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Sex in Transition

Remaking Gender and Race in South Africa

Amanda Lock Swarr

Publication Year: 2012

Argues that South Africa’s apartheid system of racial segregation relied on an unexamined but interrelated system of sexed oppression that was at once both rigid and flexible. Sex in Transition explores the lives of those who undermine the man/woman binary, exposing the gendered contradictions of apartheid and the transition to democracy in South Africa. In this context, gender liminality—a way to describe spaces between common conceptions of “man” and “woman”—is expressed by South Africans who identify as transgender, transsexual, transvestite, intersex, lesbian, gay, and/or eschew these categories altogether. This book is the first academic exploration of challenges to the man/woman binary on the African continent and brings together gender, queer, and postcolonial studies to question the stability of sex. It examines issues including why transsexuals’ sex transitions were encouraged under apartheid and illegal during the political transition to democracy and how butch lesbians and drag queens in urban townships reshape race and gender. Sex in Transition challenges the dominance of theoretical frameworks based in the global North, drawing on fifteen years of research in South Africa to define the parameters of a new transnational transgender and sexuality studies.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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Sex in Transition: Remaking Gender and Race in South Africa

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p. v

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pp. vii-x

This book has developed over fifteen years and was a collective labor in every way. Without many people in South Africa, this work simply would not have been possible. Midi Achmat, Theresa Raizenberg, Bass John Khumalo, Conny Mchunu, Phumla Masuku, Donna van der Walt, Michelle Asburner, Barbara...

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Introduction: Transition Matters

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pp. 1-42

In 1994, transsexual Simone Heradien underwent sex reassignment procedures funded by the South African state. The timing of her personal transition was significant: 1994 . . . was also the year we were going through the democracy, the transition, so it was a lot of things. . . . When we were going through...

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Chapter 1: Prescribing Gender and Enforcing Sex

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pp. 43-76

Under apartheid, many South African transsexuals had access to publicly funded sex reassignment surgeries and were allowed to legally alter the sex listed on their birth certificates. But since the end of apartheid, most public sex...

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Chapter 2: Medical Experimentation and the Raced Incongruence of Gender

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pp. 77-108

During the transition to democracy, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) revealed that apartheid medicine encompassed atrocities such as forced sterilization, nonconsensual experimentation, and medical torture. Africanist Meg Samuelson describes this context as providing “a space in which the...

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Chapter 3: Redefining Transition through Necropolitics

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pp. 109-182

This chapter develops the theoretical frameworks of Chapters 1 and 2 in a new direction. Foucault’s notions continue to be useful and relevant to these considerations of mobile or restricted experiences of the temporality of sex, describing states’ regulations of bodies. But how can his traveling theories be extended and...

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Chapter 4: Stabane, Raced Intersexuality and Same-Sex Relationships in Soweto

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pp. 183-206

How does one prove the “realness” of a body? What kinds of evidence create this reality? And how do such realities, in the sense that narrators and Mbembe articulate in the previous chapter, shift and change over time? This chapter examines cocreated visions of the realities and meanings of gendered bodies—how they look, function, and are experienced— through a consideration...

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Chapter 5: Performing Hierarchies and Kinky Politics: Drag in South Africa’s Transition

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pp. 207-230

In January of 1997, three years after the official end of apartheid, the Top of the Times/J&B Met contest for “Most Elegant Couple” in South Africa progressed as usual with twenty-three couples competing for prizes including money and exclusive fashion creations. However, the Cape Argus newspaper reported...

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Conclusion: “Extra-Transsexual” Meanings and Transgender Politics

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pp. 231-260

In the 1990s and early 2000s, the word “transgender” was rarely spoken in South Africa. Gender liminality was largely medicalized and criminalized, and it fell outside the purview of activism. In interviews, doctors told me stories of celebratory parties thrown for their postoperative patients, while self-identified transsexuals shared concerns about their inabilities to attain legal...


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pp. 261-284


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pp. 285-318


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pp. 319-329

E-ISBN-13: 9781438444086
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438444079

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 822018663
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Sex in Transition

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Transsexualism -- South Africa -- History.
  • Transsexuals -- Legal status, laws, etc. -- South Africa.
  • Intersexuality -- South Africa.
  • Gender identity -- South Africa.
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