Camminga, B. 2018. ‘“The Stigma of Western Words”: Asylum Law, Transgender Identity and Sexual Orientation in South Africa’. Global Discourse 8 (3): 452–69.

‘Gays Engage’ was the headline of Malawi’s Nation newspaper on 28 December 2009. A colour photograph dominated the front page showing Steven Monjeza and what the paper described as ‘his bride’, Tiwonge Chimbalanga. Arrested soon after and charged with ‘unnatural offences’ under the Malawi Penal Code, the couple made international headlines. Yet the situation was far more complex than the news media or transnational NGOs intimated. While the case was being touted as ‘a test case for gay rights’ the court documents noted that Tiwonge, assigned male, identified as a woman. Rights groups called for South Africa – the only country on the African continent that constitutionally protects Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) individuals – to not only advocate for the couple’s release but to offer them asylum. In 2010, after receiving a presidential pardon, Chimbalanga was sent to South Africa where she was granted refugee status. Offering a post-colonial reading of transgender, this paper asks what it would mean for a person to be seen as transgender, to be presumed to be transgender, but to never take on that term for themselves – to refuse that subjectivity – while seeking asylum.