We live in a dynamic society that is gradually moving away from its traditional conservative ways. Despite this shift, some voices are still struggling for recognition. While the issue of homosexuality is slowly coming to light, much confusion and ignorance still surrounds the transgender community. Most Batswana are fraught at the sight of a man identifying as a woman, or a woman ‘masculinising’ herself. The transgender society has been rendered abnormalities in our communitiesÔÇöthey are ridiculed, ostracised and tormented for the identity they seek to publicly affirm, yet were not assigned at birth.
Recently, news of Olympian champion Bruce Jenner ‘broke the internet’ as the world awed at his transformation from a man to a woman. Mixed feelings surrounded his transition; some applauded him for his courage to live his truth whereas some condemned it as an abomination and a blatant sign that the world is nearing its end. Now that he identifies as Caitlyn, it is appropriate to identify Caitlyn as her, something others find to be a wrong identification. “Bruce is a lie, she is not,” said Bruce before his debut as Caitlyn.
In a study led by psychological scientist Kristina Olson of the University of Washington which included 32 transgender children, ages 5 to 12, the study indicated that the gender identity of these children is deeply held and is not the result of confusion about gender identity or pretense. This suggests that scientifically, transgenderism exists, but in our communities it is blatantly denounced as unAfrican and a disgrace to the family. “I remember my father at one time asking me; ‘How can I walk with you? What will I tell people?’ It was the most hurtful thing he ever said to me,” recalls Kenyan transgender Aubrey Mbugua in an article by Mail & Guardian.
Gender is highly definitive in our culture and there’s restrictive understanding towards it. In many communities, transgender people are killed, disowned and are likely to commit suicide due to the rejection they face from loved ones. There’s little information carried in our conversations about it as mocking them is the quicker response to guise our own ignorance. Our culture’s fixation on biological sex as unquestionable leaves transgender people doubting their self-worth and feeling isolated.
Lifestyle took to the streets to ask a few people questions concerning this issue.
“I really don’t know anything about transgender people, I just thought they are homosexuals,” said Tsaone.
“The parents of kids who are suppressing this are just making the kids miserable. You cannot change what someone is feeling just because you want to be comfortable. If they are like that, who are we to judge?” commented Dimpho.
“This is unnatural. They are disturbed and need help because a man cannot be a woman,” Thabo said.
Ricki Kgositau, a trans Motswana woman who is based in South Africa under Gender DynamixÔÇöa company that deals with demystifying transgender issues, had this to say in an interview with News24: “It’s still a difficult experience, particularly for individuals who do not necessarily come from those privileged backgrounds, who live in the townships, who live in impoverished backgrounds, where many people still believe they can correct this kind of thing.”
Local transgender activist, Katlego Kesupile, lamented about the misrepresentation they as a community face with media on a recent blog post. “I have had to work diligently to ensure that the pronouns used in articles and interviews are correct, that captions are closely observed.”
“As we all celebrate Caitlyn Jenner for coming into her skin, let us not forget to extend the same warm welcome, love, understanding and appreciation to our very own trans-gendered brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, friends and lovers right here in Botswana,” said Legabibo activist Bradley Fortuin.
It is quite clear that the majority of transgendered people face a lack of understanding from their communities and families. In our bid for a more diverse and tolerant society, it is imperative that we seek to understand their plight.