#WomenOfUP: Affirming the experience of gender-diverse individuals

Posted on August 17, 2022

As part of observing Women’s Month, the University of Pretoria (UP) is embracing the opportunity to extend the conversation to include transwomen and gender non-conforming individuals.

We spoke to second-year psychology student Nafisa Ayman Roza, Vice-Chairperson of Tuks UP&OUT, who tells us about her personal journey and the goal of the student society, which aims to create free and equitable environments for the LGBTQIA+ community at the University.

Roza was born in Bangladesh, but spent most of her life in Lesotho. Living in the Global South, Roza, who identifies as a lesbian, realised that there are very few safe spaces for members of the queer community to meet and gather. She recalls having to search and fight for validation, affirmation and safe spaces where she could feel at home. Her search for a wholesome community led to her joining Tuks UP&OUT.

“When I came to UP and saw that there was an organisation called UP&OUT, I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness – here are my people!’” she says. “As for the leadership aspect, I was inspired to be the person that I didn’t have growing up. Getting to do that in a tertiary environment is very special because it is a crucial time of development for all of us. Having that affirmation at this time is stabilising. It is very rewarding overall.”

The objective of Tuks UP&OUT is to encourage people to freely express their gender identities regardless of race, background or socio-economic class, and to feel safe to meet and socialise with other queer people. This is achieved through events such as movie nights, games nights, round-table talks as well as weekly LGBTQIA+ talks, speed dating, networking events, debates, collaborations with other organisations such as the GALA Queer Archive (GALA), and the much-anticipated queer prom. As a fundraising activity, the society coordinates the Buy-a-Heart initiative, during which donated heart-shaped Pride flags are sold on campus. Through these activities, the UP&OUT student society affirms various gender identities and creates wholesome social spaces for the LGBTQIA+ community.

During Women’s Month, one of the key conversations to amplify is the inclusion of transwomen in the gender narrative. Transwomen – individuals who were assigned a male identity at birth but who experience their gender as female – face a unique set of challenges in a university setting. In an article titled ‘Creating an inclusive environment for transwomen – moving away from stigma’, author Reu Vlok describes a few of these challenges.

“Overwhelmingly, negativity towards transwomen comes from gender policing,” Vlok says. “This is when someone takes it upon themselves to exclude a transwoman from a female space or force them into a male one based on the assumption that they need to conform to their assigned gender. The most prominent example is public bathrooms – a significant fear for most transwomen is to be ‘clocked’ (recognised as trans) in a female-only space and then be treated like a man intruding in that space. They could be physically assaulted, verbally harassed or forcibly ejected. Another significant source of discomfort is the dual troubles of misgendering and dead-naming. To misgender a transwoman is to refer to her in a male fashion, and to dead-name her is to use her pre-transition name to refer to her.”

As we continue to celebrate #WomenOfUP in August, it is important to strive towards a safe, inclusive university environment where every narrative is accommodated and celebrated.

Find out more about the Tuks UP&OUT student society and view pictures from the society’s last on-campus Pride Week celebration before lockdown: UP community celebrates Pride Week 

Click here for more information on the UP Trans Protocol.

- Author Puno Selesho
Published by Hlengiwe Mnguni

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