29 November 2012

Kenya: Transgender Rights Not Simply Gay Rights


There is a systematic ploy to erase the transgender community, experiences and lives. The ubiquitous actions that are slowly expunging transgender people from our civilisation and their pernicious nature are weighing heavily on the transgender community.

It's worth dissecting the issue of human rights activists to get a better perspective of how their activism is of benefit to transgender people.

Luckily, there is a growing momentum in the transgender community to ensure the restoration of the dignity and autonomy of the community. There is a plethora of pitfalls - and mostly among the people who are targeted for re-education about the transgender concept.

Richard Feynman, an American physicist, once said that if you think you understand quantum mechanics then you don't understand quantum mechanics.

Without the fear of sounding cocky, I will say this: if you think you really think you understand the transgender concept, then there is a chance you don't have the slightest clue what it is all about, and might never be able to get it.

The field of human rights activism targeting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community is overflowing with fundamental flaws on the subject and issues of transgender people.

The problem is further compounded by a similar lack of awareness among a large section of the donor community. The result of course is that you end up having a huge chunk of funds being utilised to marginalise and spread misinformation about transgender people.

While I appreciate and recognise people's freedom of speech - the right to say anything under the sun or moon (but away from the police) - and that there are communities out there who have been vilified and their rights violated, I will not don kid's gloves in addressing the matter at hand due to the people involved. This is an educational approach and it would be immature for anyone to blow a gasket because they have been told they are wrong.


There are a number of stereotypes about women: they are soft, don't fight back, are timid, cry for no reason, walk swinging their hips and, the most ubiquitous one, they all have broken wrists.

There is a whole array of laws transsexuals have to abide by, some extending to who they should date. This phenomenon is referred to as gender-normative garbage.

Some activists refer to it as hetero-normative (they are wrong) but that's a topic for another day. Pamela Hayes reveals that transgender women get entrapped by this to the point of being defenceless in the face of oppression.

"Some transsexuals are so concerned with how they appear to people, that they come across like robots. I have been in the company of transwomen who seem like they have no personality. They are so preoccupied with being sweet and ladylike that they come off acting like a machine.

"So many times, transwomen have been out in public and have been insulted by a store clerk or have had people to get in their face and utter pejoratives... "Why didn't you say something to the person who insulted you?" ... "But I don't want to be unladylike."

"I don't think saying something derogatory to someone who has insulted you is being unladylike. And maybe transwomen need to knock it off with this perpetual ladylike garbage. Sometimes you can't be ladylike. Circumstances preclude that."

This gender policing means that transgender women have to conform to these laws or face censure, which can take the form of being called a man in a dress, sissy boy or bottom.

At times the pain of seeing what transgender people have to put up with is so intense you nearly get an anger stroke. For example, we all recall the arrest and trial of Auntie Tiwonge and her boyfriend Steven in Malawi that sparked condemnation from local and international human rights fora.

Despite the evident transgender status of Tiwo, these activists humiliated her over and over again for them to perpetuate the gay agenda in Africa.

Instead of these activists taking the opportunity to educate others about the transgender concept and challenge the lack of laws that cater for people who are changing sex, they branded her and her boyfriend as male homosexuals. It's only after their release that some gay activist made token noise that Tiwonge is indeed transgender, but the damage had already been done.

This gaynisation trend by some gays among gays is spectacularly unnecessary and in fact yields more transphobia by some gays and lesbians towards transsexuals.

What consequences are there as a result of this mislabelling? Homosexuality is criminalised in Kenya - note the difference for some gays and lesbians to say that LGBT people are criminalised (it's wrong).

You go around telling members of the public LGBT people are the gay community (but being transgender does not make one gay), then a transgender woman goes to the hospital for gender reassignment.

Don't you think she will be denied access to medical services because the doctors will think by providing hormones and surgery to her they are assisting to legalise homosexuality? And, extrapolate the same on changing names in identification documents like the ID card.

Additionally, transgender people are more visible than gays and lesbians. During and after the transition, the parents/guardians or family and relatives will actually know about the transition (unless they are blind).

Then amidst these 'difficult' times, they see some LGB individuals calling transgender people gays/homosexuals. What will be the reaction? They form a twisted and wrong picture of who their daughters or sons are.

Note that I am not saying it is okay for gays to be denied access to medical services. But you cannot turn transgender people into sacrificial lambs for the sake of activism. You are messing up people's lives and surely they never gave you their consent for you to do so. Who loses out of this misinformation?

And let's consider the ever-ridiculous habit of the images that LGBT organisations use to depict transgender people. What happens is they use a picture of a person busy applying a tonne of make-up and a wig.

Then this person has to have features that are meant to say 'it's a man putting on make-up', or a picture of a person with a very hairy torso and in a dress.

This results in the world believing that transgender people are female impersonators, pretending to be women and going late at night to get unsuspecting straight men to sleep with them. They get accused of the crime of deception, which results in hostility and violence against transgender people.

Most people would point out at my imbalanced perspective of the dynamics of the LGB and transgender activism. There are some gays who are mature and don't oppress transsexuals.

I totally agree but am not in the business of counting evil sheep. I have so far refrained from making sweeping generalisations about gays and lesbians.

Not all gays and lesbians oppress transgender people and in fact some great strides that have benefited transgender people have been made with the support of some gays and lesbians.

And still there are people who are not gays and lesbians or bisexuals who have also made significant contributions in the lives of transgender people.

We appreciate all these contributions but that should not preclude us from challenging all forms of oppression by the LGB community. If it's a trade where some gays help us in return for us acquiescing our identities and lives and take on theirs then that's unacceptable and we shall resist it to our graves.

- This is an edited version of an article Audrey Mbugua did for an online magazine last year.

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