The Dynamics of Gender – Part 1
Sex and gender are two different, individual concepts, however they do intertwine in so far as what society defines as behaviour that is appropriate for certain gender. In understanding the two, you get an insight on the definition of a transgender person.
Tshepo Ricki Kgositau, a human rights advocate with a focus on issues pertaining the transgender populations, transgender persons and gender non-confirming individuals in the Southern African region and continent, gives us insight and clarity in this regard:
The sex of a person is the biological being of an individual. Generally people assume that sex is binary – with only male and female. However there is a spectrum in the human sex whereby an array of biological variations can occur. There are people who are intersex who are born with a variation of male characteristics and female characteristics. In the sex spectrum you would find a person who physically looks like a certain sex but they have some characteristics of the opposite sex. Examples would include men who have breasts or wide hips, women with beards or a deep voice. These examples fall somewhere within that spectrum, and thus it is possible for a person to have characteristics of both sexes to varying extents. This is not a “new” concept or phenomenon as Batswana, even in previous years have had terms they use to refer to person who are intersex – calling a person whose sex was ambiguous “trasi”.
Gender on the other hand has to do with roles assigned to an individual according to society’s presumed standards. A male bodied person is raised to be a boy/man and a female bodied raised to be a girl/woman. A transgender person however usually does not feel comfortable with the way they are being groomed, are not comfortable to perform roles of the gender they have been assigned at birth, nor do they identify with pronouns associated with the gender they are assumed to be.
Transgender persons grow up feeling coerced to identify with pronouns they are not comfortable with, forced to play in sports teams of sexes they are not comfortable with, dressed in clothing of a gender they don’t identify with etc. When growing up, a transgender person often find themselves at loggerheads with parents, peers, teachers and society who expect them to behave in a certain way.
It is therefore important for awareness to be created about trans people in order to place a sense of urgency in creating an environment that enables children to be able speak on their own behalf. Creating such an environment would establish a change in the narrative for children to be raised as they are and not as they are told – thus reducing cases were one only develops confidence to embrace themselves at an adult stage.
This requires educating families to shift the notion that a child cannot think for themselves and only have to listen. This takes away the agency of a child to be able to speak for themselves or come forward with what they may want to share on their own behalf and not have things imposed.
Children are very conscious of themselves and environment. External factors and how they are brought up contribute to shaping a person, while at the same time a person goes through an internal process of interrogating where they fall in terms of gender roles dictated by society. Depending on how vocal one is, if they don’t identify with the roles assigned to them, a child will either accept the label imposed on them or rebel against it.
It is important in a set up like Botswana where there is still conflict between traditional doctrines and modern living to enable access to educational information to the community especially family members. It is also equally important to make them aware that there is support out there that can help all parties understand such as the organisation Ms.Kgositau heads called Gender DynamiX (www.genderdynamix.org.za).
Society often shuns trans individuals. When one who is assumed to be a boy acts very feminine they are labelled with negative terms such as “sissy” or “pharamesising”. Such negative reinforcement leads children to accept what the elders at home are dictating – suppressing the individual’s ability to fully express who they actually identify as. A few individuals do find themselves in an environment that enables them to come into themselves at a younger age, often later in life.
Gender identity is the gender that you identify with; it is an innate knowledge of the self as male or female and/or man or woman. When a child is growing up they are already developing an identity of the self. A person starts developing the sense of the self between the ages of 3 to 12, a crucial time when a person really finds where they fall in the human sex spectrum and which gender they identify with. In understanding a transgender person you come to understand a certain cognitive process of a human brain, in terms of how we process who we identify as and being able to define who we are.
If one is asked, “Are you a male or female?” Who should answer this question – society or an individual?
Part II – A look into Ms Kgositau advocacy work, and her outlook in Botswana’s current stance on transgender issues.
By: Lenah Kedikaetswe