Thursday, May 20, 2010

Is this a matter of Gay Rights?

Before you start trying to lay into me for the title of this post hear me out.

I'm sure you're already read about the couple in Malawi, 20 year old Tiwonge Chimbalanga and 26 year old Steven Monjeza, that were arrested last year when they threw an engagement party for themselves. They have since been convicted of "unnatural acts and gross indecency" and are looking at a 14 year sentence of hard labor.

Now there is not question that such a thing is horrible and unjust no matter what the characteristics are of the people in that couple however I'm wondering if this is being reported on accurately.

When I first heard about this I read that the couple was gay. For example in this coverage on Fox News they make no bones about calling them a gay couple. Now as we currently understand a gay couple is a couple formed of two people of the same gender identity. Well it would seem that they are not actually a gay couple.

I was reading a post at Questioning Transphobia that shows that Tiwonge Chimbalanga actually identifies as a woman. It would seem to me that based on that the people that are going on about the "gay couple" in Malawi.

Now this is not an attempt at trying to silence the people who are bringing attention to this I just question how the situation is being labeled. If one person is a woman and the other is a man isn't that a heterosexual couple? Again not trying to silence the injustice that homosexual couples go through just asking is it right to keep calling them a gay couple.

Chances are I'll never raise these questions anywhere but here because frankly I don't think I'll find a place safe enough to ask them without getting attacked. But hey that's what My Corner is here for.


elementary_watson said...

I think it is a matter of Gay Rights: Think about the hypothetical case of a couple consisting of a person perceived as woman but identifying as male and a cis-male person. I do not think that they would have to face prison in Malawi, since I guess the authorities there wouldn't see the trans person as a man.

Of course, the term "gay couple" should be used more cautiously in this case (this is the accusation, and it would definitely be good to report one of the persons is really a trans person).

Elle Suchier said...

I don't know if I would characterize it as only a gay rights issue. Just because a trans couple could pass as hetero while being homosexual, doesn't necessarily mean that this case isn't also a trans rights issue. Can't it be both a gay rights issue (because it's the appearance of two men being together which is found offensive) AND a trans issue (because the society is refusing to recognize that while the body is male she identifies as female)?

On another note -- has anyone looked at cultural traditions in Malawi and whether pre-colonial groups had a different attitude about what gay couples looked like? Do we know if there's any kind of pre-colonial cultural tradition where same sex relationships are not considered acceptable unless one partner takes on the social identity of the opposite sex, after which the union becomes acceptable? Maybe we're looking at the relationship and the trans/gay identification through our own cultural lens.

womanistmusings said...

I thought that this post was a great answer to your question.

Danny said...

I got you. In your example they would be "okay" but only because they didn't know about their relationship due to perceiving one of them as a woman.

Danny said...

Oh yea I would say that it is more than a gay rights issue. I was just concentrating on gay rights because that is how the it has been mainly portrayed in the media. I do agree that this would be a matter of trangender rights as well.

As for your other note that would take more examination of Malawi culture/history.

Danny said...

I'll tell you what Renee this is one of those times when I start to scratch my head and wonder what's the point of trying to figure out whose issue it is. It's not like this needs to be identified in order for it to matter.

As you know I'm not one to grasp for labels. When I see people do that I get the feeling that there is just a mass of people that are trying to label the issue for their own gain rather than for the sake of the victim(s) at hand.

I'm mostly keeping this here because I want to throw my hands in the air and just shouting, "Who gives a damn if its a Gay, Transgender, Woman's, Marriage, etc... Rights issue!?!?!"

womanistmusings said...

I think that the issue is that there are many intersections to this. Actually I think that it is a good thing that so many marginalized people have stepped up to claim this couple. The more support they get the better.

Danny said...

I'm all for the multiple shows of support. But like I said I'm just worried that the shows of support and claims are more for getting a name for themselves than actually helping these two. But maybe this is one of those times where the ends justify the means....