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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.