Shifting borderlands | Amsterdam University Press Journals Online
Volume 20, Issue 4
  • ISSN: 1388-3186
  • E-ISSN: 2352-2437



Within Africa’s long history of migration, this article focuses on the specific context of South Africa’s recent influx of people fleeing persecution, violence, and discrimination on the grounds of their gender identity/expression. This paper conceptualises people who make claims to the refugee status, fleeing their countries of origin based on the persecution of their gender identity as ‘gender refugees’. I argue that gender refugees are different from sexual refugees in that their pre-dominant forced migration issue pertains to their gender identity, which is perceived as incongruent to their birth-assigned sex. Drawing on life story interviews carried out by the author between 2013 and 2015 with gender refugees living in South Africa, along with analysis of media and archival materials, this paper explores how, when, and under what circumstances transgender-identified individuals from countries in Africa are forced to journey, and come to seek refuge in South Africa specifically. Utilising the notions of ‘shifting’ and ‘discomfort’ as analytics in relation to narratives provided, I suggest that South Africa functions as a pan-African national imaginary, even for migrants, which represents a particular understanding of freedom due to widespread knowledge of its unique Constitutional precepts. In conclusion, I emphasise how the State in gender refugees’ countries of origin, which sanctions the possibility of death for transgender people as exemplary subjects, plays an especially transformative role in the decision to flee.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): borderlands; gender migration; necropolitics; transgender Africa; transgender asylum
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