Audrey Mbugua, a human rights activist in Kenya published a powerful piece that appears at allAfrica.com. In Transgender Rights Not Simply Gay Rights she highlights some of the injustices against many transgender people in various parts of Africa. In the US we understand that local, state, federal government, employees, places of worship, and late night comedy shows have all contributed to the persecution and oppression of transgender people. Audrey Mbugua in writing about recent events in Africa, points out the irony (and well known fact amongst transgender and transsexual people) that some of the perpetrators of the injustices are gays, gay rights activists, and the media. She gives the following recent example:
(W)e all recall the arrest and trial of Auntie Tiwonge and her boyfriend Steven in Malawi that sparked condemnation from local and international human rights fora. Despite the evident transgender status of Tiwo, these activists humiliated her over and over again for them to perpetuate the gay agenda in Africa. Instead of these activists taking the opportunity to educate others about the transgender concept and challenge the lack of laws that cater for people who are changing sex, they branded her and her boyfriend as male homosexuals. It’s only after their release that some gay activist made token noise that Tiwonge is indeed transgender, but the damage had already been done.
In her piece Audrey provides specific examples that have appeared in the press, that while intending to educate people about transgender issues and people, actually serve to misinform and potentially worsen their plight.
And let’s consider the ever-ridiculous habit of the images that LGBT organisations use to depict transgender people. What happens is they use a picture of a person busy applying a tonne of make-up and a wig. Then this person has to have features that are meant to say ‘it’s a man putting on make-up’, or a picture of a person with a very hairy torso and in a dress. This results in the world believing that transgender people are female impersonators, pretending to be women and going late at night to get unsuspecting straight men to sleep with them. They get accused of the crime of deception, which results in hostility and violence against transgender people.
The article is a must read for folks who wish to be transgender allies and for anyone involved with organizations and movements that tag a T onto the end of the LGB. While there is some overlap in some issues LGBT people face, non-trans folks like me need to educate ourselves, listen to the criticism, educate more, and listen more. As Zack Ford and I discussed in our most recent episode of Queer and Queerer (Trans Allies Gone Wild!) allies often get it wrong and need to be open to criticism. Good activism always comes out of good relationships.
More and more information is being shared by all kinds of transgender, genderqueer, transsexual, gender non-conforming folks through through blogs, YouTube videos, (my new favorite channel is HaydenShyBoi) news stories, memoirs, Twitter feeds, and more. Now with access to the Internet no one needs to be ill-informed.
I am grateful for the many trans folks who have taken part in studies and surveys about their experiences. I know it can be time consuming, but so vital in the work of getting funding and awareness about specific trans issues. I know of a new survey being done by a friend of mine at Smith College. She is looking for trans people over 18 who live in the USA to fill out an on-line survey regards health care and treatment. You can find the study here.