The agony of be­ing a boy in a girl’s body

This is an ex­tract from a book writ­ten by a trans­gen­der per­son about the tri­als of grow­ing up

The Mercury - - METRO -

RED. I stare at the toi­let pa­per. Oh my god. I am dy­ing. I am back from school one af­ter­noon when I dis­cover the stain of blood on the white pa­per. All day I have felt a heav­i­ness, a dull ache in my lower back and ab­domen.

I can hardly bring my­self to look. My heart all but stops, stran­gled in ter­ror. Am I dy­ing? Do I need to tell them? Go to the hos­pi­tal? I am close to tears but I know I have no right to cry here, let alone cause a scene that will surely war­rant an­other beat­ing.

I sit on the toi­let for a long time. I feel like Alice tum­bling down the rab­bit hole, with no strat­egy or plan for my es­cape. My mind is a mess as I try to make sense of the blood. I have not knocked my­self or fallen. Then sud­denly it all starts to make sense. Per­haps I am grow­ing a thing be­tween my legs like my brother Tando and my boy cousins, the boy thing I long to have. I wipe my­self again. More blood. I care­fully roll out enough toi­let pa­per to cre­ate a plas­ter and place it in­side my un­der­wear. Maybe this can stop the bleed­ing. I hastily flush the toi­let. I need to find Tando. “I have to tell you some­thing.” My words tum­ble out in whis­pered ur­gency. “There is some­thing hap­pen­ing to me – I have blood com­ing out from in­side of me.”

A mix­ture of ter­ror and ex­cite­ment plas­ters my face. Per­haps Tando will as­sure me that this blood is now mak­ing its way out of me for a thing to grow be­tween my legs.

“Oh no, you’re hav­ing your pe­ri­ods. Yho!”

Pe­ri­ods? I have no idea what this means, but it ap­pears Tando does.

“This means you’re go­ing to have to get girls’ san­i­tary wear and use them. You are go­ing to have to tell

lo­mama ngok­wakho. I am a boy, so there is noth­ing I can do to help you.”

First Ma, now him. This is the sec­ond time some­one I have pil­lared my life on has told me there is “noth­ing they can do for me”.

We sit for a long time in si­lence, Tando and I. Fi­nally I care­fully lift my be­hind off the back stoep, check whether I have left a trail of blood, and walk cau­tiously back in­side. I throw my­self into the evening chores, all the time aware of the wad of toi­let pa­per be­tween my legs. Fi­nally it’s time to go to bed. Toi­let pa­per in place, I try to sleep, hop­ing the new day will bring a phys­i­cal heal­ing, one that will not re­quire a con­ver­sa­tion with The Mother who will in all prob­a­bil­ity kill me for be­ing a bleed­ing boy.

Two days later and the un­com­fort­able red­dened plas­ter be­tween my legs still makes for bet­ter com­pany than the an­guish I imag­ine try­ing to ex­plain what is hap­pen­ing to me. I panic when she makes a ran­dom re­mark at how quickly the toi­let pa­per is run­ning out. I try to muster some courage to ap­proach her, but she’s al­ways ei­ther in the din­ing area, in her bed­room, or asleep. Day three ar­rives. Truly ter­ri­fied, I have be­gun find­ing cre­ative toi­let pa­per al­ter­na­tives, us­ing an old scarf, a T-shirt – I even cut up a favourite old jersey. I dis­card the soiled ev­i­dence of my con­fu­sion and shame in the out­side bin, wait­ing for dark, mak­ing sure that no one sees me.

Fi­nally I find a mo­ment when The Mother is sit­ting in her bed­room, alone. Her chil­dren are pre­oc­cu­pied with stuff­ing their faces and The Fa­ther has re­turned to work. I have been mus­ter­ing the courage in the kitchen, sit­ting on a chair with my legs closed tightly shut in an at­tempt to re­strict the out­pour­ing. I stand up, walk down the dark­ened pas­sage to­wards her bed­room. I knock timidly. She sum­mons me in. I look down as the floor.

“There is some­thing I need to tell you.”

With­out lift­ing her head from her ob­ses­sion, the lat­est Wil­bur Smith, she asks what I need.

“Tando told me that I am on my pe­ri­ods when I told him that there is blood com­ing out from in­side me.”

I some­how man­age to get words out.

I feel like Alice tum­bling down the rab­bit hole, with no strat­egy or plan for my es­cape. LANDA MABENGE au­thor

“Oh! So you’re the one who has been wast­ing our toi­let pa­per.”

My head, as if me­chan­i­cally set to obey her tone, hangs in shame. I clasp my sweaty hands be­hind my back and take a step back­wards to al­low my back to touch the wall, my tem­po­rary shield for the beat­ing that is sure to fol­low. “Sies! You will bring me prob­lems.” I stand in si­lence, wait­ing for her to help me re­solve the prob­lem I have been bat­tling for days. Noth­ing. Fi­nally, de­flated, I steal out of her room, back to the kitchen.

That night proves to be the tough­est yet. I hardly sleep, toss­ing and turn­ing into dawn, clench­ing my legs tight, care­ful not to over use the toi­let. By the time I get to school I can no longer mask my dis­com­fort from my teach­ers, let alone my­self.

When the bell rings for the mid-morn­ing break my teacher asks me to re­main be­hind. A wave of em­bar­rassed de­spair and panic sweep over me at the pos­si­bil­ity of her know­ing the se­cret that looms be­tween my legs. “What is go­ing on with you, my dear? Is there any­thing you want to tell me?”

I hang my head in shame and a mas­sive wave of emo­tions threat­ens to be­tray my stoic de­meanour. I shake my head from side to side.

This is an ex­tract from Landa’s book, Be­com­ing Him. Hav­ing re­alised the agony that comes with be­ing trans­gen­der and the lim­i­ta­tions to ac­cess, jus­tice and care, Landa reg­is­tered a so­cial en­ter­prise in 2016, Landa Mabenge Con­sult­ing, and now works pri­mar­ily with the Stel­len­bosch Univer­sity Equal­ity Unit. He avails him­self as a speaker and fa­cil­i­ta­tor and uses his per­sonal jour­ney to catal­yse ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion in this field. He has also es­tab­lished strong re­la­tions with NGOs and was asked to be part of a sym­po­sium in 2017 to look at amend­ing the ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion cur­ricu­lum to include gen­der iden­tity and sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. Landa also en­gages with the Trans­gen­der Clinic in try­ing to de­velop strate­gies to ex­tend aware­ness to the pri­vate sec­tor. It is this work that saw him se­lected as part of 1000 young African lead­ers for the 2017 Man­dela Wash­ing­ton Fel­low­ship for Young African lead­ers.

Landa Mabenge is try­ing to include gen­der iden­tity and sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion in the cur­ricu­lum.

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