Gender Dynamix

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Open letter to the One in Nine Campaign

Published April 11, 2013 by transfeminists

11 April 2013

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

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.

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.

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“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.

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

Saartjie Baartman Centre

Klipfontein Road

Athlone

Tel: 021 6335287

Email: info@genderdynamix.org.za

Transgender and Intersex Africa

2249 Block F

 Soshanguve

 Pretoria

Tel: 012 7972612

 Email: nthabi.tia@gmail.com

Iranti-Org

 House of Movements

123 Pritchard Str

 Floor 4, Room 404

Johannesburg

Tel: 011 3331015

Email: getinfo@iranti-org

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So what is it with the make-up?

Published August 7, 2012 by transfeminists

The application of make-up to the face and a shield to the sould

Greetings dear friends of S.H.E, social, health and empowerment feminist collective of transgender and intersex women in Africa.

Wow, that’s a mouthful, isn’t it? Following a very hectic last week of training, we kick off this week with another morsel straight from the coordinators pen. In this piece of writing, I want to unpack the issue of make-up. Yes, make-up!!! As unusual a topic it would seem, this plays a big role in the lives of most transgender women I know and believe it or not………..the simple topic of make-up has gained sharp criticism for transgender women.

I’ve always got a little irritated with all the layers and layers of make-up transgender women tend to apply everyday. I apply make-up everyday, so i find it a little hypocritical when I get so annoyed at other trans women applying make-up and making themselves presentable to the world. For me, this presentation centers on one belief, the more the make-up, the bigger the affirmation of their female chosen gender. And this brings me to a burning question. Who decided that make-up and femininity are co-requisites? Well, I know women are programmed from a very young age to apply the foundation, add some colour to the eyes and top off with a nice colourful lipstick. Like most women, transgender women follow this almost religious regimen every morning. And so, when I applied my make-up one morning over the weekend, I thought of unpacking this issue of the context of womenhood, femininity and gender affirmation.

Acceptance of their gender is a top priority for most transgender women. But we tend to associate womenhood with red lipstick, hair extensions and high heels! This also speaks to the sexualization of transgender women. The higher the heel, the longer the extension and the brighter the lipstick, the bigger the sexual fetish around it. I meet gentlemen who question whether I am really trans because, apart from the little eyeliner and vanishing cream, I dont do red lipstick, bright nailpolish and I am particularly put off by weaves and hair extensions. All these things are not unique issues to trans women only. These are stereotypes perpetuated by everyday women, especially sex workers who “create” a “beautiful” concept and we play right into the hands of patriarchy becoming the visual, sexual stimulation sought by men. Without making the conversation too academic, basically we play into the vision men create for us!!!!

Taking men out of the spotlight and not blaming them for all we experience, my reflection on the single issue of make-up points me back to self confidence and security. As a set rule, I would never leave the house without make up, even to buy bread and milk at the corner cafe. For me, it comes back to the way that it makes me feel about myself because social programming has kicked in a long time ago to believe that a woman is no more than her red lips and blossy cheeks. Yes, even my brain is wrapped around that kind of thinking!

During this woman’s month of 2012, I want to encourage transgender and intersex women to explore the issue of make-up, hair and high heels in the context of social femininity. I want all the beautiful trans and intersex sister to realise that we be not defined by all this superficial stuff. No! I’m not saying take it all off. I just want you’ll to be cognisant that you are more than your hair. To the haters out there.

Transgender woman from Pretoria, South Africa

The next time you walk past a sister who slapped her mask on that morning, please stop going: “Girl, what happened to you, that is way too much”. Understand this comes from a place deep within, needing love, security and acceptance. It is an expression of individual identity. We all have that little something something that makes us unique and sets us apart from the rest. Eminem, the American rapper is known for his fowl lyrics, demeaning women in his songs and yet, his music is selling like hotcakes! Whitney Houston was killed by her drug habit and yet she was revered as a international musician. Now a sister wants to express her femininity and she gets sharp criticism from all corners, kinda hypocritical, isn’t it? In the same breath, I want to encourage fellow trans and intersex sisters with the words of India Arie from her song I am not my hair:

Good hair means curls and waves
Bad hair means you look like a slave
At the turn of the century
Its time for us to redefine who we be
You can shave it off
Like a South African beauty
Or get in on lock
Like Bob Marley
You can rock it straight
Like Oprah Winfrey
If its not what’s on your head

Its what’s underneath and say HEY…

I am not my hair
I am not this skin
I am not your expectations no no
I am not my hair
I ma not this skin
I am a soul that lives within

Happy Women’s Month to all the transgender and intersex women around the globe.

Until next time

Leigh Ann and all the folks at S.H.E