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Introduction: Trans Travels and Trans Trajectories

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Part of the Global Queer Politics book series (GQP)

Abstract

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.

Keywords

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

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Trans- (n.d.). Dictionary.reference.com. Retrieved May 30, 2015, from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/trans-.

  2. 2.

    Chapter Two of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Act no. 108 of 1996 at 7.1.

  3. 3.

    “Once it is accepted, as it must be, that persons within our territorial boundaries have the protection of our courts, there is no reason why ‘everyone’ in sections 12(2) and 35(2) should not be given its ordinary meaning. When the Constitution intends to confine rights to citizens it says so”. Source: Lawyers for Human Rights and Other v Minister of Home Affairs and other (CCT 18/03) [2004] ZACC 12; 2004 (4) SA 125 (CC); 2004 (7) BCLR 775 (CC) (9 March 2004) Section 27.

  4. 4.

    It is far easier to access hormonal care than surgical interventions. Asylum seekers pay a reduced fee at public hospitals to access hormonal care. The access points are limited to a handful of public hospitals across the country. These spaces are often overburdened and struggle to manage demand. Source: Theron, Liesl et al., ‘Rooted in the Past Reaching for the Future: Report of the 2nd Trans* Health and Research Conference’ (Cape Town, 1 December 2014).

  5. 5.

    The Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the Republic of South African. (1996). Government Gazette (No. 17678).

  6. 6.

    South African Refugees Act, no. 130 of 1998.

  7. 7.

    UN General Assembly, Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, opened for signature 28 July 1951, United Nations, Treaty Series, 189 UNTS 137 (entered into force 22 April 1954), available from http://www.refworld.org/docid/3be01b964.html.

  8. 8.

    UN General Assembly, Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, 31 January 1967, 606 UNTS 267, available from http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b3ae4.html.

  9. 9.

    Organization of African Unity (OAU), Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa (“OAU Convention”), 10 September 1969, 1001 UNTS 45, available from http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b36018.html.

  10. 10.

    Section 9(3) of the Bill of Rights in the South African Constitution, referred to as the ‘Equality Clause’. The clause affirms the rights to non-discrimination and equality on the basis of sexual orientation and gender respectively, amongst other grounds.

  11. 11.

    A 2010 decision in the South African labour court regarding the unfair dismissal of a trans person further suggests a possible reading of gender to include gender identity/expression. Source: Ehlers v Bohler Uddeholm Africa (Pty) Ltd 2010 (JS296/09) [2010] ZALC 117; (2010) 31 ILJ 2383 (LC) (13 August 2010).

  12. 12.

    This has been stated on several occasions in Portfolio Committee meetings, in order to establish how South Africa comes to a definition of ‘refugee’ and accompanying rights in comparison to other countries. Source: Refugee Amendment Bill: Department of Home Affairs Briefing. (NCOP Social Services) (2008). Cape Town: Parliamentary Monitoring Group.

  13. 13.

    Susan Stryker, ‘Transgender Studies 2.0 New Directions in the Field’, 9 December 2011, http://koensforskning.ku.dk/trans/stryker.pdf.

  14. 14.

    It must be noted that I read ‘the state’ here not as a monolithic singular entity but as comprised of multiple sites and actors. These perform many functions, which are suggestive of an underlying logic that reproduces, configures, and polices the arrangement between gender and sex in specific ways. See: Paisley Currah, ‘Homonationalism, State Rationalities, and Sex Contradictions’, Theory & Event 16, no. 1 (2013).

  15. 15.

    This formulation draws from Gayle Rubin who asserts that socio-political relations within a given society contain mechanisms that convert sex to gender. Within these, sex is often understood as natural and immutable. Source: Gayle Rubin, ‘The Traffic in Women: Notes on the “Political Economy” of Sex’, in Toward an Anthropology of Women, ed. Rayna R. Reiter (New York: Monthly Review, 1975), 157–210.

  16. 16.

    Susan Stryker, ‘The Transgender Issue: An Introduction’, GLQ: A Journal of Gay and Lesbian Studies 4, no. 2 (1998): 149.

  17. 17.

    Martin F. Manalansan IV, ‘Queer Intersections: Sexuality and Gender in Migration Studies’, International Migration Review 40, no. 1 (2006): 226.

  18. 18.

    Gayle Rubin, ‘Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality’, in Culture, Society and Sexuality: A Reader, ed. Richard Parker and Peter Aggleton (London and New York: Routledge, 2007), 169.

  19. 19.

    Surya Monro and Lorna Warren, ‘Transgendering Citizenship’, Sexualities 7, no. 3 (2004): 345–362.

  20. 20.

    Steven Epstein, ‘A Queer Encounter: Sociology and the Study of Sexuality’, Sociological Theory 12, no. 2 (1994): 188.

  21. 21.

    Harold Garfinkel, Studies in Ethnomethodology (Social and Political Theory) (London: Polity, 1991).

  22. 22.

    Susan J. Kessler and Wendy McKenna, Gender: An Ethnomethodological Approach (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1978).

  23. 23.

    Henry Havelock Ellis, Studies in the Psychology of Sex (London: Random House, 1940).

  24. 24.

    Harry Benjamin, The Transsexual Phenomenon (New York: The Julian Press, 1966).

  25. 25.

    Richard von Krafft-Ebing, Psychopathia Sexualis (New York: Arcade Publishing, n.d.).

  26. 26.

    James Money, ‘Hermaphroditism: An Inquiry into The Nature of a Human Paradox’ (Harvard University, 1952).

  27. 27.

    Magnus Hirschfeld, Transvestites: The Erotic Drive to Cross Dress (New Concepts in Human Sexuality) (New York: Prometheus Books, 1991).

  28. 28.

    Sandy Stone, ‘The “Empire” Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto’, in The Transgender Studies Reader, ed. Susan Stryker and Stephen Whittle (New York: Routledge, 2006), 221–235.

  29. 29.

    Kate Bornstein, Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us (New York: Vintage, 1995).

  30. 30.

    Jack Halberstam, ‘Butch/FTM Border Wars and the Masculine Continuum’, GLQ: A Journal of Gay and Lesbian Studies 4, no. 2 (1998): 287–310.

  31. 31.

    Jason Cromwell, ‘Passing Women and Female Bodied Men: (Re)Claiming FTM History’, ed. Stephen Whittle and Kate More (London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 1999), 34–61.

  32. 32.

    Key texts include: Stone, ‘The “Empire” Strikes Back’; Leslie Feinberg, Transgender Warrior (Boston: Beacon Press, 1997); Rikki Anne Wilchins, Read My Lips: Sexual Subversion and the End of Gender (New York: Firebrand Books, 1997); Jack Halberstam, Female Masculinity (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1998); Jason Cromwell, Transmen and FTMS: Identities, Bodies, Genders and Sexualities (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999); Henry Rubin, Self-Made Men: Identity and Embodiment among Transsexual Men (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2003); and Susan Stryker, ‘My Words to Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix’, in The Transgender Studies Reader, ed. Susan Stryker and Stephen Whittle (New York: Routledge, 2006), 244–256.

  33. 33.

    See:⁠ Janice Raymond, The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male (Athene Series) (New York: Teachers College Press, 1994).

  34. 34.

    Erin Calhoun Davis, ‘SITUATING ‘FLUIDITY’: (Trans) Gender Identification and the Regulation of Gender Diversity’, GLQ: A Journal of Gay and Lesbian Studies 15, no. 1 (2009): 97–130.

  35. 35.

    Stone, ‘The “Empire” Strikes Back”.

  36. 36.

    Bornstein, Gender Outlaw.

  37. 37.

    Patricia Elliot, ‘Engaging Trans Debates on Gender Variance: A Feminist Analysis’, Sexualities 12, no. 5 (2009): 6.

  38. 38.

    Elliot, ‘Engaging Trans’.

  39. 39.

    Elliot, ‘Engaging Trans’, 5.

  40. 40.

    Tam Sanger, ‘Trans Governmentality: The Production and Regulation of Gendered Subjectivities’, Journal of Gender Studies 17, no. 1 (2008): 41–53.

  41. 41.

    Jason Lim, Kath Browne, and Gavin Brown, ‘Introduction, or Why Have a Book on Geographies of Sexualities?’, in Geographies of Sexualities: Theory, Practice and Politics, ed. Jason Lim, Gavin Brown, and Kath Browne (Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing, 2007), 8.

  42. 42.

    Although this work is not without critique.

  43. 43.

    Judith Butler, Gender Trouble (New York: Routledge, 1990), 89–90.

  44. 44.

    Butler, Gender Trouble, 263.

  45. 45.

    Butler, Gender Trouble, 89–90.

  46. 46.

    David Valentine, ‘“I Went to Bed with My Own Kind Once”: The Erasure of Desire in the Name of Identity’, in The Transgender Studies Reader, ed. Stephen Whittle and Susan Stryker (New York: Routledge, 2006), 409.

  47. 47.

    Gayle Rubin and Judith Butler, ‘Sexual Traffic’, Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 6, no. 2 (1994): 97.

  48. 48.

    Jay Prosser, Second Skins: The Body Narratives of Transsexuality (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998).

  49. 49.

    Prosser, Second Skins.

  50. 50.

    Halberstam, Female Masculinity, 164.

  51. 51.

    Halberstam, Female Masculinity.

  52. 52.

    Talia Bettcher, ‘Trapped in the Wrong Theory: Rethinking Trans Oppression and Resistance’, Signs Journal of Women in Culture and Society 39, no. 2 (2013): 383–406.

  53. 53.

    Trish Salah, ‘Subaltern’, TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly 1, no. 1–2 (2014): 202.

  54. 54.

    Thamar Klein, ‘Intersex and Transgender Activism in South Africa’, Liminalis 3 (2009): 15–41.

  55. 55.

    Ruth Morgan and Saskia Wieringa, Tommy Boys, Lesbian Men and Ancestral Wives (Johannesburg: Jacana Media, 2005).

  56. 56.

    Amanda Lock Swarr, ‘Moffies, Artists, and Queens’, Journal of Homosexuality 46, no. 3–4 (2004): 73–89.

  57. 57.

    Guy S. Goodwin-Gill, ‘Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees Protocol 1951 Relating to the Status of Refugees 1967’, United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law, 2008, 1–9.

  58. 58.

    Goodwin-Gill, ‘Convention Relating’.

  59. 59.

    Kelly Kollman and Matthew Waites, ‘The Global Politics of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Human Rights: An Introduction’, Contemporary Politics 15, no. 1 (9 March 2009): 4–5.

  60. 60.

    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.

  61. 61.

    Susie Jolly and Hazel Reeves, ‘Gender and Migration: Overview Report’ (Brighton: Bridge/Institute of Development Studies, 2005), 11.

  62. 62.

    Sima Shakhsari, ‘Transnational Governmentality and the Politics of Life and Death’, International Journal of Middle East Studies 45, no. 2 (2013): 340–342.

  63. 63.

    Nan Alamilla Boyd, ‘Bodies in Motion: Lesbian and Transsexual Histories’, in The Transgender Studies Reader, ed. Susan Stryker and Stephen Whittle (New York: Routledge, 2006), 430.

  64. 64.

    Halberstam, Female Masculinity, 148.

  65. 65.

    Vivian K. Namaste, Invisible Lives: The Erasure of Transsexual and Transgendered People (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000).

  66. 66.

    Namaste, Invisible Lives, 269.

  67. 67.

    James D. Wilets, ‘Conceptualizing Private Violence Against Sexual Minorities as Gendered Violence: An International and Comparative Law Perspective’, Albany Law Review 60, no. 989 (1997): 1043.

  68. 68.

    Pseudonyms along with only regional, instead of national, origins have been used to protect the identities of the participants who took part in this project.

  69. 69.

    Alex.

  70. 70.

    Stella.

  71. 71.

    Tricia.

  72. 72.

    All interviews have been transcribed in their original in an effort to respect the language use, narrative, and sentence structure of second-language speakers.

  73. 73.

    Ava.

  74. 74.

    Akraam.

  75. 75.

    ‘Sasha’, Interview with ‘Sasha’, 2008, ‘Gender Dynamix Collection – GAL108’, Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action Archive William Cullen Library, University of the Witwatersrand.

  76. 76.

    Kelly.

  77. 77.

    Josephine Opar, ‘A Story Of Radical Love And Acceptance In “The Pearl Of Africa”’, Okay Africa, 15 December 2015, http://www.okayafrica.com/news/radical-love-and-acceptance-in-the-pearl-of-africa/.

  78. 78.

    Josephine Opar, ‘A Story Of Radical Love’.

  79. 79.

    For Susan Stryker there is cause for concern regarding a type of ‘progress narrative’ prevalent in the United States, in particular where transgender issues have become the “next big thing” following the ‘achievement’ of gay rights. See: Nicole Pasulka, ‘The Academic Behind the Media’s “Transgender Tipping Point”’, theawl.com, 14 May 2015, http://www.theawl.com/2015/05/the-academic-behind-the-medias-transgender-tipping-point.

  80. 80.

    Christopher Carbone, ‘Redefining Realness: Janet Mock’s Journey to Womanhood’, Slate, 3 February 2014, http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2014/02/03/janet_mock_on_redefining_realness_an_interview_with_the_transgender_author.html.

  81. 81.

    Katy Steinmetz, ‘The Transgender Tipping Point – America’s Next Gender Frontier’, Time Magazine, 9 June 2014.

  82. 82.

    Alok Vaid-Manon, ‘Greater Transgender Visibility Hasn’t Helped Nonbinary People – Like Me’, The Guardian, 13 October 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/oct/13/greater-transgender-visibility-hasnt-helped-nonbinary-people-like-me.

  83. 83.

    Jorge Rivas, ‘Meet the Transgender Immigrant Activist Who Interrupted President Obama’, fusion.net, 3 August 2015, http://fusion.net/story/175990/jennicet-gutierrez-interrupted-president-obama/.

  84. 84.

    Diana Tourjée, ‘Why Do Men Kill Trans Women? Gender Theorist Judith Butler Explains’, Broadly, 16 December 2015, https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/z4jd7y/why-do-men-kill-trans-women-gender-theorist-judith-butler-explains.

  85. 85.

    Trudy Ring, ‘These Are the Trans People Killed in 2018’, 25 July 2018, https://www.advocate.com/transgender/2018/6/04/these-are-trans-peoplekilled-2018.

  86. 86.

    Louise Redvers, ‘Transsexual Artist Titica Takes Angola by Storm’, BBC Online, 12 April 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-17628726.

  87. 87.

    Louise Redvers, ‘Angola’s Transsexual UN Ambassador’, osisa.org, 7 October 2013, http://www.osisa.org/lgbti/blog/angolas-transsexual-un-ambassador.

  88. 88.

    Iranti Media, They Want to See Me Dead, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-L6vMR4d_dY.

  89. 89.

    Victor Mukasa, ‘Uganda Is Home’, Immigration Equality, 10 October 2013, http://www.immigrationequality.org/tamaras-journey-a-story-of-hope/.

  90. 90.

    Victor Mukasa, ‘Kuchu Diaspora Alliance-USA | Who We Are’, Kuchu Diaspora Alliance-USA (blog), accessed 5 April 2017, https://www.kuchudiasporaalliance.org/who-we-are.

  91. 91.

    Shamiso F.V. Chigorimbo, ‘Africa: International – Where Are Diverse Gender Identities in the Sixteen Day Campaign?’, allafrica.com, 27 November 2015, http://allafrica.com/stories/201511271282.html.

  92. 92.

    Lydia Matata, ‘Identifying as Neither Male Nor Female, Some Kenyans Seek a Third Option on Official Documents’, globalpressjournal.com, 2 December 2015, http://globalpressjournal.com/africa/kenya/identifying-neither-male-nor-female-some-kenyans-seek-third-option-official-documents.

  93. 93.

    Matata, ‘Identifying as Neither’.

  94. 94.

    Emmanuel Igunza, ‘Gay Ugandans Regret Fleeing to Kenya’, BBC News, 10 November 2015, sec. Africa, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-34764968.

  95. 95.

    Jeffrey Moyo, ‘Transgender Ricky Nathanson Speaks Out’, newzimbabwe.com, 27 February 2014, http://www.newzimbabwe.com/NEWS-14620-Transgender+Ricky+Nathanson+speaks+out/NEWS.aspx.

  96. 96.

    Mamba Writer, ‘DSTV Gives in to Nigerian Bigotry, Pulls Trans Teen Series’, mambaonline.com, 27 October 2015, http://www.mambaonline.com/2015/10/27/dstv-gives-nigerian-bigotry-pulls-trans-teen-series/.

  97. 97.

    Mamba Writer, ‘DSTV Gives in’.

  98. 98.

    Demelza Bush, ‘Genderqueer: Existing Outside the Binary’, Bhekisisa, 10 April 2015, http://bhekisisa.org/article/2015-04-10-00-i-am-genderqueer-comfortable-with-my-identity-at-last/.

  99. 99.

    Sipho Kings, ‘Transgender Woman Goes on Hunger Strike over ID Application’, Mail and Guardian, 9 October 2014, http://mg.co.za/article/2014-10-09-transgende-goes-on-hunger-strike-over-id-application/.

  100. 100.

    Sandile Ndelu, ‘UCT: Trans Collective Listen! The Time for Black Poor Queer Trans* Womyn Has Arrived’, Facebook, 17 September 2015, https://www.facebook.com/transfeministcollective/videos/1044182025648513/%20trans%20people.

  101. 101.

    Lerato Matheka, ‘Lesotho Opens up to Transgender Way of Life’, Public Eye Online, 1 January 2015, http://www.publiceyenews.com/site/2015/06/12/lesotho-opens-up-to-transgender-way-of-life/.

  102. 102.

    Ludovica Laccino, ‘Cameroon Frees Seven Transgender People Arrested for Violating Anti-Gay Law’, International Business Times, 10 October 2014, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/cameroon-frees-seven-transgender-people-arrested-violating-anti-gay-law-1469435.

  103. 103.

    Alexandra Sandels, ‘Memoir Sheds Light on the Life and Struggles of Arab Transsexual from Algeria’, Los Angeles Times, 30 March 2010, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/babylonbeyond/2010/03/algerialebanon-randa-the-trans-tells-life-of-an- arab-transsexual-in-new-memoir.html.

  104. 104.

    Pablo García and Marc Serena, Tchindas (Producciones Doble Banda S.L., 2015).

  105. 105.

    Melissa Castillo-Garsow, ‘An Odyssey to Asylum’, gaycitynews.nyc, 1 January 2005, http://gaycitynews.nyc/gcn_353/anodysseytoasylum.html.

  106. 106.

    James Findley, ‘Call Out to Support Trans Refugees Settling in Melbourne’, gaynewsnetwork.com.au, 30 October 2014, http://gaynewsnetwork.com.au/news/call-out-to-support-trans-refugees-settling-in-melbourne-15538.html.

  107. 107.

    Lana Lam, ‘Transgender Asylum Seeker Says She Turned to Prostitution to Survive’, South China Morning Post, 17 November 2013, http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1358103/transgender-asylum-seeker-says-she-turned-prostitution-survive.

  108. 108.

    New Zealand Herald, ‘Transgender Refugee Says NZ Paradise’, New Zealand Herald, 30 August 2014, http://mobile.nzherald.co.nz/news/article.php?c_id=1&objectid=11316450.

  109. 109.

    Sima Shakhsari, ‘Transnational Governmentality and the Politics of Life and Death’, International Journal of Middle East Studies 45, no. 2 (2013): 340–342.

  110. 110.

    Katy Migiro, ‘Barry’s Story: A Transgender Man from Burundi – Refugee Stories’, UNHCR.org, 10 June 2014, http://stories.unhcr.org/gay-kill-p4136.html.

  111. 111.

    UNHCR, ‘Stabbed 58 Times, Transgender Woman Flees El Salvador’, UNHCR.org, 8 December 2015, http://www.unhcr.org/566699f76.html.

  112. 112.

    Gavin Fisher, ‘A Transgender Woman from Iran Still Struggles to Be Accepted in Vancouver’, CBC News, 3 August 2014, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/iranian-transgender-refugee-struggles-for-acceptance-1.2725554.

  113. 113.

    ‘Bradford Transsexual Asylum Seeker Fears Abuse’, BBC News, 28 November 2013, sec. Leeds & West Yorkshire, http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-leeds-25136829.

  114. 114.

    Susan Stryker, Transgender History (Berkley: Seal Press, 2008).

  115. 115.

    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’.

  116. 116.

    Prosser, Second Skins.

  117. 117.

    Halberstam, Female Masculinity.

  118. 118.

    Sara Ahmed, Strange Encounters: Embodied Others in Post-Coloniality (New York: Routledge, 2000).

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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. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-92669-8_1

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