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Global Transgender Experiences

By Jillian Tsacoyeanes.


Hijras (Transgender Individuals) in Laxman Jhula

Photo Credit: Daniel LofredoRota

As this series has previously explored, Global South experiences vary widely, making generalizations ineffectual. While a previous blog explored the challenges and successes of LGBTQ+ people, even this category contains vast diversity. This certainly applies to trans* people, whose gender identity or expression does not match their sex as assigned at birth, and whose experiences in the developing world are not always the same as other LGBTQ+ individuals.[1]

Trans* people frequently face discrimination and violence, often at an even higher rate that lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer people. Some of this violence is state-sanctioned, for example, Kuwait’s Penal Code criminalizes “imitating the opposite sex.” As a result, trans* people in Kuwait face arrest, rape, and physical abuse and their perpetrators benefit from impunity.[2] These hate crimes are by no means limited to the Global South, as trans* people are 28% more likely to experience physical violence in the United States.[3]

This kind of violence frequently stems from hatred or fear of same-sex relationships, as policymakers and individuals have trouble distinguishing the difference between gender and sexuality.[4] When trans* people are punished for acting outside a society’s gender norms, they can experience deep psychological pain. As one trans man describes, “[i]t can be a very deep violation of our being to be forced to perform our gender differently to who we feel it for ourselves.”[5] So the violence trans* people experience is not just physical violence, but also being brutally forced to adopt another identity.

Although trans* people fit under the LGBTQ+ acronym, they have consistently experienced isolation and discrimination from both within and outside other groups under this umbrella. Trans* leaders from the developing world were obstructed from meeting until 2011.[6] Trans* individuals in the Global South say that mainstream human rights organizations do not always protect their interests or even their safety.[7]

The diversity here matters: trans* people share some experiences with other lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer people, but they also face a unique set of challenges. While LGBTQ+ people globally lack access to healthcare, raising their risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, trans* people also face restricted access to hormones.[8] Legally, while same-sex partners face various discriminatory policies, trans* people also struggle to change their documented name or gender.[9]

It would be misleading to focus only on the challenges. Some Global South countries, most notably in South Asia, have made huge strides for transgender rights in the past few years. India recently celebrated their first news anchor, creating much-needed trans* visibility in the media.[10] Following that success, this year India formally recognized trans* as a “third gender,” benefitting their population of over two million trans* citizens with increased access to healthcare and social welfare services.[11] In Malaysia, this year also marked the formation of a committee to address the Malay trans* community’s basic needs and the appointment of the nation’s first trans political secretary.[12]

LGBTQ+ people around the world face a mixed bag: while many places are becoming safer for them to live openly, their experiences are often tainted by discrimination and violence.  While we celebrate these successes and continue to address the challenges, it is of the utmost importance to recognize the diversity within the acronym. Trans* individuals experience violence, identity, and development differently, and it is only by listening to their unique accounts that we can adequately address their needs.

Jillian is a UCLA student pursuing a double major in History and International Development Studies. She is working towards a career in international development that focuses especially on the unique challenges facing women in the Global South. Jillian has wet her feet in the international arena by working in Jamaica and Ecuador, studying in France, and interning at Women Thrive Worldwide and the Burkle Center for International Relations.


[2] http://www.advocate.com/news/daily-news/2012/01/16/trans-women-raped-tortured-kuwait

[3] http://www.glaad.org/blog/violence-against-transgender-people-and-people-color-disproportionately-high-lgbtqh-murder-rate

[4] http://www.dw.de/transgender-people-not-even-considered-humans/a-17568119

[5] http://www.pambazuka.net/en/category/comment/38727

[6] http://asapltd.com/2012/01/global-consultation-with-transgender-activists-from-developing-countries/

[7] http://www.pambazuka.net/en/category/comment/38727

[8] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23237071

[9] http://mgafrica.com/article/2014-10-13-the-pain-and-small-triumphs-of-being-transgender-in-africa-a-moving-kenyan-story

[10] http://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia/2014/09/india-gets-first-transgender-news-anchor-201492314454924474.html

[11] http://www.dw.de/transgender-people-not-even-considered-humans/a-17568119

[12] http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/07/13/1223341/-Transgender-in-Southeast-Asia#

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