30 responses

  1. Eric
    May 22, 2010

    They’re queer. That’s enough for me.

  2. Stefano A
    May 22, 2010

    Jim:

    I think you have an excellent take on this, regarding gender identity versus a gender role that is adopted and the misperception that may create in the “West”.

    I would think, as well, that Peter Tatchell, ILGA and others who have been in frequent (if not constant contact with the couple) would have been conscientious about referring to Tiwonge as transgender if that was how Tiwonge self-identified.

  3. Stefano A
    May 22, 2010

    As a tangent, this also is reflective, I think, on why Native Americans prefer the term “two spirited” as it also reflects this dichotomy of “Anglocentric” (for lack of a better term) perceptions between gender identity and any gender role(s) an individual may assume which may be situationally dependent.

  4. anteros
    May 23, 2010

    …the things i learn at BTB!

    i remember noticing some of the things you mentioned about how Tiwonge presents herself, but for some reason i didnt think about what that probably meant. i didnt even question whether “gay” was an accurate, appropriate, or acceptable term to describe Tiwonge, especially from Tiwonge’s perspective.

    it’s a classic illustration of the link between homophobia and misogyny… a link that some people refuse to acknowledge.

    i’ve also noticed the same or similar patterns elsewhere in africa. remember the ugandan ex-gay (survivor?) george “georgina” oundo? during a tv talk show, oundo once gave a definition of transgender that i hadn’t heard before… according to oundo, transgendered refers to a transitional stage between being a “heterosexual male” and becoming a “homosexual female” (not a lesbian)… all of that being the result of alleged “recruitment” into homosexuality – that’s according to george “georgina” oundo… the same dude who went showing off his ex-gay credentials on ssempa’s blog, including stuff like not wearing tight clothes anymore. i remember another ugandan ex-gay paul kagaba describing himself as having been “the man” in his same-sex relationships, implying that his same-sex partners were “the women” in those same-sex relationships. i cant help but think it goes beyond sex roles (top/bottom) and includes some traditional african gender roles. some would seem to identify as female sometimes and other times, male.

    thanks for posting this.

  5. anteros
    May 23, 2010

    …the things i learn at BTB!

    i remember noticing some of the things you mentioned about how Tiwonge presents herself, but for some reason i didnt think about what that probably meant. i didnt even question whether “gay” was an accurate, appropriate, or acceptable term to describe Tiwonge, especially from Tiwonge’s perspective.

    it’s a classic illustration of the link between homophobia and misogyny… a link that some people refuse to acknowledge.

    i’ve also noticed the same or similar patterns elsewhere in africa. remember the ugandan ex-gay (survivor?) george “georgina” oundo? during a tv talk show, oundo once gave a definition of transgender that i hadn’t heard before… according to oundo, transgendered refers to a transitional stage between being a “heterosexual male” and becoming a “homosexual female” – not a lesbian, but a man who has sex with men while increasingly identifying as female by gradually changing names from male to female (iteratively perhaps?), and changing how they present themselves (clothing, make-up etc). all of that being the result of alleged “recruitment” into homosexuality – that’s according to george “georgina” oundo… the same dude who went showing off his ex-gay credentials on ssempa’s blog, including stuff like not wearing tight clothes anymore. i remember another ugandan ex-gay paul kagaba describing himself as having been “the man” in his same-sex relationships, implying that his same-sex partners were “the women” in those same-sex relationships. at the time i remember thinking that both kagaba and oundo were really confused or that they were phony ex-gays being paid to brandish their ignorance on LGBT identities. now it kinda looks like i was the ignoramus.

    i cant help but think it goes beyond sex roles (top/bottom) and includes some traditional african gender roles. some would seem to identify as female sometimes and other times, male. i wish i could understand this better, it sounds fairly complicated or at least “new” to me.

    thanks for posting this.

  6. anteros
    May 23, 2010

    oops! didnt mean to double-post. i accidentally posted that first comment before it was complete. sorry about that!

  7. tavdy79
    May 23, 2010

    I’m not so sure that transgender is an inappropriate as you think, Timothy. True, Tiwonge probably doesn’t qualify as what we in the West would think of as trans, however the way you describe her does sound very much like a hijra, twospirit or genderqueer person – and we are typically thought of as being part of the trans community.

  8. GrrrlRomeo
    May 23, 2010

    Okay, transgender person convicted of homosexuality then. I don’t think it matters how the people identify, they were convicted of homosexuality where homosexuality is still a crime.

    I think what’s probably more important then these political identity games we play here, is that homosexuality is still a criminal offense in parts of the world in which both gay and trans people get convicted for.

    It’d be great if folks didn’t project the political issues of their community onto other communities. There are even local communities in the US that don’t draw sharp distinctions between gay and trans.

  9. GrrrlRomeo
    May 23, 2010

    Tavy, even if Tiwonge were Genderqueer the relationship would be homosexual as it would be a same sex, yet differently gendered. Some gay people are trans and some trans people are gay. Genderqueer people can be of any sexual orientation. It’s not an either or thing.

  10. Jefe
    May 23, 2010

    I am a sociologist who studies LGBTI communities in South Africa, and from my point of view your analysis here is spot on. The South African context should not be easily mapped onto Malawi either, but nonetheless it is clear that there are many people here who slip back-and-forth between gay and trans identities in ways that would not be easily recognized in the “West.” Our guiding principle should always be to foster environments in which every individual can cultivate his or her or hir own identity in the terms that make the most sense to that person. It is thus both appropriate to note the complexities of Tiwonge’s self-presentation as we currently know them, and to leave the ultimate question of Tiwonge’s identity to the only person qualified to make that judgment: Tiwonge.

  11. paul canning
    May 23, 2010

    As I’ve just told Jim, Peter Tatchell has been trying to establish this.

    Send a letter or postcard of support to Steven and Tiwonge. In this difficult time, they need to know that people around the world love and support them. Get all your friends to do the same. Write to:

    Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza, Prisoners, Chichiri Prison,
    P.O.Box 30117, Chichiri, Blantyre 3, Malawi

    Make a donation by post or BACS electronic transfer to the Malawi Defence Campaign, organised the UK-based LGBT organisation OutRage!

    OutRage! will use all money donated to support Tiwonge and Steven with food parcels, medicine, clothes, blankets etc. and to help fund the campaign for their release.

    By BACS electronic transfer:
    Account name: OutRage
    Bank: Alliance and Leicester Commercial Bank, Bootle, Merseyside, GIR
    0AA, England, UK
    Account number: 77809302
    Sort code: 72-00-01
    For electronic transfers from overseas (outside the UK), please
    ADDITIONALLY quote these codes:
    BIC: ALEIGB22
    IBAN: GB65ALE1720001778093 02

    By cheque:
    Write a cheque payable to ?OutRage!? and send to OutRage!, PO Box 17816, London SW14 8WT. Enclose a note giving your name and address and stating that your donation is for the Malawi Defence campaign.

  12. Charlie Butler
    May 23, 2010

    I think there’s much to be said for this analysis – and the view that western categories such as ‘gay’ and ‘transgender’ may not accurately reflect the way the Ms Chimbalanga sees herself.

    Reporting has to take place in some terms, however. What is clear is that, as you say, she sees herself as a woman. She has repeatedly referred to herself as such, uses a woman’s name, wears women’s clothing, does “women’s work”. Moreover, her former employer claims to have been unaware that Tiwonge had male genitals until she was forced to strip in front of her, which surely indicates that she presented as female. Given that, I can’t see why the question of which are the appropriate pronouns to use in western media reports even arises.

    Since, despite all the above the western media were more or less universally labelling this as a story of two gay men, it’s hardly surprising that both trans and intersex activists have objected. (The latter because Ms Chimbalanga reports menstruating through her penis – a possible symptom of an intersex condition that the New York Times report, in an astonishing act of erasure and appropriation, speculated might be “the imagined claim of a gay man in a repressed society desperate to think himself a woman.”

    Of course, this couple were convicted under the anti-gay laws of a highly homophobic government. What is surprising is that the western media have been so docile in following that court’s lead in their descriptions of the case. This does seem worthy of comment.

  13. Jim Burroway
    May 23, 2010

    anteros,

    Thanks for the real-world examples you’ve provided. The examples I had in mind (and examples that I chose not to name since I didn’t have their position) were among people who are still very active within the East African LGBT community as well, so this is not just a phenomenon of confused “ex-gays.”

    I also agree that this easy sliding back and forth between the masculine and feminine identities appear to go beyond the mere identification of “top/bottom.” That’s how it appeared to me at first blush, and it still appears to be a major determining factor because there is a huge amount of discussion about who “plays the man” and who “plays the woman.” But like you, I strongly suspect that there’s much more to it than that.

    I understand the very real “silent T” problem we have in the LGBT community here in North America and elsewhere around the world, and the eagerness that exists to identify heroes and martyrs to illustrate the problems and hurdles faced by the transgender community. That said, we should not that no matter how silent the T’s are, the most “silent T” right now is Tiwonge.

  14. Jim Burroway
    May 23, 2010

    Eric, Re:

    They’re queer. That’s enough for me.

    When I was mentally formulating this post through the day yesterday, I was going to say something along those lines, but forgot it when I sat down to write.

  15. paul j stein
    May 23, 2010

    Lets just say that “western religious value” have f***ed up every place they have “evangelized”. Traditional African culture would not have a problem with any of this. Thank You Christian Missionaries! Christ would no doubt be very pleased.

  16. Regan DuCasse
    May 23, 2010

    This is why I love this site and the contributions also of Pam’s House Blend.

    We have, right in our midst, some other opportunities to discuss women, particularly women who are exceptional in the media, because they are unmarried and up for consideration in less traditional roles for women.
    Consider, Elena Kagan and Condoleeza Rice for example.

    Their sexual orientation has been the subject of debate essentially because they ARE single women, AND have expressed no specific disagreement with laws concerning gays and lesbians.
    Simple support of non discrimination laws and their principles have been enough to set the anti gay on crusades against them and the positions they have been considered for.

    Countries like Malawi, Uganda and so on have been fertile ground to plant seeds for evangelicals.
    Who, are becoming more and more resentful that their power to do the same here is less likely.

    As a woman who has NEVER been compliant with ‘gender norms’ in most things, I can relate to this issue.

    Rigid roles assigned to a person BECAUSE of their gender, and not individual character or ability, is something you wouldn’t think we’d be debating at all.

    And such examples of rigidity and direction, taken FROM ancient, Biblical and Q’uranic cultures to extend into THIS century, is more and more inappropriate.
    Some places want to blur modern traditions with ancient directives.
    Willing to do that, rather than accept the actuality of gender as blurred.

    Why IS the issue of gender and ‘non conformity’ one at all?
    Certainly, this is about IDENTITY.
    But is knowing ‘what is what’ more important, than ‘who is who’?
    And even more important, is discussing why gender and gender based sexuality one of morality?

    After all, ethics and morality is essentially about how one human being TREATS another.
    Not what gender they are, or is attracted to.
    My concern is, even religious based directives are about how to treat another person and in that principle who is doing the most harm.

    This misogynist based issue requires despotic assumptions that females are not only inferior, but deserve to be treated badly as well.
    So a good question is: why bad treatment and servile social status?
    Is this the legacy of an intelligent, civilized culture, or one that is barbaric and arrogant?

    Even Western traditions, and advances in education should be more ahead on that.

    Which is why, Kagan’s sexuality, orientation and intelligence and qualifications for SCOTUS, shouldn’t be at issue any more than Rehnquist’s was.

  17. Karen Ocamb
    May 23, 2010

    Jim -

    Thank you for this very thoughtful post. I am embarrassed to confess that I have been referring to Tiwonge and Steven as a “gay couple” – relying on reporting from other sources. Though I’ve noted in my stories for my blog and for Frontiers In LA that Tiwonge considers herself a woman, I did not think it through sufficiently as you and Autumn have done.

    In response to a comment on one of my stories, I emailed Peter Tachell to ask his advice. I think you’ve answered my question.

    Thank you for holding up a mirror to me as a journalist. “No time and too many stories” is no excuse not to strive for the greatest degree of accuracy possible and in this case, that meant a thoughtful follow-through on how Tiwonge identified herself. My apologies.

  18. Mark F.
    May 23, 2010

    The problem with lumping transgendered people in with homosexuals is that we are talking about entirely different things. As a gay man, I don’t want to be a woman (not that there is anything wrong with that), but I am annoyed when people think there is some sort of connection between homosexuality and being transgendered person.

    I think it would be better for transgendered people if they had their own seperate libertation movement instead of latching their horses to the gay wagon. It certainly confuses the heck out of people, that’s for sure.

  19. Charlie Butler
    May 24, 2010

    Mark F.: Gender identity and sexual orientation are certainly different things, and yes it’s confusing to some people. But there’s a reason why they are part of the same movement, and this case actually illustrates it very starkly. Tiwonge Chimbalanga has been persecuted under anti-gay laws by a homophobic court, despite the fact that she is no more a gay man than you are a straight woman. Why? Because our persecutors don’t tend to trouble themselves with the distinctions that seem so fundemental and obvious to you and me. A gay man in drag? A heterosexual transvestite? A trans woman? All very different people, but not to the hater who’s looking to beat up a “faggot” on the street. It’s even more obvious in schools, where young children get taunted as “gay” not usually because they’ve expressed same-sex preference, but because they’ve stepped outside prescribed gender boundaries.

    In short, we’re kind of stuck with each other, so I guess we should try and make the best of it!

  20. Jason D
    May 24, 2010

    “The problem with lumping transgendered people in with homosexuals is that we are talking about entirely different things.”

    Not really, both issues are wrapped up in gender and sexuality. What you are, and who you do it with.

    As a gay man, I don’t want to be a woman (not that there is anything wrong with that), but I am annoyed when people think there is some sort of connection between homosexuality and being transgendered person.

    And that’s it right there. They don’t know, nor care that there is a difference between gay and transgender. Like it or not, the oppressors see us as the same, and our issues overlap constantly. When you look at a queer person, is this a masculine lesbian, a feminine gay man, a transgender person? You or I may know, or not really care, but the oppressor just sees a sexually abnormal person.

    I think it would be better for transgendered people if they had their own seperate libertation movement instead of latching their horses to the gay wagon. It certainly confuses the heck out of people, that’s for sure.

    Better for who? Better for you? Certainly not better for them. Whether we gain anything is highly suspect as well.

    You’re under a common misconception. They didn’t latch onto anything. They are and have been part of our community since the beginning, Mark. There wasn’t a point where they saw us and decided to jump on the wagon, they didn’t sneak into the party: they’ve been here the whole time. They’re one of the hosts.

    What you may not realize is that the PHB author quoted here, Autumn, joined the DADT protestors who handcuffed themselves to the fence last month. Autumn is not a hanger-on, she is an asset, an activist who’s fighting as much for your freedom as she is for her own. It’s a shame you can’t see the value in that.

  21. Timothy Kincaid
    May 24, 2010

    Imagine a meeting between a woman who recently immigrated from Tanzania and a black man who was raised in South Carolina. They likely have no language, religion, culture, or experiences in common.

    But they have more melanin in their skin and that is quite enough for those who might choose to hate or mistreat them. And although this is surely an inconsequential shared common trait (wouldn’t almost anything be more meaningful than melanin?), it is what makes them “community”.

    So to do gay men, lesbians, and transgender people often have little in common. Other than that – like the black South Carolinan and the Tanzanian – those who hate us can’t tell us apart.

  22. Rob
    May 24, 2010

    Your argument is only concerning about identity and semantics. Transgender and intersexuality are not cultural phenomenons or social constructions; they are universal across all cultures, time periods, and is even documented in the animal kingdom. This is hardly a euro-centric view, it is based on empirical and objective observations. Constructions such as two-spirited, kathoey or hirja are only interpretations of the transgender phenomena.

    This reminds me a lot of the so-called Cairo declaration of human rights, where the Muslims claimed that the concept of religious freedom and woman’s rights are solely western ideas. It’s a crock that must be fought to the bitter end. Just because the West arrived coherently to those principles first, doesn’t mean it has a monopoly on it.

  23. Jim Burroway
    May 25, 2010

    Rob,

    First of all, it is rather arrogant to suggest that the Western way of constructing gender and seuxality is the only way or the most advanced way.

    Because of the way we construct gender as being based on traits, gender ends up being looked upon as being much more static. In other cultures — and it appear to me that some African cultures apply here — gender is much more dynamic, and in some cases perhaps even situational. Our L/G/B/T boxes generally don’t account for that, but it does not mean that it is any less valid of an experience.

    But most importantly, and I cannt emphasize this enought, Tiwonge hasn’t declared whether he or she is gay or transgender. And this is precisely why I’ve avoided using BOTH terms to describe Tiwonge.

    You might be interested in reading a letter that UK activist Peter Tatchell wrote to Karen Ocamb. Tatchell has been in closer contact with Tiwonge and Steven than virtually anyone else. Here is his letter. The key parts are:

    Tiwonge has not stated clearly to my contacts in Malawi how he/she wants to be referred to.

    I have arranged Malawian prison visitors for the last four months. I have got them to ask Tiwonge about his/her gender identity but the answers are unclear.

    I will get them to keep asking.

    It would be wrong to refer to Tiwonge as ’she’ and ‘transgender’ unless we have express instructions / permission to do so from Tiwonge.

    In the meantime, in my statements I have avoided labels like ‘gay’ and ‘he’; although I have referred to them as men as this is what they are legally, biologically and in terms of this prosecution.

    Although they have been convicted of homosexuality, I suggest that we do not refer to Steven and Tiwonge as a ‘gay couple’ until these issues are clarified.

    Currently, there is a measles outbreak in the jail, so last weekend’s prison visitors were not allowed to speak to S and T (only to hand them food parcels). The good news is that despite the very harsh 14-year sentence both men seemed cheerful and positive.

    Tiwonge has seen parts / some of my news releases and raised no objections to the way I have described him/her. I would have altered the wording if this had been requested.

  24. Urie
    May 25, 2010

    It seems a bit counter-productive at this point to be worrying about pronoun usage or labels when two people are rotting in jail. Let’s get them out first and then figure out the political correctness of the situation. As for Ms. Sandeen, she seems to have an enormous chip on her shoulder which is why I quit reading her daily diatribes.

  25. Jason D
    May 26, 2010

    Urie, you’re oversimplifying, this isn’t political correctness, far from it. I generally find that when someone complains of “politcal correctness” it’s because they either don’t care or don’t understand the issues involved.

  26. Timothy (TRiG)
    May 26, 2010

    Political correctness: Calling people what they want to be called. We used to call it being polite. Nothing wrong with that.

    TRiG.

  27. Harriet
    May 29, 2010

    I’m sorry if this has already been brought up, I haven’t read the comments that thoroughly.

    I accept that different cultures have different understandings regarding gender and I don’t question that. I would like to say, though, that transgender is used as an umbrella term for anyone who’s gender identity and assigned sex do not neatly align. From this I’d say that Tiwonge fits the bill perfectly. From the original post and the comments, it looks like people are confusing transgender with transsexual.

    Excuse me if I’m wrong – just wanted to throw that out there.

  28. Jim Burroway
    May 29, 2010

    Harriet,

    I understand exactly what you are saying. I think however before we impose in Tiwonge a label, we should wait and see what label Tiwonge uses.

    We understand gender as being somewhat fixed, whether it matches birth sex or not because we think of gender as a rough set of traits which are less changeable. Many other cultures look at it in terms of roles.

    So if for example, Tiwonge is speaking about gender roles when saying he or she “identifies as a woman” rather than gender traits as we typically do here in the West, then labeling Tiwonge as a transgender person would be inspprppriate. Otherwise, househusbands everywhere would become transgender, as a more extreme example. but they aren’t, if only because househusbands generally present their gender appearance according to their gender role

  29. Kai
    May 29, 2010

    “He or she” may be nicely encompassing of all possibilities, but it’s also a way of disengaging from the responsibility of respecting what she has said about herself.

    It’s not that I think that it’s impossible that Ms. Chimbalanga may want to be referred to as “he.” I just think that we needn’t insist on her telling us her whole life story before we make a logical deduction. It’s awfully demanding to require her to say more than any other woman about her womanhood before we will call her “she.” She has told us enough for us to figure it out.

    When I first came out as trans, sometimes people would literally pause and skip saying a pronoun in the middle of a sentence when referring to me (“Is [pause] going to come with us?”). To me, it is plainly obvious that I wanted to be referred to as the gender that I had just told them I was. This seems to be a similar situation to me. I wanted people to make that intuitive leap and figure out the obvious–if I just told you I identify as male, you should probably start calling me “he.”

    Regarding Peter Tatchell, his letter reveals his own biases. He says that without more information it is wrong for us to call her she, yet he is fine with referring to her as a man? I get the feeling he simply does not understand trans issues. Given that, he’s probably either asking the wrong questions, or lacking insight about the answers he’s getting.

  30. Lincoln Rose
    June 1, 2010

    This is a fine example of sensitive, multi-faceted discussion. And it’s a great job of being an ally across cultures.

    I think I will point people to this when they’re wondering how to speak about trans issues when they’re uncertain.

    Thanks BTB!

Leave a Reply

 

 

 

Back to top
mobile desktop