by Lebo Ntladi
My name is Kelebogile Ntladi, but I prefer to be called Lebo. I am a photographer and visual artist and I was born in Mofolo North, in Soweto in 1987. I live with both my parents, Elizabeth and Caiyos Ntladi as well as my sibling, my brother Tefo who is fifteen years old. We live in Leondale, east of Johannesburg. I have another sibling, a brother Mogomutsi who is thirty years old and does not live at home.
I have a Diploma in Visual Arts and also a graduate from the Market Photo workshop. I am self-employed. I get paid to photograph events, and also sell my works that I have produced over the years. Sometimes it gets concerning. At the moment, having a stable income is my biggest concern as well as printing costs.
When I am not working I am reading, listening to music, creating things, watching documentaries and movies. I am not much of a talker. My hobbies include some of the aforementioned activities as well as athletics, swimming, going to festivals and having a jolly good time.
Ultimately, I would like to study visual arts in Europe or America and receive my Masters in Fine Arts. I want to travel and make a living through my work. I want to change the African continent through art. I would like to collaborate with artists abroad.
I don’t like being identified in terms and definitions, at times I’ve thought of myself as transgender, and other times as non-conforming. It just feels like the terms themselves are sort of confining. I’m just Lebo.
Words that pop into my mind when I think of my identity are; gender non-conforming, masculine identifying, Trans. Boi. I think I would identify closer to butch but I do not like the word itself. To me, it connotes roughness, rough speech, aggression and I’m nothing like that. I’m not femme or in-between if anything I feel like a naive 18 old boy inside, who knows nothing.
My identity is still something I am sometimes uneasy about. Uneasy when I’m walking through town alone, or amongst black males. I don’t understand why I must identify at all. I just want to be Lebo, with no gender pronouns. I think the sex into which people are born with means nothing. It is important to me that I act in whichever way that makes me feel comfortable. I’m not going to wear a skirt at funerals because tradition dictates, or any cultural norm that dictates to gender. I don’t like the word female because I have never felt like one. I am just reminded I am, at a certain time of the month. I don’t know what Women’s Day means except campaigns on safety and abuse.
When my family first found out about my sexuality, was very difficult because my family is very religious, and they gave me a hard time. They reminded me every chance they got that I am female. My parents forced Christianity into my life for many years. I renounced the religion between 2009 to 2013. I became very self-destructive over the years and did my best to always be somewhere else or live anywhere else except home. My older brother was the only one who supported me financially and emotionally. Things are much better now. They have let me be the person I want to be, dress in whichever way I feel comfortable.
I currently am not dating. I think there are a lot of romanticised ideas about what love is or how we have been taught through books, plays and movies to understand love.
But the feeling in itself is never enough for many people. I think love is overrated.
There are everyday challenges of safety wherever I am. I have a lot of anxiety, constantly about the future of my work as an artist.
South Africa is known for rampant hate crimes or homophobia or transphobia and it is a big concern. It’s the reason I have 1 or 2 black male friends, whom I consider family. I think when someone is different in any community they pose a threat to people’s ideas and whichever way of living is considered normal. Hate crimes are the actions of cowards and hate crimes are predominant in black communities. But my main concern is that as grotesque and troubling as hate crimes are in South Africa, how much more happening in the rest of the continent? I think the same resources and energy should be a priority throughout the continent
I’ve lived in a suburb since I was around ten years old. There have been reported incidents of rape and violent attacks on women but nothing has happened to me, also because I have very few friends here and keep to myself most of the time.
Should I become a leader, I would focus on visual arts and how to utilise art to try and alter or hope to change perceptions in Africa, around lesbians, transgendered, Intersex and gay people. Creating ideas or spaces where people feel safe and protected and free, e.g. something like Fela Kuti’s Kalakuta republic, queer music, art spaces, etc. I would also focus on early education, where children are taught through art or other means to understand different gender identities from childhood until advanced grades in school. I love art and I do not see what I could be doing outside of the arts.
I have had uncomfortable experiences around extended members of my family, when they mistake me for one of my brothers and then someone, whoever it is, in the background will insist that, no, ‘she’s a girl’. I feel awkward and out of place most of the time. So I’ve always avoided family gatherings or anything family orientated until recently.
I got to know about Zanele during the time I spent in Cape Town and she called me when I was in Johannesburg as well. I didn’t really know what to expect when we were working on this project. It was cold and raining and I was my anxious, weird self. I was uncomfortable because I did not like being in front of the camera, because she kept telling me to ‘give her something’ I felt pressured so I just stood there.
Previous by Lebo
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Great piece of writing, I can identify much with how you are feeling. I am a “gay guy”, 28 years old, stay in a Coloured Township, etc. So I can resonate well how it is growing up with homophobia, I was never attacked or physical provoked. But I was an outcast for most of my childhood.
People like you and I have influence and should use that to empower and liberate society. I think that the broader South African landscape is becoming more tolerant and accepting of “gay people”, but we still have a long way to go. The “masculine lesbians” are always the ones more vulnerable to hate crimes, it is good that you are wise and have somehow learnt to “deal” with it. Keep on being LEBO!!!
Feeling the very same way
Thanks Lebo for such generosity of sharing about yourself. Yes the world is obsessed with boxes and I respect you for your courage to be Lebo. May all your dreams come true – S’bu
Fab piece Lebo. M also being crucified by my own family for not doing what is expected of a ‘female’ That’s why I studied and moved out n still studying to show people that being gay doesn’t make me any less of a person, only difference. Is I love women
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