Statement by the centre for human rights in commemoration of transgender day of rememberance – 20 November 2018
November 20 is marked as International Transgender Day of Remembrance or TDoR. It is a day to remember all those who have been murdered because of their gender identity and expression as transgender persons. The Centre for Human Rights calls upon the affirmation of transgender lives and bodies through supportive laws and protections for transgender persons, as well as education around respect for the right to life and the identities of transgender people.
Who is a transgender person?
A transgender person is someone who identifies differently from the sex assigned to them at birth. When a baby is born, the person delivering the baby will usually ascertain the sex of the baby by looking at its genitalia. If it has male genitalia, it will be declared male. If it has female genitalia, it will be declared female. That sex assignment is what will appear on the birth certificate. However, not all persons will continue to identify with the sex they were assigned by the midwife, traditional birth attendant, doctor or birth registrar/ government and that appears on their birth certificates, identity documents, passports or academic documents. They may strongly feel that they belong to another sex or none, and may therefore mentally and/or physically identity and/or present as a different sex and gender or mixed genders.
Sex and gender binaries, dogmatic masculinity and femininity, and patriarchy are the problem
Gender or sex binaries are a social construct that typifies sex as female or male and not any other, and gender as man/boy and woman/girl and no other. And this is socially stamped in the mind by just looking at the outward biological and physiological features of a person, and assigning what is called separate gender roles, or what is supposed to be done by a man or a woman and how differently the two are supposed to typically behave. Gender is the state of being male or female, typically used with reference to social and cultural differences in roles and behaviour.
Transgender people are not the ‘norm’ therefore - according to a society that has been socialised into directly correlating gender with sex of a person. Hence your typical ‘boys wear blue and girls wear pink’ stereotypes; or ‘men bring home the bacon and women cook it.’ This is also expressed though dress. Men wear pants/trousers and women wear skirts; as well as personality stereotypes such as ‘women are soft and shy and men are cocky and brave’; and professional biases such as women become nurses and men doctors and engineers because men are more enduring and stronger. These stereotypes are summerised by two words – ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’. Men are expected to be masculine and women feminine. Transgender people do not conform to these norms. This pits them against a society that sees them as misfits. This is made worse by a socio- patriarchal system that controls the sexuality of society. Patriarchy is a social system in which males hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property. Male bodies control what is sexually right, pleasant, and acceptable according to what privileges them. Therefore, a person who was born female but transitions into identifying as male robs the male body of the satisfaction of that transgender person being the object of his sexual gratification or the object of his material gain, say through marriage (in the practice of dowry payment for women and girls). And a male person who transitions into identifying as female brings ‘shame’ to the male specie that sees the transition as an assault on the masculinity of the group. Transgender bodies therefore threaten masculinity and its playground femininity. The ‘Holy Grail’ must not be tampered with.
Death for transgender persons
As already said, transgender people see themselves as and express themselves as the sex and gender other than the one everybody assumes they are, and because of going against this deeply rooted societal value of sex binaries and gender role binaries, they face a lot of animosity, rejection and even killings. A report by Human Rights Campaign estimates that 22 transgender persons were murdered in the United States of America in 2018.
There is no substantive research yet as to how many transgender people are killed in Africa but one will not fail to come across news stories of transgender people being harassed, discriminated against or jailed on the continent. The story of Tiwonge, a transgender individual from Malawi who sought asylum in South Africa is one such story.
Transgender lives matter
On this day when we remember transgender people that have lost their lives due to their gender identity and expression, the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression and Sex Characteristics (SOGIESC) Unit calls upon all of us Africans to be affirming of transgender people. Transgender persons are human and normally functioning people with the right to enjoy their freedom and dignity, especially their right to life. All states have the duty to protect the lives of transgender persons and all citizens have the responsibility not to kill, rape, discriminate or harass transgender persons.
Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression and Sex Characteristics (SOGIESC) Unit,
Centre for Human Rights,
Faculty of Law,
University of Pretoria.
Tel: +27 (0) 61 461 1988