Tish White works at the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Advocacy Projects which include Safe Zones and Wits Pride. They also do day-to-day administration of the Next Generation Carnegie and coordinates the annual Wits Photographic Competition. They are also part of the Wits Transformation and Employment Equity Office.
You have once highlighted the importance of asking people what pronouns they prefer. So what pronouns do you use?
Thank you for asking, my pronouns are they, them, they.
What do those signify?
For me, my pronouns are as anybody else’s are, a marker of somebody else respecting my gender. So when somebody calls me “they”, this is Tish, they are awesome person, it is an affirmation of my gender just as it an affirmation of somebody else who is cisgender.
As part of the Wits Pride month, Activate, GALA and Ctrl Alt Gender have been having various activities and discussions to commemorate. How important are these to the Wits community?
Basically Varsity Pride is jam-packed two-weeks full of amazing initiatives. We’ve got a number of things that we feel are important in terms of building information around LGBTIAQ+ communities. We have initiatives that celebrate LGBTIAQ+ people in our university community. It is a signifier of taking back a space that is so often seen as being hegemonic, heteronormative and cisnormative.
The university has given support and we now have Wits Pride which started as a mere march. What is crucial is the common theme of pushing the respect and getting people to understand what LGBTIAQ+ identities are.
The Rhodes Must Fall campaign highlighted the need for transformation of Higher Education, in your opinion, what does this entail with regards to the LGBT community?
I think it has been a moment for all of us to contemplate what transformation means in our spaces. When coming to LGBTIAQ+ it is something that I think that goes with other structures and other struggles. A woman can be a lesbian, black and Zimbabwean for example, and all these identities and all of this come together in understanding intersectionalities. The movement in my opinion was about understanding intersectionalities and how we relate to spaces with them.
Do you think gay sex education should be taught in high school?
It is very important that we have systems that are supportive of our young LGBTIAQ+ people. We know that these people are in spaces where they are learning about their identities. They are coming to terms with dealing with adolescence and they do not need things to be made harder for them by a schooling system that does not offer them information around safer sex.
If it gets implemented in the curriculum, what should be avoided?
It would be important to steer clear of essentialist stereotypes and to manage the dialogue around safer sex effectively.
Caitlyn Jenner came out as a trans woman. This has shone a light on trans issues. Do you think it is important for people to come out as a means of combat against homophobia and transphobia?
I think that it is amazing that people like Caitlyn are out there. But we need to take a step back and realise that it is not easy to afford surgery in a lot of spaces. It is not easy to be in a space where you could literally be killed for coming out as transgender. What we need to understand is that it is a very personal choice to come out. It should not be at a cost of people’s safety and wellbeing.