From an email from OpenDemocracy:
“Trans people have always existed, everywhere,” writes Arya Karijo.
“We were mudoko dako for the Lango in Uganda, yan daudu for the Hausa in Nigeria. We were priestesses and priests for the Bunyoro in Uganda, a third gender for the Teso in Kenya.
“We were eunuchs with powerful court positions in the Dahomey kingdom in Benin, and concubines in the Ashanti kingdom in Ghana. Native Americans thought of us as “two-spirit” people. Records of our existence go back centuries in Afghanistan, and many other countries,” she adds.
These are some of the discoveries that Arya, a Kenyan trans woman and colleague, made while on a quest to talk to other transgender people from places that share her country’s colonial past for an article marking the International Transgender Day of Visibility last week.
She found that there is a rich heritage of transgender people across many cultures that was concealed and criminalised by British colonial rulers.
I’m unaware of laws in the British Empire that made being transgender a crime. Always open to correction, of course, but given the light touch of English and British law at the time the regulation of clothing, or of sexual presentation, seems to be an unlikely thing for it to concern itself with.
The regulation of sex – of homosexuality – yes. But of transness?
Well, that sorta depends really. The African method of producing eunuchs for example – often enough for the Arab slave markets but across other African Muslim societies as well no doubt. Take 10 pre-pubescent boys. Perhaps slaves but not necessarily, perhaps one of those too many children from a poor family might be volunteered by their parents. Slice all the genitals off all ten boys and then hope that it might be possible to achieve the average result that only nine of them will die of the process.
It is indeed possible that this was something outlawed, criminalised, by the British Empire. There are some of us who would say, as with suttee, damn right too.
What adults do today, with modern anaesthetics and antibiotics is, of course, up to consenting adults today. But shouting about the past in this manner does seem more than a little odd.