Dr Anastasia Tomson on queer and trans visibility in celebrating women

Dr Anastasia Tomson (Pic: Facebook)

August has been another high profile celebration of women in South Africa, in which society and social institutions claim to celebrate and honour their achievements.

However, this annual national commemoration tends to consistently neglect, erase or sideline queer women of all kinds in favour of heterosexual and cisgender idenities.

Mambaonline recently spoke to well-known transgender activist, author and medical doctor, Anastasia Tomson, to find out how South Africans can better celebrate and acknowledge the diversity that makes up womanhood.

Mamba: As a trans woman and an activist, have you seen trans, lesbian and queer women being equally celebrated during this month?

Anastasia Tomson: I think there is definitely a large aspect of the traditional narrative around Women’s Month which subjugates the more marginalised identities out there. And I think this is a problem. Women’s Day [and month] is supposed to be an institution that challenges the patriarchy, the patriarchy that discriminates on axes that are intersectional. We have to recognise that this single system is marginalising a multitude of identities and we have to uplift all of those identities. So we need to redefine womanhood and make it inclusive. If it continues to exclude, then it continues to perpetuate the very same thing which it claims to stand against.

Transgender and lesbian women make up a large part of the 55% of members of the country’s LGBT community who fear being discriminated against on a daily basis by their counterparts.

Where do you think the perpetuation of patriarchy and misogyny comes from? Should society or the political structures be held responsible?

A: It’s definitely something that is engraved in society and I think that it is reinforced by many of the political structures. We have to realise that the people in the society that we live in have been shaped by hundreds and hundreds of years of thinking that only serves and strengthen the position of some. We need to attack that on multiple fronts. As a society we need to say that this is not something we are going to continue standing for. We need to say “no we are not going to support political entities and individuals who uplift these ideas that are marginalising and oppressing people”. That is not democracy, and that is not South Africa.

Hate crimes against members of the LGBT community are reportedly increasing, with lesbian women being the most vulnerable targets. Recent studies have shown that 35% of reported cases of hate against the LGBT community target lesbian women.

Do you think it is up to trans and lesbian women to change the perceptions and problematic views that society has about them?

A: I think we need to understand that we are not the problem, and that it is those spaces that are problematic. We have to stand strong and support one another within the community and reach out to one another and embrace our diversity as a society, as women in general. It is also up to our sisters to help us in embracing this diversity that makes up womanhood and to help us fight our struggles, as the marginalised, against hatred towards trans and lesbian women. Everyone in society should work towards the acceptance of one another.

About 88% of LGBT-targeted hate crime incidents experienced go unreported. Only one in 10 transgender people who have experienced discrimination have reported incidents to the police, according to the Love Not Hate Campaign.

Trans and lesbian women matter in the narrative of acknowledging the struggles faced by all women. What would you say to them to help them also feel important and valued?

A: You need to be in touch with the idea that you have value and that your identity is valid. That you define who you are. How you want to define who you are is all up to you.

Between 2016/2017, 109 rapes were recorded each day in South Africa. Recent studies show that about 10 lesbian women are raped on average in a week.

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