An Open Letter to the One-in-Nine Campaign

 

… in Response to the Exclusion of Transgender and Intersex Persons in the Feminist Political Education Training

The divisions in an already fragile women’s movement in South African are not helpful.

Dear colleagues

It is with great disappointment that we learnt about the exclusion of transgender and intersex persons from a feminist political education training, presented by the One in Nine Campaign. We were truly shocked when a colleague forwarded to us an invitation for the Feminist Political Education 2013 Programme, which set out, amongst others, the following requirement:

The course is open to female-born people who are not male-identified.

This requirement effectively sets out to exclude transgender and intersex individuals from the course. Asked about this blatant exclusion, 1 in 9 campaign director, Carrie Shelver responded as follows:

“I am glad that you raised these concerns with us directly and we welcome the opportunity to respond and share with you our ideas and thinking. I need to forward your email to the board of the Campaign so that we can collectively respond to the issues raised with the seriousness they warrant. I am cc’ing Pumla Gqola, One in Nine Campaign Chair of the board. I hope you will give us a few days to do this. Once we have sent this through we would also be happy to meet and discuss it in person with you and others who may be interested”.

The final response from the One in Nine Campaign came on 23 February 2013 from which we drew two very disturbing implications:

“The organisation (One in Nine) is not an LGBT organisation, even though many of the active members identify as lesbian, bisexual and gender non-conforming. Based on our analysis of social oppression and our capacity to respond, the campaign focuses its limited resources on developing leadership of female born people who are socialized as women and who live their lives within the social category women and whose access to resources and spaces are accordingly determined and so frequently under attack”.

The interpretation of this sentiment wishes to imply privilege on the part of transgender and intersex women in South Africa. This is not a true reflection of the lived experiences of this group of vulnerable women often excluded from mainstream personal development opportunities, and the denial of basic human rights such as education, exacerbate this context for transgender and intersex women in South Africa.

“The criteria for the One in Nine Feminist Political Education Program is an articulation of patriarchal values. As a woman, I was born intersex, socialized as a woman and lived within the social category of woman. Intersex women also experience limited access to resources, their lives and health are frequently under attack, and therefore, you can never imply privilege on my part”. – Nthabiseng Mokoena, Transgender and Intersex Africa (TIA).

“On 13 April 2013, the One in Nine Campaign is called all on LGBTI persons to gather for a public mass meeting to discuss Joburg Pride. As much as we don’t support the privatisation of our sexual identities, as has been the case with Joburg Pride. We find it ironic that Transgender and Intersex person affected by Joburg Pride is called upon to support this initiative, however, the One in Nine Campaign in not clear on its partnerships in a broader feminist agenda that advances all women and feminists irrespective of how society has biologically imposed an identity. The One in Nine Campaign seems to affirm this very state construction of gender which goes against the human rights approach taking place in other countries”. – Jabulani Perreira – Iranti-org.

Carrie went on to explain that in the past “One in Nine Campaign had very successful collaborations with a broad range of progressive organisations – including those that work with men, including gay and transgender men and women”.

This statement echoes the very problematic categorization of gender, gender identities and sexual orientations. From where we are, this seems to echo the conglomeration of both gender identities and sexual orientations into one big category of masculinity and masculine identities. This does not speak to the autonomy of transgender people as an identity separate from those of both cisgender and gay men. Moreover, this places transgender women on a very masculine spectrum of identities. With all due respect, no feminist, no women and no person can determine the gender identity of another human being, least of all, the expression thereof. Says Liesl Theron of Gender DynamiX: “This is an articulation of 1970’s, second wave feminism characterised by a very transphobic attitude”.

S.H.E, the social, health and empowerment FEMINIST collective of transgender and intersex women of Africa is an organisation established in 2010 to address the concerns and issues of transgender and intersex women through feminist analysis. We have organised and established ourselves to advocate against the very attitude portrayed by the One in Nine campaign.

We are familiar with this mentality of exclusion and have long been advocating against it. What is particularly disappointing about this instance is that it plays off against the backdrop of an already very fragile women’s sector.
At S.H.E, we advocate for women, all women, despite the fact that our name mentions only transgender and intersex women. We advocate for transgender and cisgender sex workers alike. Our work in the Amanitare coalition on sexual and reproductive health rights had a broad focus and as an organisation, we particularly voiced for rural, HIV+, transgender & intersex women, and sex workers. Our focus has always been to create an enabling legal and policy environment for all women.

“If you can recall, I was one of the women in the audience at a presentation on the IPAS tool used in surgical abortions at the People’s Healthy Assembly during July 2012. This was not because I want to force myself and the organisation I represent in cisgender women spaces but because abortion rights is a cross cutting issue in all our communities. Again, with women at the centre of this problem, as a transgender woman, I fully support abortion rights for ALL women, even those gender non-conforming. The same goes for all the other women issues like breast cancer, domestic violence, discrimination in employment and high HIV rates amongst women. These issues and many others we support for transgender and cisgender women alike. We do this because we don’t believe in the creation of categories of women. This is the very tendency that creates hierarchies of power, the same hierarchies of power visible in patriarchy. What we need, as a country right now, is to look beyond our differences and recognise the bigger issues that oppress and marginalise women”.– Leigh Ann van der Merwe – S.H.E

An interesting question on which we are pondering is whether this sentiment is supported by all the members of the One in Nine Campaign? We do believe that your membership comprise some transgender and intersex supportive organisations and it would be interesting to find out whether or not they support the sentiment uttered by the secretariat.

“On 13 April 2013, the One in Nine Campaign has called all on LGBTI persons and organisations to gather for a public mass meeting to discuss Joburg Pride. As much as we don’t support the privatisation of our sexual identities, as has been the case with Joburg Pride. We find it ironic that Transgender and Intersex person affected by Joburg Pride is called upon to support this initiative, however, the One in Nine Campaign in not clear on its partnerships in relation to its broader feminist agenda that advances all women and feminists irrespective of how society has biologically imposed an identity. The One in Nine Campaign seems to affirm this very State construction of gender which goes against the human rights approach taking place in other countries,” says Jabu Pereira, Director of Iranti-Org.

We believe this attitude is merely taking us backward and breaks down an already fragile feminist and human rights movement.

We urge the One in Nine Campaign to do away with this discriminatory requirement for participation in this training course. It echoes inequality and discrimination, the very qualities that we see in the transphobic societies in which we live and survive each day of our lives. I am ending my letter with a quote from the transgender feminist, Julia Serano:

“Feminism is based on the conviction that women are far more than merely the sex of the bodies that we are born into, and our identities and abilities are capable of transcending the restrictive nature of gender socialization we endure in our childhoods”. Love and kinship are two of the most central tenets of feminism.

We trust our words will find a place in your hearts and minds. Moreover, we hope this letter will set off some much needed dialogue to bridge the divide that exists.

We shall await a response from you.

Best regards
Leigh Ann van der Merwe – coordinator S.H.E

This letter is endorsed by the following organisations:
Gender DynamiX
Transgender and Intersex Africa
Iranti-org

A Response to “Definitely Not Gaysbian” Article

On the 1st of March 2013, we at Transgender and Intersex Africa read a piece on the Inkanyiso website titled “Definitely Not Gaysbian” (link below).The article was interesting as it discussed one of the most “taboo” subject within South African LGBTI community, but it was also confusing for us.

What caught our attention was the definition of gaysbian. The definition in the article read as follows; “The term Gaysbian is used for people who are gay men/trans-woman dating butch lesbians/trans-man.” From our understanding the term “gaysbian” came from a combination of two words, ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’, in other words a combination of two words expressing sexual orientations. So what were the words “transman” and “transwoman” doing in this definition? These are gender identities not sexual orientations. The definition made use of forward slash signs (/) allowing the juxtaposition of the names in use, in other words from the definition we could deduce four statements that “define” gaysbian;
Gaysbian is used for people who are gay men dating butch lesbians.
Gaysbian is used for people who are trans-women dating butch lesbians.
Gaysbian is used for people are gay men dating trans-men.
Gaysbian is used for people who are trans-men dating trans-women.

So from the four statements, the only statement that can stay true to the definition of gaysbian is statement one, when a gay man dates a butch lesbian. Including trans*people in this definition is both disrespectful and contributing to the misunderstanding of transgenderism.

When a trans*woman dates a butch lesbian, is it a “gaysbian” relationship? The trans*woman is not a gay man, she identifies as a woman and she is dating a woman. So in this relationship one of them is a lesbian woman and the other is a trans-woman, a gender identity. The trans* woman might be homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, etc. but she definitely is not a gay man, so the definition of “gaysbian” does not apply in this context.

When a trans*man dates a gay man, he is a male identifying person dating another male identifying person, they might both be gay (when we consider their sexual orientation), yes there are gay trans* men, in this case none of them is lesbian, so how can we use the “gaysbian” term to define their relationship?

When a trans* man dates a trans* woman, this is a relationship between a man and a woman, who both might be heterosexual, so how can we call this “gaysbian”?

Transgender is an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity or gender expression does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth. Transgenderism is primarily about gender identity and gender expression. Transsexual refers to people who wish to undergo sex reassignment surgery to align their bodies to their gender identity. “Trans” could either mean a transgender person or a transsexual person. From the definition “transwoman” or “transman” could either mean that these people are just transgender or they are transsexual. So here is a scenario, if a transsexual woman dates a butch lesbian, is it a” gaysbian” relationship? No it’s a relationship between two women.

The structure of the definition also indicated one of the biggest problems within the South African LGBTI community; the continuous clustering of transwomen with gay men and the clustering of transmen with lesbians, as if “gay men “ and “transwoman” is the same thing or butch lesbian and transman is the same thing. As already stated they cannot fall into the same boxes, clustering transwoman with gay men is disrespectful to their gender identity and it is a constant reminder of the body they were born in regardless of their identity, a gay man is a man and a trans* woman is a woman. The same goes for transmen; it is disrespectful to cluster them with lesbians, as if the two are synonyms of each other. A lesbian woman is a woman and a trans* man is a man.

Yes, a lot of transwomen “hangout” with feminine gay men and a lot of transmen “hangout” with butch lesbians, but it is not the same these identities are not the same and should not be treated as if they are the same, gender identities in this context differ and that cannot be ignored. Many trans* people use the LG community as an “entry point” in other words a point to discover yourself and build social circles before you “truly” come out or identify as trans*, but we cannot continue to label a person as a gay man even at the point when they have discovered themselves and are identifying as female.

One of the most dangerous forms of this “clustering” is within HIV/AIDS studies, you will realize that in most cases when it comes to HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns, transwoman are put in the same category as gay men and MSM individuals. This has then created a situation where the majority of transwomen then choose not to read or access this HIV/AIDS prevention information because it does not explicitly respect their gender identity but rather concentrates on the bodies they were born in and equates their situations to those of gay men.

Gender identity politics and Queer politics are complicated but we just need to learn to respect each other and remember that as we try to fight heteronormativity we must not in the process create homonormativity.

_____________________
About the Author
Nthabiseng Mokoena is an Advocacy Coordinator at Transgender and Intersex Africa (TIA)

2013 Mar.1: Definitely NOT “Gaysbian”
… But a Relationship between Two People
by Yaya Mavundla & Lesego Tlhwale