That “gay wedding” in Malawi, that featured two men (one dressed as a woman) who were promptly arrested on public indecency charges, was not a marriage ceremony at all. A reader wiser than we (and, apparently, Reuters) points out that guests actually attended a chinkhoswe, or a traditional engagement ceremony. At such an event, “usually, the couple is presented to the community, gifts are presented, and so forth,” writes reader John, an American living in Malawi.
His location helps, as he was able to offer these scans of the front page of Monday’s The Nation newspaper, which reported on Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjez’s engagement on its frontpage.
Notes John: “The Nation, one of two daily papers in Malawi, published a front-page article on Monday (the chinkhoswe was on Saturday) with the headline ‘GAYS ENGAGE.’ I’ve attached the whole article, which includes a photo. The first thing one notices, looking at the accompanying picture: one of the two men, Tiwonge, is clearly dressed as a woman, makeup included. Although the masculine “he” is used throughout the article, Tiwonge is consistently referred to as the bride, while Steven is the bridegroom. This is not simply ignorant reporting; Tiwonge, according to the article, self-identifies as a woman. He is addressed as ‘Aunt Tiwonge’ by the MC at the ceremony. At the same time, the two appear to self-identify as a homosexual couple, rather than as a heterosexual man and a transgendered woman; Steven says he first realized he was gay upon meeting Tiwonge (at church). He says also, that neither of them has ever been interested in women, although Tiwonge does appear to self-identify as one. Of course, here in Malawi, where many people would prefer not to acknowledge the existence of homosexuality, gender identity is an even more elusive conversation topic. Thus, the labeling game isn’t played so much.”
Great insight, thanks John!
He’s also shared this Tuesday article from Malawi’s Times newspaper, which reports on the arrest:
UPDATE: “Tiwonge and Steven went to court today, where they pleaded not guilty to charges of gross indecency,” John (pictured) writes in after listening to a BBC report. “Prosecutors promised that they’ll soon have medical proof of Steven and Tiwonge’s carnal knowledge ‘against the order of nature.’ The trial’s not over yet – but man, this case certainly got sent to trial in RECORD time for Malawi. One hears constantly about cases that are delayed months or years for seemingly no reason. Steven has decried the poor conditions at Chichiri prison, but that’s nothing new, and the government’s certainly not going to start working on prison reform because of these two.”
Meanwhile, we asked John, who is straight, about whether even American ex-pats there are comfortable being out. He replies: “Most of the gay and bisexual Americans I know out here are in the closet (very much so) – although they’re out, back in the States. It pretty much goes without saying that the gay Malawians I know aren’t out at all.”
UPDATE: An earlier version of this post prevented it from being viewed properly. We apologize.