I cannot make you see a woman, I am in a man’s body
I try to run away from these broad shoulders that make it difficult for me to put on these dresses that I so love to wear. They are not made for me. They are not constructed for this man’s body. I try to cover the bulge in between my thighs, but whenever I suppress it in my tight jeans, it only brings me pain. I wear chokers to try to express the woman in me, however, my Adam’s apple pushes it away, giving me a taste of death by making it hard for me to breathe and swallow.
I wake up and look at myself in the mirror. I am in disbelief at seeing this body naked, I go closer to the mirror looking deeply into this body. As I get closer, it eats away the rest of my body. As I get closer my body disappears, I can now only see my face. Looking deeply at the reflection of my face, I experience a bit of relief as I see hints of femininity. I recognise the little thorns that stab my fingertips as they get closer to my chin. I apprehensively wash my chin, I then take the razor, and allow the small blades to run over these hair particles like the brutal bulldozers that ran over the District Six houses in the Cape, wiping away their existence.
Looking down, I search for my foundation, trying to make myself look lighter, for light skin is associated with beauty. Light skin is associated with femininity. From a young age, they lied to me and taught me to hate myself. They taught me blackness is “either/or, not both”. Blackness is being African. Blackness is being straight. Blackness is possessing conservative masculine ideals. Blackness does not consist of queerness. Blackness is an implicit reminder that I cannot be Trans. If I am Trans, then I cannot be African, black or Xhosa. It is a reminder that I cannot be a woman for I am in this black man’s body. I cannot make you see the woman in me. I cannot make you see a woman because I live in a man’s body. I live in a black man’s body.
I have tried numerous times to kill this body; however, it has mastered the needs of my soul. This body has captured and imprisoned my feminine spirit. Twenty-seven years of imprisonment fighting for freedom does not begin to capture the twenty years of being imprisoned not only by society but by your own body. The kind of emancipation I long for is not only to be free from society but to be free from this foreign oppressive body. If I take its life away, it threatens to take away the beauty that is within me. I cannot allow it to.
I have to allow this body to live, for my spirit lives in it. However, I must quickly find a way to rescue myself from this body. I have tried to unify this body with my beautiful soul, however, it is silently suffocating me. I need to rescue myself from myself. I do not know how. Or maybe I should rather put this beautiful spirit to sleep, for she is already dying because of this oppressive body and society she lives in.
This body confuses me. This man’s body brings me agony instead of offering me the privilege that society and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said it would. It constantly reminds me that I cannot be a woman. The most I can be, is a gay man, for society tells me so. When this body goes into society it is misgendered. This body is forced to go into rooms that are historically constructed for men. It is institutionally oppressed and forced to decide if it is a man or a woman when in need of the bathroom. When it goes into women’s bathroom, even though it is a woman, it experiences transphobia and judgement. Left with no choice but to conform, it listens to its biological features and misgenders itself as it is forced to enter the male lavatory, confronted by urinals for the sake of maintaining peace in society. This body lives in an oppressive residence that refuses to acknowledge that it is not a gentleman, but rather a gentlewoman. Suggesting gender neutral names keep all happy, Even that they do not understand.
I set myself on fire to keep society warm.
I have always treated society like they are the victims, especially when it comes to them having to accept my identity. I try to make everything ‘normal’ for them.
I set myself on fire to keep them warm. I have always had to sacrifice the person I am for the sake of my family. Yes, I kept her in.
I set myself on fire to keep you warm. I continually suppressed her for the sake of maintaining the status quo. You must realise that as much as I am black, I am Xhosa and I am also Trans. I cannot separate the three, and I cannot make the other disappear for another to exist and be recognised by society. They are interdependent. They come as one. Intersectional.
I cannot set myself on fire anymore because I have nothing to burn.
I cannot make you see a woman because I live in a black man’s body.
I know I am a woman, even though I cannot make you see one.
Written by: Phumelele Nkomozake
Edited by: Chili Kier, Lucky Brian Dlamini and Thabo Gaobuse
Photographer: Chili Kier