Friday 21 May 2010

Meanwhile in Malawi...

From the New York Times:
BLANTYRE, Malawi — Tiwonge Chimbalanga looked like a man but said he was a woman. He helped with the cooking and dressed in feminine wraparound skirts. Steven Monjeza was a quiet, sullen man often intoxicated on sorghum beer. He said he had never been happy until he finally met the right companion.

The two celebrated their engagement — their chinkhoswe, in the Chichewa language — with a party at a lodge here in Malawi’s commercial capital. It began cheerfully enough. But later, gawkers pushed their way inside, some shouting taunts, others just staring through despising eyes. Then the electricity failed. The band stopped playing, and the bride collapsed in tears.

Someone had tipped off a newspaper, The Nation, for this betrothal was extraordinary in a conservative African nation. The resulting front-page story began with the phrase “gay lovebirds,” adding that the chinkhoswe was “the first recorded public activity for homosexuals in the country.” Readers were reminded that homosexuality carried a sentence of 5 to 14 years in prison.

Two days later, on Dec. 28, the couple was arrested on charges of unnatural acts and gross indecency, and they have been in jail since, denied bail ostensibly to keep them safe.
The trial of Mr. Chimbalanga and Mr. Monjeza began on Jan. 11, with hundreds gathering outside the decrepit courtroom, hooting and jeering.

Jean Kamphale, Mr. Chimbalanga’s boss at a Blantyre lodge, testified that she accepted “Auntie Tiwo” as a woman and assigned her cooking and cleaning chores. But after the article in The Nation appeared, she made her employee disrobe and refused to let him stop until he was naked from the waist down and “that’s where the cat was let out of the bag.”

Three days later, Mr. Chimbalanga arrived in court noticeably ill. His lawyers said he had contracted malaria in the hideously overcrowded jail, though the defendant later blamed guards for trying to beat him into a confession.

As Mr. Chimbalanga fell to the floor and began to vomit, spectators mocked him. “Auntie Tiwo is pregnant,” some called out. Mr. Chimbalanga was led away, only to return with a mop and pail to clean up the mess.
Shades of the KZs in the 1940s. That scene could have come from Belsen, or Dachau. Only this time, not just at the hands of a few camp guards, but with the mob hounding them on. And in the KZs, at least the prisoners were provided with bunks - not so in Malawi.

The hospital facilities are of the same ilk. They're left room to die away from the others.

Now imagine a woman put in such surroundings. She'd have a better chance of survival in Auschwitz, or Treblinka.
On the other hand, Mr. Chimbalanga, 33, was simply indignant. “I have done nothing wrong but fall in love and declare this love for my husband,” he said.

He explained later: “I have male genitals, but inside I am a complete woman. Maybe I cannot give birth to a child, but I menstruate every month — or most months — and I can do any household chores a woman can do.”
“Menstruation through his penis” had begun by then, a condition that may have some extremely rare medical cause, some experts say, but could also be the imagined claim of a gay man in a repressed society desperate to think himself a woman.
The word you're looking for is "Intersexed". And yes, it's extremely rare, this form, anyway. It would take an ultrasound or "reverse flow urine test" to confirm it. As I wrote back in 2005:
At least I may find out whether a 32 year history of peculiar medical conditions is merely a long and improbable series of unrelated coincidences, or excusably misdiagnosed signs indicating a root cause even more improbable (though not that uncommon for some subcategories: about 1 in 83,000). If the results are still ambiguous, then the next step is probably "fine needle" biopsies of various glands, with "fine" being a relative term. Maybe even a reverse-flow analysis of the urinary tract, which is as undignified as it sounds.

Oh Joy.
Yeah. Not fun. But it could be worse. hundreds gathering outside the decrepit courtroom, hooting and jeering. At least I didn't have that, and the ultrasounds showed the test wasn't needed for me. It is for others though. It's rare - but it happens.

Now the latest from the NYT:
Two gay men in Malawi, convicted this week of unnatural acts and gross indecency, were sentenced Thursday to the maximum penalty allowed by law, 14 years of hard labor in prison.
“I just wanted people to know we were in love,” Mr. Chimbalanga said in an interview earlier this year. He said he considered himself a woman and had been eager to dress as a bride.
The nation’s clergy have been united in condemning the gay couple. “God calls homosexuality an abomination, which is greater than a simple sin,” the Rev. Felix Zalimba, pastor of the All for Jesus Church in Blantyre, said Thursday. He said church and state were aligned in agreement: “These two must repent and ask God’s forgiveness. Otherwise, they will surely go to hell.”
I'd say that for Intersexed people in Malawi, that we're already there. That the NYT ignores its own report from February, consistently misgendering Ms (not Mr) Chimbalanga shows that the ignorance is not just confined to some African Hell-hole, either.

I don't know if Ms Chimbalanga is IS or TS. One of the two, anyway. But she's been assigned by all and sundry the role of "Gay Man" by others. She doesn't get a say in it.

From the Grauniad:
'I will give you," the judge, Nyakwawa Usiwa-Usiwa, had warned them in the packed courtroom in Blantyre, Malawi, "a scaring sentence, so that the public be protected from people like you; so that we are not tempted to emulate this horrendous example."
One has to wonder... exactly where is the danger? How powerful and violent a threat are we, the Intersexed, Transsexed or Gay (they make no distinction), that the public must be protected?
"Homosexuality," says Pastor Mario Manyozo of the Word of Life Tabernacle Church in Malawi, "is against God's creation and is an evil act, since gays are possessed with demons." The Anglican bishop of Uyo, Nigeria, the Right Rev Isaac Orama, believes homosexuals are "inhuman, insane, satanic and not fit to live".
Possessed by Demons. Inhuman. Satanic. Not fit to live. Even some who aren't actually homosexual.
President Robert Mugabe once famously declared homosexuality to be "sub-animal behaviour" – "leave that to the whites," he also said
Eudy Simelane, who played for the South African women's football team and lived openly as a lesbian, was gang-raped and stabbed 25 times; at least 20 other lesbians have been killed over the past five years, many of them victims of so-called "corrective rape" by men.
Yet it's we who are called insane, and a threat to society.

Pictures of Malawi Prison Scenes via Prisons of Malawi.


Anonymous said...

Disgusting on so many levels. Sadness. Signal boosting.

Zosimus the Heathen said...

As horrifying as this story is, it sadly doesn't surprise me given what (little) I've read about Malawian history. For decades after that country gained its independence from England, it was governed by an autocratic and puritanical individual by the name of Hastings Banda, who was apparently fond of banning everything that he didn't approve of (which turned out to be quite a lot, even such silly things as long hair on men and bell-bottom trousers!). I'm guessing that the country's punitive laws against homosexuality would be (at least in part) a legacy of his rule, although I'm sure that cultural taboos against the activity would have played a part as well (sadly, homosexuality doesn't seem to be something that enjoys much tolerance in Africa).

Anonymous said...

'Zosimus the Heathen' your knowledge of Malawi is ancient indeed, but also quite selective in that the 'punitive laws against homosexuality' you attributed to Banda's rule are actually a legacy of the British colonialism. If there is anyone to blame for their origins its them, granted the political leaders and law makers that perpetuate these laws now are also t blame, but lets not be selective and simplistic here. This is a compound and complex issue and whats sad about it is that since 2010 when you first wrote this not much progress has taken place

"African Hell-hole" really?