Six days ago on the 31st of March 2016, the world commemorated the International Transgender Day of Visibility. Due to a lack of holidays dedicated to the Transgender (Trans) community, this day seeks to celebrate transgender people and raise awareness to the different forms of ill-treatment that they face on a daily basis. To get an in-depth perspective on the transgender community ahead of this important holiday, I wanted to do a whole lot more than just reading. A few days ago, I sat down with Lindokuhle from The Rock of Hope; an organisation that supports and celebrates the LGBTI (Lesbian, Gays, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex) community here in Swaziland. Our discussion centred on the lives of the transgender community in this country and the ways in which various sectors respond to them. This article is the first in a four part series and I kindly request that you gather this information with an open and non-judgemental mind.
For African states and their populations, the term ‘LGBTI’ means a whole host of things and sadly most conclusions are either hateful, ignorant or misguided. Before we go on, it is imperative that we define key terms that will form a basis of understanding, and hopefully translate into acceptance, supportive treatment and equality for our brothers and sisters. The first term is ‘sex’. Please don’t get excited, we are not talking about that sex! Sex in this instance refers to the characteristics (biological, genetic or physical) that we are born with and are subsequently used to group us as male or female. For example, after your mother endured those agonising hours in labour, you slipped out, the Doctor looked at your genitals and assigned you a sex. Next on the list is ‘gender’; a term used to define social, psychological and emotional traits that are often influenced by societal expectations that classify an individual as ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’. We are talking about how society traditionally classifies males to be masculine (strong, breadwinner, etc.) and females as feminine (emotional, babysitter, etc.). The awakened amongst us know that people don’t always conform by these labels but most people still cannot even begin to imagine how someone can be born as ‘a boy’ but identify as ‘a girl’ or vice versa.
This brings us to our next term, ‘gender identity’. Your gender identity is your personal, internal sense of being male, female, both or maybe even neither. The main point to consider, especially in relation to transgender people, is that gender identity might not correspond to the sex that the Doctor declared when he or she peeked in between your thighs. It’s your identity, its personal and you can’t fake it hence you expect society to accept it. ‘Gender expression’ is an extension of your identity and involves the way you express it through clothing, speech patterns or behaviour traditionally linked to how we read masculinity or femininity. The last term of focus for today is ‘sexual orientation’. Simply put, who are you emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to? The opposite sex (straight)? Same sex (lesbian or gay)? Both sexes (bisexual)? Or maybe you have little to no attraction for either sex (asexual)?
As you can see; gender, attraction and sexuality are not as straight forward (excuse the pun) as we think. These concepts are multi-layered and our discussion today only managed to scratch the surface. Make sure to tune in for Episode Two next week as we take a more detailed look at some of the day to day challenges for the transgender community in Swaziland.
CHRISTIAN SEKA FLEMING
Christian was born in Rwanda, has lived in 9 African countries and currently resides in Swaziland. Over the past 5 years he has specialised in Communication, working in the entertainment, health and developmental arenas. In 2016, he will be serving within the African Union Commission’s Youth Division in Addis Ababa as a Communication & Advocacy Associate. Chris is also a passionate young Pan-Africanist blogger and columnist who tackles various issues ranging from human rights to politics with a key focus on the African continent and its youth.