'For a Reclamation of Our Humanity': Neoliberalism and the Decolonization of Gender Praxis - an Analysis of the UCT Trans Collective

By van Heerden, Chantelle Gray | Gender & Behaviour, October 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

'For a Reclamation of Our Humanity': Neoliberalism and the Decolonization of Gender Praxis - an Analysis of the UCT Trans Collective


van Heerden, Chantelle Gray, Gender & Behaviour


Liberation has no plural1

In a recent article in the London Review of Books, long-time feminist and academic, Jacqueline Rose (2016), writes that, "If the number of trans people who are murdered is disproportionate, trans people of color constitute by far the largest subset." She goes on to argue that trans freedom is increasingly tied to this racial factor and that addressing it can "help challenge the assumption that transsexuality is an isolated phenomenon, beyond human endurance in and of itself." In South Africa, the intersection between race, gender and hate crimes is correspondingly stark, with black lesbian women living in townships remaining the most vulnerable to LGBTI crimes (see, for example, Triangle Project, 2013a; and Mkhize et al., 2010), though a report by the Western Cape-based NGO, Triangle Project, suggests that "hate crimes targeting transgender persons and gay men are increasingly reported" (Triangle Project, 2013b, p. 9). It is still the case, however, that most LGBTI crimes in South Africa go unreported and there is evidence that the few which are reported remain backlogged, proceeding "very slowly through the criminal justice system" (Triangle Project, 2013b, p. 9).

These concerns, along with the general dismissal of trans lives, were recently given a more public face in South Africa, notably through the actions of the UCT Trans Collective when they disrupted the Rhodes Must Fall exhibition, titled "Echoing Voices From Within", held at the Centre for African Studies Gallery and commemorating the anniversary of the #RhodesMustFall movement.2 The collective, a student-led organization, painted their seminaked and naked bodies and blocked the entrances to the gallery to protest the fact that, of the 1000 plus images shown, only three featured trans people.3 In line with such action, Bassichis, Lee and Spade (2011) argue for critical trans resistance instead of reform but also, and importantly, call for a deeper, more nuanced, understanding of gender and its relation to capitalism. They write (p. 34, emphasis added):

Individualizing solutions like hate crimes laws create a false binary of 'perpetrator' and 'victim' or 'bad' and 'good' people without addressing the underlying systemic problem, and often strengthen that problem. In place of this common sense, we understand that racism, state violence, and capitalism are the root causes of violence in our culture, not individual 'bigots' or even prison guards. We must end the cycle of oppressed people being pitted against one another.

Decolonization may be described as one such an attempt to address systemic or structural issues, rather than merely the more apparent, and perhaps pressing, concerns, such as constitutional and legal rights, obligations and support. As early as 1961, Frantz Fanon argued that the "proof of success" of decolonization "lies in a whole structure being changed from the bottom up" (Fanon, 1963, p. 35). He further argued that decolonization "sets out to change the order of the world" and, as such, should be recognized as a historical process - rather than a moment - that "cannot become intelligible nor clear to itself except in the exact measure that we can discern the movements which give it historical form and content" (p. 36, emphasis added). It is, then, precisely one of these moments-as-historical-process that I mean to analyze in the context of South Africa and, in particular, in terms of decolonization and capitalism. But while the #RhodesMustFall movement and ensuing protests, such as the #FeesMustFall movement, have brought into the social imaginary the importance and urgency for decolonization, the UCT Trans Collective has emphasized the need for an intersectional approach. On their Facebook page (UCT Trans Collective, 2016, March 10), they state the following in terms of this:

We must, however, state unequivocally that our disruptive intervention at the RMF [Rhodes Must Fall] exhibition should not under any circumstances be construed as a rejection of RMF or a departure away from decolonization. …

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