Sex & Gender
feature: muffled voices of lgbt females
By Gender Bent
September 11, 2014
It would appear, at a quick glance, that female members of the LGBT community do not exist nor matter. Within LGBT circles and discussions across the world the dominant stories are those of gay men and trans* women. Even with shows like “The L Word” and “Orange Is The New Black”, have female voices been muted? LGBT history is heavily focused on the struggles of the biologically male quotient of the community, be it gay or trans* women- with little consideration of female stories. The tantalizing element of gay or MtF stories is that one is seen to have been born into privilege and is now abandoning it for a life of Ghandian strife. It’s like the King that abdicates or superstar that leaves the flashing lights for normalcy. There’s something ‘odd’ about it, more so when you’re dealing in the African context where being male is of such great value. Cultural values placed on sex, gender identity and gender performance in contemporary Africa are in a panic state in the advent of social media and various vehicles of globalization. This, in turn, further impacts the LGBT community- especially females. I recently spoke with some friends about this and we concluded that we’ve come to the point where, as Botswana and citizens of the world, we need to start under-fantasizing lesbians, trans* women and trans* men, and pay more attention to their struggles as females. Short of debates about the corrective rape epidemic in South Africa, the female struggle in southern Africa is seldom discussed.
By Katlego K. Kol-Kes, AFROPUNK Contributor
We persistently advocate for “the girl child” yet the LGBT community fails its girls- be they cis-gender or trans*- by not showing them respect nor teaching them that they deserve it. Heteronormative notions of women and femininity spill over into the LGBT world, however, these are almost always concerned with males and their claims to (stereotypical) feminine expressions. As a trans* woman I am glad that positive stories of people like me are now being told and represented in mainstream media through personalities like Laverne Cox, but I’m concerned that we’re hushed on the existence of trans* men. Chaz Bono made waves with his story but nowadays the most that is spoken about Chaz comes in the form of derogatory remarks by people like Joan Rivers on Fashion Police; could this be because he is now a man? As problematic as stating that trans* women are “born male”, it is undeniable that this is what sparks interest in those who talk about us- case in point Chelsea Manning, as well as the Janet Mock – Pierce Morgan debacle.
Madonna’s words: “Do you know what it feels like for a girl? Do you know what it feels like in this world?” resonate when you look at the growing imbalance of the sexes- especially when you consider that LGBT issues are being given attention in mainstream channels. Beyoncé’s recent challenges of what it means to be a feminist have placed the topic on many people’s tongues but these conversations still sideline LGBT females and their struggles in a community that still, somehow, remains male dominated. It would appear that feminism is a brand for cis-gender, heterosexual female indulgence rather than representing the lesbian, bisexual female, trans* woman- and even the trans* man- that exists in the international community. Two openly lesbian basketball players, Brittney Griner and Glory Johnson, recently announced their engagement, yet their story didn’t garner as much voice as those of Jason Collins and Michael Sam simply because they are biologically female. It troubles me that a phrase like “openly lesbian” isn’t said more often; instead, lesbians are referred to as “openly gay”. This is another sign of the misogyny at play in our language and community. For a lesbian to be called gay is for those relating to her to call male sexuality to mind before acknowledging the fact that she is, in fact, female. The same applies in the case of same sex marriage being conflated into the term “gay marriage”, thus disregarding women and what they too have fought for.
This male dominance, I’d say, speaks back to the obsession with the sex lives of the LGBT community. A common grievance stems from the fact that people tend to think lesbian sex isn’t real sex. Lesbianism is still a male fantasy as if it is only when viewed by a male that their sexual encounter is validated, before that they’re just seen as friends fooling about. Rapper Angel Haze, in an interview with The Independent, recently addressed the undermining of her relationship with Ireland Baldwin saying: “If we were two guys, it’d be insane, negatively insane with the attention. With us it’s all being very positive, the media are like, ‘Oh they’re so cute, they’re best friends.’” She further added: “We f–k and friends don’t f–k. I have never f–ked one of my friends.” This, for me, was not a mere reference to their sexual activity but her seeking to solidify their sexual ability. For as long as we allow conversations on sexuality to be ruled by sexual activity, we will always be playing in a realm ruled by the phallus.
We also need to acknowledge the struggle of the trans* man, rather than reverting to theories of “penis envy”, power dynamics and gender role tropes. Gender performance is no more critically analyzed than when applied to males, whether cis-gender or transgender. This heavy investment in male performativity takes its toll on females and understanding the plight of women. I’d argue that this is what is blinding society at large, and the LGBT community, against the misogyny perpetuated by media and a large portion of male identifying members of the LGBT community.
It’s only recently that I read the story of a genderqueering person (Jas) who was born ‘female’ but related better with males- and as a result started concealing her true self by performing “outrageously feminine”. We’ve grown used to the storyline of the overtly masculine closeted gay, but stories like Jas’ and Bois culture are seldom told because females can get by with the “Tom Boy” label if they’re willing to bear it. Glee’s representation of Santana also added to the reinterpretation of female sexuality, yet her storyline is disproportionate to those of Kurt and Blain. Female voices are still closeted behind those of their male counterparts.
In the African context, young LGBT Africans do not have sufficient role models from their continent and rely on the internet and mass media to provide them with these much needed lifelines. Regardless of race and gender identification, role models on the continent are few and far between. The examples of “out” people are often inextricable from politics and gloom. Asylum seekers, activists, victims of abuse and political refugees tend to be the only examples of “out” living. In Botswana we are struggling against the monster of conformity. The problem we face is that young Batswana feel they must relive the stories of their elders because there is no united national front saying “It’s OK for you to be you, we’ll support you”; and I fear that until we group our voices, the LGBT female voice won’t be heard.
A proverb that is thrown about willy-nilly is: “It takes a village to raise a child”, yet we’re slow in practicing it in the LGBT community. It frightens me that by owning my status as a woman, I am perceived as giving the world the right to disrespect my right to fair treatment and humanity. LGBT females are fighting against many factors, yet this is not to place us as subservient, lesser than, nor weak. I think our community needs to consciously acknowledge that we are in a male dominated world and whether we are cis- or trans-gender women or females, we still need the support of our counterparts. For LGBT females to be heard is for us as a global community to actively create spaces and channels for fair representation. Aretha Franklin called for it, and so do I- for myself and my sisters at large- R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Kat Kai Kol-Kes is a Gaborone based transgender ARTivist, writer, singer, dancer and theatre producer. She is founder of the Queer Shorts Showcase, the video blog “Queer Me Out”, and a 2013/14 Best of Botswana Artist honouree. Born and bred in Francistown, she received her Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Dramatic Arts from University of the Witwatersrand in 2010, and relocated to Gaborone to teach and mobilise the LGBT community in her homeland. She has contributed to The Washington Post and AFROPUNK.com, and she is currently serving her second term as Public Relations Officer of the World Economic Forum Global Shapers Community Gaborone Hub.
Twitter: @kkolkes, Facebook: Kat Kai Kol-Kes, Website: kkolkes.wix.com/kkolkes
Get The Latest
Signup for the AFROPUNK newsletter