Copy of #TheSafeSpace Column published in the Times Of Swaziland on the 13th of April 2016:
Last week, we brought the transgender community into focus as part of the International Transgender Day of Visibility commemoration. In an attempt to lay down the foundations for a society that is informed and supportive, we started with taking a closer look at key terminology. After the defining sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation it was clear that we dont all conform to the labels that society places on us. Read Episode One here: https://chr1sfleming.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/inclusive-society-episode-one-2016/
Today, we will delve deeper into the conversation I had with Lindokuhle; an advocate for Rock of Hope (a Swazi based LGBTI NGO) and one very fun person to hang out with. As you read this, kindly place yourself in his shoes and the shoes of many others, and ask yourself if this how a society should treat its people.
Lindokuhle and I covered the following challenges in society:
1. Dissemination of transgender information
As an advocate and champion of a transgender inclusive society in Swaziland, Lindokuhle was well paced to inform me if society is receiving accurate and balanced information on transgender issues. The answer was no. A combination of ignorance, myths and extensive focus on lesbian or gay issues has placed the transgender community into the shadows; to a point that some believe that such does not exist. The media has a major role to play in this regard but that their approach is often sensationalised and fails to deliver the necessary sensitivity required.
2. Legal transition
There is a big misconception that needs to be cleared up about the transgender community. It is believed that only through surgery or hormonal intake can one really be ‘trans’. That is incorrect. Transitioning can also be social or legal (change of name, pronoun selection, speech alteration etc.). I learnt of horror stories involving difficulties in legal name change and subsequent rejection at border control when passport photos are deemed inconsistent with the holders. The attitudes of service providers in these situations have been largely discriminatory; ranging from accusing a trans women of stealing her brothers ID documents to name calling and shaming.
Just as with other marginalized groups, the relationship between the transgender community and the police is largely nothing to write home about. Upon reporting violations or crimes, transgender people are often asked unrelated questions such as, Why do you do this thing (in reference to their gender identity? Such utterances make it difficult to effectively engage with law enforcement and in turn deprives the community of a basic service security.
4. Toilets / Restrooms
This is a major day to day challenge for the transgender community whilst for us that identity as straight, going to restroom in public is a simple act. Imagine how difficult this becomes when society sees you as a man but you identify as a woman or vice versa. Which restroom would you go into? In other countries, some public areas have gender neutral restrooms but as far we know there is none such in Swaziland. This gap has led to instances of transgender people being assaulted in night clubs for using their restroom of choice and others simply go into the bushes to avoid a scene. Imagine that?! You go out to have a good time but end up being forced to use dark and dangerous spaces to urinate simply because peoples hostilities have become too much to bear. Totally unacceptable!
For today, its a wrap. Keep up the thirst for knowledge and join us again next week for Episode Three.
Feel free to share your comments with me through Twitter (@chr1sfleming), blog (www.chr1sfleming.wordpress.com) or email (email@example.com. Until we meet again, goodbye.