June 2019 – Interview of Assistant Professor Asim Siddiqui (Azim Premji University, Bangalore) by Anamika Misra (Phd Student, Kent Law School, University of Kent)

Anamika Misra (PhD Student Kent Law School, University of Kent) interviews Assistant Professor Asim Siddiqui during his visit to the Centre for Sexuality, Race and Gender Justice (SeRGJ) at the University of Kent, June 2019

Nationalist articulation of Decolonizing Universities: Two sides of the same coin​

With the re-election of the Hindutva Nationalist regime in India, the systematic destruction of the Universities with a neoliberal and hyper-nationalist agenda is bound to take an ugly turn. Under the garb of Decolonizing Universities, the nationalist critique perpetuates the Brahminical domination of public Universities in India, a fact that Ambedkar foresaw at the time of independence and setup few constitutional provisions for making a decolonized and debrahminized society, in which higher education played one of the most important roles. Instant of deepening the Ambedkarite project, Hindutva nationalists have systematically worked towards undermining the Constitution and the Universities have been their prime target. In this talk, I would argue that nationalist critique of colonization is merely another side of the same coin and true decolonization in South Asia necessarily includes Debrahminization of the University, by drawing upon the experiences of the Ambedkarite-Feminist Collective in Azim Premji University. ​


Asim Siddiqui is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the Azim Premji University Bangalore. In his work as a teacher, researcher and socio-cultural worker, he works towards issues of cultural and ecological justice by drawing upon various philosophical traditions from India and outside, in terms of both intellectual and embodied practices. His doctoral research and current educational experiments have been in developing an aesthetic-contemplative pedagogy for engaging with contemporary socio-political issues. Outside University, he does dramaturgy, consultancy and experiential education workshops for various art and developmental organizations. In his previous avatar, he has worked with NGOs and technology start-ups, along with getting an undergraduate degree from IIT Delhi.

AnaLouise Keating – Cultivating Queer Conocimiento: An Anzaldúan Meditation on Queer Theory

Cultivating Queer Conocimiento: An Anzaldúan Meditation on Queer Theory

AnaLouise Keating

Keating Headshot


   Contribute a queer conocimiento, a perspective on life that is different from that of other people.

Gloria Anzaldúa, “Writing Notes I”


“Queer” as Gloria Anzaldúa used the word (and make no mistake: she used it a lot, from the 1970s until her death in 2004) connects with but isn’t limited to same-sex desire.  “Queer,” for Anzaldúa, was not just an adjective describing identity, actions, and/or desires; it also includes ethics–radical ways of living and moving through the world.  “Queer,” for Anzaldúa, represents the innovation and transformation that occur when we’re willing to be visible in our differences, when we follow spirit’s guidance. Being queer requires acknowledgment, acceptance, and enactment of our profound differences from the status quo. It requires faith in these differences (as divine). Being queer requires that we have the courage to take the risks that these differences demand and that we nurtureour differences, approaching them as honored, powerful (and very demanding) teachers. When we do so, we create ripple effects that impact both outer and inner dimensions. To again quote Anzaldúa:

 Living with queerness is a choice: Living in a queer way contributes to community, nation, planet. It has the power to change the world. Queer life is political, it is spiritual, it is an intensely conscious way of living. (Writing Notes I)

Although Anzaldúa didn’t flesh out her theory of queer conocimiento, I believe that it merits excavation and further development.

I have several reasons for this belief. First, it addresses one of Anzaldúa’s over-arching concerns: the fact that she was so rarely acknowledged as a founding figure in queer theory. I recall numerous conversations with her about this erasure at her home in Santa Cruz, California; it was one of the few academic slights that deeply troubled her. Building on Anzaldúa’s theory enables me to underscore her foundational contributions to queer theory. Second, the phrase “queer conocimiento” has intrigued me since 2004, when I first encountered it as I organized Anzaldúa’s manuscripts after her untimely death; since that day, queer conocimiento has called out to me, inviting me to explore and enact it. And third, queer conocimiento has its roots partially in Anzaldúa’s pre-Borderlandswork on “divine warriors,” “people of the purple ray,” and clairvoyant “facultades”–making it as foundational to spiritual activism as it is to queer theory.  As Anzaldúa explains in her 1982? conversation with Christine Weiland:

I call us “divine warriors” because we have to fight. But it’s not a physical fighting. It’s fighting with the spirit. To be healthy, you must awaken a sense of who you are and keep it strong and assert that you’re okay, that you’re not sick, that society–religion, political systems, morality, the movies, the media, the newspapers–that they’re all wrong and that you’re right. It takes tremendous energy, courage, and perseverance to keep that awareness awake. So you start tapping into your strength, your source of power. (Interviews/Entrevistas)

In what follows, I draw on Anzaldúa’s own life and writings to offer a preliminary definition and enactment of queer conocimiento. I interweave her views with mine, creating una teoría mestizaje.

Queer Conocimiento: Defined, Enacted

I define queer conocimiento as a fully embodied approach to living–to knowledge production and social change–that exposes, challenges, and transforms our status-quo stories about the world. Queer conocimiento emerges when difference meets resilience, occurs in dialogue with spirit, is situated in a completely ensouled world, includes psychic and other ‘nonordinary’ powers, and can be nurtured through specific strategies. Anzaldúa’s first use of the term illustrates many of these traits:

A queer conocimiento and a queer facultad are other ways of perceiving “normal” reality as well as other world realities . . . . I believe in the practice power and ability to communicate with spirits, that organic and inorganic life has an aware consciousness (“Spiritual Mestisaje”)

Anzaldúa anchors queer conocimiento in our everyday material reality while, simultaneously, challenging conventional perceptions of this reality by replacing Cartesian metaphysics with a mystical worldview.

We activate queer conocimiento by defying restrictive social scripts and nurturing our difference(s)–regardless of the rejection we might experience. As Anzaldúa asserts in “Queers of Color,” a 1999 lecture given at the University of California, Santa Cruz:

we have to turn away from: security, fitting in, [and] the orthodox way of doing things. We’re not just one of the guys, different only in who we have sex with.Knowing your difference will cost you. The consequences of living a queer life. Living with queerness is a choice. Living in a queer way contributes to community, nation, planet. Such a way of life has the power to change the world. Living queerly is political, it is spiritual, it is an immensely conscious way of life.

Queer conocimiento does not mindlessly celebrate being different/being queer but occurs knowingly, aware of the great costs involved. While Anzaldúa views our queer differencs as sacred gifts, she knows form her own experience that honoring and unfolding these gifts can be incredibly painful–on multiple levels. Yet for those of us queer folk who aspire to change the world, “[l]iving queerly” by heeding these differences is extremely worthwhile.

Queer conocimiento is embodied and accessed through the physical which can open us to the psychic. Thus in her 2001 manuscript, “Queer Conocimiento,” Anzaldúa associates it with “staying in your skin”–remaining present to our physical-material surroundings. She suggests that meditation “improves and increases body awareness” which, in turn, facilitates our recognition of the world’s ensouled nature, or what she describes as “the soul in everything.” And much earlier, in her 1981 unpublished manuscript, Esperando la serpiente con plumas/Waitng for the Feathered Serpent, Anzaldúa writes that the divine warrior develops this “new faculty of listening to the body” as a form of resistance to the overlapping forms of oppression she experiences “because she’s colored [sic], because she’s female and because she queer [sic]–all those multiple oppressions have put her thru [sic] hell’s fireand [sic] dark nights.”

            Queer conocimiento is dialogic in multiple ways and on multiple levels. As we enact queer conocimiento, we move through an ensouled world, in conversation with our surroundings–open and attentive to possible messages: When something calls out to us, we answer its call and trust the messages generated through our encounters. We do so because we know that reality is composed of multiple overlapping dimensions all created by and infused with spirit (energy/consciousness/force/the divine–call it what you will).

 When we perceive the world with queer conocimiento, the boundaries between worlds become porous. Anzaldúa explores this boundary blurring in many short stories, like “El paisano is a bird of good omen.” This 1982 short story beautifully illustrates queer conocimiento in both content and form. Set in south Texas, “El paisano” focuses on Andrea de la Cruz, a queer woman on the eve of her marriage to another queer, Zenobio. Andrea is queer in many ways: She defies conventional gender roles by speaking her mind and following her will, expressing her attraction to another woman, and doing a “man’s work” better than men; she has wild hennaed hair and a serpent companion, Víbora, who sleeps next to her. More importantly for my argument, Andrea has nonordinary, psychic powers (or what we could call magic); she can “tam[e] wild bulls and mad dogs,” choke a person simply by looking directly at their throat and causing them to gag; make thunder and lightning; communicate with reptiles and other nonhuman people; bilocate; merge with the trees, blur boundaries between herself and the land. Andrea’s magic keeps her safe from her neighbors’ suspicion and fears and gives her self-confidence.

 Although Andrea is a semi-fictional character, her powers are not. From its earliest pre-conceptualization, Anzaldúa associates queer conocimiento with clairvoyance and other psychic skills. Look for instance at Esperando la serpiente con plumas/Waiting for the Feathered Serpent, where Anzaldúa associates queers of color with (r)evolutionary development. In order to survive, she explains, marginally oppressed people sometimes develop additional skills that give us psychic powers, enabling us to read our surroundings more effectively:

We need to learn to read the meaning and significance of every event in our lives. We must see the hidden meaning or signature of every occurrence [sic]. Our survival is at stake. . . . What I’m talking about is political and personal CLAIRVOYANCE: the capacity to see in surface events, the meaning of deeper realities. (Dane Rudhyar, Cap. 29) We have developed an extra faculty, a sense that spots danger and ill winds in our streets and in our bedrooms.  We need to cultivate this “faculty.”

Queer conocimiento invites us to cultivate this nonordinary faculty and assures us that doing so awakens new knowledges and skills with which we can change the world.

An increasing number of queer folx are involved in this work: We access and activate queer conocimiento by embracing our differences (as divine messengers) and nurturing their wisdom.

A longer version of this piece was presented at the Anzaldúa Colloque in Paris, May 2019.



Anzaldúa, Gloria. “Esperando la Serpiente con Plumas (Waiting for the Feathered Serpent),” 1981-82. Box 78, Folder 9. Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers. Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas, Austin.

—. Interviews/Entrevistas, edited by AnaLouise Keating, Routledge, 2000.

—. “El paisano is a bird of good omen.” 1983. The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader, edited by AnaLouise Keating, Duke University Press, 2009.

—. “Queers of Color,” 1999. Box 112, Folder 26. Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers. Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas, Austin.

—. “Spiritual Mestisaje, An Other Way,” 1996, Box 64, Folder 27. Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers. Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas, Austin.

—. “Writing Notes I,” 1999. Box 102, Folder 3. Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers. Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas, Austin.

Rudhyar, Dane. An Astrological Mandala: The Cycle of Transformations and its 360 Symbolic Phases, Vintage Books, 1973.

AnaLouise Keating is a bi qpoc womanist spiritual activist, yin yoga instructor, and professor and Ph.D. program director of multicultural women’s & gender studies at Texas Woman’s University. She worked extensively with Gloria Anzaldúa during her life and has edited several of Anzaldúa’s books, most recently, Light in the Dark/Luz en lo oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality.AnaLouise’s most recent book is Transformation Now! Toward a Post-Oppositional Politics of Change. Her lifework focuses on radical transformation, women-of-color theories, and transformational pedagogies. She can be reached at:

LOCs – Une fierté pour qui ? Une fierté pour quoi ?

Lesbiennes of color (LOCs) statement on the organisation of Pride in the French banlieues on 9 June 2019

Statement issued on 6 June 2019

Une fierté pour qui ? Une fierté pour quoi ? De l’opportunisme des alliances et de la visibilité

En réponse à l’appel pour une première « marche des Fiertés en banlieue », le 9 juin 2019, à Saint-Denis

Nous LOCs – Lesbiennes of color avons pour certaines grandi en banlieue, y vivons actuellement, y travaillons, y luttons, ou nous y réfugions, notamment à Saint-Denis où aura lieu la première marche des Fiertés en banlieue. Cette marche proposée par une association dont le but est, entre autres, de donner « une meilleure image de la ville de Saint-Denis » nous interroge.

Pourquoi et comment mener des alliances avec des associations institutionnalisées, telles que l’inter- LGBT ou SOS homophobie, qui n’ont aucune connaissance de nos vies, de nos enjeux, de nos manières de vivre ? Nous ne pouvons accepter que Saint-Denis soit la vitrine d’un pinkwashing à la française qui derrière une pseudo-visibilité laisse intactes les conséquences des politiques racistes, sexistes et capitalistes, qui broient la vie de nos familles, de nos communautés, de nos ami.e.s et camarades, ici et ailleurs. Dans cette façon d’investir Saint-Denis et LA banlieue, nous ne pouvons voir autre chose qu’un désir de s’acheter une bonne conscience et, par la même occasion, l’histoire de nos luttes. Nous sommes actrices de nos espaces et de nos stratégies, nous accordons une grande importance à l’héritage et à la transmission de nos luttes et analyses, c’est pourquoi nous n’oublions pas le coq français fièrement représenté sur la première affiche de la Marche parisienne de 2011, proposé par l’inter-LGBT. Depuis cette proposition aux relents racistes, sexistes, nationalistes voire pétainistes, nous n’avons pas vu l’inter-LGBT s’élever publiquement contre un racisme décomplexé, ni même le combattre activement en son propre sein. Alors pourquoi venir nous donner des leçons d’intersectionnalité à Saint-Denis ?

Nous Lesbiennes of color refusons que cette marche soit un signe de plus envoyé par la Mairie aux gentrifieurs de tous bords faisant de nos quartiers des opportunités pour familles homoparentales blanches et aisées au détriment des lesbiennes précaires qui ne se sentent pas moins en sécurité ici que dans Paris où elles sont contrôlées, agressées, harcelées, mais aussi exotisées, dépolitisées, ignorées ou invisibilisées. La Mairie finance cet événement, mais où se trouve donc l’argent quand il s’agit de nous loger dans des appartements décents ou simplement de ne pas nous y laisser mourir et de nous reloger quand nos immeubles s’effondrent ou brûlent ? Nos vies lesbiennes devraient être fières d’avoir des lits confortables pour accueillir dignement nos compagnes, nos familles et nos ami.e.s réfugié.e.s.

Être visibles le samedi 9 juin, mais avec quels objectifs et quelles conséquences pour nos luttes, nos communautés et nos sœurs qui ne sont pas protégées tout le reste de l’année ? Nos expériences de vie sont celles de lesbiennes issues des migrations post-coloniales, exilées, réfugiées, prises dans des réseaux communautaires et familiaux de solidarités complexes qui ne sauraient être réduites à la seule rhétorique du coming-out et de la visibilité publique. Nous luttons pour accompagner des lesbiennes réfugiées et contre les fascismes qui restreignent nos vies. Nous savons comment et quand être visibles, nous n’avons attendu aucune autorisation pour nous organiser, pour bâtir des espaces safe et construire des solidarités internationales. Depuis des années nous résistons et prouvons nos richesses, nos forces dans les combats que nous menons, dans un réseau alliant de nombreux collectifs dionysiens et au-delà, bien loin du désintérêt total que ces associations ont à l’égard de nos vies en dehors de leurs codes et de leurs espaces. À qui une parade apporte-t-elle de la valeur, in fine ? Toujours aux mêmes. Ceux qui savent la valoriser dans des dossiers de financement dont l’argent ne sert en rien nos intérêts.

Organiser une fête au 6B dans la foulée de cette marche, lieu gentrifié repéré comme n’ayant aucun lien avec le reste de la ville, où la plupart des personnes dites racisé.e.s sont à la sécurité ou à la cuisine et où les personnes LGBTQI racisées dionysiennes ne sont pas accueillies, dans la mesure où les évènements sont pensés la plupart du temps pour des fêtard.e.s et consommateurs de culture qui ne connaissent de Saint-Denis que sa gare, sa basilique et ses quartiers malfamés, nous semble révélateur. La Mairie, qui finance cette marche, et les associations qui l’appuient ne se soucient guère de l’absence totale d’espaces pour les communautés LGBTQI des banlieues ségréguées. Les LGBTQI racisé.e.s, notamment celles et ceux vivant dans ces banlieues, n’échappent pas au racisme, à l’islamophobie, aux violences policières et à la chasse aux migrant.e.s. Nous ne pouvons pas lutter sans prendre en compte ce contexte. Aucun mot non plus dans l’appel diffusé par les organisateurs de cette marche sur le sexisme qui traverse tous les lieux où nous sommes, que les associations de lutte contre l’homophobie devraient pourtant, à force, prendre en compte, ni sur le capitalisme sauvage qui nous oppresse et nous empêche de nous épanouir quand il ne nous empêche pas tout simplement de vivre. Nous regrettons sincèrement ces alliances hasardeuses dont nous savons que les maigres fruits seront volés.

Nous n’y voyons qu’une logique de kit pinkwashing clé en main – comment le voir autrement ? Nos corps lesbiens sont peut-être invisibles et inaudibles pour beaucoup, mais nous continuerons à nous battre en cohérence avec nos vécus et les quartiers dans lesquels nous vivons, car comme le dit bell hooks « les marges sont à la fois un lieu imposé par les structures oppressives mais aussi un espace de radicale possibilité et de résistance ».

Soyons radicales et ne soyons pas dupes : tout ce qui est fait sans nous ne peut être fait pour nous !

Le 6 juin 2019
Groupe LOCs – Lesbiennes of

Présentation du groupe LOCs


Créé en 2009, LOCs (Lesbiennes Of Color) est un groupe non mixte dans une lutte intersectionnelle : racisme, lesbophobie et sexisme. Composé de lesbiennes politiques exilées, réfugiées, issues des migrations post coloniales, qui ont en commun l’histoire des colonisations, la mémoire de l’esclavage et les luttes contre les politiques migratoires gouvernementales et le néolibéralisme, le groupe LOCs est autonome, féministe et solidaire.


Avec ce texte, nous voulons apporter un point de vue lesbien politique of color qui nous représente, dans une volonté de bâtir des luttes communes qui ne soient pas sous l’ombre de ce qui nous paraît être une énième forme de tutelle, de main mise ou de récupération. L’autonomie politique de nos luttes est un combat éreintant et nous avons un rapport de force à créer. Nous interrogeons la stratégie mise en place à Saint- Denis mais nous soutenons clairement la visibilité de nos sœurs, frères, camarades et ami.e.s of color LGBTQI. A aucun moment nous ne remettons en question les stratégies individuelles légitimes mais le fait que l’organisation d’une marche des fiertés relève d’une stratégie politique institutionnelle. Contre les attaques subies par les camarades qui organisent la marche, nous serons évidemment toujours solidaires. Loin de nous l’idée de se désolidariser de luttes que nous avons en commun.


Karim Benbélache – SOS Homophobie hors de nos cités !

SOS Homophobie hors de nos cités !

Intervention de Karim Benbélache lors du premier Decolonial Café de DSN à Paris, le 19 mai 2019.

En 2010 Marine Le Pen déclarait, dans sa parole logiquement raciste ” Dans certains quartiers, j’entends de plus en plus souvent qu’il il ne fait pas bon être femme, ni homosexuel, ni juif, ni même français ou blanc… “, stigmatisant une fois de plus les habitant.e.s des quartiers populaires non blanc.he.s d’être notamment plus sexiste et homophobe qu’ailleurs. Depuis l’idée a germé. En décembre 2018 l’association SOS homophobie annonce sa volonté de s’implanter dans ces mêmes quartiers se justifiant de statistiques floues de la dilcrah de cas d’agressions et donc se faisant le relais de la parole raciste du plus important mouvement de l’extrême droite française.

SOS Homophobie, moi pédé arabe je ne veux pas de vous dans mon quartier populaire racisé, je ne veux pas de votre universalisme blanc, de vos leçons paternalistes et donc colonialistes sur nos droits, sur nos sexualités et nos identités ni que tout cela serve à gonfler vos rapports, vos chiffres et donne de bons points à vos dirigeants blancs pour qu’ils trouvent de bonnes places dans les institutions telle que la DILCRAH soi-disant antiraciste mais qui consent aux politiques racistes islamophobes, aux lois cyniques telle que la loi dite “asile et immigration” qui dramatise la situation des réfugié.e.s des pays postcoloniaux et dans lesquels la France intervient militairement, des politiques de préférence nationale imposées aux étudiants étrangers, du passage de l’état d’urgence dans le droit commun, du refus de mettre fin aux politiques de répression, des contrôles au faciès, de violences policières dans nos cités et de l’impunité de ces mêmes policiers.

Ce ne sont pas vos “token” vos personnes racisées LGBT centrés sur une homophobie soi-disant plus importante “en banlieue pauvre” dont on ne peut prouver une réelle existence mais dont le sport favori semble être de cracher sur les minorités fragilisées auxquelles ils appartiennent. Voici donc que ces tokens là jamais ne dénoncent les politiques racistes, les inégalités, sociales et ne développent aucune analyse pertinente de l’homophobie dont ils font aussi l’objet pas plus que SOS Homphobie apparemment. Au final jamais les LGBTI racisées des quartiers populaires ne seront convaincus de la légitimité de ces vendus et des associations LGBT dites républicaines à faire accepter l’instrumentalisation de nos identités et de nos sexualités à des fins stigmatisantes et donc discriminantes.

Nous queer racisé.e.s sommes aussi des héritiers des luttes décoloniales et antiracistes, de la guerre d’Algérie jusqu’aux collectifs queer antiracistes et décoloniaux autonomes en passant par la marche de l’égalité de 1983, nous savons nous auto-organiser et nous auto-gérer pour lutter ensemble contre les LGBTphobies que nous vivons au quotidien et pour l’essentiel loin de nos cités mais d’abord dans nos emplois : de l’entretien d’embauche aux journées de travail, face à la police, face à la justice, dans les prisons, face au corps médical, face aux institutions scolaires de l’école républicaine à la fac, face aux agents de pôle emploi, face aux assistantes sociales de secteur, face à l’OFPRA et enfin dans les beaux quartiers, terrain et terreau de l’extrême droite et de la manif pour tous, où il ne fait pas bon y être pauvre, noir.e, arabe, pédé, gouine ou trans.

Nous considérerons toujours qu’au coté de la résistance contre les LGBTQIphobies il y a dans nos priorités les luttes antiracistes, féministes, écologiques et sociales. Ne nous libérez pas, on s’en charge.

SOS homophobie hors de nos cités !


Karim Benbélache, 41 ans, bisexuel, militant Queer et Antiraciste. Il habite le Kremlin Bicêtre et a passé toute sa vie en banlieue sud de Paris. De formation école de commerce mais discriminé à l’emploi il a passé sa vie active à survivre avec le RSA.

Caster Semenya vs IAAF – Gee Imaan Semmalar

Caster Semenya vs IAAF: Believing that testosterone is a superhuman hormone is a masculinist myth

Gee Imaan Semmalar [with inputs from Dr Sylvia Karpagam and Nadika Nadja]

This post initially appeared in Firstpost on Saturday 4 May 2019


On May 1st, 2019 the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) new rules that make it mandatory for women athletes whose bodies produce high levels of testosterone to lower their  levels to less than 5 nmol/L for 6 months before competing in track events from 400m up to the mile. While this is a huge setback for South African athlete, Caster Semenya who appealed against the IAAF rules last year, this also sets back our discourse on sex/gender by at least a decade.

Since the 1936 Olympics, high performing athletes like Stella Walsh of Poland and Helen Stephens of the United States who  competed in the female category, have been questioned about being “male imposters” and subjected to physical examinations.German athlete Dora Ratjen, is often portrayed as part of a Nazi scheme to fraudulently pass off a man as a woman at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. However, police and medical records of the time show, that Dora was an intersex person, raised as female but who identified as male since the age of 10, never revealing it to anyone. In fact, some narratives talk about Dora’s relief at being found out and his social transition to Heinrich Ratjen (in today’s nomenclature, he would have possibly identified as a trans man with intersex variations or an intersex trans man).

Subsequently, suspicions among countries fuelled by the Cold War and anxieties about the unmanageability of gender categories prompted international sports administrators by mid-1940s,to seek medical “femininity certificates” to verify the sex of  athletes competing in female categories. By the 1960’s it was decided that individual nations could not be trusted to certify their own athletes and a mandatory genital check was introduced by international sporting authorities. This was replaced by a chromosomal test in the late 60’s. If history should have taught us a lesson, it is that gender testing is never conclusive due to the fact that the categories of gender difference, like racial differences, were made on flimsy, unscientific grounds with too much diversity within a category to really be separable. However, here we are in 2019, with the IAAF asking athletes competing in the female category to fit into a predetermined hormonal range, or chemically alter themselves till they conform to the range. This is based on yet-to-be proven grounds that higher levels of testosterone provides significant advantage in athletics. In an ironic moment I wished that the IAAF fantasy of testosterone boosting performance was true. As a trans man who competed in track events successfully when my testosterone was in the “female range” and who huffs and puffs up flights of stairs now that my testosterone is in the “male range”, I know only too well how far from reality this simplistic fantasy is. Testosterone as a superhuman power generating hormone is just a masculinist myth.

If we were to expand on the point about advantages, don’t athletes from the Global North with better training facilities, access to sports physicians, healthcare, equipment  and nutrition have an unfair advantage over the athletes from the Global South who don’t have the same resources? Furthermore, Sylvia Karpagam, public health doctor and nutrition specialist says, “When making population level measurements, the blood range only gives an idea of what applies to a majority. This doesn’t automatically mean that those who lie outside this range are “abnormal”. They can only be called as outliers.The acceptable ranges also change according to developments in medical science. For example, the cut-off for diabetes is currently being revised. This means that people who were being diagnosed and treated as diabetic before, are  now within the ‘normal’ range and don’t even need medications.The role of nutrition should also not be underestimated. In India, it is a fact that those who eat beef are likely to have stronger muscle mass.Considering India’s caste prejudices, it won’t be long before there is a call to exclude beef eaters from sports for having ‘undue advantage”.

In the Indian context, dalit athlete from Tamil Nadu, Shanthi Soundarajan faced humiliating gender tests and disqualification after finishing second in the 800 meters at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha. While South Africa has stood staunchly by Caster Semenya’s ten year long struggle, the Indian Athletics Federation leaked Shanthi’s reports to the media resulting in a brutal campaign against her which ended in a suicide attempt by the athlete. In a cruel twist of logic, Shanti who was not allowed to compete as a woman, was paid lower wages at the brick kiln she later worked at (due to women being paid less than men). More recently, Shanthi Soundarajan has filed a Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) case  against her colleagues at the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu, where she works as a coach.In 2014,  Dutee Chand from Orissa won the gold in both the 200-meter sprint and the 4-by-400-meter relay at the Asian Junior Athletics Championships in Taipei, Taiwan. Following “suspicions” over her gender, the Athletics Federation of India subjected her to a non consensual ultrasound along with routine blood and urine tests at a clinic in Delhi. Based on the reports submitted to the IAF, she underwent invasive gynaecological tests, chromosomal analysis and MRIs, the results of which were leaked to the media. In 2015, Dutee Chand appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against her disqualification which led to a three-judge panel concluding that the role of natural testosterone in athleticism remains unknown. They sought scientific evidence from IAAF and sus­pended the hormone regulation policy until July 2017.

The evidence the IAAF subsequently published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine was criticised for containing a number of errors. In fact, the World Medical Association (WMA) — representing physicians from 114 national member associations — has strongly rejected the IAAF policy on testosterone regulation. WMA President Dr. Leonid Eidelman said in a statement published on their website, ‘We have strong reservations about the ethical validity of these regulations. They are based on weak evidence from a single study, which is currently being widely debated by the scientific community. They are also contrary to a number of key WMA ethical statements and declarations, and as such we are calling for their immediate withdrawal’. Apart from there not being any conclusive scientific evidence on testosterone providing significant advantage in sports, it is pertinent to look at the differences in how synthetic testosterone intake (doping) and natural testosterone acts on the body. The ability of the body to process natural testosterone depends on receptor function and this has not been taken into consideration in the recent public debates around hyperandrogenism.

There have been compelling arguments made by critics of this hormonal regulation policy.  The biological differences like disproportionately vast wingspan and double-jointed ankles that gave Michael Phelps significant advantage as a swimmer, was in contrast, celebrated rather than scrutinised and condemned. Dr Silvia Camporesi, bioethicist and senior lecturer in the Department of Global Health & Social Medicine at King’s College, London, has pointed out that differences in Hemoglobin receptors can cause higher red blood cells and if the RBC count is 50% more than others, it is like being naturally doped, significantly improving performance. Finnish cross-country skier Eero Mäntyranta, who was born with a genetic mutation that increased his haemoglobin level to about 50% enjoyed the privileges of his biological difference without censure. Why then, are the bodies of women athletes, particularly black women athletes and women athletes from the global south, under constant scrutiny, subjected to invasive tests and public trials?

The racist gender bias in sports is evident when we look at the ways in which the bodies of top black women athletes like Serena Williams have been subjected to inappropriate scrutiny and sexualization. Caster Semenya is the youngest in a long line of black women who have faced similar experiences. The mandatory rule of chemically altering her testosterone level is violative of her bodily integrity and human rights. Caster Semenya, an openly queer black woman has been nonchalantly advised to suppress her natural testosterone using contraceptives. This is highly insensitive apart from being medically unnecessary and violative. Caster Semenya may have intersex variations, but she identifies as a woman. It is her inalienable right to contest in sports without having to subject herself to arbitrarily fixed biological determinants of gender. Making a third sporting event or enforcing conformity to the gender binary in biologically deterministic ways will not help the sporting world out of this conundrum. Gender diversity exists in the human world and is reflected in the field of sports. Unfortunately, a lot of people are unaware of this fact.

In 2014, Caster Semenya was awarded the Order of Ikhamanga, a recognition of significant achievement, by the President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma.The proclamation said she was “one of the most well-loved daughters of the soil who won hearts of many by making running look like poetry in motion.” I wish we could say that we honoured and stood with our Indian women athletes the same way.