Where are transgender individuals in intersectional Feminist, Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies?

On Tuesday March 6th, 2018, I attended a 45th Anniversary celebration for the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program at The George Washington University. The department had brought alumna Lisa Bowleg to give a presentation on her work in the field of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, with an emphasis on intersectionality. As Dr. Bowleg gave her presentation on her work researching HIV and condom usage in different types of Black communities, we came to a slide describing her work with Black Gay, Bisexual, and Lesbian individuals. The acronym that stood starkly at the top of the large projected screen was “LGB.” It took me a second, but I looked at the acronym again, specifically excluding that last, small letter “T”. Now, the slide only discussed Dr. Bowleg’s work with Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual people, which may be the reason she did not use the “T” at the end of this acronym. But if you are going to use such a specific describer for talking about queer people, why not just say “Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual people” rather than “LGB” people? The longer the presentation went on, the more I noticed the specific exclusion of transgender individuals from the otherwise incredible and interesting research Dr. Bowleg was conducting. I spent the rest of the presentation formulating how to express my unease at the exclusion of the “T” on her slide that had been specifically set aside for members of the LGBTQIA community. Her presentation came to an end, and I tentatively raised my hand.

“Dr. Bowleg, I see you’ve done research on HIV and condom usage in the Black lesbian, gay, and bisexual communities. Have you ever done research in regard to, or come across other works, that delve into these same issues with the Transgender community as well?” Dr. Bowleg’s quickly responded,  “Well, yes, we did come across a few individuals, but there were only four, and so I did not include them in my research.”

Four. Four? My mind was reeling. Certainly, there are more than four Black transgender people, especially in Washington, DC. And even if there were only four black transgender people, wouldn’t their stories and experiences be worth including in such an important study on the prominence of HIV and condom usage? I understand that I have not done extensive research, nor do I have a Ph.D. in anything, but, at the very least, I understand that saying “Oh, I could only find 4 black transgender people” is unacceptable research methodology as well as discriminatory towards transgender individuals. Especially in a discussion with so much emphasis on intersectionality, why were transgender individuals suddenly not worth including? Being a non-binary person in a Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies program, I have come across similar situations in my classes. In Feminist and Women’s studies, researchers often see the word “gender” and think on a binary scale, Man vs. Woman. I have brought this issue up with professors before and been told, “There simply isn’t enough research on transgender and non-binary people”. Well, I would like to call bullshit. I am tired of being swept under the rug, and I am tired of being excluded from the discussion.

Across the globe, transgender individuals, and specifically transgender women of color, are the most at-risk group of people for violence and discrimination. We need to be more inclusive of all members of the LGBT community. Our research does as well. When professors tell me there is “not enough” research to warrant a discussion of non-binary and transgender individuals, it is the explicit exclusion of transgender individuals, and passivity towards the importance of their inclusion in research such as that of Dr. Bowleg, which prevent that discussion from happening.

(Image Credit: Equality Archive)

In Botswana, a great victory for Tshepo Ricki Kgositau and women everywhere

Tshepo Ricki Kgositau

On Tuesday, December 12, Tshepo Ricki Kgositau heard the news she has struggled to hear for years. Botswana’s High Court ruled that Tshepo Ricki Kgositau is who she says she is, who her family and friends and colleagues have long said she is. A woman. High Court Justice Leatile Dambe gave the Registrar of Births and Deaths seven days to amend Kgositau’s birth certificate to identify her as female. The High Court also gave Botswana’s Director of the Registrar of National Registration 21 days to issue a new Identity Document identifying her as female. This is a major victory for Tshepo Ricki Kgositau; transgender women in Botswana and across the continent; and women everywhere. In every generation, a woman stands up, asks “Ain’t I a woman?”, and then gets to work.

Thirty years old, born in Gaborone, raised between Botswana and South Africa, Tshepo Ricki Kgositau helped found the Rainbow Identity Association in Botswana. From there she moved on to work with Gender DynamiX, based in Cape Town, where she is now Executive Director.

In 2011, Tshepo Ricki Kgositau applied to the Civil and National Registration to have her gender marker changed from male to female. She was then rejected, ostensibly because at that time Botswana’s laws did not recognize transgender people. And so, Tshepo Ricki Kgositau sued to have her identity recognized and her identity card and birth certificate corrected. Last December, Tshepo Ricki Kgositau underwent gender confirmation surgery, in Thailand. Her family and childhood friends confirmed her female identity from her childhood, and confirmed their love for her as well. A psychologist confirmed her “innate” identity. The case was to be heard in August, but had to be postponed because Justice Dambe was unavailable.

Justice Dambe’s decision follows on another landmark decision, in September of this year, in which a transgender man, known as ND, won a ten-year battle to have his gender marker changed. That decision followed upon a court decision, in 2014, that forced the government to unban and formally register Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana, or Legabibo. It’s been a year for transgender rights in Botswana, and a decade for the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people in Botswana.

Thanks to the High Court and, even more, to the work and labor of hundreds and thousands of women and their supporters, it’s been a decade for women in Botswana, and through them, across the continent and the globe.  On October 12, 2012, the High Court ruled that Edith Mmusi and her sisters, Bakhane Moima, Jane Lekoko, Mercy Kedidimetse Ntshekisang could continue to live in the house they had always inhabited. In a landmark ruling, the Court ruled that women should be allowed to inherit by customary law; that Edith Mmusi, who had lived continuously in her house and home, should not be excluded from inheriting … her own home. On December 12, 2017, the same Court ruled that Tshepo Ricki Kgositau should not be excluded from the identity and body that she had inhabited for almost all of her life. In both instances, women – Edith Mmusi and her sisters, Tshepo Ricki Kgositau – said they would not haunt their own lives. They would be present, active, alive … and they forced the State to agree. Just as five years ago, so today, it’s a great day for Tshepo Ricki Kgositau, for women across Botswana, across southern Africa … and beyond.


(Photo Credit: Tshepo Ricki Kgositau / The Independent)

Transgender women prisoner warriors: Bianca Sawyer, Tara Hudson, Vikki Thompson

November 20th was the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day to honor transgender people who have been murdered and transgender communities, past, present, future, who have survived. This is the story of Bianca Sawyer, Vikki Thompson and Tara Hudson, transgender women who were all `released’ this week.

Yesterday, it was reported that Vikki, or Vicky, Thompson was buried near her home in Keighley, West Yorkshire, in England. She was twenty-one years old. Her story is short, too short by far. Vikki Thompson, born male, identified all her adult life as a woman. She was arrested for robbery and sent to a men’s prison. She said if she were sent to a men’s prison, she would kill herself, and she did. The State is `investigating” … again. Vikki Thompson was released from all of that, however.

Yesterday, it was reported that Tara Hudson was also released. Tara Hudson is twenty-six years old. Born male, Tara Hudson has also self identified and lived as a woman all her adult life. She was arrested for getting in a fight with a barman, and was sent to a men’s prison. After much organizing, including a petition that went viral, Tara Hudson was finally moved from a men’s to a women’s prison. Yesterday, she was released from prison altogether.

A week ago, British Columbia announced it would start housing transgender prisoners according to their stated gender identities. This change in policy emerged largely from the mobilization of Bianca Sawyer, a transgender woman who has been in and out of the system for ten years, always placed in men’s prisons. After ten years, she had had enough and began petitioning and organizing. The last straw for Bianca Sawyer was the staff: “A group of, like, eight or nine officers were joking about how it would feel to get oral sex from me, and running their hands through my short hair [and making] jokes about me growing breasts. I was really upset. That night, I was like, ‘I don’t belong here.’”

When the State, in the form of staff members, began treating Bianca Sawyer with the misogyny and indignity it visits on women, she decided it was time to move. This is not irony, but rather the everyday of gender identity in the nation-State of mass incarceration.

Bianca Sawyer won her removal and managed to move the province to change its policies. British Columbia follows Ontario in recognizing prisoners’ gender identity based on the prisoners’ testimony, rather than the `science’ of experts, bureaucratically dispensed. For once, autonomy subsumes anatomy. What happens to transgender women in prison in your jurisdiction? Find out, and write to us. Remember Tara Hudson and Bianca Sawyer, and remember this, Vikki Thompson did not kill herself. The State killed Vikki Thompson, and will kill others.

(Photo Credit: The Globe and Mail)