ONTD Political

Malawi "gay male couple" is actually a straight marriage

4:08 pm - 05/21/2010

In The Interest of “Equality,” Malawian Woman’s Identity Is Erased

by Audacia Ray on May 21, 2010

With the ongoing interest in Uganda’s state-sponsored homophobia and a bill in the country that would make homosexual acts punishable by death, there’s been more press than usual about sexuality throughout the African continent. Uganda has been getting most of the ink, but the fact remains that 37 countries in Africa have a variety of laws against homosexuality.

Early this week a story broke about a “gay male couple” in Malawi who have both been found guilty of “unnatural acts” and “gross indecency” and sentenced to 14 years of hard labor. This story has been in development since December, when Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga were arrested in their home after a public engagement party celebrating their union.

Gay rights and human rights groups all over the world have issued statements condemning the Malawian court system and speaking out against punishing people for their sexual orientation.

The only problem with this, as the razor-sharp blog Questioning Transphobia pointed out yesterday, is that Tiwonge Chimbalanga identifies as female. Both the mainstream press and gay rights groups have consistently erased this fact from their statements. Several newspapers have quoted Tiwonge as saying, “I’d rather remain in prison than to be released into a world where I am kept away from Steven.” However Gender DynamiX, a South African organization that promotes freedom of expression of gender identity and advocates for the rights of transgender, transsexual, and gender non-conforming people, has the full quote: “I am just a woman who loves my man. I’d rather remain in prison than to be released into a world where I am kept away from Steven.”

The below video was filmed by Gender DynamiX this week at a protest this week in Cape Town, South Africa. In it, activists describe the scene and clearly state that Tiwonge is a transgender woman, not a gay man.

The New York Times
, in an article they published in February about the case, gives a little context to her identity but then completely disregards it:
Tiwonge Chimbalanga looked like a man but said he was a woman. He helped with the cooking and dressed in feminine wraparound skirts. Steven Monjeza was a quiet, sullen man often intoxicated on sorghum beer. He said he had never been happy until he finally met the right companion.
The mainstream media is notorious for misgendering trans people; when trans women are written about, they are described as being “men dressed as women” and referred to persistently as “he.” And although many gay rights groups include the letter “T” in their acronyms and claim to be inclusive of diversity in gender identity, they don’t hesitate to blatantly disregard gender identity when it serves their purpose of arguing for “equality” in the treatment of gays.

This is a multilayered issue: clearly, trans and gay rights activists within Africa are identifying Tiwonge as a trans woman and see her conviction as transphobic state violence and injustice. However, mainstream international press and gay rights groups are coopting the story to fit into their concept of the fight for marriage equality. The resulting coverage both silences trans women and ignores the voices and identities of Africans.


ontp_d discussed this situation earlier this week, but it's worth highlighting again without misgendering. cis-dominated gay rights groups are quick to co-opt trans issues for their own causes, and equally quick to drop support for trans people when convenient.

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turi 21st-May-2010 11:13 pm (UTC)
I've been following this story and just figured out that she was trans last night. I was surprised that the gay blogs aren't making this more evident.

Either way she is pretty fierce.

derogatory 21st-May-2010 11:18 pm (UTC)
so fierce.
lovebats 21st-May-2010 11:21 pm (UTC)
ugh, i don't even know what to say to this. its despicable all around
trialia 21st-May-2010 11:22 pm (UTC)
Fucking media. I'm so tired of seeing my trans friends - and people I don't know, as in this case - misgendered by them. It's ridiculous and unnecessary. I don't see any logical point in it, frankly. X_X;
worldmage 21st-May-2010 11:23 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much for posting. This bullshit is so typical and it doesn't get called out nearly enough.
ever_obsessed 21st-May-2010 11:26 pm (UTC)
Thank god some people are picking up on this.

She, you assholes. She.
chantalzola 21st-May-2010 11:31 pm (UTC)
Thank you for posting this.
chibi_lurrel 21st-May-2010 11:44 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I was talking to people in meatspace about this and they had no idea she was a woman. Thanks for posting.
fruhlings 21st-May-2010 11:57 pm (UTC)
Oh wow, I didn't know this. Thanks for this article.
girlthatyoufear 21st-May-2010 11:59 pm (UTC)
I did not know this and it is incredibly fucked up, but as the OP mentioned beforehand, not surprising. :(

Thanks for posting this.
jean_prouvaire 22nd-May-2010 12:05 am (UTC)
Oh, man. I've read a few articles on this and they were all so fucked-up that I didn't have a clue she was trans until now, because they kept calling her a gay man.

Fuck you, newspapers. And four for you, Tiwonge Coco.
seagullsong 22nd-May-2010 02:02 am (UTC)
Me neither. >(
schmiss 22nd-May-2010 12:37 am (UTC)
You know what's sad? I didn't read about this on any feminist blogs. I read about it in a comment on ONTD. Although at the time I wasn't sure if the commenter was certain, since there was no source.

Now I'm pretty disappointed & looking through my bookmarks to see if anyone correctly identified Chimbalanga's gender and I missed it.
zombieroadtrip 22nd-May-2010 12:49 am (UTC)
You know what's sad? I didn't read about this on any feminist blogs.

Sad, but absolutely not surprising at all.
kynn 22nd-May-2010 01:06 am (UTC)
But then, I always prefer ignorance to outright malice...

motive isn't as important as the actual effects and results
politicette 22nd-May-2010 01:03 am (UTC)
Fucking finally. ♥ to you, OP.
kynn 22nd-May-2010 01:06 am (UTC)
redstar826 22nd-May-2010 01:19 am (UTC)
kynn, thanks for posting this


stoichiometric 22nd-May-2010 01:21 am (UTC)
“I’d rather remain in prison than to be released into a world where I am kept away from Steven.”

iamcheryltweedy 22nd-May-2010 01:29 am (UTC)
thank you for posting this.
5047 22nd-May-2010 01:31 am (UTC)

Thank you so much for posting this. I didn't know that the couple was straight couple. I've posted this tumblr and twitter to correct my previous misrepresentation of the couple.
raggedyanndy 22nd-May-2010 01:35 am (UTC)
Great. Just fuckin fabulous. Posting to Facebook now.
evie 22nd-May-2010 02:07 am (UTC)
I confess, I haven't really been following this case outside of hearing mentions of it on mainstream media and I had NO idea until now that she was trans. What a fucking travesty that this is being ignored.
shirozora 22nd-May-2010 02:24 am (UTC)
When this was first reported I remember reading that Tiwonge identified as a woman, so it was always in the back of my mind. I just never realized what it meant when subsequent articles failed to mention that Tiwonge identifies as and therefore is she.

I'm sorry I never noticed that, Tiwonge. Please continue being fierce.

P.S. On the acronyms debate I usually say LGBTQ, although I'm starting to lean towards LGBTQIA for Intersex and Asexual. Tack on P for Pansexual?
morningapproach 22nd-May-2010 03:28 am (UTC)
O for Omnisexual?
fishphile 22nd-May-2010 02:31 am (UTC)
Thanks for this article.
doe_witch 22nd-May-2010 02:47 am (UTC)
Yay for this post.
lisaee 22nd-May-2010 09:25 am (UTC)
Thank you for this article. I honestly had no idea she was trans. Wow, the media's really gone and fucked this one up.
littledemmie 22nd-May-2010 04:56 pm (UTC)
OK. So I'm a young editor in the hated MSM. I'm also a minority, and I know terminology and identification gets people's hackles up. Let me be clear that I think it was wrong for any story to omit that Tiwonge identifies as female. At the same time, reporters write stories for a public that has little to no understanding of the issues at hand concerning cis/trans (I honestly didn't, before reading some of the stuff here).

The reporters and editors themselves, very very likely, don't have that understanding either. "It's their job to know," but keep in mind that we in America have only started acknowledging cis gays as human beings since the late 80s :/ I'm working on getting my colleagues up to date, but they are the same as your parents and grandparents (and peers, for you elder ontd_p statesmen, haha).

The story is about persecution for a relationship. Malawi is persecuting the two because they are (biological) men. Using "she" would confuse the fuck out of 9/10 of the audience, which defeats the purpose of writing the story in the first place. In an ideal world, the story would include an entire explanation of the cis/trans conflict and why the paper decided to use "she" for a biological male but it isn't feasible, in the physical newspaper or for a daily turnaround story (a feature story, sure, by a reporter who has time to do the research).

Does that make sense? I hope yall can understand the mindset, and send a polite email to the news outlet. None of that screamy capslock shit because that gets old real fast :p
fruhlings 22nd-May-2010 04:59 pm (UTC)
I really don't think it's that difficult to identify a person by their preferred gender, though. And it's really not that confusing, if the article the reporter writes explains what it means to be transgender.
diggin4basura 22nd-May-2010 10:49 pm (UTC)
*sigh* Still waiting on that scientific proof that proves homosexuality is genetic. I know it's there.

Instead of just telling those homophobes that what they're doing is wrong, inhumane, unfair etc, we should be educating them about sexual orientation and how it's not a choice. It's the best way.
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