“Caster means a whole range of things,” Matebeni said. “The name carries a form of ambiguity, but because of Caster’s greatness, it also carries a kind of social importance and excellence.”
Her definition of herself, Semenya said, was simply this: “I’m just a great human being.”
She identifies as female, was raised female, is legally female and has boldly proclaimed, “I am a woman, and I am fast.” Yet in track and field, Semenya is subjected to restrictions for athletes defined as having a disorder of sexual development, or D.S.D. — genitalia that are not typically male or female; an X and Y chromosome in each cell, the standard male pattern; and testosterone levels in the male range, which, doctors say, suggests testicular tissue or internal testes.
She remains a kind of turbulent canvas onto which others have painted their notions of masculinity and femininity, of sex and gender, of fair play and unfair advantage.
Semenya is married to a woman and is a queer icon to some in South Africa but has never formally come out as a lesbian. Her traditional wedding in 2015 and a more lavish ceremony in 2017 were breathlessly covered by the news media. And the pregnancy of her wife, Violet Raseboya, a sprinter, was shared widely last year with Semenya’s Instagram followers, who now number 205,000. But as a parent she has been guarded about sharing her young daughter’s name, face and birth date with the public.
On the eve of her sport’s most important showcase, the Olympics, Semenya is ineligible for the race at which she is the fastest in the world. Yet her excellence as a runner has also brought her some reprieve from the homophobia that is rampant in South Africa despite constitutional protections. And she is sometimes stopped for selfies while jogging around her neighborhood in Pretoria, a kind of deference that many Black women, particularly those who are openly lesbian, do not enjoy in a country where they are often harassed or threatened or worse.