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Introduction: Trans Travels and Trans Trajectories

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Part of the Global Queer Politics book series (GQP)


In recent years we have seen a new phenomenon in Africa’s long history of migration: the journeying of people fleeing persecution, violence and discrimination on the grounds of their gender identity/expression. This chapter terms these people ‘gender refugees’—people who can make claims to refugee status, fleeing their countries of origin based on the persecution of their gender identity. ‘Gender refugees’ are different from sexual refugees in that their issues pertain to their gender identity and birth-assigned sex being perceived as incongruent. Drawing on life story interviews carried out between 2013 and 2015 with gender refugees, living in South Africa, along with documentary and archival work, this chapter explores how, when, and under what circumstances transgender-identified individuals from countries in Africa are made to journey, forced to seek refuge not just elsewhere but in South Africa specifically. This chapter presents some of the gender refugees that have journeyed to South Africa, considers how the term ‘transgender’ travels and provides a brief overview of transgender visibility on the African continent currently.


  • Transgendering
  • Human rightsHuman Rights
  • Transgender Studies Reader
  • Transgender Women
  • Refugee Stories

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-92669-8_1
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    Although this work is not without critique.

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    In 1996, South Africa became one of the first countries in the world to protect people from discrimination on the basis of sex, gender, and sexual orientation. To what extent it was believed that ‘gender’ encompassed transgender in the imagining of the Constitution is questionable; regardless, transgender groups have slowly won rights utilising this non-discriminatory stance since 1996. This has been perhaps most visible in the advent of Act 49, 2001, The Alteration of Sex Description and Sex Status Act, which allows for legal adjustment of one’s sex on identity documents without having to undergo surgery. In light of international norms and laws which often require invasive surgery before gender identity can be re-assigned, this law in and of itself is ahead of many of its Western counterparts. South Africa also allows for access to biomedical care and body-altering surgery in order to address the needs of those transgender people who wish to transition. Access is often difficult and costly but the state does provide a handful of surgeries yearly.

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    Though outdated and considered by many to be deeply offensive ‘sex change’ was the accepted terminology, particularly in South Africa, for the time period under discussion. For historical accuracy I use it here. As the book moves into the contemporary period I use ‘gender-affirming healthcare’.

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Camminga, B. (2019). Introduction: Trans Travels and Trans Trajectories. In: Transgender Refugees and the Imagined South Africa. Global Queer Politics. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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