‘Many peo­ple don’t even know what it means to be trans­gen­der’

Trapped in the wrong bod­ies, they face much re­lent­less dis­crim­i­na­tion

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - BOTHO MOLOSANKWE

AS SOUTH Africa cel­e­brates Women’s Month with pomp and cer­e­mony, there is a cer­tain group of women who fear for their lives daily just be­cause they are dif­fer­ent.

Trans­gen­der women are women who were born men but be­lieve that they were trapped in the wrong bod­ies and now live as women. While oth­ers take hor­mone ther­apy to look more fem­i­nine, some even go as far as hav­ing surgery to change their gen­der.

De­spite the fact that the rights of trans­gen­der peo­ple are pro­tected by the con­sti­tu­tion, trans­gen­der women still feel dis­crim­i­nated against – some­thing that makes their daily liv­ing a chal­lenge.

Denise Zam­bezi, co-or­di­na­tor of Ac­cess Chap­ter 2, said many peo­ple don’t un­der­stand the con­cept of a trans­gen­der per­son.

Zam­bezi’s or­gan­i­sa­tion is an ad­vo­cacy group and one of it’s man­dates is to en­sure that the les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual, trans­gen­der, queer or ques­tion­ing, and in­ter­sex (LGBTQI) com­mu­nity get jus­tice when they have been vic­tims of hate crimes.

Zam­bezi said one of the things they found when con­duc­ing re­search was that many trans­gen­der women bat­tled to ac­cess hor­monal treat­ment and would in­stead go to the black mar­ket, take birth con­trol pills and self-med­i­cate in their quest to look fem­i­nine. The af­ter-ef­fects of that would be blind­ing headaches.

“The rea­sons for go­ing that route are that some peo­ple are wor­ried about go­ing through the health care sys­tem and be­ing dis­crim­i­nated against,” she said.

“For oth­ers it could be be­cause they want the process to be quick. We are still in the process of speak­ing to the De­part­ment of Health and the De­part­ment of Jus­tice and Con­sti­tu­tional Devel­op­ment re­gard­ing th­ese as it makes it dif­fi­cult for them to live ful­fill­ing lives.

“They don’t feel safe in their sur­round­ings and oth­ers are just beaten-up for be­ing trans­gen­der.”

Snowy Mamba, a trans­gen­der woman, said dis­crim­i­na­tion against trans­gen­der peo­ple can even cost lives.

Some time ago, Mamba was hos­pi­talised af­ter suf­fer­ing an asthma at­tack.

As she iden­ti­fies and lives as a woman, Mamba was taken to a fe­male ward but her ID at the time still iden­ti­fied her as a man.

She said she was sur­prised when the fol­low­ing day doc­tors and nurses kept clos­ing and open­ing cur­tains around her bed. Later, they asked to see her ID.

“They said they needed to dis­charge me. I asked them why, as I was still on oxy­gen and a drip and they said: ‘the hos­pi­tal does not cater for peo­ple like you’.” Mamba said she un­der­stood but was not go­ing to let them kick her out of the hos­pi­tal when she was so ill.

“I sat on the bed and re­fused to be dis­charged. I told them it was my hu­man right to ac­cess health care but they said they would re­move me by force,” she said.

Mamba said she called jour­nal­ists and ac­tivists who then called the hos­pi­tal to en­quire about the mat­ter. At that junc­ture, the hos­pi­tal de­cided not to dis­charge her. She was moved to a pri­vate ward.

“My big­gest prob­lem was what if that per­son was not me, but some­one from the ru­ral ar­eas with­out ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion about their rights?

‘The SA sys­tem is gen­der fear­ing, not af­firm­ing’

That dis­crim­i­na­tion could cost lives,” she said.

Mamba said another dis­crim­i­na­tory in­ci­dent hap­pened at work. While the or­gan­i­sa­tion that em­ployed her knew that she was a trans­gen­der woman, one of the women in a se­nior po­si­tion at work had a prob­lem with her us­ing the fe­male bath­room.

The woman even called hu­man re­sources to in­ter­vene.

“I re­mem­ber sit­ting in a hear­ing, very an­gry. I told them that I would not use the male bath­room and if peo­ple were not com­fort­able with me us­ing the fe­male bath­room, they should go to the bath­rooms at their homes as they are gen­der neu­tral,” she said.

“I threat­ened to sue them if they fired me and they backed down.”

Mamba said she did not know why peo­ple had a prob­lem with trans­gen­der peo­ple but that it could be that, gen­er­ally, the South African sys­tem was gen­der fear­ing and not gen­der af­firm­ing.

“Re­search we did last year showed that 60% of trans­gen­der women were vul­ner­a­ble to abuse,” she said.

“Trans­gen­der women have chal­lenges. I am scared of go­ing out, when I get into taxis I try to be calm and not talk. I can’t even an­swer my phone be­cause peo­ple will stare as I have a deep voice. They will say ‘gay this, gay that’ and I am not even gay, I’m a trans­gen­der per­son.”

Zam­bezi said there was much more ed­u­ca­tion needed to ed­u­cate peo­ple about trans­gen­der peo­ple to lessen the chal­lenges they face daily.

Some time ago, her or­gan­i­sa­tion had to in­ter­vene in the mat­ter of a trans­gen­der woman whose em­ployer did not know whether it should be a male or fe­male se­cu­rity guard search­ing her.

The mat­ter was even re­ported to the CCMA, Zam­bezi said.

“Many peo­ple don’t even know what it means to be a trans­gen­der; they don’t even know the cor­rect ter­mi­nol­ogy to ad­dress them with. We need for peo­ple to know more about them,” she said.

SCARED: Snowy Mamba, who is go­ing through a tran­si­tion from male to fe­male, shares her jour­ney at her home in Tsakane, on the East Rand.

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