure that they don't walk the path I walked. Athletics is one of the sports that I would not want them to do. I'd want them to be in a different sporting cult, you know so I can feel free, I can feel safe *laughs* they know fulfilled, you understand? But I fear, you know, they will face, you know, a world that is run by men, a world that, you know, that will always question a woman. And a world that will always want a woman to look like how they want them to look like, not a woman being a woman that they are, understand? That's the only fear I have, you know, in this world. And I hope men will realise that, you know, one day to say look, stop regulating women. Stop making women feel like they're not enough. Let women focus on their women affairs. So simple. 

Annie [00:40:24] I'm just going to read the very last few lines of the book. "I am Mokgadi Caster Semenya, remember the meaning of my name. I am the one who gives up what they want so that others may have what they need. I am the one who seeks. I'm the one who guides". 

Caster [00:40:40] Yes. 

Annie [00:40:40] Do you feel like, do you feel like you've been put on this earth for this purpose? 

Caster [00:40:44] Yes, I feel like I've been put on the sport for a reason. God created me for a reason, and I live up to that always. So I know I give up a lot of things for other people. I make sure that I guide, always necessary for me to guide, and I'll always live up to that. I'm a living testimony of God, his reflection, and I have no doubt about that. I know that. And I'll keep on doing what is right and keep on doing what makes others happy, yep. 

Annie [00:41:16] Caster, I thank you so much from the bottom of my heart for this conversation. I really appreciate your time, thank you. 

Caster [00:41:22] Thank you. Thank you very much. I really appreciate you. 

Annie [00:41:29] Do please rate, review and subscribe to Changes. It is so appreciated and if you fancy sharing it on social media too, that would be amazing. The more people we can get listening to these episodes, the better. We want to tell our stories far and wide. Changes is produced by Louise Mason through DIN Productions, and I'll be back next week with more! See you then.