Finding Community, Finding Rights: The ‘Common Sense’ Paradox
Transgender-identified refugees living in South Africa, rather than accessing safety and refuge, continue to experience significant hindrances to their survival comparable with the persecution experienced in their country of origin. What welcomes gender refugees in South Africa is not a gender-free egalitarian utopia but rather a society constructed in similar ways to the ones they have left—with concomitant gendered norms and expectations. The only difference is the presence of rights, healthcare, and perhaps a term of self-description in slightly wider circulation—transgender. In day-to-day life, readings of sex/gender in interactions with communities and individuals continue to be based on ‘common sense’—classification based on the assumption gender is obvious, clear, and legible and coheres to male/masculine/man and female/feminine/woman. This ‘common sense’ reading reignites the processes of exclusion experienced in countries of origin ensuring that, rather than being acknowledged and protected, gender refugees, because they are read as violating the rules of normative gender, find themselves paradoxically with rights, but unable to access traditional asylum support structures.
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