A blog from Akani Shimange, Matimba, South Africa.
On 23 March 2020, the president of the Republic of South Africa announced that the country will begin a nation-wide lockdown for 21 days due to the rapid spread of Covid-19, a global pandemic that is no stranger to anyone right now.
For the last few months as the coronavirus has spread across the world, queer people have rallied together, with messages of solidarity, offers of safe housing and the sharing of resources. The faster this virus has spread, the more governments have put in stringent measures to survey their citizens in an effort to protect them. However warranted these measures may be, they also remain scary for many of us whose governments do not see us as human or our bodies as valid to begin with.
Globally, trans people have always been scrutinised. Our bodies and identities are put under magnifying glasses in the name of ‘understanding us’ or ‘helping us’ or protecting the cisgender community from ‘trans’ people who are just trying to deceive them. Right now, these violences are perpetrated by the same governments that are entrusted with our protection. Additional surveillance, the presence of the armed forces and stricter controls due to the COVID-19 virus have made our lives more anxious than ever.
Trans people face specific challenges at this time. Due to structural and systemic ways in which social and political systems harm, exclude, or otherwise disadvantage trans people, many are at particular risk when it comes to fighting Coronavirus. Trans women have a high rate of HIV, meaning they are immunosuppressant. Trans masculine individuals who bind due to dysphoria, in hopes to not be misgendered are also at risk, seeing that binding compresses your chest and may make one susceptible to respiratory infections.
At the same time, as scary as the outside world seems right now for everyone, I fear what lockdown means for transgender and gender-variant kids and teenagers across the country. Right now many individuals think of their houses as homes and parents as caregivers, but for many trans kids and teenagers those same houses and the parents who occupy them are their source of pain. They are forced to pretend to be who they are not, threatened for exploring gender that is not congruent with the sex they were assigned at birth. The research Matimba did in 2019 highlights this. It speaks to how the world has failed to be safe for these young people and how in times like these their homes are not their safe havens. Outside they will be surveyed by the government, while indoors they are being surveilled by transphobic family members. A 24-hour lockdown for 21 days may very well mean living a lie all day every day in order to survive.
Days like today, Trans Day of Visibility will mean nothing for many trans and gender-variant children this year. They will be forced to not be visible, but it won’t all be lost – I challenge every one of you to be more visible, to be more vocal as the world turns to social media for entertainment and news. This year I’m asking that we all show up in ways which are individually safe for that kid who cannot this year, for the kid who needs to see you and know that one day it will be OK. For Trans Day of Visibility this year we have the world glued to their screens, whether it be TVs, laptops or cell phones. We quite possibly have the biggest audience we have ever had so be loud, be proud and be visible.
Matimba, a Xitsonga word for strength and power, is an organisation that was founded in 2019 to advocate for transgender and gender-variant kids, teenagers and their families in order to cultivate a healthy, caring and safe environment for these kids and teenagers to grow up in. We do work with families, schools and all other avenues that may impact the lives of transgender and gender-variant young people and their development. We advocate for these individuals to access adequate and competent services for them to happy and healthy childhoods.