Trapped in the wrong body

Pretoria-based transgender women discuss their challenges. From left are Kat Serame, Princess Progress Selota, Dimpho Divine Tsotesti and Sello Mkhwanazi. Photo: Tshegofatso Ngobeni

Imagine growing up feeling trapped in the wrong body. This is the common sentiment among the four Pretoria-based transgender women friends.

They recently told their stories to Rekord. Kat Serame (29), a proud transgender woman, said she had experienced discrimination at the workplace and gym.

While in a learnership with a well-known bank, her colleagues denied her the use of the toilet. “They said they were uncomfortable with me using the female toilets and the men also objected to me using the men’s toilets,” said Serame.

Serame alleged that the matter was not addressed by the bank’s management. Serame said she could not wait for her learnership to end but then experienced similar discrimination at a well-known gym where she was denied the use of the toilet.

“This gym has forced me to relive the trauma I experienced at the bank,” she said. Serame said the gym had since promised to turn the toilet for the disabled into a family toilet to accommodate her, this however was yet to happen.

Serame said some people did not understand the difference. “A drag queen is a man who dresses as a woman for entertainment, a cross dresser tends to wear clothing for the opposite sex in private such as a man wearing women’s underwear.

“An intersex person is born with a reproductive organ that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definition of male or female while transgender denotes someone whose birth gender does not correspond with his or her sense of personal identity. “

A transsexual person has undergone an operation to change their gender.” Serame said transgender women first had to come to terms with their sense of identity then later deal with rejection and discrimination by society. “When I grew up, I knew I was gay.

I started being a transgender at an earlier age. I have a twin sister and people would always say to me ‘you look so cute, you look like a girl’.

“I started to dress as a woman in 2007 and I experimented with make up and started to mix with girls. “I met Dimpho (also interviewed for this story) at a pageant and we met a transgender woman with breasts. We were in awe because we used socks to make our breasts.”

She said the road from transgender to transsexual was costly and emotional. She said it involved nine months to three years of mental assessment by a psychologist.

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“Successful candidates are then referred to endocrinologists who were usually not available at public hospitals,” she said. She said the transition from transgender to transsexual could take up to five years.

She said she was concerned that the psycho-analysis was done by experts who usually were not transgender. She said Chris Baragwanath and Steve Biko academic hospitals and Groote Schuur Hospital in the Western Cape offered transgender treatment.

The latter two also offered gender change operations, a process that can take up to 25 years and costing thousands of rand. Another transgender, Dimpho Divine Tsotetsi (23), said the journey from transgender to transsexual also had another hurdle – bureaucracy.

 

Tsotetsi said she was once turned away at the border travelling to Botswana because “I was clearly a woman but my ID classified me as male”. “I was denied entry because my passport indicated male while the picture on it was that of a woman, me,” said Tsotetsi. She had since been able to travel between the two countries without any problem, she said. Princess Progress Selota (24) and Sello Mkhwanazi (22) said their biggest obstacle had been acceptance by family. Selota, who hails from Limpopo, said she identified as gay before moving to Pretoria for study and started researching her condition.

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“I became exposed to transgenders for the first time and started dressing as a woman all the time,” she said. “In the city, I was comfortable in my sexuality but family back home was not understanding or tolerant. I was even accused of being possessed by demons. My parents never had a problem but my grandparents are the ones who don’t understand the difference between gay and transgender. I am educating them slowly,” said Selota.

“I used to take Triphasil, a contraceptive that grew my breasts larger but stopped because it increased the risks of stroke, blood clots and even death,” she said. Mkhwanazi, who said she was still unsure if she was gay or transgender, said her grandmother, with whom she lives and her brother rejected her.

“They call this unnatural,” said Mkhwanazi. Former Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba met the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) community last year to discuss what his department could do better to alleviate their bureaucratic problems.

He formed a task team to review legislation to make the legal requirements to register a same-sex marriage clearer, improve home affairs’ staff sensitivity to dealing with LGBTI citizens and ensure all home affairs offices applied the same standard.

Home Affairs said it had since trained 407 employees across the country. Non-governmental organisation, OUTLGBTI provides counselling to people battling with their sexuality.

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Tshegofatso Ngobeni
Journalist

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