steepholm (steepholm) wrote in transgender,
steepholm
steepholm
transgender

Tiwonge Chimbalanga

The case of Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza, the couple sentenced to fourteen years' hard labour under Malawi's anti-gay laws, has caused a good deal of outrage worldwide, and quite rightly. But why, when the world's media has been shocked by the Malawi government's sentence, has it followed it so meekly in regarding Tiwonge Chimbalanga as a gay man, when their own reports make it clear that she is either intersex or a trans woman?

A particularly egregious example is that of the New York Times back in February, which had quite a full report on the case. It can hardly plead ignorance, since its opening words are: "Tiwonge Chimbalanga looked like a man but said he was a woman. He helped with the cooking and dressed in feminine wraparound skirts." It goes on to quote her as saying: “I have male genitals, but inside I am a complete woman. Maybe I cannot give birth to a child, but I menstruate every month — or most months — and I can do any household chores a woman can do.” Or again: "In recent years, when Mr. [sic] Chimbalanga visited his family, he dressed as a woman and did woman’s work, fetching water and grinding corn with a pestle. Villagers say they thought this strange, but he was well liked."

Despite this, the NYT refers to her with male pronouns throughout, even including the classic line: "Mr. Chimbalanga’s real name is Mabvuto Stoneck Kachepa." And what does it make of the menstruation? Why, it means she is a gay man, of course!

“Menstruation through his penis” had begun by then, a condition that may have some extremely rare medical cause, some experts say, but could also be the imagined claim of a gay man in a repressed society desperate to think himself a woman."


'Cos that's what trans women are, y'know (at least when they're poor and black) - just desperate gay men in denial. Naturally, if Ms Chimbalanga had had the money to hop on a plain to Thailand for SRS the NYT would not have said that. The toxic mix of racism, classism and transphobia in this article (which is merely the longest of many similar) only adds insult to the great injury this woman is already suffering.

But the New York Times isn't alone. I've not done a comprehensive trawl, but the BBC and other major newspapers all seem to have followed the Malawi court's lead in misgendering Ms Chimbalanga. Is there any mainstream news organization that has done Ms Chimbalanga the courtesy of referring to her with the correct pronouns? Or is that reserved for people who live closer to home, and don't have hard-to-pronounce names? Personally, I'd have thought that sending her to a men's jail for 14 years was enough, without conspiring to erase her identity into the bargain.

ETA: 29th May 2010. The couple have been pardoned by the Malawian President, Bingu wa Mutharika. The BBC is still misgendering Tiwonge Chimbalanga, but all told this is a happy ending!
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