OPINION: On Transgender Day of Visibility we should dream big

by Dumiso Gatsha | Success Capital Organisation
Tuesday, 31 March 2020 13:19 GMT

Participants hold flags during Queer Azadi Pride, an event promoting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights, in Mumbai, India, February 1, 2020. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In Botswana, transgender and other people who don't conform to gender stereotypes are either invisible or face violence

This year’s Transgender Day of Visibility is taking place in one of the most uncertain and anxious times in living memory. But today can still be a reminder for all of us around the world to not set aside our dreams of living a fulfilling life.

Living a fulfilled life, for me, is about belonging to a community while also being your true self, in a way that cannot be replicated or taken away.

But for transgender people, and others who don’t fit into gender stereotypes, in Botswana we are often invisible and uncounted.

And if we are seen and recognised then we are subject to violence and injustice.

This reality became clear to me when I initiated a research study, recording interviews with transgender and other young people with diverse gender identities in Francistown, Botswana’s second city.

As I sat with them, people whom I had known a long time, I took in their pain and anguish.

And I couldn’t separate their challenges from my own, as a non-binary person (someone who doesn’t identify as male or female).

Where people are persistently asked if they are male or female at immigration points or in job interviews.

The struggles experienced when constantly trying to fit in and realising that few will ever understand you.

The violence, too, that can come when you are scrutinised for who are you are.

Whether it is having to deal with gasps in a shopping mall, at a police station when certifying an identity card, or when having a difficult conversation with an intimate partner.

And the world is violent for many of us.

Violent through misogyny, violent because of the use of wrong pronouns, violent because of what society thinks femininity should look like.

Even in the safest of spaces, our experiences and our true identity can simply be invalidated because you’re not enough of a woman. This is especially difficult when what we can afford to spend money on affects how we present ourselves to the world.

There are many instances where I have questioned whether I need to be more explicit about my gender identity, in order to be seen as valid when I am in public spaces or during my work as an activist.

But we are challenging those who question our existence as an LGBT+ community, by speaking out on public radio and through art and research.

It was a conscious effort aimed at challenging erasure and exclusion, to document often unheard experiences, and to redefine how we are known as a community of individuals who do not conform.

To show that we too can belong and be ourselves; towards living fulfilling lives.

The stories of resilience, of being resourceful while navigating the difficulties of daily life in Botswana were both beautiful and unnerving.

By telling these stories we are dismantling dark, violent norms with our love.

We are shining a light on inspiring people. People who are constantly negotiating which battles to fight and which to relinquish, in our experiences as multifaceted, complex individuals. Individuals who want to and can live fulfilling lives.

On a day that recognises and affirms gender diversity and expression, there is nothing more important than commending the beautiful souls that surround us and continue to defy the odds in ways many of us can only imagine.

I also foresee a day when we no longer have to struggle.

A day when we can celebrate our successes in providing gender-affirming, universal health care, and eliminating poverty.

When we all have the equal ability to exercise autonomy – with our bodies, in society and in our activism.

Where we can all live fulfilling lives.