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Trans Right To Life And Dignity PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 13 June 2012

On the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia, Gender DynamiX was invited to participate in events hosted by LoudEnuf of the Gender Equity Unit at the University of the Western Cape. Whitney Booysen, Outreach Co-ordinator at Gender DynamiX gave a passionate speech about the trans person’s right to life and dignity.

“Is our right to life, to dignified existence, to liberty and pursuit of happiness subservient to Gender norms? “She asked. This does not need a complicated answer. As every human being wants to be born, to live and die in dignity, so do transgender people. Everyone wants the freedom to express the uniqueness of the life force in them, so do transgender people. Everyone wants to live with authenticity, so do transgender people.

“Now is the time that we realise that diversity does not diminish our humanity; that respecting diversity does not make us less human; that understanding and accepting our differences do not make us cruel. And in fact, history has shown us that denying and rejecting human variability is the one that has led us to inflict indignity upon indignity towards each other,” she said. She added that we are human beings of transgender experience.  “We are your children, your partners, your friends, your siblings, your students, your teachers, your workers, your citizens.

“Let our lives delight in the same freedom of expression that you enjoy as you manifest to the outside world your unique and graceful selves.

“Let us live together in the fertile ground of our common humanity, for this is the ground where religion is not motivation to hate but a way to appreciate the profound beauty and mysteries of life.

“For this is the ground where laws are not tools to eliminate those who are different from us, but are there to facilitate our harmonious relationships with each other;    

“For this is the ground where culture is not a channel to express the brutality of our limited perception but a means to express the nobility of our souls;

“For this is the ground where the promise of the universality of human rights can be fulfilled!”

And she concluded saying, “And we will be in this ground if we let the sanity of our desires, the tenacity of our compassion, and above all, the lucidity of our hearts reign in our lives.”

Loudenuf, one of six programmes of the Gender Equity Unit at the University of the Western Cape, was formed in 2006 with the main focus being the support of the LGBTI community (sraff and students) on campus. The programme engages on LGBTI issues and issues such as sexual orientation, Gender identity, violence against women, prejudice and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

LoudEnuf offers support to people coming to terms with their own gender and sexuality, and strives to create an environment that is accepting, tolerant and free of ‘homophobia and transphobia’ both on campus and in the wider community.

Friday, 27 April 2012

By Charl Marais

According to the South African Constitution transgender people are supposed to be free and equal to enjoy the same rights and privileges as their heterosexual counterparts. But the reality is quite different to the extent that it is actually unlawful. Not even the government affords transgender people their human rights, eg. by not enforcing the law; not implementing Act 49*.

Transgender people are discriminated against on a daily basis and in all walks of life. And because no steps are taken to curb this state of affairs, transgender people are often victims of violence, discrimination and humiliation. They routinely face humiliation and harassment in public spaces because of the challenge they present to gender norms and stereotypes. Their lives become isolated and complicated around simple tasks like buying groceries and doing banking. Day to day tasks which are part of other people’s routine lives become a tiresome burden to transgender people. The easy flow and anonymity which congruent gender expression brings, escapes trans people and they continually have to suffer the significant public attention that comes with a variant gender expression. Public attention ranges from stares, expressions of distaste to outright slurs which relate to sexual perversions and sexual orientation. The experience of physical violence is common place and the threat and actual incidence of ‘curative rape’ is a reality for them as it is for other sexual minorities.

Freedom for a transgender person is:  not having to live in stealth; to be “out and proud”. But they cannot afford to take the chance. Jobs might be lost; friendships might end; and children might even be disowned.  For many transgender people the only way to keep their jobs or precious relationships intact is to live a lie. This in turn leads to guilt, depression and in many cases suicide.

So no, Transgender people are not free and Freedom Day is not a celebration of freedom but a reminder that they have been reduced to second class citizenship.


*Act 49 amendment of 2003 allows for transgender people to apply for a change of gender in their ID document without having genital surgery.

ACT 49 of 2003 2. (1) Any person whose sexual characteristics have been altered by surgical or medical treatment or by evolvement through natural development resulting in Gender Reassignment ... may apply to the Director General of Home Affairs for the alteration of the sex description on his or her birth register.

My new birth PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 28 March 2012

by Charl Marais


When was I born and how old am I now? It may seem like a simple question and one everybody should be able to answer quite easily. Not so for me.  There are a number of things to take into consideration. So, when was I born? Was it the day my mother brought me forth amidst tears (mine) and laughter (Mom & Dad)? Or was it the day I first started my journey and had my first operation in 1992? Was it the day, also in 1992, when I first went on hormones; or the day my name was changed on my ID? Or my identity markers identified me as male?

There have been a number of milestones on my journey, culminating in my first reassignment operation, metoidioplasty. All the years before were a mere “getting ready” to emerge as the person I really am – as a man in every aspect. Now I can finally stand up and shout, “Yes, I’m a man.” Not that I never was, but people like to see the sexual organs to go with that statement.

I have just been born, because finally I am no longer trapped in a woman’s body. I have just been born, because I have been blessed with a new body. A body I don’t have to be ashamed of. A body I can look at without revulsion.

Many people may ask what difference does it make? I’ve been accepted in the male world and few knew the truth. True, but to me it makes all the difference. This is what I’ve wanted for the better part of my 53 years on earth. This is what I have wanted since the day I found out about the different sex organs for boys and girls.

I am happy. I am excited. I am looking forward to my new life which includes a wife. No children from my sperm, however, but there are other options like adoption or artificial insemination by donor.

So when is my birthday? The 5th of December 1958 is the day I came into this world, but the 6th of October 2011 was the day I was reborn, so I am still an infant with a whole new life ahead of me.

Watch out for me – I’m coming! 

2011 A BUSY YEAR FOR GDX PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 28 March 2012

At the 6th Annual General Meeting of Gender DynamiX (GDX) held in Cape Town, outgoing Chairperson, Mzi Nduna, Treasurer Margie Lagerwell and Executive Director Liesl Theron presented their annual reports which clearly set out how far GDX has come since the last AGM.

Ms Nduna opened the meeting reflecting on the nature and performance of the organisation during the last year (2011). She said the Management Board, acting on a volunteer basis, provides solid support to GDX’s growth in volumes. To those who were not familiar with the work GDX does, she explained that GDX is a human rights organisation that pioneers work for the protection of human rights of transgender people in this country and beyond. GDX is taking strides to realise the Vision of becoming a big influence regionally and eventually continentally. She also spoke about GDX forming a coalition with two other organisations, Transgender and Intersex Africa (TIA) and Support Initiative for People with atypical sex Development (SIPD) Uganda, to form Transitioning Africa and through this coalition GDX will in future steer its regional work.

“In that journey, in addition to the strengthening of the position of transgender and intersex people, and activists and organisations we have also witnessed some significant developments in the region, Ms Nduna said. She also applauded the “tireless efforts, dedication and commitment” of the staff, interns and volunteers with a special thank you to funders and others “who contribute from their pockets as we rededicate ourselves to continuing to serve the trans community.”

In her address, Ms Lagerwell said the hardest part of being a non-profit organisation is balancing the organisational needs, projects and activity costs with funding guidelines. She mentioned the main funders who support specific projects and funders who fund overhead expenses. These funders are South African National Lotteries, Atlantic Philanthropies, Arcus Foundation, Open Society Initiative South Africa, Aids Foundation of South Africa, Global Fund for Women and AmFAR. One of GDX’s first funders was Astraea Foundation who continues to support GDX.

“Painstaking hours are invested in funding applications, tailoring the needs for the GDX community and soliciting funders who fit our goals,” she said. She added that the organisation continues to operate under the most stringent financial contro0l and each staff member is used to their full capacity.

No annual report could be complete without the address of the Executive Director, Liesl Theron who started GDX after realising the need of putting a system in place where the rights and needs of transgender people could be addressed. Not only did GDX grow as an organisation known beyond South Africa’s borders as well as globally, but is now also a leader in advocacy in South Africa with a range of government departments, reaching out to communities, continuously hosting workshops and group discussions and is featured regularly in the South African Media. There are South African parents contacting GDX for information and support for their trans teenagers, assisting transpeople in a range of litigation/court cases, assisting trans people from across the country to access shelters, and social spaces which are created where people can just hang out and be with each other.

GDX is currently in discussions with the Department of Education in the Western Cape regarding gender segregated school uniforms and inclusion of gender sensitive education. GDX has also managed to finally set a meeting date with the Department of Home Affairs regarding Act 49 of 2003.

“In this organisational year we seriously started engaging in setting a South African trans research agenda and South African gender inclusive HIV-related work and research which will translate into producing materials and information – the first in South Africa to be trans specific and catering for the needs gaps of our very own constituency,” Ms Theron said.

She went on to say that GDX is actively involved in a national task team to ensure Gender identity inclusion in the South African National Aids Council (SANAC) which is responsible for our national strategic plan on HIV/AIDS for 2012 – 2017. Until now transgender people were not present in the NSP, their vulnerability invisible and no interventions in place to address their very particular issues. GDX has made submissions for appropriate inclusion especially with regards to trans people who are currently subsumed within the gay and lesbian categories by default of their pre-transition bodies. International research shows trans people as the most vulnerable key population group. GDX sees the need for research and initiatives locally.

“We are proud to say we are also involved in giving input in the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill which will determine the future of health care in South Africa,” she stated. She added that all these policy paper submissions, draft bill white papers and processes will translate into future access of better services for all Gender DynamiX South African constituents.

Historically, with its first two years unfunded, GDX had to rely on donations and various opportunities. One such donation in kind is the website, still being hosted, maintained and provided without any cost to GDX. However it created an image of an organisation fo0r middle class and affording people as it is a very limited number of people in South Africa who has access to the internet.

“Over the years we have worked very hard to overcome the barriers of not only this image but in reality to ensure we reach out to communities beyond those who are able to access us on-line.”

These days GDX is reaching out to a range of diverse communities in isolated and rural areas including Pietermaritzburg, Kimberley, Umlazi, Soweto, Guguletu, Nyanga and many more. GDX also has a drop-in centre and people from across the Peninsula drop in to make use of the space and resources offered.

Another big project of GDX was the Trans Health and Advocacy Conference at the end of November 2011. The strategy about hosting a conference of this nature was not only the three days meeting space it created for trans people from across South Africa and medical and health practitioners, but also the work involved in the build-up to the conference.

“The collaborations and partnerships it created with other organisations in preparations and the resolutions and documents, “spin-off” workshops and other exposure it created are priceless.”

In conclusion she said that having the back-up of a conference allows ‘gravity’ to engage with the Departments of Health, Education and Justice, with the UN and the WHO.

To disclose or not to disclose The million dollar question PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 28 March 2012

By Charl Marais

There are questions that always seem to come up with transgender people, whether they are pre-op or post-op or at any stage of their transition. Of these, the questions around disclosure seem to be the ones most trans people grapple with: “when do you disclose, what do you say and how much do you disclose?”

Disclosure for a transsexual person can often be fraught with anxiety, fear, shame and guilt. These feelings are due to the fact that more often than not, their disclosure will be met with negative reactions such as rejection and abandonment and possibly even a sense of betrayal , or, on the other hand, their need for non-disclosure creates within themselves feelings of guilt.

It therefore goes without saying that the question of “When and how do I disclose?” is often debated at length. When does one disclose one’s status?

Disclosure, within the context of human dignity and a democratically free South Africa should not be seen as pre-requisite to engagement with others. Nor should it be seen as a tool to gain acceptance of others. Moreover, the person should never feel the need to disclose due to a feeling of insecurity and/or guilt created by an ignorant society for an explanation not required within one’s freedom of expression of gender and its non discriminatory clauses. Disclosure is not as easy as one might think, especially in the work place or in a romantic setting. It is all about timing – your own personal timing and readiness. “Weigh up the risks and benefits to you as you consider disclosure,” Dr Marlene Wasserman, clinical sexologist better known as Dr Eve, advises.

 She adds that the first person to whom you actually have to disclose, is yourself. Consider that your own transition has happened in your head and heart from the time you can ever remember there was something like gender, when you realized there was a boy/girl world. So your first disclosure is to yourself. And that can take tremendous time and courage. In your unique transitioning journey you will develop a sense of vigilance, a sense of who feels safe, and based on your own instinct you will know to whom you can safely disclose,” she adds.  

She goes on to say, “In a work environment it remains your choice if you need to disclose at all: ask yourself who will benefit from this knowledge? It will be terribly difficult for you to work in a prejudicial environment and this may impact on your general well being.”

“Within the workplace, disclosure is at your own discretion. As with HIV or gender related issues, you are not legally obligated to disclose your status within the workplace.  Your right to privacy is protected by The Bill of Rights,” Charmain Hulme, mother of a transgender child says. 

Robert Hamblin, a transman previously advocacy manager at GDX and currently an indepemdent transactivist, agrees with Dr Wasserman when he says it all depends on what the goal of disclosing is. “If it is in the workplace you need to only disclose that which will protect you legally.” However, Joy Wellbeloved, transwoman and co-editor of the book, Trans: Transgender Life Stories From South Africa, feels it should be done on a ‘need to know’ basis. To not disclose, she maintains, is to tell a blatant lie.

Transman Munir van Reenen will disclose only once he knows the job is his. “I know I would have to submit documentation and I still don’t have an identity document that classifies me as male, so, yes, for me I would have to disclose. As for a possible romantic interest, I would be upfront because I’d like to ensure that the girl wants me for who and what I am and not because of whom she assumes I am,” he says.

An important group that needs full disclosure is the family, says Mrs Malani Arendse, sister of a transman. “I suppose that this depends on the family dynamics but I think that it would be best to inform them as soon as possible so that they can get on with the job of either accepting/rejecting or denying your “status”. This would also be a clear indication of the type of interaction you can expect in future and prepare you for dealing with whatever situations may arise”.

From an employer’s point of view, Nathan Marais, Director of Coastal Property Management and brother of a transman, feels he would like to be told upfront. “I don’t think it would make a difference to me, and not just because of my association with a transgender person. To me it would be about the prospective employee’s abilities and qualifications for the job,” he says.

Dr Thamar Klein (PhD), Research Associate at the Somatechnics Research Centre, Macquarie University in Australia, and herself an androgynous person, doesn’t mention it when applying for a job. “When I get the job, they will get my Social Security card and my tax card. Through these they will automatically know that I am married and that we are both legally female. I have never hidden my partner from colleagues or bosses,” she says. When other people speak of their partner, she speaks of hers, she says. She adds that at her current workplace she talks of her partner as her wife and not husband. And at her old places of work a few old and close colleagues knew that they are mainly trans-identified. That depended on friendship and trust. “At the Max-Planck-Institute I think everybody knew that we are trans and everybody addressed my partner by his chosen male name.” Coming out there was easy, as many people were quite open-minded and knew that she did research on transgendered people. She also came out as trans-identified to the students of a queer theory class she taught. “I found it important to be a possible role model for trans/queer students and to show that this is not an abstract topic but concerns people in the environment,” she adds.

As for her partner? “I was fortunate not to have to come out to my partner as we met for the first time at a trans and queer social. So everybody knew that if you were there it would mean that you are a transgender in the broadest meaning of the word. Before I was married, I have always looked for a partner in queer and trans friendly social surroundings. Thus I never needed to come out – because everybody was already out to everybody,” she explains.

 “However, given the context, there are times when disclosure is required, such as in the connection of a possible love interest which could lead to sexual interaction or for legalities when documentation is incongruent,” Simone Heradien, transwoman and chairperson of Gender DynamiX Management Board says. “If you have to disclose, weigh up the situation objectively. If it's a personal disclosure ensure that you are in a safe space like a public area, always a good defence in the rare occasion of a feared violent reaction. Preferably one should only disclose when one has gained the other party’s trust and respect as a human being first and foremost," She added.

Dr Wasserman agrees that there is a need for caution. “If you see red flags popping up in your head warning you, then respect these and be cautious about hanging out in such an unsafe romantic space,” she cautions.

Mrs Arendse advises, tongue in cheek, disclose before it becomes a romantic interest and then see where this takes you!

If it’s to a lover you have to do it early, be gentle and informative and disclose what the lover asks of you, Robert says. “If, however, it is to a child one should give basic information and not burden a child with too much nitty gritty, but rather give simple answers to questions gradually.” If it is with friends – well, that will depend on how important your medical past is for a friendship...

Mrs Arendse also feels that prior to disclosure to friends you would probably have surrounded yourself with people whom you can identify with, no matter what their persuasion. “They may have already guessed, so tell them and give them the facts!”

On the other hand, Mrs Hulme feels that when it comes to more personal relationships, in order to maintain a caring and honest relationship it may be necessary to disclose to your partner but this can be done at any stage in the relationship.  “Obviously, the sooner the better, as the longer you wait the more risk you run of being accused of hiding things and being dishonest.  Your partner or loved one may feel betrayed if they are not informed early on in a relationship,” she says. Obviously it is best to wait until your partner has gotten to know you for who you are and a real or serious relationship has developed before disclosing.  Honesty in this instance is always the best policy but at the right time and in the right context, she advises.

For Dr Nic Theo (PhD), Women and Gender Studies department at the University of the Western Cape, disclosure is not cut and dried and for him the simple answer would be 'it depends'. “I don't believe there is a stock answer true to all people and all circumstances. Each person must gauge their situation and behave in accordance with that,” he advises. For some people it will be more important that those around them know sooner rather than later, so they can get the best support. In that case, they must be careful that they aren't automatically assuming they will get this support and acceptance, and must be prepared for rejection and problems. For others, it will be more important to remain 'under cover' for as long as possible, so as to protect themselves against hurt, problems in the workplace etc. In that case they will not want to disclose until the last possible moment. “I think the key is for people to recognise that not everyone will accept them and be supportive, and that ultimately it is their responsibility to deal with any fall-out. So people should carefully choose when, where, how and how much to disclose in a way that will serve them best, and in a way that faces up to their circumstances in the most realistic way,” he cautions.

Mrs Hulme also maintains that it is a personal issue whether to disclose or not. You can decide if and when you would like to disclose that you are transgender or merely leave things as they are.  But, she warns, should you decide not to disclose, it is very important that you are prepared in the event of someone finding out by pure accident. You need to ensure that you have a mental list of responses ready and to remember that all parties have a choice in how they respond; both you and the person/people who found out.  At all times you need to react calmly and know your rights. 

Furthermore, she adds, the issue of disclosure brings up a very real ethical dilemma as well.  There are those who feel biological sex, or identity, is a matter of personal privacy and are adamant that disclosure is not an obligation, and then there are those who feel they are morally obligated to disclose at any cost to themselves or their respective relationships. “However, each individual will need to navigate these dilemmas based on their own person feelings and conviction as there is no right or wrong decision here.  It should therefore not be based on any cultural, religious, family or social pressure as to when and how you should disclose, whether it be disclosure to a loved one or to colleagues in the workplace. A decision to disclose should always be based on your personal terms.  Your own safety and privacy is paramount to any disclosure”.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

The Gender DynamiX view is that it is important for the trans person to first build a safety net by coming out to friends and family who could give the necessary support when coming out to a wider circle which includes employers and colleagues, Ms Liesl Theron, Executive Director of Gender DynamiX said. “Without that safety net rejection would be that much harder to accept, especially when it affects your income or the vulnerability of a romance,” she added.    

Gender DynamiX offers workshops for employers and staff, while some private health care providers as well as the Gender Clinic at Groote Schuur offer counselling to a transgender person and a partner and/or family.

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