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Title: Migrants negotiating the performance of gender & sexuality

“All the world is stage and all the men and women merely players, they have their exists and entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts”

(From As you like it, Act II, Scene VII)

In the preface to his book, Same Sex different cultures, Gilbert Herdt (1997) highlights that the underlying reality is that all societies around the world have social norms and values that define gender roles relative to masculinity and femininity. Herdt (1997) reveals how he as a child learned the stigma attached to labels such as homosexuality even though he didn‟t understand the jargon. Social norms and values within society mold gender roles and behavior and as such it can be said that identity is constructed and performed as a learned and experienced reality in everyday life. Performance is any activity that serves to influence an audience (Goffman, 23, Schechner & Schuman, 56). Middleton (2010:83) and Bhabha (2004:231) argues that, to be successful in the asylum system, inevitably applications have to play into the system that demands stereotypes, demonization of culture and harm, in political terms. This predisposes migrants, especially women, to be viewed as vulnerable individuals. This „vulnerability‟ might serve women well as it can be used as a marker for credibility in asylum claims and vulnerability as a gendered performance is often vital (Palmary, Burman, Khadija & Peace:10 and Bhabha:238).

Middleton (2010:81) actively discusses Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), female rape and violence as grounds asylum seekers use and simultaneously the grounds on which asylum officials would grant such status depending on their perceptions ( i.e. their perception of the war/conflict and/or role of local law enforcement in country of origin). As compelling and relevant as her discussion is, it has a female bias which ignores other minorities. There are certain contexts where male circumcision could arguably be used in asylum claims, and it leaves the topic open for debate on male genital mutilation. Also debates on male rape, not only for migrants but in general are relatively unexplored and undocumented. Furthermore, gay asylum seekers are equally as vulnerable as women and children, especially in Africa where in many countries, homosexuality is illegal and in some instances even punishable by death. In Iran, gays can be hanged, lash or stoned for homosexual activities.

The Boroumand Foundation has recorded 144 for 2011 so far ( Other groups for consideration are transsexuals as well as transnational gay married couples. In Kenya, Lindsay a pre-op transsexual is not able to leave her country as she was allowed to change her name on her identity card but the law doesn‟t allow her to change her sex in legal documents ( Similarly in the UK and U.S.A many gay married couples are forcefully separated as the laws discriminate and separate foreign gay spouses by denying same them temporary/or permanent residency. Yet transnational couples, who identify as heterosexual, are able to apply and receive residency. These countries have turned away numerous gay asylum seekers on the basis that the applicants didn‟t look gay and as such could return to their country and act inconspicuously. Middleton (2010:74) also found such prejudices in the South African asylum system in the rejection of Tanzanian male applicant. This illustrates that there gender roles & stereotypes are perpetuated and reinforced while the LGBT community is left vulnerable without acknowledgment of their human rights.

Hillary Clinton summed it up successfully when addressing the international community:

“men and women are harassed, beaten, even killed because of who they are and who they love; they are driven from their homes or countries due to these threats”. I have to applaud and concur with Clinton in that “these dangers are not gay issues; this is a human right issue” (Hillary Clinton speech).


Herdt, G.

1997. Same Sex different cultures: Exploring gay and lesbian lives. Westview

Press: U.S.A

Schechner, R. & Schuman, M. New York.

1976. Ritual, play and performance. The Seabury Press:

Goffman, E. 1969. Presenting the Self in everyday life. Overlook Press: Woodstock.

Palmary Ingrid, Burman Erica, Chantler Khatidja and Kiguwe Peace, 2010. „Gender and Migration: Feminist Interventions‟ (Chapter 1). Pp 1-11 in Palmary Ingrid, Burman Erica, Chantler Khatidja and Kiguwa Peace (Eds). Gender and Migration: Feminists Interventions:

Zed Books.

Bhabha, J. 2004. „Demography and Rights: Women, Children and Access to Asylum.‟ International Journal of Refugee Law, 16(2): 227-243.

Middleton, J. 2010. „Barriers to Protection: Gender-Related Persecution and Asylum in South-Africa‟. Pp 67-85 in Palmary Ingrid, Burman Erica, Chantler Khatidja and Kiguwa Peace (eds) Gender and Migration: Feminist Interventions: Zed Books.

Living Lindsay, My Life as a transgender girl in Kenya, 2011, viewed on 16 March 2011, <>.

Iran Rights, 2011. Viewed on 16 March, 2011,<


U.S Department of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, June 22, 2010 Speech at Loy Henderson