The Trans Collective's first seminar, Disrupting Gender, asked how the physical and non-physical spaces of the university could be reconfigured to include all forms of gender variance expression.
"How can the recent push towards decolonising tertiary institutions be translated into the recognition of the experience and oppression of trans and gender non-conforming bodies and minds? What role can cisgendered allies of the trans community play in this movement? Futhermore what are the micro and macro-aggressive experiences of trans and gender non-conforming students on campus and how can the institution address these?"
These were some of the questions raised at Monday's 'Disrupting Gender' seminar, held by the UCT Trans Collective.
Standing in front of the 200 assembled students, Thato Pule, one of the founders of the UCT Trans Collective (along with Sandile Ndelu), explained the aims of the recently formed organisation: "With the rise of the dialogue around the decolonisation of tertiary institutions, we are raising the question of what this means for degendering our minds and bodies. More critically, what does this mean for black trans and genderqueer bodies? Previous action around problematising our understanding of gender has always privileged a cisgender lens. We want to make it clear that true decolonisation will remain unattainable so long as this oversight exists."
The Trans Collective is a collective of transgender and gender non-conforming students, and their allies, at UCT. According to Pule the collective is a transfeminist movement grounded in critical race theory, black consciousness and radical intersectionality. "Our approach is threefold," she explained, "we aim to lobby the management of UCT to see and hear our wants and needs. We aim to create education and awareness through talks, seminars and workshops, and we are working to build a safe space for trans, intersex and genderqueer students, staff and workers."
The seminar was facilitated by Sibusiso Kheswa, a longtime activist for transgender rights and executive director of Gender Dynamix, the first African organisation to focus solely on providing help and information to and about the transgender community. Speaking at the beginning of the seminar Kheswa highlighted the need for the Trans Collective, both within the institution of UCT as well as the broader context of Cape Town, especially in light of the discrimination and difficulties faced for members of this community in everyday life. He said: "Gender dichotomies are entrenched in almost all of our society's institutions, from our schools to our workplaces and beyond. Transgender people face enormous difficulties even in getting the correct identity documents from the Department of Home Affairs or a bank card without a cisgendered title attached."
Professor Jane Bennett of the African Gender Institute (AGI) provided insight into the importance that notions of gender play in society at present. "Often a human being cannot be afforded full human beingness until we can assign them a gender. This deep cruelty is based on our need to label people according to a dichotomy."
Bennett also described both the strengths and vulnerabilities of an individual who is transgender, saying, "The ways that non-gender compliance is hated tells us much about our society. If you are someone who does not fall into these easy categories of gender then you are both very vulnerable – since society often tacitly accepts violence against you – and you have the possibility of having great knowledge. Knowledge of what it means to subvert the dominant narrative and knowledge of how the political is truly the personal."
The second part of the seminar centred on group discussion. Questions raised by members of the audience included how cisgendered allies of the transgender community could offer support, why gender norms were entrenched at UCT (from cisgender titles being affixed to student cards to the fact that no one knew the location of the gender neutral bathroom on campus), who benefits from this problematic configuration of the institution, as well as the role that colonisation has played in creating entrenched gender dichotomies and heteronormative standards.
Story by Ambre Nicolson. Photo by Michael Hammond.
|To find out more about the UCT Trans Collective find them on Facebook or email on firstname.lastname@example.org|
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