When Being “Different” Could Mean Death

By Levi van Wyk

With 11 official languages and a variety of cultures, South Africa should be one of the top symbols of diversity in the world. The keyword here, however, is ‘should’. Like any other country, South Africans formed their own political groups advocating for various problems and personal belief systems, which in turn, either made life more difficult, or better for different people. According to the Hate Crimes Report of November 2016, out of 2,130 individuals surveyed, more than 55% of LGBT individuals said they worry about experiencing discrimination, and more than 41% said they knew someone who had been murdered because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Another Hate Crimes Report survey showed that only 56% of residents living in Gauteng, believe that LGBT individuals deserve equal rights. While most South Africans tend to tolerate the LGBT community in public spaces, in reality, we still have good reason to be wary when it comes to our personal safety.

Personally, I haven’t experienced much discrimination in public, apart from strange looks and awkward tension in gender-specific areas, such as the men’s locker room at the gym. I’m a white, asexual, transgender male, and only 5 months into my transition. I’m lucky to have a fairly masculine face and voice which sounds too deep to be female, but also too high-pitched to be male, making it a bit easier for me to pass successfully. In my early transition months, the general public used to address me as “ma’am”, and I had to politely correct them almost every time. They didn’t seem to ever have a problem with it, apologized and carried on as if they deal with a similar situation frequently. The, dare I say, “good” thing about South Africans, is that many people, if not most, don’t even know that transgender individuals exist, and would confuse transgender males with masculine girls or “tomboys”, and transgender females with feminine guys. I personally feel that, while it’s completely wrong and disrespectful, it can be better in regards to momentary safety and getting away with a few stares rather than being violated against. In general, I believe that most South Africans also confuse “transgender” with “transsexual”. While I can’t talk about a lot of problems in regards to the LGBT community in areas made up of a majority of non-white South Africans, I do know that being openly LGBT in said spaces could sometimes lead to abuse or even death.

While I was in my last year of university, various non-white students spoke about the violence and hate crimes against LGBT individuals in their areas of living, and said that it’s still unsafe to be open about your sexuality and gender identity. In areas made up of a majority of white South Africans, you could expect the same, with perhaps more verbal and psychological abuse. In my experience, white South Africans tend to keep their hate and bias to themselves in public, but would speak their minds where they are with like-minded people. A lot of white South Africans are extremely conservative, but they mostly live away from the cities and keep their focus on politics rather than social science. While the differences in culture vary a lot, it’s important to understand why certain people have certain beliefs. Thanks to Apartheid, education for non-white South Africans was lacking, which still has a huge effect on people’s opinions in regards to social science, sex and gender, and LGBT education. White people are generally more privileged, and can use the internet to educate themselves, where poorer non-white communities haven’t been introduced to proper technology yet. That being said, the previously-mentioned lifestyles and cultural beliefs only belong to a number of people in South Africa, and in no way represent entire cultural groups or belief-systems. Today, many, if not most, South African LGBT support groups and events are led by a majority of individuals of color. Different groups are educating as many people as possible, holding conferences, creating events, and offering support to people who might not have it at home. All cultures will have their “rotten apples”, and I personally believe that LGBT individuals should be equally wary of where and when they are open about their sexuality and identity. Cultural beliefs of all South Africans are in the process of being reformed, and people are becoming more open-minded in regards to others’ lifestyles. While we still have a very far way to go regarding the acceptance of LGBT individuals, we’re at least past the point of absolute inequality.

In previous years, many South Africans didn’t get involved in LGBT-related problems. Unfortunately, at the beginning of 2017, I noticed South Africans’ intolerance and rudeness in regards to LGBT rights spiking online. Suddenly, comment sections were flooded with angry comments from a majority of white South Africans, talking about how the LGBT community exists out of sin and doesn’t deserve to be treated as human beings. While South Africans tend to judge in silence, they speak their minds online, especially if they know they will be backed up by others. With the US election results, many conservative South Africans found reason to be outspoken about their outdated opinions. South Africans were indeed reminded of the LGBT community existing all over the world, but it didn’t stop them from picking the community apart, and finding issues to be judgmental about. While a lot of South Africans don’t exactly understand the LGBT community, they still tend to form negative opinions about the different sexualities, especially towards asexuality. As a result of sexual abuse in my previous relationship, I became sex-repulsed and severely asexual. I’ve been told by various people that I just haven’t experienced good sex yet, or that my views on sex will change when I meet someone better. While I understand that they are simply ignorant on the subject, it still reminded me that I live in a sex-obsessed country. South Africa is one of the rape capitals of the world, with an estimated 30 reported rapes every 60 seconds. Rape culture is also a big problem in the country, with high school boys aiming to have sex before the age of 18, and girls making their skirts as short as possible to feel attractive. All of these problems make being asexual extremely difficult, especially since people tend to believe that asexuality stems from the lack of good sex. It’s unfortunate. While a lot of LGBT individuals come together and celebrate their sexuality and identities, I feel like asexuality is probably one of the least represented sexualities in the country.

South Africa still has a very long way to go in regards to people’s different lifestyles. Despite studies showing that the country is becoming more homophobic, I believe that the country is also getting more diverse with more and more LGBT individuals speaking out about their sexualities and identities. Universities are making LGBT-education mandatory, and schools are starting to see more students transitioning and employing LGBT educators. With time, education and support, I believe this country will change for the better.

 

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African transgender support groups:
 Gender Dynamix
OUT LGBT Well-Being
PFLAG South Africa
Resources for Trans People and Their Partners SA
Transgender and Intersex Africa


Sources:
Theotherfoundation.org: A study of attitudes towards homosexuality and gender non-conformity in South Africa.

The fear of discrimination is a daily reality for most LGBT South Africans, a groundbreaking new report has revealed

Shocking new stats show that South Africans are becoming MORE homophobic.

 

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The Curious Case of the Philadelphia Pride Flag

by Micah J. Fleck

In June, the city of Philadelphia raised a new LGBT pride flag featuring two new colors (black and brown) in order to recognize and highlight a particular subgroup in the broader LGBT community: gay and trans people of color. The initiative behind this addition, More Color More Pride, is led by black queer activist Amber Hikes for the purposes of drawing attention to what she sees as a type of in-group bigotry within the LGBT community against its black and trans members. The new colors, which frankly look pretty damn cool up against the traditional rainbow, are being reported as having caused a divide in the LGBT world. But I think in an ironic way the additions merely put a spotlight on a rift that was already there.

The divide in question is being seen between the white and black LGBT members, as well as between those who are cis and trans. Now while this is certainly not true across the board (broad brushes make sloppy paintings), it’s common enough for me to have come across it firsthand despite being a mere ally who doesn’t live every second of my life in the gay or trans stratosphere. I’ve even had a few conversations with people who are cis, white, and gay, and who seem to be deeply irritated by the change. Before weighing in on which arguments I actually find reasonable and which I do not, let’s establish first a quick history and purpose behind the flag as well as how ubiquitous the color additions actually are.

First of all, the flag itself in its original form. It was designed by gay activist and artist Gilbert Baker in 1978, and originally did have two more colors than its final rendition. Though they were removed simply because the particular shades were more expensive to obtain in cloth at the time. What the world ultimately saw was a flag that featured the following colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. And each color represented something abstract and elemental, yet experiential (i.e. an emotion, like joy, or a natural interaction, like sunlight). In this way, the flag ensured to encompass the human experience broadly enough that it would be as inclusive as possible. It is a flag for all—including those who are gay. Because underneath the surface we all share these elemental and positive desires.

This is the intended symbol of the flag—inclusivity and humanity, no matter who you are. It’s a positive message, and had it been universally upheld for its values within the LGBT community, I seriously doubt there would even be an issue in the first place. But the reality is that many gay communities and events have been known to segregate themselves based on race, gender, class, or citizenship across the country—from Phoenix to Virginia to Philadelphia, and beyond. And this has been a thing for some time, dating back at least the 80s when lesbian majorities would keep blacks and men out of their gay bars, which were often the only places of refuge at the time, even if they too were part of the gay community. There’s also the ongoing problem of mainstream pride movements such as the Human Rights Campaign being accused of things like excluding conservatives or not investing any real money into trans-specific causes.

And the greater reality is that despite the more all-encompassing title of “pride” it now bears, this movement was originally just known as “gay pride,” which has caused confusion even among some of the modern gay activists I spoke to on this topic regarding how welcome trans people really are in it. “It’s gender, not orientation,” one woman in the movement explained to me; “Maybe they don’t belong in this movement and should have their own.” Apparently ‘separate but equal’ is back in fashion, at least for some in the gay community who can’t seem to wrap their heads around non-heteronormative genders being just as in need of pride representation as non-heteronormative sexual preferences.

Now of course there is indeed a trans rights movement all of its own—it even has its own flag of badass colors! But the point is that the pride movement at large has grown into something bigger and more encompassing than what it was when it began. And that’s absolutely okay. The entire point of pride parades, etc. is to show that one does not need to feel ashamed or marginalized for being oneself. To celebrate one’s humanity and social worth, regardless of what prejudices or discriminations are unfairly hoisted upon one’s very existence. Do trans members of society not qualify for that? Are they seriously not welcome in the pride movement simply because their plight is due to social clashes with their gender rather than who they are naturally sexually attracted to? Aren’t both of these things equally worthy of delineating a self-identity?

And what of the racism in particular that is seen in the LGBT community? It seems to permeate into the subconscious of so many LGBT people to the point where it causes exclusionary friendship and dating habits, according to some reports. And even if that itself isn’t as blatant or intentional as it could be, it comes back around to the principle that failing to provide welcome to others in the same rights crisis is akin to denying them refuge. Why in the world would human beings do this to each other?

Which brings us to the final piece of evidence in favor of the inclusion of the additional stripes to the Philadelphia flag: the murders of trans women of color that occur every year in the double digits and beyond. This has been called an epidemic by trans advocates, and whether or not one wants to go that far with the rhetoric, it’s hard to see it as anything other than targeting  of a specific demographic when one takes into account the very small percentage of trans individuals alive today in the U.S.: 0.3% of the total population. Now take that number and slice it even thinner by focusing not just on trans females, but trans females who are black. Why in the world are so many of them dying per year if their murders are just random occurrence and not specifically because of who and what they are? Why does the LGBT community, even in patches, seem disinterested in helping raise awareness about this group, and as a result take steps toward humanizing them? Protecting them?

This, the compilation of all the previous points, is the strongest case I have found for why the added colors were deemed necessary by the activists led by Amber Hikes. There is evidence that the LGBT community isn’t as inclusive as the flag supposedly represents, and for the specific demographics being ostracized, perhaps a visual cue or reminder that they matter too is needed—especially in Philadelphia, where we’ve already established this sort of exclusion goes on. From the perspective of someone in the position of Hikes, Philadelphia in particular needed a wake up call. It is, after all, just a local flag in Philadelphia; it’s not yet been accepted as the official worldwide flag. Who knows if it will, but even the fact that the flag was changed in an unofficial way in a single city has already caused an uproar with many gay activists. Considering the evidence put forth… Why?

The arguments against the additional colors vary, but the most reasonable one to my eye is the one that aims to preserve the legacy of what the flag was originally about. As it stands right now, the new flag’s colors do not seem to have an elemental meaning to them; they simply are the colors, and nothing more. Which makes the flag about race, now, and this is something Gilbert Baker was clearly trying to transcend. However, perhaps that transcending was, like many ideal things, a bit premature. After all, the LGBT community is still struggling with racism and transphobia, and the response from within to these additions do seem to confirm that a subconscious desire to exclude exists. What I can understand is the initial pushback to the idea at the conceptual stage, and for conceptual reasons; what I have a harder time wrapping my head around is the outright anger and division that has been occurring since the change was already made. What good does it do to literally say “you can’t add your colors to our flag… Because you’re welcome?” It becomes a contradictory rhetoric that seems more concerned with undoing an inclusive visual than taking genuinely inclusive action. And the latter is all the added colors were ever really after.

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Caitlyn Jenner Hints About Senate Run…Odds are as Republican.

Just after musician Kid Rock tweeted out the possibility of Senate run in Michigan, Olympic gold medalist and transgender activist Caitlyn Jenner told a New York radio audience she is eyeing a Senate run in California. Joining the list of Celebrities wishing to change careers.

Jenner told radio host John Catsimatidis that she was mulling whether she could accomplish more as an outsider “working the perimeter of the political scene” or “from the inside.”

California Senate incumbent Dianne Feinstein,¹ who turned 84 in June, has not said whether she plans to seek re-election in 2018. Feinstein has become one of the most pro-lgbt and respected Senators in the Country. If she chooses not to run, and Jenner, who is LGBT, as a Republican take the seat,  either circumstance could be a disaster, and further embarrassment for the trans community if Jenner runs.

Two months ago, she also in an interview with CNN”s Don Lemon², said “yes, I would consider a run.”  Most believe that she’d run as a Republican. Since her coming out, the majority of our community has been outspoken in their disapproval of Jenner’s choice to support the same politicians that would harm trans people. In February, she spoke out against Trump’s repealing of Obama’s transgender school bathroom policies, but continued her support and belief that she has influence with Trump, and urged the few trans republicans, to give him time. 

“I have considered it, I like the political side of it. The political side of it has always been very intriguing to me. Over the next six months or so, I [have to] find out where I can do a better job. Can I do a better job from the outside, kind of working the perimeter of the political scene, being open to talk to anybody? Or are you better off from the inside. And we are in the process of determining that.”

Jenner said she has worked with the American Unity Fund to get GOP lawmakers to better understand LGBT issues.

That’s kind of my issue,” she said.

​Jenner, 67, who came out as a transgender woman in 2015³, ​said she could help change the face of the Republican Party.

The perception of the Republican Party is that they are all about rich white guys trying to make money. I would hope in ​the next​ generation​ ​… that we can change the perception of the Republican ​P​arty and make it the party of equality​,”​ she said.​

Jenner seems to think again, without any regard to the trans community she ‘thinks’ she represents, that she could change the Republican Party from the inside. It would be doubtful she’d have a chance up against the legendary Senator Dianne Feinstein, if Feinstein continues to run for office.

Yet with this news alone, it’s another potential embarrassing moment for our community. In days of slavery, the term Uncle Tom was coined to those that would sell out their own race for personal gain. Now we have a potential Auntie Tammy in the case of Jenner. Yet, there is growing support in our community of those that have seen her efforts to grow. Could there be a change in attitudes within our community about Caitlyn?

A long time advocate, author, and writer of TheTMPlanet Lynnea Stuart says, “Caitlyn Jenner has the right to run for political office and anyone who thinks she will stop her part of the public discourse will have a rude awakening. She’s not going away. And I welcome anyone who seeks to reform the GOP to become a more accepting and affirming party. There was a time when the Republicans were the party of civil rights and the Democrats the ultraconservatives. That changed in the 1960’s after Kennedy and Johnson stood for the civil rights of Blacks and certain other minorities. But I sense that Caitlyn will end up biting off more than she could chew if she goes for the Senate. This is someone who has admitted to having issues with reading and writing due to dyslexia and needed quite a bit of help from others to produce her book “Secrets of My Life.” She will face off against others who have gone through law school and are members of the BAR. These are people skilled in not only writing but debate. Does she have the critical skills necessary to field and LSAT? I seriously doubt it. Worse yet, she will also face off with Evangelical Dominionists, many of whom have shown themselves to have levels of scholarship in Philosophy, the Bible, and Classical Languages. From what I’ve seen her religious position isn’t thought through on the level it would require to confront the likes of Santorum, Pence, or Cruz. Nor have I seen any inclination on her part to expand her understanding of the Bible beyond the cursory spoon feeding she gets from her pastor. I like Caitlyn. I’m not inclined to bash her for her celebrity or her political affiliation. I’ve seen her grow remarkably in a short time despite her frequent gaffes. But I do think she has yet to fully develop her thinking before even beginning to take on a Senate run.”

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  1. Dianne Feinstein recalls the day she had to announce to the world, the assassination of  colleague Harvey Milk.
  2. Don Lemon is an openly gay news anchor for CNN.
  3. In 2015, Bruce Jenner, former Olympic Gold Medalist, came out as transgender
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Actor James Wood’s Transphobic Tweets about a Child

Earlier in James Wood’s acting career, he had no issue taking on gay characters, yet remains homophobic and transphobic.  He has not wavered from speaking of his support for Trump, or his support for the countless anti trans bathroom laws across the country. Yet, his countless bigoted remarks hit a new low yesterday, as he attacked a gender non-conforming child in his latest tweets. Woods bluntly suggested that the child would grow up to be a serial killer in his deeply transphobic 140-character rejoinder.

Actor James Woods in ‘Once Upon A Time in America’

Woods, who is 70 years old, shared a photo of a couple with their son at the Orange County Pride Parade in California. The couple of 13 years, was there to support their child, and was bearing posters that read, “I love my gender creative son!” and “My son wears dresses & makeup… Get over it!!”

 

Seeing this, the Once Upon a Time in America¹ actor wrote, “This is sweet. Wait until this poor kid grows up, realizes what you’ve done, and stuffs both of you dismembered into a freezer in the garage.”

That tweet follows nearly  two years to the day, after James Woods tweeted out a link to a public service announcement he appeared in to bring attention to the plight of homeless LGBT youth², the double Oscar nominee tweeted a transphobic response to a photo of parents supporting their gender-nonconforming child.

Woods bigotry, and his rightwing conservative views has become increasingly more homophobic and xenophobic on Twitter over the past few years, taking aim at the likes of Black Lives Matter, Women’s March organizer Linda Sarsour, Lena Dunham, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders. A tweet about Anderson Cooper this May particularly put the once-prominent actor back in the spotlight for a moment. When Cooper famously rolled his eyes at Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway’s dissembling about FBI director James Comey’s firing, Woods responded to the eye-roll that went viral with a nasty little gay joke.

Woods has received a flood of backlash on Twitter, as well as criticism from gay actor, Neil Patrick Harris, who responded with a tweet of his own. “Utterly ignorant and classless, Mr. Woods,” the Gone Girl actor, 44, wrote. “I’m friends with this family. You know not of what you speak, and should be ashamed of yourself.”

The mother of the family in the photo, Lori Duron³, blogged about their son’s recent experiences at Pride in a post titled, “My Gender Creative Son’s First Pride.

My sweet, fabulous, rainbow boy has never received so many compliments,” Duron wrote. “He’s used to getting stares and whispers when we’re out in public. He’s not used to getting the smiles, hugs and encouragement he received at Pride.”

 

 

 

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  1.  Once Upon a Time in America, is a revised version of the same 1984 film, directed by Sergio Leone, and starring Robert DeNiro and James Woods.
  2. Gay and Transgender Youth Homelessness by the Numbers, by the Center for American Progress
  3. Lori Duron, proud parent of gender non-conforming child’s Blog.
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