"My body is a battleground."
It’s war. Where with every step made, with every doorstep entered, with every word uttered - a declaration of warfare is made. Living as a trans person in Rural South Africa is a battle with self, with acceptance and with being.
Phiwe Ncengi, a trans woman and SHE advocacy officer, says sex work can take many forms and isn’t always just about the money. Sometimes it’s about self-acceptance, especially “when you know that a client will call you ‘baby’, ‘honey’ – those good words”.
“It makes you feel like a real woman and you become more comfortable with yourself,” she adds.
Like many in her community, Ncengi had never encountered the term “transgender”, until she attended a SHE workshop. As a teenager, she knew she didn’t feel gay but could find no other word to define her identity.
“I heard someone using the name ‘femgay’, so that was the name I started using for myself,” she recalls.
Kerry Oosthuysen, a legal officer at the Commission for Gender Equality in the Eastern Cape, agrees that transgender as a concept can be confusing, and is often seen as synonymous with being gay or lesbian.
“There is no pure isiXhosa word for ‘transgender’ and if any other word is used, it is borrowed from other languages,” explains Oosthuysen.
This lack of understanding exacerbates stigma and discrimination, but many transgender people have lost confidence in the judicial system when it comes to reporting hate crimes and discriminatory abuse.
It’s 5pm on a freezing Friday in Quigney, East London. Malwande Onceya settles into a cream fur bodywarmer and prepares for tonight’s shift. “I’m a pleasure executive, my dear.”
Onceya pulls her dreadlocks into a ponytail and smacks her red lipstick into place. It’s going to be a long night on Oxford Road – especially with a scratchy throat threatening flu.
“Mna shem! I make no mistake to tell my clients that I am a man – I don’t want to be fed to the dogs!” she says in isiXhosa.
Now working as a sex worker in the Eastern Cape, Onceya grew up in KwaNofeliti, a quiet village not far from King William’s Town. She remembers being taunted by boys at school who would say: “You have itotosie [a penis]! Why are you acting like a girl?”
As we approach KwaNofeliti, she points to a lone hut on the outskirts of the village. “See there, uyoluka? Thina sasibaninzi ekuyeni kwethu esuthwhini [There were many of us when I was initiated].”
Onceya’s initiation ceremony took place nine years ago, but it is still the talk of KwaNofeliti. Today an elderly woman laughingly welcomes her home with the words: “Hey, do you remember how you beat those boys esuthwhini [at initiation school]? The police, the whole village came out to see how you beat the hell out of them! They’ll never forget it!”
When she turned 18, Onceya made a conscious decision to go to the bush with her peers. She was motivated partly by respect for her culture, but she had other reasons too.
“Actually, I was running away from the double stigma. I didn’t want people to say: ‘One – you’re a moffie, and two – you’ll always be a small boy!’ So I told myself that I would prove to them that this custom had nothing to do with my gender identity,” she explains.
But she refused to participate in the traditional displays of manhood, choosing instead to remain in her hut. This angered fellow initiates.
“The other guys came into my space. One of them slapped me, and that’s when it all started. I hit them, all six. I was just protecting myself because I hadn’t done anything to them,” she says.
Watch: Rural Trans Lives: Transgender living in rural Eastern Cape, South Africa
Culture and religion play an integral role in rural Eastern Cape communities. Prescribed gender roles within the province and its rural areas are regarded as the norm, causing conflict for those who identify as transgender bisexual, gender non-conforming or homosexual.
To view the story: How rural trans people struggle to live out their rights (Mail&Guardian).
“Entering pageants was my thing, growing up."
Growing up in Potchefstroom in the North West, Matebisi Phakisa was always reminded that she was a “boy”.
Matebisi has been waiting for eight long years to start her hormonal therapy treatment. She tells her story of growing up in Potchefstroom in the North West struggling with acceptance from her community.
“Entering pageants was my thing, growing up. I knew I was good at it and I was. I got tired of teaching the girls the choreography: how to stand, turn and walk. So I entered myself and I knew I could win.”
Phakisa thought her dream had come true when she was allowed to compete and to parade on stage with the other contestants. But it was not what it seemed.
“Later, I found out that I wasn’t even scored. They didn’t even judge me. I was just their entertainment. I was their fool.”
“I found myself in that confusion.”
Seoketsi Moketsi is Founder of Rural Trans Love, a safe space for trans people in rural Ipelegeng in North West Province.
I was ready to throw away all that baggage that I had been carrying for such a long time. I started Rural Trans Love because I felt that it is important that we have our own space. Because even though I am a trans gender womxn, it’s important to have these spaces, where we can cry and voice out our frustrations. That is why I started Rural Trans Love.
Living in Schweizer-Reneke, a small town located in the North West… This place is one of the most patriarchal towns. It’s difficult enough to be a lesbian or gay in this community, but when you identify as transgender and not gay, people become very violent towards you - because they think that I’m here to provoke and sell the idea of being trans to people.
My own family and relatives made my life a living hell. I remember when one of my uncles tried to demonstrate his masculinity by sending eleven-year-old Seoketsi to buy him cigarettes at the shop. The cigarettes broke on the way back home. And he saw that as an opportunity to teach me a lesson. He beat me, saying I am a ‘trassie’, he beat me while saying he wanted to beat the ‘trassie’ out of me.
I now know that that wasn’t disciplining a child for doing something wrong. He beat me out of hate. It was hate.
"We have to hide our penises."
Ayanda “Zaza” Kwinana is a 30-year-old trans woman originally from rural Transkei in the Eastern Cape. She explains her journey to becoming a sex worker and recalls an incident where her life was threatened after a client refused to pay.
"I would always hear demoralizing words, from people."
She has had to retreat from truly expressing herself. Struggling with family and broader sociological-economical issues, Sepato lives at home with limited independence - and has had to resort to being seen as gay.
“I think I was 19 - I was the Diva, I had that brave heart to go to school and face maniacs, lunatics. I had long hair, beautiful hair, I would braid my hair. I was the Diva. Even though at school I was experiencing discrimination, I would stand up for myself.
Getting to know myself was a bit complicated due to family issues. I was the Diva but suddenly I had to go back because of my family politics.
When we finished matric, I had to go back, I withdrew from expressing who I am because of how society is. I would always hear demoralizing words from people. So I gave up. This is the current look, even though I am not comfortable with the current look, it’s just for the sake of respect.
International Trans Murder Monitoring Data.
Trans Murder Monitoring Update 2016
The Trans Murder Monitoring (TMM) project systematically monitors, collects and analyses reports of homicides of trans and gender-diverse people worldwide.
The classification of the murder of a trans/gender-diverse person as a hate crime is often difficult, due to a lack of information in the reports as well as the lack of national monitoring systems.
1. The collected data show only those cases which have been reported. There is no data and no estimates are available for unreported cases.
2. The data presented here does not include all reported cases worldwide, but only those which can be found on the Internet, along with those murders that were reported to us by local activists or our partner organizations.
3. Due to the dozens of languages used on the Internet, the variety of terms used to denote trans and gender-diverse people, and the myriad numbers of web pages to search through, it is simply not possible to find all reports that are shown on the Internet.
4. Finding reports of murdered trans and gender-diverse persons in particular is also problematic, as not all trans and gender-diverse people who are murdered are identified as trans or gender-diverse.
Legal and Social Mapping
An overview of the human rights and legislative provisions for trans persona in different parts of the world. Useful data and advocacy tools for international institutions, human rights organisations, trans movements and the general public.
For Full access or to download more information navigate on site:Transrespect vs Transhobia
“It’s like you’re behind bars, screaming for help but now one is hearing you.”
Three Trans men from three different provinces share their pain.See through my eyes- walk in my shoes- feel whats in side of me-
Social Justice Fellow
Video: Sebabatso Mosamo
Photographs: Delwyn Verasamy
Layout and Production: Sebabatso Mosamo
Published by the Mail & Guardian
Copyright © 2016,
Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung