Africa, my Africa! Where are the people of the LGBTIQ of African origin be that Africans in Africa or those in the Diaspora? Wherever you are, this clarion call is what has led me to create the trans-group known as, “Transafro,” which can be found on Facebook. Although the continent of Africa seems caught up in a “conditioned consumerist mindset” there is more to the continent than this narrow extrapolation of the rich and diverse continent. One of the daily attacks on African transpeople is the regular attempts by our own kin to erase our experience out of hand. Instead of trying to understand us as part of the diversity of African life, they wantonly exclude us.
Why? If some comments I received off the back of Trans-homosexuality are anything to go by, then I’d say because lots of Africans do not know much about human sexuality beyond their own experience which is often hetero-normative in form. What about us? I remember telling an acquaintance that I am a translesbian once and she mouthed the insult, man! I still find this laughable even today. If you think that a transperson that has transitioned from being male to female is a man any more than one that transitions from being female to male is still a woman? You will be appallingly wrong. The correct specifications are: Mtf=woman and Ftm=man; it is time to rethink the delusion of conditioned usages of language. Although this is not an academic thesis it is helpful to contemplate the impact of this kind of language from the simple standpoint of existential expression/narrative and how we are all affected by its use.
I have to say that I have not been in Africa for over two decades or so now. Although, I feel connected to my trans brothers and sisters both in Africa and those, like me, caught in the Diaspora for a plethora of reasons one of which is our actual trans-status and or our sexual orientations (gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same thing, contrary to what so many people assume!) Our status makes it difficult for us to return to the old continent if we value our own wellbeing or even our lives in most cases.
I transitioned first verbally as early as four years old albeit without knowing what gender identity was about because the gender-script we were given had such rigidity enshrined in it. However transition did not end there. At the age of nine I came out to my brothers whose shock minded me of the dangers of talking freely about my gender identity in Africa. I took solace in silence… This does not mean I gave up on my conviction nor did it have anything to do with how I dressed or how I expressed myself.
The next time I broached the subject, I was thirty five but I soon found even Europeans were not fully aware of gender identity as oppose to fixed gender roles. My psychosexual therapist prejudiced in her conditioned stupor forgot the integrity of her profession and said, “go back to those friends you moved away from, get a girl pregnant and get on with it!” to my consternation.
It took me another eight years to talk to anyone about my intentions. During that time, I did a Masters of Art degree in Creative Writing and gradually found the courage to speaking again albeit through the medium of writing. “I’m going to change my sex,” I said to a girlfriend of mine back then -an Asian Muslim woman secretly scared of an impending arranged marriage that awaited her. I felt for her but had to respect her need for life somewhat complicated by the cultural demands. Could I do otherwise, she was respecting of my needs without knowing the first thing about transsexuality not to mention how we fit and embrace our evolving sexualities. At the time, I was still unaware of the trans-lingo but I remained adamant that I was going to transition physically. She thought I was courageous to tell a person I hardly knew that I intended going through with such a life changing procedure but I had to tell someone. A year later, I spoke to my GP about my intension and he made an appointment for me to see a counsellor. Eventually, I ended up at the York clinic with a simple question: “what is the demographic uptake of transitioning?” The response I got was insulting. The consultant merely fobbed me off by the suggestion that an African psychiatrist would be made available to me. What’s new there, I thought?
However, the response to my question has not dampened my interest in finding an answer to it. Rather it has helped me hone my interest in African transitionees. The question I ought to have asked was this: “Are there any transpeople of African descent? What support measures are there? If there are any African transpeople, how can I best make contact with them?” I know the answer to these questions now. I do not think we need to wait for the advice of the psychosexual elite to tell us how we must love, dress and socialise. I’m hoping with time TRANSAFRO will aid us in our efforts to change attitudes.
Four or five years later, with a healthy cocktail of oestrogen and real life experience which involved wearing what are traditionally assumed to be women’s clothing in which I felt comfortable I found my own gender expression. Africans might call it “unisexed” but I call it androgynous. On the 24th of June, 2005, I went under the surgeon’s scalpel. When I woke up from the heavy sedation I had returned home. There was nothing to hide any more. I was a woman from that moment on. I kept my hair short as always and on my final day on the now defunct ward eight, I decided to wear some make up and dress femininely for a change. Some of the people that had distanced themselves from me as I recovered saw the woman I was and warmed to me. Was I seeking that sort of approval? Not quite, let it suffice to say I knew what they wanted to see, and their responses only went to confirm my suspicions. However, in the end, I have to be the person I am, giving into bullies has never done it for me.
Watch this space…