Proudly African & Transgender: Self-Portraits in Writing

As part of the Proudly African & Transgender exhibition by Gabrielle Le Roux, each person has written a short self-portrait on being transgender and on the exhibition itself. Below are their stories of their lives to go with the portraits drawn by artist and activist for social justice Gabrielle Le Roux.

The importance of this exhibition is highlighted by the fact that three Ugandan activists whose lives are on the line right now Victor Mukasa, Julius K Kaggwa and Salango Nikki Mawanda are part of the exhibition

Amanda – Zimbabwe

Dear Amnesty International

First of all i can say that I’m proudly trans-Zimbabwean, i can describe myself as a peaceful and loving soul and most people don’t realise that i’m so down to earth and i really love dogs because that is the only thing that can understand how one is feeling, apart from human beings.

The problem in Zimbabwe is that Trans-people are not recognised legally, to make it even worse the LGBTI community as whole is not legalized. We cannot just be confined to a place that is only covered by walls, we need to walk free in the streets in order to express who we are as Zimbabwean citizens. The better we do that the more Zimbabwean citizens can also learn to understand the community as a whole, otherwise it’s a war that’s happening in modern day 2ist century.

My feeling about the exhibition is that the more that it gets out, the more that other people get to know what is happening in Zimbabwe. I hope that it will send a message to the powers that be so that the LGBTI community in Zimbabwe will have a voice and the people all over can understand that it’s not a choice but it’s an actual fact that one is born with.

My portrait was to portray my inner Trans-Zimbabwean beauty, so that Trans people from Zimbabwe will be heard, I feel so proud because it gave me the gusto as a Zimbabwean, that life brings choices but some of those choices cannot be chosen, the only way you can choose is how to change it and make it right. My portrait is a resemblance of a troubled Zimbabwean soul, that just want to make a right alignment of the inner and the outer part.

These are the cries for Trans-Zimbabwean people, who just want to express what they feel deep inside, no one seems to be appreciating the mere fact that they are indeed normal Zimbabwean citizens, therefore who they are and not what they present themselves as and what they don’t look like, life is so miserable for Trans-people in Zimbabwe when no one takes note and the powers that be in Zimbabwe, pretend like as if it’s abnormal, because it’s not our fault that we were born like this. I hope that this will empower the powers that be to take note of what is really going on and that they can at least try their utmost best to assist the community in Zimbabwe, especially those that are disadvantaged. I feel that this exhibition should also have taken place in Zimbabwe, because people are so uninformed about these issues, infact to point out the fact that when a being comes out of the closet they just fit in with the community, not knowing that the difference they do have is that it’s not only how they are feeling but the fact that they do have to make physical changes to right fit what they feel inside.

Hopefully in Zimbabwean schools, in Africa and other countries the world over as a whole, because people still need to be educated, so that they are not ignorant on these issues and know that this can happen to anyone, nobody chooses to be what or who they are inside. Amanda Goto

Julius – Uganda

Hi

I am in Washington where I spoke at the Human Rights Summit and have been doing some sexual rights advocacy as well.

My decision to actively be involved in activism has brought me face to face with some extremely painful experiences – right within the LGBT community.

After the assignment I am working on now, which ends today actually, I will take some time off the public scene and get myself together. Writing intimately about anything right now might just push me over the edge.

Sure I have no objections to exhibiting my portrait but I really am not in the right frame of mind emotionally and mentally to answer the questions you asked. I am fine with Amnesty.

Our website is www.sipd.webs.com. Support Intitiative for People with atypical sex Development

Yes so much has been happening lately but it is now becoming rather too much for me to deal with and I find I cannot hold up my diplomatic and calm take on stuff. I am going through a very difficult time right now.


Flavia – Burundi

I gather from Victor that Flavia, who, after the workshop decided to stay on in South Africa, can’t be contacted and we have reason to worry about her.

She is such a strong and lively soul and her disappearance for the time being sadly highlights the vulnerability and isolation of too many transgender people. Gabrielle Le Roux

Victor Mukasa – Uganda

Dear Amnesty International,

My name is Victor J. Mukasa, 34 years old, from Uganda. I am currently living in Cape Town, South Africa and working with the International Gay and lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC).

I am a transgender person. Yes, PERSON! I transgress traditional gender norms. Not to be stubborn, but that is me. It is not of my own making. I was born that way. My childhood, as my parents told it to me, and as far as I remember, was as such. People everywhere I went said that I look like a boy. In fact many addressed me as a boy. Even to date, I am still the same. I dress just as boys and or men traditionally dress. It is in my expression too. That is me. I am a proud transgender person.

My experience as a transgender person in Uganda is not a sweet story. In short, a transgender person in Uganda is constantly surrounded with ridicule, mockery and abuse. For most Ugandans, any person that expresses “him/herself” as the opposite sex is a homosexual and so this exposes transgender people to all the mistreatment that they would love to give to a homosexual. All transgender people are seen as the obvious homosexuals. Therefore, on top of all the transphobia, there is homophobia even if you are not gay. For the case of Uganda, you can imagine the level.

The exhibition, Proudly African and Transgender, is a very powerful asset for transgender Africa and thanks to; the artist, Gabrielle Le Roux, for drawing our portraits, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) for supporting the drawing of the portraits, to you, Amnesty International, for providing resources and space to exhibit the portraits and most importantly, to the bold and daring Trans Africans that have contributed to this project. We have all collectively made it happen. Finally, Trans Africans speak, are visible and are unstoppable.

Transgender Africans have been silenced for quite a long time. We have been invisible as though we did not exist. Today, many of us speak, we show our faces, we write and we express ourselves openly. This exhibition is an extension of all that, whenever we are unable to be present in the physical. The portraits are our images and they speak our words, they tell our stories, they express our feelings, they exhibit our pride, even our fears, they are our history, they are us today and the history of the African transgender struggle in future. They are strength, hope and pride to generations after us. I felt lost for a long time. I thought that there was no other like me. I thought I was abnormal, strange and this made me powerless. My transgender niece or nephew, grandchild or friends child will not feel lost. They will look at my portrait and they will gain power, hope, peace of mind and pride. They will know that another transgender existed before and that it is okay to be gender non-conforming. When the world sees our portraits, they will know that Africa has transgender people and that there is a struggle against injustices on our continent. I am glad that I had my portrait drawn.

Thank you so much Amnesty International for enabling this exhibition to show at your offices. It is significant!! You have constantly defended the marginalized and protected and promoted the human rights of everyone. The showing of Transgender Africans’ portraits at your offices is signifying the need to protect, respect and promote the human rights of transgender people, not only in Africa, but in every corner of the world. Thank you very much, Victor J. Mukasa

Madam Jholerina Brina Timbo – Namibia

Hi

I am Madam Jholerina Brina Timbo.

I am 24 years of age, a transwoman from Namibia, Africa.

I would like us to be united as one in the fight against human rights violations taking place in this world.

Discrimination, stigma and abuse are not only in Africa but the developed world that has given my family the LGBTI people the rights as well, Let’s not say “the Africans…” or “The Europeans…” but let us all be one family that Stands for Justice, Equality and Peace.

In my country (Namibia) being LGBTI is a crime if you are caught in the act. .As much as I want to say much, it’s not so easy for one to say much as it all turns emotional. I believe that as Human beings we have to and must speak out for the greater good of the world. But for me as a transwoman in Namibia, and not having all the rights like everyone else it’s not easy.

I hate the way people look at me and laugh, It’s because there are no laws to protect me to be who and what I am….

Long live the movements, Madam Jholerina – Namibia Southern Africa

Nicole – Kenya

My name is Nicole, a 23 year old Transgendered young woman from Kenya.

I am very easy, outgoing and loving — I would describe myself as that!

In Kenya a lot of hate crimes and fear happens, and all this from the consequence of stigma, discrimination.

For many years, trans and non-gender conforming people either face mob-justice, sexual abuse, and also die at the hands of phobic killers.

I have witnessed the denial of free access to health care without public embarrassment when done to other members of the LGBTI.

I have also passed through sexual abuse, and a lot more to be defined — but it is also through this that I am the person I am, and that I have become stronger by the day!

I am glad that this exhibition not only shows the power and strength behind LGBTI persons but also with a world of justice then it will be easier for everybody! to live peacefully!

The exhibition is one beautiful thing to explore –

I believe the Art of this exhibition brings people together, and having unity is very vital in the larger community just as it is in LGBTI.

The exhibition is a part of me, and remembering Gabrielle as the power behind this Art only shows the strength to it, I believed in her work since the first time I got a glimpse of it!

Thank you for the Amnesty’s recognition on sexual and gender minorities!

For this I applaud you.

Thank You –

Salango Nikki Mawanda – Uganda

Hello

I am a Human Rights Defender, Transman, Warrior, Parent/ Family man, Ugandan prince aged 27 born to struggle for the success and liberation of my Trans world. I believe in God, proud to be a prince from Buganda kingdom. Above all, I love humanity and co-existence.

The situation of Trans people in Uganda is both negative and positive. Positively we have now organized ourselves through an organization called T.I.Ts UGANDA and through this group we are creating awareness about our existence in Uganda also for us to strategize on how overcome our challenges and threat. Negatively, we as trans people in Uganda are faced by day to day abuses both physical and verbal. We suffer from lack of information, blackmail by some of the people we trust and unfriendly health care policies. Inhuman and degrading treatment by health providers creates an insecure environment for trans people, who can’t trust them and that leads to self medication. As that all not enough, we are now going through a very difficult time since the anti homosexuality bill was tabled late last year.

Given the fact that we are so easily identified because of our gender expressions, this has made us the centre of attraction for all kinds of violence making us the sacrificial lambs of the LGBTI community. So far we have cases of physical violence and many security incidents reported to us by trans people as a result of this unrealistic, draconian, wish list, unconstitutional, inhuman, ridiculous and baseless Bill.

The Bill proposes a death penalty and if passed we will not have a chance for us to work as a group or us to work on the streets of Kampala because of fear of arrests and mob justice because already there are government officials and some religious leaders encouraging people to take the law in their hands claiming they are protecting the African traditional family.

I feel blessed to be a part of this exhibition and l know that it will get a lot of attention because this is the first time trans people from Africa are given such opportunity. I chose to have my portrait drawn because l wanted it to be a message to the world, to inspire, encourage and speak for the voiceless people who are like me.

Thank you Amnesty international for supporting our cause and please continue in various avenues and encourage your partners and allies to do the same here in Uganda and out there. I would love this exhibition to show in Washington DC and Latin America, CANADA, GENEVA at the UN, France and Sweden.

I feel this is a great opportunity for the trans movement in Africa, i know that African LGB movement gets a lot of support from Netherlands and if trans activists from Africa are showing their existence, i hope that Netherlands can join in our struggle as we build a strong and sustained movement.

Thank you for the opportunity.

Salongo Nikki Mawanda

Trans Activist, programme co-ordinator, Transgender, Intersex and Transsexuals Uganda. (T.I.Ts UGANDA)

Silva Skinny Dux Eiseb – Namibia

Dear Amnesty,

I am Silva Skinny Dux Eiseb as I am known these days. I love my name that I am using and I am known everywhere I go. I am an open minded Transgender person living in Namibia. I have been living here all my life since birth. I see myself as a Trans man. I live as a man everyday, the man that I am. I am slightly different because I am special, two in one. I am daddy, brother, boyfriend, lover and so much more.

I am the founding Father of the Trans gender movement in Namibia called (TAMON ) Trans Activist Movement Of Namibia.I live in one of the townships called Dolam in the Capital city of Namibia Windhoek. I have been an activist for more than 10 years in the LGBTI movement and I am a feminist.

Being a Trans person in Namibia is not an easy thing. You need to have a brave heart to go out there in the streets and just being yourself as you are. It takes a lot of guts because when you go out you are exposed to lots of attacks physically and verbally if you are not strong enough to stand up for yourself and defend yourself. Its wrong to be different in these peoples eyes than the usual that a man has to look like this and a woman like that. That is why some Trans people are the victims of corrective rape because they want to see if you are a real man or have to fight to prove that you are a man enough. Trans women are beaten up because a man is not to behave in that way. In Namibia things are not always bad for LGBTI people but it depends on where you stay. It’s as not bad as in Uganda but it is not so good too.

It is a milestone for me to have our exhibition out there at the Amnesty International it is an achievement for the African Trans people because with the first Trans conference in Africa this is what we have achieved, and I am proud to have been part of that. Letting my portrait been drawn is to let the world out there know that we are there and we exist and that I am proud of who I am. It is also a historic thing for me to go down in the African Trans history. I am happy to have been part of that.

This means a lot to me and the Trans struggle that me and my fellow activists fight for daily in our lives. This exhibition put us on the map and let the world know our struggles and this makes us stronger. the exhibition will not only benefit me as a person but the whole trans community as I see it as a way of highlighting issues that normally stand in the background when people talk about human rights. For me it is important that Amnesty Inernational as a worldwide known and strong organization includes LGBTI issues and emphasizes the importance of the trans struggle that is ongoing all over the world. If the portrait of my reality and others in my situation is spread around the world it might create a common ground for a common struggle. I would love to see the exhibition all over the world wherever it might be possible. Feel free to use my name and email if you like.

Thank you!

Silva Skinny Dux Eiseb

Skipper Mogapi – Botswana

Hello

I am Skipper Mogapi, an activist from Botswana, who has been in the fight of gay rights since 2004, I identify as Trans man and work as coordinator of Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana [LeGaBiBo] since 2006.

I hold two positions at the moment, the coordinator of LGBTI movement, and as the Prevention and Research Initiatives for sexual Minorities [PRISM] assistant program coordinator, from 2007 to date.

My interest in LGBT rights started in 2004 when Behind the Mask was doing research in LGBTI rights and movements and I had been the media victim [my sexual orientation was disclosed in the newspapers].

There are so many challenges I face as trans person in Botswana, like having to be stared at all the time and asked to identify yourself everywhere you go, for example using the public toilets or getting into a night club. At school I had problem with dress: I identified as a man and was expected to wear a dress all the time.

It’s also hard to get a job. Although my papers show that I am female, my physical appearance shows that I am a man. The hardest thing is, since I started taking testosterone last year 2009, whenever I travel the police and immigration officers have to question my passport or identity card.

Thanks

Skipper