To exist is to resist: the familial ties and tactics influencing the survival migration of transgender Zimbabweans
(University of Wits)
Paper short abstract:
This paper explores the crossing and shiftings in personhood, gender-based relations, bodily borders, land borders and survival strategies of a group of transgender Zimbabwean sex workers living in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Paper long abstract:
Zimbabweans have been migrating into South Africa - navigating the colonial borders of the Limpopo River and the Apartheid era electric fences - for generations. Over the last twenty years though, the emergent global 'gay' rights regime, continental reactions and issues concerning this have brought a relatively new group of migrants into visibility within South Africa, namely transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. This paper explores the crossing and shiftings in personhood, gender-based relations, bodily borders, land borders and survival strategies of a group of transgender Zimbabwean sex workers living in Johannesburg, South Africa. In an era where Africa has become problematically synonymous with homophobia, this paper unpacks the central roles that families have played in facilitating the movement and survival of their transgender children. In-depth interviews were conducted in 2013 in Johannesburg as part of a broader research project on the experiences of transgender asylum seekers in South Africa. While able to apply for asylum, this group, in particular, chose to actively avoid the South African state. Drawing on their experiences, I argue that the border between being legal and illegal for gender non-conforming migrants has always been a porous and precarious space that has required constant creative negotiation between gender identity, survival, and the state-regulated visa, passport and a refugee system which acknowledges gender and sexuality as a means to asylum. For this group of transgender Zimbabweans cross border, familial ties have played a key role in ensuring their survival and self-identification.
Crossing boundaries, crossing borders: subversion, disruption and LGBTQ migration on the African continent