steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

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One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

So, just as Uganda looks like withdrawing a bill that would have made homosexuality punishable by death, further south the government of Malawi has just sentenced its first ever gay couple to fourteen years' hard labour for the "crime" of getting engaged - a punitive sentence explicitly chosen for its deterrent value. In the words of the judge: "I will give you a scaring sentence so that the public be protected from people like you, so that we are not tempted to emulate this horrendous example."

This is bad enough even at first glance, but in fact it's worse - for, pace the reports by the world's media, including the BBC, Tiwonge Chimbalanga is a transgender woman, not a gay man, and the engagement was a heterosexual one. Unsurprisingly the Malawian authorities didn't view it that way, but why on earth is the international media conspiring to erase this woman's identity into the bargain? Isn't 14 years in a men's jail bad enough?

ETA: I'm pasting part of a reply I made to a Dreamwidth comment, as it fills in some more details and shows in even starker colours what's gone wrong with the reporting of this case.

I've not done a comprehensive search, but I've not found her gendered correctly anywhere, even in reports that mention she identifies and lives as female.

I think the worst example overall is this report from The New York Times, from back in February. It can hardly plead ignorance, since its opening words are: "Tiwonge Chimbalanga looked like a man but said he was a woman. He helped with the cooking and dressed in feminine wraparound skirts." It goes on to quote her as saying: “I have male genitals, but inside I am a complete woman. Maybe I cannot give birth to a child, but I menstruate every month — or most months — and I can do any household chores a woman can do.” (I hadn't seen that quotation when I posted yesterday, or I would have mentioned the possibility that Ms Chimbalanga was intersex rather than transsexual.) Or again: "In recent years, when Mr. [sic] Chimbalanga visited his family, he dressed as a woman and did woman’s work, fetching water and grinding corn with a pestle. Villagers say they thought this strange, but he was well liked."

Despite this, the NYT refers to her with male pronouns throughout, even including the classic line: "Mr. Chimbalanga’s real name is Mabvuto Stoneck Kachepa." And what does it make of the menstruation? Why, it means she is a gay man, of course!

“Menstruation through his penis” had begun by then, a condition that may have some extremely rare medical cause, some experts say, but could also be the imagined claim of a gay man in a repressed society desperate to think himself a woman."

'Cos that's what trans women are, y'know (at least when they're poor and black) - just desperate gay men in denial. But you can bet your bottom dollar that if Ms Chimbalanga had had the money to hop on a plane to Thailand for SRS, or even more if she had been American, the NYT would not have said that. The toxic mix of racism, classism and transphobia in this article (which is merely the longest of many similar) only adds insult to the great injury this woman is already suffering.

Tags: current affairs, gender
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