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Book Review :: The Race to be Myself by Caster Semenya

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Anybody who pays attention to the news, especially sports news, probably thinks they know Semenya’s story, even if they don’t know her name. She’s a two-time Olympic medalist in the 800 meters from South Africa, but she was banned from running because her testosterone levels were too high, according to World Athletics, the governing board for track and field. They and some of her competitors argued that she had an unfair advantage.

This memoir is Semenya’s taking control of her own narrative, as she tells the story of how she fell in love with running, the acceptance she felt in her family and village, the success she had on the track, and her fight against World Athletics. Despite doctors’ classifying her as intersex, Semenya says she has never seen herself as anything other than female. She also argues that World Athletics never presented any scientific evidence that her testosterone levels gave her any advantage, and her racing times were well in line with other women she raced against.

For those who know Semenya’s story, The Race to be Myself by Caster Semenya will only deepen their knowledge, as she presents what she was thinking during her career. For those who think they know what happened during those years, her memoir presents a different view than the dominant narrative. For those who think they have no interest in a memoir about a runner, Semenya’s book reminds us that, when we talk about gender and access, we’re not talking about an issue; we’re talking about people.

The Race to be Myself by Caster Semenya. W.W. Norton, October 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite

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