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About Transgenders coming out at work. PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Christine Ehlers the transwoman who took her employer to court for dismissing her for transitioning at work, has won her case! The court has ruled that she be reinstated as the first measure in a typical situation where there has been an unfair dismissal. The company has some time to appeal against this but the ruling of the judge made it very clear that dismissing someone on the grounds of their Gender identity or sexual orientation is illegal.
As advocacy manager at Gender Dynamix, an organisation that deals with Transgender rights, dismissed transgender individuals often land at the other side of my desk. The initial euphoria they experience when learning that there is a place in society for people who need to change their gender is suddenly dashed by the reality of the workings of the gender machine.
“Just like that, he marched into our bathroom wearing a dress. He has been working with us for years. Now suddenly we have to believe that he is a woman.” Said one of the colleagues of one another transgender women approached me for help recently. She worked in the highly masculine environment of mining and the dismissal came swiftly. Later the dismissal could come at a high price for a company who is trading in a country with laws that protect minorities.
Transgender people have an innate sense of gender identity that is different from the gender (male of female) assigned to them at birth. Many of them will only come to the realisation that they cannot go on with their lives if there is not some amount of adjustment to their bodies to bring them in alignment.  This turning point could happen at any point of a life, most often it is apparent in childhood.
The transgender woman at the other side of my desk though, has come to this point late in her life and is now at war with the testosterone still coursing through her veins. She has to have regular painful laser therapy to rid herself of the hair on her face. She has to go on the painful stigmatised journey that all transgender people have to embark on to come into their true selves. The responses of colleagues though are often very unsympathetic.
And yes then there is the space outside of her self - the rest of the world. She is confronted with her body as it relates to the rest of the world, her male body being the only thing she has to negotiate her safety and it is telling a story that feels like a lie to her.
The first step to changing one’s gender is to have psychological assessment by a medical professional who deals with gender issues. The assessment is about establishing the person’s stability mostly and not to establish a true gender. Let’s face it, when one starts to sort male and female attributes into separate bins there will be a lot of confusion about who owns what exclusively. In the end it will essentially boil down to what you look like, that makes people read one’s gender. Even though pink and dress and lipstick and stockings mean woman, putting those things on a male bodied person will automatically make people grapple for an identity on the margins. It means gay, insane or criminal!
And essentially those are the three things people believe of transgender people. All of them could be true but never has it been about any of those dismissed transgender women on the other side of my desk.
All of them have just been a nice lady trapped in a guy’s body who had no time left to waste in an identity that was not working for them. When they got the green light from their mental health professional they are expected to start negotiating their new identity within their communities.
This is where it becomes tricky when companies do not have human resource managers who understand the rights of employees relating to transitioning gender in the workplace. The woman who was fired from her job at the mining company was remunerated a sizable amount in the end, something that enabled her to have her Gender Reassignment surgery and time to secure a new future. The case was a true victory for transgender rights.

New Life Story: Julia Swanepoel PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 31 August 2010


Click on the aboce link to go to our Life Story Section.

International AIDS Conference - Report PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Caroline Bowley, Gender DynamiX Programmes Coordinator was invited by the World Aids Campaign to represent Gender DynamiX at the 18th International AIDS Conference in Vienna from 18 to 23 July 2010. Caroline was asked specifically as a representative of the transgender community in Africa as it is one of the groups of individuals who are most at risk of contracting HIV.

Pre Conference Workshop
Caroline attended a pre conference workshop in Vienna on 16 and 17 July hosted by World Aids Campaign. The main objective for the workshop was to reflect on the geographic and population range of the HIV epidemics, receive up-to-date information and participate in skill/knowledge building at a campaign-focused event before the International AIDS Conference.  
One of the main stumbling blocks to reaching some of the goals for ensuring universal access to treatment for people living with HIV and prevention strategies was identified as being the lack of financing. The amounts that were promised by the G8 and other countries to reach the millennium development targets for 2010 have been short coming and less than 50% of funds promised have been delivered.
Out of the pre conference workshop some protest actions were organized to coincide with the conference. One took place at the start before the main opening plenary session and the other was on the Wednesday Evening in Vienna.

Gender Change in ID - 20 years! PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 16 July 2010

Gender Change in ID took 20 years!

“My life has not been an easy one. Throwing away my female ID will let me close all the old books and start afresh. I am fifty two years old. I have waited for my male ID book for 20 years.”
Charl is the bookkeeper and resident writer at Gender DynamiX. After going through the gender program at Groote Schuur in the early nineties he attempted to apply for a change of his gender at the Department of Home Affairs. He was met with disbelief, denial and ultimately humiliation at the counter of the Home Affairs office in Cape Town. The clerk at the front desk told him that it was impossible to change one’s gender, laughed at him loudly and sent him away. When Charl insisted that it was possible he responded by telling him that in his opinion Charl had not had enough surgeries to qualify. He sent him away.
Another clerk called him back and told him that he could change his name and that his chosen name would at least reflect his gender. This woman was kind and sympathetic and assisted him to get the new ID book with his male name in it within months.
His problems were not over yet. He then tried to apply for a bank account with his new ID and was set for another event of public humiliation at FNB bank. Even though ID books do not explicitly state words of gender, the four digits after the birth date are gendered in the sense that males are numbered above 5000 and females below. The assistant at the bank typed in his ID number and the screen revealed Charl’s past. Somehow it even stated what his old names had been before. The bank refused him a bank account on the grounds that “this application is just too complicated”
 “My primary interest in changing my gender on my documents was not just administrational. I wanted to marry my girl. She was a heterosexual woman. It did not sit well with us that we were seen as two women together. I felt that if I could change my ID we could get married and it would be for ever.  We broke up. She said I am not a lesbian. I said neither am I.”
And so he had to live his life for another 12 years. In 2004 Charl heard that activists had fought for the right for transgender people to have their documents changed without having undergone genital surgery.  He stepped into the Cape Town Home Affairs office again.
“The same kind lady was still at the counter after so many years. She advised me that I need letters from my doctors with extensive medical information on. She said the psychologist letter has to say I have lived my newly assigned gender for 2 years. She said these letters have to be from the doctors who treated me”
“So now I had go looking for the psychiatrist who had treated me 12 years ago and I had no idea where he was. I found the plastic surgeon. He had moved to England and was not very helpful. He told me he does not know where any of the other people are who treated me and that his old files were somewhere in boxes.”
Charl tried to make his application with letters from doctors treating him at that point but Home Affairs officials kept sending him away asking for different letters.
“Off course today I realise that they were giving me the wrong information. The law does not require that people who change their gender have to have a psychologist’s letter, neither does the law require of one to live one’s new gender for any amount of time in order to qualify”

Exchange Program Feedback PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 15 July 2010

Exchange Program Feedback

The first leg of the long-awaited Exchange Programme involving transgender activists from five countries on the African Continent kicked off in Namibia on 24 May and went on untill 29 May 2010. The second leg of the two-tiered programme will take place in September in Cape Town. The organisations represented there, were Gender DynamiX from South Africa, SIPD from Uganda, SMUG from Uganda, Rainbow Identity from Botswana, Trans Bantu from Zambia and Outright Namibia from Namibia. Sixteen people attended.
One of the more interesting items on the programme was a dialogue with Gender Students at the University of Namibia facilitated by Robert Hamblin from Gender Dynamix and Immaculate Mogotse, Lecturer in Gender Studies at the University. The dialogue explored what a norm is, how it is policed by society, and what that means for transgender people as norm-breakers.
The students interacted with workshop attendees in an open Question and Answer session. At first all the usual curious questions were asked about how transgender people’s bodies work. Robert Hamblin, Tebogo Nkoana and Skipper Mogape handled these questions skilfully so as to inform and at the same time avoid intrusion. The discussion also led to questions and answers on social constructs, religion and Gender identity, and how you fit into society.
Unfortunately, but not really unexpected, the meeting became disruptive at some point, but Skipper threatened that they would leave if they weren’t treated with respect. “Skipper gave me a fright when he did this,” Robert said, “but I soon realised that asserting oneself would gain the respect of the students instead of alienating them. We do not have to present as weaklings.”
One of the highlights of the week was thedocumentary, Kuchus of Uganda which focused on the challenges faced by our Ugandan brothers and sisters. The film deals largely with an event that happened at the University of Uganda. LGBTI people were on a panel in a lecture room, supposedly there to explain to students that homo- and transphobia is a Western concept. The film shows that they didn’t get any chance to speak, but the students used that time to malign, shout and swear at the panelists. “The film made me feel humble about the odds Ugandan activists have to fight against compared to the priviledge that South Africans have in the light of our constitution.” Said Themba Nkosi
The HIV & STD and safer sex workshop explored transgender sexualities and was presented by Robert Hamblin and Holo Hochonda from Zambia. The question “How do you identify?” caused some confusion, especially for the less experienced activists. Do we judge our sexual preference by our genitals or do we judge it by our gender identity. The workshop attempted to lead participants to an understanding that the world should respect our identities based on the gender we feel we are and not what was assigned to us at birth. For example: Should a pre-op transwoman choose to partner with a woman, one should respect her sexual orientation to be that of a lesbian.
Not surprisingly, the Malawi case of the transgender couple who had first been sentenced to 14 years’ hard labour and then pardoned by the President of Malawi, Bingu wa Mutharika, also found its way onto the agenda.
“We discussed why we believe that it is important that the world acknowledges the gender identity of Tiwonga and Steven and explored why LGBTI organisations are so insistent on calling them gay when they do have the information of gender identity at their disposal,” Robert explained. A statement was constructed regarding this matter for international release. “It was our first taste of how powerful it could be when we are in solidarity on transgender issues,” he added.
The programme, which had been attended by sixteen transgender activists, was enthusiastically acclaimed by the attendees. Leigh-Ann van der Merwe, South Africa, found the programme informative and educational and vowed to make the WSW(women having sex with women) and MSM(men having sex with me) Position Paper the goal and mission for herself. It establishes the position of transgender people in terms of research and HIV prevention programmes in particular, and it also affirms the T in the LGBTI equation, she said.
“Looking at the global position of transgender people, and the way people are treated on the African continent, I am both humbled and honoured to fight alongside these activists because everybody knows this is no easy battle. I admire the courage of the Ugandans to fight amidst danger and political unrest,” she added. She is looking forward to the second part in Cape Town.
Socially, everyone agrees, was both enjoyable and educational to see how the people lived. The group visited two “pink friendly” shebeens in a Windhoek township called Katatura.
“The second shebeen has a sign on its toilet that reads ‘Tomboys & Men’ on the one side and ‘Women & Moffies’ on the other side. We were all very amused by this and everyone wanted to pose for a photo in front of it,” Robert said laughingly.


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Gender DynamiX South Africa: The first African organisation solely for the transgender communtity. Committed to provide resources, information and support to transgender people, their partners, family, employers and the public.