Transgender 101

Although transgenderism is an umbrella term for a cross section of identities, I want to use a series of articles to illustrate what this means in a sort of transgender 101 sense; basic transgenderism, if you like. This is also an attempt to dispel some of the myths around gender ambiguity or variance in order to relax those that might be fearful of the doctrine and often this is everyone including those that think it does not impinge on their lives; the truth is that to some extent it impacts on us all.

Transgenderism basically defined is a community then of gender variant people from all works of life. I love this particular definition because it chimes with daily life and speaks to me as I hope it will do for the rest of the world in general and African LGBTI in particular. As an African by origin you cannot but notice the hysterical disposition of your own people in their morbid glee to denounce some wrong doing or the other where no such wrong exists apart from their reaction to anything they do not understand. According to Kate Bornstein in Gender Outlaw, “Gender terrorists are those who bang their heads against a gender system which is real and natural and then use gender to terrorize the rest of us.”[1]

The painful thing is that it is never pretty when your own people start replacing the old guard, even the arch enemy of “racial integration” no longer bearing their fangs look like they are now leaving their dirty work to our own ultra conservative narrow mindedness; a sort of racial Cul de sac that we have somehow imprisoned ourselves in where gender identity and sexual orientation is concerned. They, my people or those I share my racial background with loose the plot to the point that they assume that staring at me as if in doing so they’d scare me into “doing the right thing by them” or something to that effect. My question is when does making such fascistic requests of anyone warrant any attention? The straight answer is that, it does not under any circumstance. Hopefully in the coming weeks transgender 101 will share the reasons why with you: my people whether you live in Africa, in the Diaspora or even somewhere else in the world since transphobia isn’t just an African ailment.

When Asa Johannesson, an M.A student at the Royal Academy of Art recently said, ‘I feel like I’m working with myself,’ I so understood where she was coming from in terms of subjectivity and the narrative form.[2] As a writer, I constantly find myself returning to the script of the ‘personal as political’ with regard to gender identity. It is here more than anywhere else that I find the quintessential transgender but still specifically, for me, as an African translesbian. Faced with daily transphobia especially wherever I’ve lived I find that one becomes duty bound to write about ones experience dues to an insistence on narrow definitions of gender in society at large and in order, if anything to provoke dialogue, where such hostilities prevail.

Transphobia, apart from its semblance to homophobia, is always about hatred. It can be defined as a blind loathing of any individual who questions the fixed gender binary. In a narrow insistence on the status quo the transphobe embarks on a campaign of intense and decisive gossip with the aim of either scaring the said individual out of the area or inciting violence against us. It can take any form including some parents who so far gone that they forget their responsibility as parents in their frenzied attack on something or even someone simply because you do not understand transgender experience.

While I do not want to tell anyone how to be the perfect parent, I think that it is important to highlight a problem where one definitely exists. Can you imagine a mother in the block of studio flats where I live for instance, where yet another mother constantly pushes her daughter forward to abuse me simply because I am an out translesbian? When pulled up on it she offered any of the following excuses to explain her actions away: “She’s only a child! She’s got to play somewhere!” or “I do not want your sort filling my daughter’s head with your madness”. In such close proximity some women, some mothers or even certain lesbians are happy to be complicit with men-folk against transgender people (which minds me of the limitations of the old guard feminists.) This is enough for them to seize on the opportunity to vocally ostracise transwoman or translesbian like me by voluminously spreading the rumour that that they think you are a “man” through out the neighbourhood, on buses, at work or even in the local shops not to mention superstores without considering the impacts such actions are having or not caring for that. What seems to get lost in their narrow world view is the fact that in a moment of blindness they inadvertently turn innocent children into monsters, future gangsters or worse; TRANSPHOBES just like themselves.

On a final note, I return to the old plain idea of human beings and our desires. What is the problem where transgender people are only doing what human beings will do any way? Jude Schell asserts that, ‘desire is born of attraction’ as longs as you do not go flirting with the wrong partner I see nothing wrong with the gender variant getting out in the world too.[3]

Transgenderism as I said at the beginning of this piece is an umbrella term for a diverse subculture of identities which I will look at individually or in pairs depending on time and space availability. I encourage you to watch developments in transgender 101 as it grows.

[1] Gender Outlaw: On Men Women and The Rest of Us, By Kate Bornstein 1995, Vintage Books, P. 71 -73. According to Kate Bornstein, what society holds onto as gender is mundane and a social construct. Her italicised “real and natural” indicates that gender as in transgender space is gender as a fluid activity in nature.

[2] Diva Magazine issue 151, p. 22. I share Asa Johannesson referential standpoint as it is played out among transwomen that identify as lesbian and butch or even gender queer. These areas will be returned to in other Black looks articles in the future.

[3] See The Guide to Lesbian Sex, by Jude Schell, Hylas Publishing, 2005. Gender fluidity attracts!! Lets move forward together instead of hugging a compulsory gender binary and the cave mentality that go with it ad infinitum!