Publication of issue 19 'Migration, Sexuality, and Gender Identity'


Guest Editor: Svati P. Shah

Editor: Borislav Gerasimov

The new special issue of Anti-Trafficking Review bridges the fields of queer, migration, and critical trafficking studies to address the intersections of transactional sex, LGBTI+ identities and politics, and discourses of migration and human trafficking. It centres LGBTI+ people as actors in the context of migration and examines the ways in which diverse sexuality and gender identities influence people’s experiences of legal legibility and recognition in their migratory journeys.

The first four papers of the issue draw on research and other interactions with LGBTI+ people to analyse the intersections of migration, sexuality, gender, and informal labour. Jacqueline Sanchez Taylor and Julia O’Connell-Davidson describe the experiences of young queer internal migrants in Jamaica with family, work, sex, and violence. They argue that the recent framing of these young people’s experiences as ‘sex trafficking’ does nothing to address their actual needs. Valentini Sampethai draws on an ethnography with local and migrant, cis and trans, women sex workers in Athens, Greece to demonstrate the diverse relationships of support, debt, and obligation that exist between migrants, sex workers, brokers, gatekeepers, and police. These communities and chosen families, she concludes, can be a source of exploitation but are also a lifeline to overcome the violence of impoverishment and survive in street-based economies.

Shakthi Nataraj introduces us to a popular newspaper story about the lives of thirunangais (trans women) in the state of Tamil Nadu, India, and her conversations about it with a group of gay men and trans women in Chennai. Her analysis reveals that the thirunangai identity can be shaped by migration, class, caste, family, language, and economic exchange. This has implications not only for trans rights, but also for understanding migration, marriage, and women’s labour. The paper by Ntokozo Yingwana is based on focus group discussions and digital storytelling workshops with 17 cis and trans, gay and straight migrant sex workers in Cape Town, South Africa. It shows how migration and sex work can allow people to explore their sexuality and broaden the body’s ‘erotic vocabulary’. The paper argues for the recognition of migrant sex work as intrinsically queer.

The next two papers address the theme of the special issue via discourse and legal analyses. Anna Forringer-Beal uses a queer genealogical reading of British campaigns against white slavery to argue that the ideal victim of trafficking is a construction that serves to personify cultural anxiety over limiting migration and maintain white hegemony. She concludes that a queer analysis of anti-trafficking is necessary to imagine new strategies to end trafficking. Ekaterina Rosolovskaya discusses the Russian asylum system, including in the context of increasing state homophobia in the past decade. She reviews court and immigration decisions of twelve cases of African gay men seeking asylum in Russia and finds that the authorities either did not consider the criminalisation of homosexuality in claimants’ countries of origin or stated that their being gay was not a sufficient reason for granting asylum.

In addition to these long-form papers, the special issue also includes four short pieces. Yvonne Su and Tyler Valiquette describe the difficulties facing Venezuelan transgender people who are migrating to Brazil to escape Venezuela’s prolonged economic crisis and the impact of COVID-19 on their livelihoods. Romeo Joe Quintero and Amrita Hari draw on life stories of women and gender-diverse internally displaced persons in the Philippines to highlight the fluidity and complexity of protracted displacement and challenge the definition of protracted refugee situations as outlined in international legal instruments.

Nicola Mai and Liaam Winslet introduce the film CAER, which shows how undocumented trans women who work as sex workers in Queens, New York, navigate immigration and policing in the United States at a time when anti-immigrant sentiment is high. The special issue concludes with an interview of Subha Wijesiriwardena with Bwaggu Mark from the Kenyan organisation Queer Sex Workers Initiative for Refugees. They discuss the organisation’s work in the context of the policing of borders and the criminalisation of homosexuality and sex work in Kenya and across Africa.

Taken together, the articles in this special issue contribute to the growing literature on LGBTI+ people’s specific experiences with migration, exploitation, asylum, informal labour, and community-building away from home. In highlighting the fluidity of sexuality and gender identity, they also expand our understanding of how survival is waged in the worlds of migration and informal labour.

View the issue here.