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
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.