By Chelsea Haith
“Gender is what’s between your ears, not what’s between your legs,” said Sian Ferguson, the vice-chairperson of the Gender Action Project (GAP), speaking to the staff at the Raphael Centre on 31 July. During the course of the workshop on sexuality and gender, GAP members and the Raphael Centre staff shared ideas about sexuality, gender roles and transphobia.
The Raphael Centre, founded in 1999, is a HIV/Aids community initiative that offers testing and support for those living with HIV/Aids. The workshop on gender and sexuality held at the centre was intended to increase awareness about issues faced by transgender people, a minority that is endangered by narrow-minded medical professionals and intolerant societal perceptions.
“Transgender people are more likely to get Aids and not seek treatment due to a high risk of being abused,” Ferguson said, explaining the necessity of inclusive and tolerant treatment of transgender people, particularly in the medical industry.
The event began with the staff and GAP members sharing stories about differences in gender roles in their cultures and traditions. This gave the GAP members something to think about.
So often tradition and culture are disrespected in feminist discourses that demand the liberation of women, without accounting for the realities of women in their communities.
“In my culture the women cook and clean and the men do gardening and earn the money, that is how it is,” said Ntombizodwa Goje, who is in charge of the Community Wellness portfolio at the Raphael Centre.
The Raphael Centre staff and members of GAP then worked together to understand transphobia in a discussion led by Ferguson, Jude Anjuli Daya and Sikhona Nyamende. “There is a misconception that transgender women are actually just gay,” Nyamende said. This kind of misunderstanding can be extremely harmful to these women’s emotional state.
“We have deep set ideas about what is ‘normal’, but stigma can quite literally kill women,” said Ferguson, emphasising the importance of respecting transgender people’s choice and privacy.