by Sazi Jali
Growing up in a township, I never knew one can possibly change their gender, it was just unimaginable. I was assigned male at birth and raised as a young man, but I always knew I was different. My mom usually tells a story of how she saw the signs even before I could start talking, she claims I never wanted to play with toy cars or any of the footballs she would buy me. I wouldn’t even kick one just as other boys my age did, I would simply take it and throw it away. She says when she would take me along for shopping I would cry for dolls. My mother has played a huge role in my transitioning and has taught me about acceptance and not forcing people to accept you but take it one step at a time.
Growing up I saw myself as different even though it was hard to accept whom I was/am. At some stage in my life I mastered the art of hiding my true self behind the word of God. The first two years of high school I was acting as if this truth that I alone knew was all a stage and that God would cleanse me of my gayness – everyone was happy that the prodigal son had returned. In 2010 I learnt about this gay guy who had undergone changes to become a woman (what is known as gender reassignment and termed as transgender). When I first learned about gender reassignment I wasn’t receptive of the idea but I knew I shouldn’t be scared. At school I came out as gay and started cross dressing, though as a result of cross dressing I was bullied but being me I still did it.
Being an activist started back in high school for me. I was a visibly active leader, in set student leadership positions at school as the Head of the debate team, as well as Chairperson of the school’s church organisation despite my appearance. Outside of school, a political party acknowledged my leadership capabilities and they asked me to join the party. This was to ensure diversity in their leadership structures, so I was elected as a member of their Branch Executive Committee.
In 2013 I was introduced to transgender people whilst doing a photoshoot with Prof. Zanele Muholi as part of Muholi’s project titled Brave Beauties. This is when I started to understand and imagine a possibility of gender re-assignment. However, I questioned if the word of God said anything about changing parts of oneself. I needed to speak to my God to understand how this would affect my relationship with God. Over a period of two years I was going back and forth trying to decide on transitioning and the difficulties of going through with the procedure for those who cannot afford it.
Meeting with Brave Beauties made me understand the diversity between the women and their bravery. I also got to understand better the importance of sharing information to assist the next transgender person. As transgender people we need to understand the holistic idea of transitioning, transitioning socially, transitioning with your family and community, medically transitioning, mental wellness, being misgendered, legally transitioning and the difficulty that comes with transitioning as a whole for transgender individuals.
I had acquired information on the word of God and I was ready to start the process. In 2016 I received information which helped me find assistance at a public hospital since I wasn’t getting any younger and I was anxious to begin. Eventually I started sessions with a psychologist which was hard as he was based in a different city and some of my appointments clashed with my classes. Six months later I started my hormonal therapy and I had high hopes that the treatment would work faster but it did not.
I was eager to learn more about it and it became more about me rather than how people identified me. In 2017 I started advocating for the rights of transgender people. After I had thoroughly done my research and found out what the law said about changing my gender marker, I immediately applied to change it. The process took me two months due to the knowledge I had gathered and actively assisting home affairs officials.
After I had changed my gender marker, problems at school began as I was the only person to change their gender marker in between the course. However with support from my mentor the battle was won, by the time I graduated the school had changed my gender marker. This was the first of its kind in Africa where a transgender person graduated with an already updated gender marker, for most people they have only been able to change it after graduating.
As part of the work I do I have assisted other transgender people with changing their gender markers, and about 98% of those I have assisted have received their new Identity Documents.
I have done my orchidotomy and I am presently meeting with a doctor from KwaZulu-Natal to probe the approval of the surgery. The focus is also on assuring that hormones are available in the national protocol for the LGBTQ+ community in 2019. We are also advocating for an immediate change in the classification of re-assignment surgery in the same category as cosmetic surgery, resulting in re-assignment surgery being affordable only to the selected few that can afford it.
I am expecting to have done my vaginoplasty in 2019 so that I can assist other transgender people achieve it. In the possible availability of a uterus transplant we will be in the forefront, fighting for access to all services for transgender people. I never believed I would be this woman I am now and I have accepted who I am, with the hope that it will inspire others to join the fight for transgender rights.
About the author
I am Sphiwosakhe Sthandwasenkosi Sazi Jali and I am 23 years old. I was born and raised at Umlazi in Durban, South Africa. I am legally a female, I identify as female and my pronouns are “she and her”. The hardest thing I have had to do was take away a baby boy my mom thought she had, who was going to carry our clan names to the next generation. I am grateful that even if I could not give her what she wanted, she has loved and accepted me; And my name is one of the things I would not want to change.
Sphiwosakhe Sthandwasenkosi Sazi Jali