We are trans, hear us roar

Proudly visible: Transgender man Jabu Pereira believes it is possible to end transphobia. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

Proudly visible: Transgender man Jabu Pereira believes it is possible to end transphobia. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)


“When did you realise that you were born in the wrong body?” I was recently asked by a journalist. It was at the age of eight.

I remember being on a school trip to Port Elizabeth. It was hot but we couldn’t swim because the signs on the beach read: “Whites only”.
This was my first pained experience of my body being legally wrong and unsuitable for swimming in the ocean.

Being born black and transgender are inseparable issues. The rejection of my body based on race and my gender expression is a struggle against racism and heteronormativity. I now live in a legally privileged country where the Constitution affirms my gender identity. I have rights and recourse. This cannot be said for most transgender people on our continent.

In 2013 Ricky, a transgender woman in Zimbabwe, was arrested for using the female toilet. She was stripped and humiliated by the police. She was subjected to anal examinations and charged for impersonation.

In October this year six transgender people were attacked in one week in Uganda. Beyonce Karungi, a prominent transgender rights activist, was told by the perpetrators: “We will cut off your balls and we will burn you alive.” Although homosexuality and being transgender are different issues, in the mind-set of most Ugandans there is little separation.

Closer to home, we hear of transgender pupils facing humiliation and exclusion in public schools. Nare, a young transgender woman, was a victim of ongoing verbal humiliation from her school principal, who excluded her from classes and followed her to the bathroom to check whether she sat or stood when relieving herself. This was Nare’s daily torture.

Nadia Swanepoel, a transgender woman from Johannesburg, went on a six-day hunger strike after repeatedly failing to get her identity documents changed by the home affairs department. This prevented Nadia from opening a bank account, being able to travel or getting employment. She was forced into sex work and considered ending her life several times, because of the government’s failure to comply with the 2003 Alteration of Sex Description and Sex Status Act.

These are the common struggles and realities of transgender Africans. We experience trauma and pain on a daily basis. We can’t recede and hide; we have to get on with our lives.

The first Africa Trans Visibility Day on Saturday seeks to raise awareness about transgender issues and to stop the silent killings and inhumane treatment of transgender persons.

Trans visibility is about recognising that the exclusion and intentional harm committed on transgender bodies is in direct violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Transgender activists from Uganda, Botswana, Lesotho and Namibia will be there and, in this regional space, we want to create and foster solidarity. Every human being deserves the right to enjoy their bodily autonomy, to enjoy economic freedom and being safe, and to be afforded human dignity. We believe that ending transphobia in society is possible.

Africa Trans Visibility Day will be held on December 5 from 10am to 6pm at Constitution Hill, Johannesburg, as part of the celebration of International Human Rights Day, including trans rights.

  Jabu Pereira is a transgender man and the director of Iranti-org, which advances the rights of lesbians and transgender people in Africa

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