Text and photos by Thobeka Bhengu
The transgender seminar is held at the Durban Gay Centre in KwaZulu-Natal once a month. This session was held at the centre on the 10th of November 2018 in the morning. It is a safe space for transgender people and the space prides itself on confidentiality of the seminar sessions. All personal matters discussed in the sessions are confidential and cannot be discussed outside the space. The discussions and conversations were mostly in English and IsiZulu. There were also special guests from Society for Family Health – SFH that attended the seminar.
Recap of previous discussions:
When the trans seminars started this year they focused on multiple issues such as relationships, issues in the communities, health issues and generally share their experiences. The sessions focused a lot on health issues such as anal health, male circumcision and educating transwomen about male circumcision if you haven’t done bottom surgery. However, transwomen are not forced to do male circumcision but are educated so that they understand the importance of circumcision. The sessions also focused on transmen and breast cancer because of how health care centres limit the services because of how people identify. The important thing is that diseases attack the body regardless of gender, identity or race. Hence transgender people also need access to all health services.
In October there was a meeting with doctors or medical practitioners at eThekwini hospital, where they spoke about the needs of trans individuals. The meeting focused on the challenges transgender persons are facing with getting hormones, gender reassignment surgery. The main question was access to these important services. The issue of gender re-assignment surgery being classified as cosmetic surgery in the country makes it impossible for transgender people who do not have medical aid to access the service and also in public health centres there are no resources and doctors to do the re-affirming surgery.
The issue of relationships focused on all kinds of relationships. The relationship with your family, friends, colleagues and the community, because transgender individuals do not transition alone, they transition with the entire community and everyone that is part of their life.
Another issue that came up was the issue of how terms are westernized with regards to LGBTIQ+ people, this is problematic because our communities and families do not understand these terms. Terms in our own languages to address LGBTIQ+ individuals would make it easier for our communities to understand and possibly accept LGBTIQ+ people.
The importance of visibility, support and full participation in the monthly seminars was also raised. This was raised as a result of the lack of attendance and how people do not come to education events bur attend social events. The information shared in these seminars is helpful and will make the transgender movement stronger and more visible.
The session acknowledged that there is currently one hospital and one psychologist working with transgender individuals in KwaZulu-Natal and the hospital is based in Pietermaritzburg. This means that trans people in KwaZulu-Natal have to travel to Pietermaritzburg on a monthly basis to access hormones and attend the trans forum sessions with the psychologist. Discussions with other hospitals in KZN are important so that these services can be accessed in all parts of the province.
SFH – Society for Family Health: Discussion on HIV self-screening test
SFH presented a programme about HIV self-screening, which is an oral quick test that is used to test HIV. The SFH team joined the session to try and informally discuss how to implement a different approach to distribute the test kits and make them more accessible, especially for MSM and transgender individuals.
This particular session focused on getting to know the participants and also finding out how would the kit be distributed, what information will be required to be able to get the kit, what information the participants would be comfortable with sharing to get the kit and a lot of questions and suggestions were raised around the above topics of discussions around the self-screening kit.
The issue of counselling for first time testers was raised, in a situation where the person has bought the kit or received it through courier services. Some participants felt that the self-screening test done at the comfort of your home might require counselling regardless of the outcome of the test. A counselling helpline was suggested and linkages to nearest health or LGBTI facilities were also suggested for those in need of counselling after doing the test or before. Some participants suggested that a booklet must be attached to the kit in case the person testing requires certain information about HIV and the test itself.
Most participants suggested that the kit be ordered online for free and be delivered at their homes or workplace. This would make it easier for people to access the kit and be able to use it at home. Others also suggested that there should be a link online that would contain information or when it’s delivered a counsellor should be available in case a counselling session is needed or a person with knowledge of HIV should be available on delivery of the kit.
The questions on what information to share when ordering the kit was raised and most participants felt that they would share their number, personal details and address to order the kit online. Some participants also suggested there should be a follow up call from an anonymous caller after you have received the testing kit to find out the results of your test; But some participants did not feel comfortable about receiving that call and having to disclose their status.
The continuous stigma around HIV became another issue that was raised, which was picked up from the discussions and how some participants felt about people being seen or discovered accessing the self-screening kit. This particular session mostly focused on getting information that SFH requires to understand the needs of the LGBTI+ people, so as to understand how the distribution of these HIV self-screening tests can be available and accessible to the community.
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