Are trans rights part of these human rights?

I remember waking up in the morning playing with my brothers and sisters. It was a very sunny day, the breeze touched my skin with ease. I clearly remember the front door of the house wide open. We were all wearing dresses. I was very young at the time. I think it was before I even started pre-school. I was so happy and alive. My sisters and I played with dolls, whilst my boring brothers played with their guns.

When we were in the rural areas we all use to wash in the same bath tub. I used to wash with my sisters because I felt more comfortable in their space, maybe this was the reason we were so close. However, when we were washing I noticed I had a different feature compared to theirs. I had something long in between my thighs, they had nothing. I never questioned this. I just longed to feel and look like them.

Whenever we went to church they would wear beautiful, long white Cinderella dresses. Cinderella is an animation character that perpetuated the highest level of beauty. It was my dream to look exactly like her.I had to wear long black pants and looked like my father. I hated this. I hated looking like my father and having to separate and suffocate my long legs into these pants. I wanted to look like my sisters. So before we would go to church I would ask them to let me wear their Cinderella dresses. They always allowed me to. I felt beautiful. I felt perfect. I looked like them, only better. I always hated the moment when I had to take off the dress and go back to my soldier gear, I called it.

I attended a Catholic church which believed in the separation of sexes in church ‘male and female’ and therefore separated the two in its seating arrangements. As we entered the church together as a family, my sisters would turn left to their aisle. Separated and going further away from them, I would have to sit with my father and brother. I had to sit with my brothers. I hated it so much! I never understood why they did this.

I remember when church ended, all the children would run to play outside, but as usual I would go and play with other girls  and we would play uqhaphu. I loved playing this game. Other boys in church would call me imoeffie, or istabane. Neither of which I understood. Well, that is, until I started grade one.

I attended a co-ed school, Crewe Primary School located in East London. The boys would wear shorts, a shirt and long socks. The girls wore beautiful trimmed blue tunics, and blue socks. I wanted to wear that. It was in grade one that I truly understood my state of deviancy. Girls were called amantobazana, and boys amakhwenkhwe.

I remember, I would pray and say, “God if you are really alive, if you really love me. Can you please make me intobazana. I want to have long hair, breasts and my sister’s private part (I called it). Ndicela ukuvuka ngomso kusasa ndifana naye. Ndicela ukuvuka ndiyintombi”. When I saw the sun, I would run to the mirror that separated the single bed that I slept in with my sister and check myself in mirror. As I looked at myself in the mirror I would feel my chest searching for breasts. I would then further go down to investigate my private part, only to be disappointed. I knew I was a girl, and I was daddy’s girl. Even though he just saw inkwenkwe yakhe.

I have not told my father about this. I did not tell him that he has a little girl, but his little girl is trapped in this little boy’s body. I was never close to him, because I think he knew I was different, and I was embarrassed about it.

I struggled at school academically, maybe because my main concern was trying to get in touch with who I identified as. I am a girl. I am one, but I just did not understand why my body does not represent that.

At this time, I was so alone. Coming from a black Xhosa family my father was never the type to ask, “how are  you doing?”. I guess he never had the time, because he had to work. I remember him saying,”I wake up to provide for you.” That was the only thing he was worried about, and I completely understand; money was and still is an issue. I remember one day: I had made up my mind. I came home from school, I immediately took a bath before my siblings came home from school. As I completed drying myself, I looked at myself in the mirror, covered what was between my thighs. Not good enough I probably thought. I then reached out for my pencil case, pulled out a sharp pair of scissors, I pressed the scissor blades hard enough to leave a mark, I could not do it, it was too sore. I felt like a coward, still feel like one, but I could not bare the pain. This thing caused and continues to cause me a lot of pain, it is a reminder of this foreign body that I hate so much.

Once, my father was called to school. I knew I was not doing well. I remember one time my father was teaching me phonics, and I could not understand them, so he would hit me. Asking me again, “Ndoda ngubani eligama?” Holding back the tears and the incorrect answer. He would slaps me across the face. Why was he angry? whenever I got an answer wrong, he would slap me across my face. I needed someone to help me. I needed him, anyone to tell me I am not insane. Instead I was diagnosed with a learning disability. I guess that method never worked out, because I repeated grade one in 2004. I was never told from a young age I have rights, more importantly the right to safety. I have never felt safe. I do not know what that feels like. I only know what safety is in theory. I fear the patriarchal, heteronormative and transphobic male residence that I am currently living in. I fear taking a shower in this residence.  I fear wearing a dress, and going to PnP at night. I fear being mis-gendered during the day.

When I hear the word Human Rights I think about the right to education, sanitation, the right to proper health care and safety. I was shocked to hear that you have the right to safety in South Africa, because I have never experienced this right. When you go to most public hospitals in South Africa and you get medical assistance, you are recognised and assisted. I cannot go to a public hospital and ask for a ‘Sexual reassignment surgery’. They will probably look at me, and tell me not to waste their time.  Should this not be a human right? These rights are there, however the implementation and the strict policing of these rights are not there. I therefore do not think Trans Rights are part of Human Rights. I will not celebrate this day, because it is not a day that recognises trans bodies. I am Trans therefore I am not recognised in this space/country.

We speak of Human Rights Day to be a day celebrating people’s rights. Especially rights of black people who fought in our history. In school the only black history I was taught was mostly about civil rights in America and the Holocaust in Germany. Only when I was doing my last year in High school was I taught about Black South African history. This was also mostly about the ANC and the PAC. They spoke about the uMkonto weSizwe, uBiko, Mandela, Sobukwe, uHani and the long walk to freedom, but they did not teach me about my history. The black queer leaders who were part of the ANC like uSimon Nkoli. I learnt about Simon Nkoli this year, my second year in University. The history that I have been provided with at school is incompleted. They have erased us. They have erased black queer bodies in our history.

Today I am thinking about the small trans children who I know are probably going through what I went through, but do not know what to say or do. Today is Human Rights Day in South Africa. I am thinking about trans and queer bodies in this country. Where is our representation as trans people? Instead we have people like Chimamanda Adichie who abuse the power they have and feel they have the right to represent people like me. You do not know me. I was never a man. I have always been a woman. Please stop misrepresenting me to the world.

I am a woman. I am a trans woman. I am a human. Where are my rights? What is Human Rights day in South Africa? Am I part of these Human Rights?

I would like to wish all Trans, non-binary and non-conforming bodies a future Human Rights Day. Yes, it isn’t today, but I promise you it is coming.


By Phumelele Nkomozake A south African Transwoman read  and follow her blog:

Edited by: Lucky Brian Dlamini, Chili Kier & Thabo Gaobuse

Photographer: Chili Kier

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