SICK SAD WORLD

Is Chimbalanga a ‘gay man’? Getting it right

Posted in Fuck yeah! by Nancy on May 30, 2010

A fantastic update on the Malawi couple story:

Malawi president Bingu wa Mutharika announced on Saturday the pardon of the jailed gay couple who were sentenced to 14 years earlier this month.

The decision was made at a press briefing at the state house after Mutharika met with visiting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday.

“I’ve pardoned the two on humanitarian grounds but what they did is criminal and against our culture,” Mutharika told journalist.

HOWEVER, I have a problem with how this couple have been described by the news media.

Here are some clues on why we should rethink the “gay” label for this couple:

1. “[Tiwonge] Chimbalanga, 20 (on the right in the photo), who dresses as a woman, spoke defiantly of his love for the man he plans to marry.”

2. “Dressed in a blouse and describing himself as a woman, [Chimbalanga] said that they became engaged after “my darling, Steven, proposed love to me and we agreed to get married”. Unlike Mr Monjeza, he refused to accept that he had broken any law. “Which laws? I am a woman, I can do what a woman can do,” he said.”

Of course, the fact that Chimbalanga identifies as a woman and presents herself as a woman is FAR too complicated for cut-and-dry news reporting, and far too  “confusing” to accomodate with a different pronoun. Apart from the label “gay” being much easier to fit into tight headline spaces, a trans person may not have attracted as much sympathy and reporting in the Western media. As in the case of Caster Semenya, news about intersex, third-gender or trans people results in muddied and confused reporting, as these people don’t fit nicely into our neat little narratives.

While its wonderful that this couple’s right to love has sparked sympathy around the world and attracted UN intervention, the framing of this story as a “gay” issue is simplistic and incorrect, as one half of the couple does not identify as a gay man. Chimbalanga seems quite clear on the fact that she is a woman, but this has not been made clear/has been rendered unimportant in these stories.

In the same way gay male and lesbian issues are often lumped together in a big rainbow file, the failure to acknowledge how Chimbalanga views herself shows a refusal by the media to think outside of binary heterosexual/homosexual constructs. Chimbalanga has been blatantly misgendered.

I don’t know if Malawi has a “third gender” (the way India, Samoa and Thailand do that is radically different to Western ideas of transgender), but either way it is absolutely incorrect  to use the label “gay man”. In the same way, if the story was about a man’s relationship with a fa’afafine, I wonder, would the Western media report it as a “gay” story although homosexuals and fa’afafine are completely distinct? I guess so.

Just another fun example of how reporting eliminates identities and how Western media reduces the complexities of gender to black-and-white binary categories.


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