Rian: GaySA Radio, where you are family. Speaking to us on MyTransJourney is Ditshego Ditshego, a transgender woman who has just embarked on her journey, however she already says discrimination and misunderstanding has been flung at her all the way and she feels that the journey ahead has still got so much to teach her. Ditshego, how did your trans journey start?
Ditshego: Very interesting actually, so last year I had the opportunity to go to America to complete my Masters degree and while I was there everybody sort of assumed that I was transgender, you know, that they didn’t assume that I was female, which is how I present and I always take that as a compliment when people think that because that is the image I’m portraying, but for the longest time those who didn’t think I was female thought, well you might not have been born female but there’s a female aura about you, so people thought I was transitioning already and that made me sort of question myself a lot. The other thing that came up from my travels was that, you know how they say a character is what you do if you don’t want anyone to ever find out, and that’s exactly what I did in America, I lived as a woman, I ate and breathed and acted and behaved like a woman. I wore dresses and high heels every single day, and that’s because also I was far away from all the things that were hindering me back home such as parents and societal pressure and expectations from family and tradition and culture and all these other things, all these badges and hats that I wear when I’m in my home country, they didn’t apply when I was in America and therefore I was able to live my truth, and that truth was me living as a transgender woman, or as a woman as I sometimes omit the trans part, but when I do my activism I do like to make it known and I’m not offended by the term, and also that’s how my journey began, or rather my self-discovery and also my acceptance because it wasn’t also easy and I’d met many trans-women and I had some trans friends myself but I never identified, I always used to say I respect them because there’s the mockery they go through every day and just the hate from everyone including those in the LGBTQ community, but I never identified as that so I was also identifying, first I identified as gay, really gay, but…
Rian: There is a difference between being gay and being trans.
Ditshego: Absolutely, absolutely because a gay man is a man who loves other men and still sees and knows himself as a man. I on the other hand was, and this is also something that I have been reiterating recently, I wasn’t born male, I was assigned male at birth, there’s a difference. I was assigned male. So because I live in a society where when you are born they look at what is between your legs and that determines the rest of your life. It’ll determine what high schools you go to, what universities, what car you’ll drive, what clothes you’ll wear, where you vacation, that one little piece of anatomy determines your entire life and that is a mistake that I feel we need to address and it’s going to take years to undo that, but I was not born male, I was just assigned male at birth based on my anatomy, and that’s fine, that’s how society works but ja, that’s just who I am right now.
Rian: At what point in your life did you realise that you were different?
Ditshego: Well, I’ve always identified as gay, even before I realised I was a transgender woman, so I’ve always known that I was different from day one, I’ve never been in the closet, always been fascinated by people’s coming out stories but I’ve always been a very overtly feminine young man, so there’s a picture of me from when I was three years old and I had nail polish and I was looking as though I was flicking my hair, and I had no hair to flick but it was just my thing. There’s a picture of mine from primary school also where it was one of those class pictures and I posed in an inappropriate manner but the photographer never corrected me, so I still run into classmates who say “You ruined our grade four picture”, you know, so I’ve always known I was different and I’ve been fortunate also that I lived, I was raised in a house where I knew I was different but I wasn’t less than, because that’s another thing that a lot of gay people grow up with, you know that you’re different and less than everybody else, and I never really had that battle until I got into the real world where I started experiencing homophobia, and the world was trying to remind me or instil in me that I was less than them but I never got that from home, but I’ve always known.
Rian: During the period that you realised okay, I’m not gay, I’m trans, what did you go through on an emotional and psychological level?
Ditshego: So much doubt, so much self-questioning, so much research also because I’m such an academic so much like you I investigate. So I went and asked people like yourself, because you have a psychology background, and I asked my sphere, my colleagues around me who have greater knowledge on these subjects, I watched Youtube videos and I spoke to other trans women and I just kept seeing more and more similarities between myself and the trans community than I did with the gay community, but it was hard, listen I won’t lie, it was hard and also because, and this is going to sound so wrong but also I felt like I don’t want to identify as trans because being trans is difficult, being gay is difficult but it’s not as difficult and also gays are a lot more accepted in society, there’s a lot more gay representation from cabinet to television, every soapy now has a gay storyline, the trans community isn’t even close to the progress that the gay rights movement have made, so there was also this sort of very selfish part of me that said why would you want to identify with the losing team because you are on the right track, stay gay, don’t change because the gays are doing something right, but I thought the gays were also at a point where they had to start fighting for their own rights and that’s why they are where they are today, and it’s still a long road for the gays but they have made progress and I thought if I don’t take the baton as a transgender woman and start fighting the fight that the gays fought, then the transgender community will always be where it is now. One of the activists I respect said transgender rights are today where gay rights were sixteen years ago, so it’s a long road that we have to fight. So there was a lot of self-doubt when I discovered, there was a lot of questioning myself, making sure is this really what I want, am I sure? Watching the surgeries itself and the processes and seeing how painful and arduous it was but that didn’t even deter me and that sort of confirmed to me that this is who you are and this is what you have to do, not even this is what I want to do, this is what I have to do and keep in mind that there are transgender women and men who don’t feel the need to transition physically and have the reassignment surgery, and that doesn’t make them any less transgender, but for me personally, my journey, this is something I have to do, I want, I need my body to correspond with my mental and physical and spiritual being, and that’s why I’m doing the reassignment. But it was hard and it still has its hard moments but it’s worth it.
Rian: What was the most difficult things that you’ve had to deal with on your journey so far?
Ditshego: Number one, telling people, that was really hard.
Rian: Really, why?
Ditshego: Really hard because, and funnily enough I actually had a problem telling my gay friends because there’s so much homophobia, internalised homophobia and transphobia in the LGBT community, and especially the black community. Like I’ve said, the gays have made a lot of progress, a lot of black people now accept gay and lesbian women, but they still don’t understand the transgender concept. In fact, you hear it a lot where people will say something like “I understand gay men, I have no problem with gay men, it’s these ones that want to be women that I don’t get”, you hear that a lot, I can say that in every language because I’ve heard it in almost every vernacular language in our country, so for me, telling people that I am this thing that you despise and you don’t understand, and you’re not even interested in understanding, because that’s also a problem, people are just like “aah, I’m fine, I don’t want to know”, so telling people, and the thing is also I didn’t realise how hard telling people would be until I started telling them, and then I would find myself getting very emotional and also their reactions, I’ve had some pretty positive reactions, but speaking to a lot of transgender people, I’ve been told to expect some rejection as well, so mentally I’m preparing for it, I haven’t experienced it as much but I anticipate it, especially once I go full in with my hormones and my transition becomes visible, like it’s not even something I have to tell you, you’ll start noticing it. Like “why are you growing boobs?” and “you’re getting a bit of weight in certain places, why is that happening?” That, they say, I must mentally start preparing myself for, because some people don’t just ask, they ask in an attack, you know? It’s not just I’m asking because I want to know, it’s because it’s what’s wrong with you, you know, so the most difficult thing so far has been telling people. The second difficulty I’ve experienced transitioning is just to get an appointment with a psychologist. Joh.
Ditshego: It’s difficult. These people are always busy, their lives are always busy and I think this is what’s sad, one of the reasons is that this is not a priority. I found out at the hospital that I’m trying to use, Steve Biko hospital here in Pretoria, last year between October and January this year, they ran out of hormones and they told all of the transgender people to either go through the private sector route where they pay for their hormones, or come back when we have some more in stock. So there’s so many, even in my research, there’s so many things that I am anticipating because I’ve heard that it happened to other people and I hope that they don’t happen to me but it’s very likely that it might because one of the reasons that they ran out is because they don’t consider this a necessary procedure, they’ll say “You won’t die” it’s not like getting chemo where they’ll stop giving you chemo and your cancer will go back from remission, so if they have to cut costs, reassignment surgery is always one of the top three to go when they go through a budget constraint. It’s one of those where it’s not really considered cosmetic, but they do cut it, it’s one of the first where they say hey, let’s stop funding these people for now, we’ll call them again when the funding situation improves. So the other challenge has been getting a doctor, but I finally secured a doctor and I understand why he’s so busy, he’s brilliant and he doesn’t just deal with gender reassignment, he deals with everything until surgery, so everything you can think of, he deals with that. So ja, that was one of the challenges, those were two of my biggest challenges, actually telling people and getting an appointment with a doctor.
Rian: How did these challenges help or hurt you?
Ditshego: They helped me because it’s very disheartening; it’s so easy to lose hope and throw in the towel, and what they helped me in is that they helped me in sort of solidifying my resolve because I’m not backing down, and that sort of showed me how serious I am and it confirmed again to me that this is what I need and want to do because of how all these obstacles have been frustrating, yes and I’ve said a few choice words every time I get blocked but not even a day later, a few hours later I’m doing my mantra, I’m reminding myself that this is who and what I am, I am reminding myself of why it is important and I’m on the phone again making a call, trying to get another appointment. So the challenges have, if anything they’ve helped remind me of how much I want and need this because they haven’t made me back down, because I’m always doing self-introspection and had I backed down I would have had to say to myself, you didn’t want this that badly, like just admit it to yourself, I would force myself to admit it and say if you back down because of ABC, then that wasn’t that important to you, was it, and I haven’t reached that point, so the challenges have been a reminder of how important and necessary this process is for me.
Rian: Your darkest hour so far?
Ditshego: Oh my gosh, it’s a very lonely life being a trans woman, and I’m such an affectionate person, I’m such a lover and I remember I had just spoken to a transgender woman, I mean it was like my third or fourth transgender woman I spoke to, and all of the women I had spoken to, it’s a very gloomy story they have to tell. I’m almost hell-bent on changing the narrative, I want to be that one healthy, happy, thriving, successful, employed transgender women, so I reached a point where I has spoken to, I think it was the fourth transgender woman that I had spoken to on my own little personal research, and I just got home and I bawled because these women, and I don’t blame them for feeling that way, I’m not saying they have this negative aura but they are just retelling their truth, and it’s been such a sad story and they all speak of how dating is a mission and how no man wants to be with them except for those that fetishise them, but those don’t want to date them, all they want to do is sleep with them because they are this intriguing creature that they do not understand. So there’s a whole lot of objectifying, which they feel they will not settle for, which is good for them, so they have found that the men they want don’t want them, and because they don’t want to settle they’ve chosen to be alone. Also they’re not just alone and out of choice, they are alone and they’re miserable, and they are hurting, and one thing that I’ve also learned from the women that I’ve interviewed or just asked around is that a lot of them thought the surgery would be a destination…
Rian: But it goes beyond that?
Ditshego: And I love your feature, Transgender journeys, because what I’ve learnt from them is that it’s not a destination, it is a stop in the journey but the journey continues, and also to any transgender woman who will be listening to this interview, I’d like them to know that the surgery isn’t the answer to every problem you’ve ever had, it’s those who believed that this surgery would be a miraculous cure that end up at the darkest, deepest, at some point I even coined the phrase, I guess rock bottom has a basement. There’s something even lower than rock bottom because it is a lonely life, well that’s the impression I got from the women I interviewed, and it’s not just lonely, it’s sad, and there are just so many, I also got this sort of aura of self-pity which, and I’m not judging, I just hope and pray that I don’t end up there as well but I think already knowing that the surgery is not going to be the wand that is going to miraculously cure all my problems, I think I’m in a better position than they are and I have no delusions about this surgery and what it will bring me and the changes it will bring me.
Rian: Don’t you think that with the surgery there’s even more challenges presenting themselves?
Ditshego: Exactly, it’s almost like you are doing this thing you want to validate yourself to yourself and maybe to other people, and then it becomes, it’s almost like you need to answer even more questions now than before. One of them said the best thing you can do after transitioning is move to a completely new place because she found that there were so many challenges with her having changed, because that’s what she said, and I found it so powerful, she said “I changed, the world didn’t ”.
Rian: And you still try and lead your old life.
Ditshego: That’s where the difficulties arise, because now you expect the world to catch up with your change and she said that’s not even fair on the world but also just not fair on yourself to expect that the world is just going to catch up to you when you are ready and you’ve had your surgery and you’re ready to change your name and your gender marker and have a new driver’s licence and ID book and passport and all of the legalities out of the way, and now you’re like “Hah, I’m done, I’m here, hello”, and then the world is still like, “Hey John”. And you’re like, “How many times must I tell you I’m Jeanine?”And sometimes it’s done on purpose maliciously, and sometimes it really is just an innocent mistake from someone who still hasn’t adjusted to your change. So yes, the surgery doesn’t bring about solutions, if anything it brings about more problems, but if you know what you want and you know why you want this, that’s why I think also maybe the psychology part of it is necessary, and something I’d like to happen is after you get diagnosed with gender dysphoria, to perhaps continue seeing your psychologist if he or she allows during your transition, during the hormones and if you’re lucky enough post surgery. Even if it’s just for six months to a year because you’re going to need the psychological help in adjustment and the psychologist almost breaks down reality for you, reality that many of us might not have a full grasp on but we need to in order to survive and manoeuvre in a world that hates us and is comfortable hating us and doesn’t want to change. In a world where even legislation defends hate, which most of us live in.
Rian: Have you had support in your journey? You’re talking about it’s important to have that support structure, have you had support?
Ditshego: Yes, yes I have had support, firstly from the people here at work who’ve been so great, I’m going to get so emotional now. So, what I told the people at work was, I didn’t expect them to receive me the way they did, and it was as if it was something overdue for very long, they were just waiting for me to get onto that page, but they were far ahead in that book and I’m very privileged to work with a lot older people who are very mature so they have the right level of sensitivity when dealing with these matters and also just from an employment perspective, there comes a time when your hormones just mess you up and you become sick, and you react and working for the organisation that I work for has been so… their level of understanding and acceptance has, and the fact that they, some of them know even more about this than me and they already anticipate and have said if you need time off, let us know. If you’re not fine then let us know and that has meant everything, and I’ve gotten some rejection as well…
Rian: I was going to ask you.
Ditshego: From people I didn’t expect to reject me, because they thing being trans is a mental illness and they think you’re crazy and they think you’re delusional you know, and they think you’re just an attention-seeking person who, you’re just fame hungry or you’re doing this because it’s in fashion and “everybody’s trans now”, You know, you’re just looking for a piece of the limelight, and I’ve had some rejection but the support, in fact the rejection has made me appreciate the support even more. And my sister, who’s just been amazing, she’s my everything and she’s even getting her child to call me auntie and not uncle and even from my very religious mother, who still prays that this is a phase but she still prays that I’m safe and I’m a happy, well-rounded individual and she prays that the decisions I make will only prosper me and also that I will continue to be a contributing member of society and not just a stain on the mark of the world who will just go into obscurity and be forgotten years after she has passed on, so I’ve gotten some incredible support, support without which I don’t think I would have the confidence and the resilience that I have today. You know sometimes just getting out of bed is an accomplishment on its own, because it can be hard, it can be ugly, the world can be such an ugly place. People can be so ugly, and the support is necessary, even if it’s from a family you create for yourself, which a lot of us end up being forced to because the families we were born into reject us, they rebuke us, we are a stain, a mark of embarrassment and shame on the family, and we’re a disgrace to the family name and this is how they view us. So yes, definitely don’t underestimate whatever support you can get, and once you do get it hold onto it, and ja, it’s going to be a long and bumpy ride and that support is going to be your airbag and your seatbelt, so ja.
Rian: You were mentioning work, and for me it’s been an amazing journey and a privilege, because I’ve been there with you for a while, and the Fudge that I met in the beginning, I never had doubts that you were a girl. You were a girl. It’s like when you came out and you said I’m now going to start and you said “I’m going to do my transition”, I thought okay, fuck, what took you so long? It’s like, I think people know, and I knew, and for me you are like my sister and for the fact that you came out to me and said “I’m ready to do this now” I think was just remarkable, and what are you on about, you know, it’s just not an issue, I thought she knew, am I right?
Ditshego: Ja, that’s right, and in fact your reaction and just how casual you were about it was so natural, it was so authentic, it wasn’t fake, it wasn’t forced. You were just like “Hello, welcome to the party, we’ve all been at this party” and that was so… I tell people about it all the time actually when I’m just having conversations about my journey so far and the obstacles etcetera, I tell people what I told you in the studio and you said “If you need to talk, at any time of the day or night, you have my number up here in studio, I am available, I am your friend and I have some professional backing as well, so two different perspectives but I am here”, and joh, I can’t put it into words how important it is and I count my privilege, I acknowledge that as my privilege. I feel like sometimes we forget how privileged we are and we just make statements thinking everybody else is in a privileged position like us and there are so many people who don’t have a Riaan, who don’t have a GaySA Radio and I can only imagine the pain and the guilt and the self-loathing…
Rian: And it’s so unnecessary.
Ditshego: It’s so unnecessary you know? And I can say that because of my support structure but like I said I don’t want to assume authority over other people’s circumstances that are different to mine you know, so I am so blessed and I am so aware, I know that not everybody operates in an atmosphere that is so full of love, I mean look at us this morning, I mean it was just one long trip of laughter and it was great, and that’s how we are. That’s who and how we are, that’s what we do all the time you know? We are so ourselves it’s disgusting, we don’t even have a filter. We don’t, we have verbal listeriosis and we just say the first thing that comes to mind and no one is offended by anything, it’s beautiful and I’m so aware of my privilege and my blessings and I thank God for them every day, I really do, and I want transgender men and women to have support and to know the importance of support and to know that it makes such a huge difference guys, it really really does. It’s the butter on the bread, it makes the bread so much more edible, it does.
Rian: So I think what makes you unique in this series is everybody that I’ve spoken to are like halfway or three-quarters of the way through their journey and you are taking those baby steps.
Ditshego: Yeah I am, very much in the beginning I am seeing Dr Grobbler at the Steve Biko hospital, for those of you who live in Pretoria, that is who I strongly recommend you make an appointment with and like I said, he’s a very busy man that… it’s the getting started that I found is the challenge, I’ve spoken to Lee, I’ve spoken to April, and they’ve all said to me that once you’ve started, once you’re in the system, and you have a file and a file number and he has seen you two to three times, then the ball is rolling, it’s one thing after another. It’s like you spend all this time waiting, and it’s just tedious, and then once the ball drops then it’s like da, da, da you know, so I’m still very much in the beginning and I’m still in that teething stage, but ja, I can’t wait for the ball to drop. That sounds so wrong because it sounds like I’m continually referring to a scrotum (Laughs).
Rian: If we go back, as I said what makes this specific interview so unique is on a personal level I’ve been involved and that personal decision that you took to decide you are going to have your gender reassigned, that was scary.
Ditshego: Very, very. It was literally like jumping off a cliff and not knowing if there is water or a net or a beach of rocks, but you are jumping and come what may. That was very scary.
Rian: You came and you told me and I think I still harassed you with numbers.
Ditshego: Oh my gosh, I can’t… I’m actually getting a flashback, you went online immediately and you found out transgender support groups in Pretoria and who’s in charge of the transgender division at Access chapter two, and just every day “Did you speak to Veronica?” and “Here’s Cleo”, and literally there was a time where I could literally open my phone and see your face as my wallpaper saying did you talk to Cleo? And then eventually when I spoke to her it became “What did she say?” I said no, she’ll get back to me, “What did she say?” It was constant, it was funny but it was necessary also. I think also, sometimes we hesitate because we realise the magnitude of this thing, and I’m making this huge decision, am I ready? Am I making a mistake? So we sort of take one step forward and then ten steps backwards you know, so you are literally like a door behind me, refusing to let me step backwards and I’m so appreciative of that, I’m so grateful.
Rian: On your journey now, where are you, have you started your hormone replacement yet?
Ditshego: I’m still busy with the diagnosis part of it. What I’m happy about is this doctor, he’s actually so good. It’s not the same for everyone, because I asked him and apparently you need to see me three times or do I need to see three different psychologists, and he said so, if I meet you, straight off the bat I feel that this is who and what you are, I will diagnose you with that on the spot, it’s different for every man and woman, it isn’t a uniform thing, there isn’t a formula where I need to see you for seven sessions, if I feel on our third session that you don’t have gender dysphoria, I will diagnose you and say I’m not putting you on hormones, and you can go get a second opinion elsewhere but I will, but he says it’s a different process for everyone, I’m still in that process but we’ve met and he didn’t even know I was born male, and I don’t know if he had read what the appointment was for because it says gender reassignment consultation but he just sort of said I’ll see my next client now, so I sat down and he said yes ma’am, what can I do for you, and I think maybe he was there, he thought I was there for some sort of counselling for some trauma I had experienced, but he thought I am this woman here for this consultation and I said no, actually I’m here for that, and he was just like “Wow” and he even thought I was on some sort of black market hormones, which are very available and very dangerous, and I strongly advise against, but I also do understand the need for one to live their truth and I know why people go to such extremes, but he thought perhaps I was even on that, on some sort of black market hormones because he was convinced by my appearance, my demeanour, and I have quite a deep voice actually, I always think okay, they all think this is a girl until I speak, then I’m going to open my mouth, but he’s like no, I just thought…
Rian: You sound like a girl.
Ditshego: Ja, I think my voice is pretty deep but he was just like no, your voice didn’t even give it away for me, so based on his reaction I’m quite happy, I think we’re going to make progress and I think I will not have to see him many times before he gives me the green light and then I can start taking my hormones.
Rian: Plans for the future?
Ditshego: Plans for the future? So many plans, I plan to go national in terms of my career because that’s also a problem that I’ve experienced in the transgender community, unemployment is a huge problem, you know? And I plan to, I have my own organisation for women in the rural areas that I plan to grow and I hope it gets more funding and becomes a big movement and I can make the changes I want to make in people’s lives. I want to get married, I want to have children, I’m not sure if I’ll be a good parent though, it’s such a fear of mine to have children and to damage them because I’ve seen the damage that parents can do to children and I don’t want to put any young impressionable life in harm’s way, and me being that harm. But I’d like to have a family, I’d like to get married, I’d like to make lots of money, I’d like to get my own talk show on a national television channel because I think I’m interesting and funny and smart and I have so much information to share, and I think people will learn a lot from me and more importantly I want trans inclusion and trans representation, it’s so important for a young child to see what and who they are in places of authority because then it reminds them that they are valid, their dreams are valid, their goals are legitimate and that there is absolutely nothing wrong with them. For young kids to see a transgender woman in parliament or a transgender news reader on a national news channel or a transgender soccer player, for them to see us in high positions and doing well in those positions, not because we are in those positions out of pity but also just rather because we are deserving and competent and able to perform the duties that are required of us when we occupy those seats of power and we are in the decision-making circle in society and young, up and coming youth can see us occupying those seats, that is powerful and I want to occupy those seats and I want them to look at me and I want them to say if she can do it, what’s stopping me?
Rian: What would you say is great about being transgender?
Ditshego: Not much except that we are real, we exist, it’s not a choice and the great thing about it if you are it is that perhaps, this is going to sound so wrong because so many transgender men and women have different opinions on this, you know? Some people say “It must be really great to experience both sexes, you were born one sex and then you had the opportunity to be another” and I wouldn’t say it was great because when you’re in the one sex, the first sex, the wrong sex for those of us who do choose to transition because not everybody transitions physically, some just feel that self-identifying is enough and they are right to do so if that’s how they feel, but for those of us who undergo the physical transformation and the reassignment, people like to say “It must be great for you to have experienced both sexes” and I suppose to a certain extent, I mean it’s a rare experience to have experienced both sexes, both genders I suppose, physically. The thing I always try to explain though is even when I was the one gender, the one I was diagnosed or assigned at birth, I always felt and acted like the gender I always knew I was, so even as a man, I never fully owned it, I never fully enjoyed it, I never fully embraced it. What would be great is if I lived as a man and loved it, and then changed to become a woman and loved that, and I could speak on both sides of the coin but I can’t because even as a man, even having a penis did not make me feel any more of a man, that’s what a lot of people I think don’t understand, however I will have lived a life where I have experienced being physically male and female and that’s something noteworthy, that’s not nothing, you know and I suppose there are some fun things, physically speaking, to having possessed a penis. One of the great, well she used to be what I considered to be one of the great authors until she made some derogatory statements about transgender women and now she’s dead to me, a lady by the name of Chimamamba Ngozi Adichie, who is a noted scholar and author and motivational speaker, but she said transgender women must not forget the advantages they enjoyed, the privileges they enjoyed when they were still men and I thought I don’t know what she’s talking about because most of us were miserable when we lived as men firstly, but the only advantage I can really think of is peeing standing, which is quite an advantage. It’s the only thing I can think of as a benefit, especially in the winter, but I sit down anyway, penis or not. But of course I do have the option of peeing standing if it’s an emergency and I really don’t feel like taking off all my clothes and putting my big bum on a cold porcelain seat, so that’s the only advantage that I enjoyed as a male-identifying individual. But ja I think that could be the only physical advantage that I enjoyed and aside from that really there isn’t any advantages to being trans, if anything it’s a disadvantage because it’s the only orientation that I don’t want to speak on behalf of intersex people because that’s something that I have no knowledge and expertise over and that’s a completely different experience and I don’t want to trivialise it either but it’s the only, aside from intersexuality, it’s the only orientation that can be physically operated upon, and some people would say that’s an advantage but some would say shame, I mean men, gay people just need to come out of the closet and they don’t need to change anything, they don’t need to go under the knife, they don’t need a diagnosis from a psychologist, so I wouldn’t say it’s an advantage because it’s a lot of work, it’s so much admin being transgender and getting the whole, complete package done. It’s a lot of work man. (Laughs) It’s a lot of work.
Rian: What are the best things that have happened to you so far?
Ditshego: I’m happier, I am more comfortable. To those who have accepted me I explain less because I do things now with people knowing why I’m doing them and there isn’t a shock value to it, it’s just her being her and she’s fine, you know, so the advantage for me has definitely been living my truth and I always say if I die tomorrow I’d be happy knowing that I got to live, even if it’s just a few months or years as the person I fully identify as. Knowing and living your truth and being truthful to you is such a powerful thing to have and to own, and I own that now, I own my truth. No one can tell me otherwise. Well, they can but it doesn’t demystify what I already know and believe about myself and that has been the best thing; the feeling of knowing that I am living my truth and owning that truth and knowing that no one can take it from me.
Rian: What is better than you could wish for?
Ditshego: What is better?
Rian: Better. If you look back at the start of your journey from where you started and before accepting yourself, and you look at now, what right now is better than you could wish for ever?
Ditshego: Ooh, the sex. (Laughs) And I haven’t even transitioned, but now that I identify as a woman I feel that my partners, that sounds wrong, it sounds like I’m a prostitute, but my partners treat me different.
Rian: Do you have multiple partners?
Ditshego: Well it sounds plural doesn’t it?
Rian: It does.
Ditshego: Well my partner actually, treats me, or the men I encounter treat me a lot more different and they are so much more aware of me and my woman-ness and the way they treat me and the way they handle me, there’s an intimacy and a sort of gentleness that I didn’t experience with gay men who otherwise just saw me as another man, a feminine man but a man nonetheless. And the shopping is better too, the shopping is better. I’m quite, I mean I’m overweight, the pictures are going up on the website for all our listeners, we’re having a great photo shoot coming up soon to put a face to the voice, but I’m quite a chunky girl but I’m still very, I have very small hands and feet so finding shoes has been such a pleasure, shopping for high heels is absolutely such a pleasure. The thing is I buy heels and then I like hide them previously, but now I’m like no, what, never! I have heels strewn all over my car, in my boot, my bedroom, my carpet in my bedroom, everywhere you go you run into a pair of shoes of mine, and the shopping experience of shopping and not hiding, and not having to guess, I can freely try on a pair of shoes, even in the middle of the shop with a whole audience and I couldn’t be bothered because that’s the power that comes with it, and I know people might stare and gawk and judge and snicker and sneer but I don’t care. I do it freely and openly because I’m living my truth and that means no more hiding and it’s so freeing, like hiding is so exhausting, it’s so emotionally and physically exhausting, and the constant lies and having to keep track of your lies, it’s just a lot and now I don’t have to do that. So definitely the shopping experience has gotten better as well, and it’s so, also the energies that we emit, because I feel like now that I identify myself as trans no one even sort of questions me when I get to a shop and I say do you have this shoe in a size six, and they just say “yes ma’am” or “let me go check in the back”, and they are more willing to embrace you because they see or they sense that you are so comfortable in yourself that they are comfortable to be around you as well and service you in whatever capacity you may need, so I have found that in my owning it, it also makes those around me a lot more comfortable in addressing me and helping me and just dealing with me in their life.
Rian: What has being trans taught you?
Ditshego: It has taught me that the world is an ugly place, it has taught me that the world can also be a beautiful place. It has taught me patience because it’s a long process, it has taught me kindness, because so many of my trans brothers and sisters have experienced everything but kindness, which has forced me to be kind, even to everyone. I think of their experiences and before I say or do something mean I filter myself because I remind myself that the world is so mean already, it doesn’t need me to be mean as well, so it’s taught me kindness. It’s taught me generosity as well and to be giving of my time, especially to members of the community and to causes within the community to fight for causes and to remind people that trans lives matter and it’s also taught me to love myself, actually. I don’t think I loved myself as much when I identified as gay only because like I said, being gay is still difficult but I got under the radar a lot easier than you do, there’s a lot more scrutiny for the transgender women, you know, and because I realise that transgender rights and the transgender movement is so far behind, I’ve had to fiercely love myself intentionally, I do it with intention and purpose because I am more aware that the world I live in will not freely give me the love I need and deserve or doesn’t even think I deserve, and maybe I don’t, and because of that I need to love myself. It’s taught me also, and I think that’s the most important thing, my trans journey has taught me to love myself more fiercely and deeply and intentionally and to be kind to others and to myself.
Rian: How have you grown?
Ditshego: I won’t, I have the wisdom of a sixty year old woman now. I’ve grown so much in the last… and I also just want to say I’m still growing and I am still going to learn so much and I am willing to learn, I will not dare claim to know everything and when I get corrected I may question it but I question it so that I can know better, not to fight where the information is coming from, because I do come across sometimes, I think you’ve seen this in meetings, as a bit defiant but I question from a thirst to know perspective, not because I already know better than you and you are wrong. So I’ve learnt a lot and I’m still learning and I enjoy that I don’t know everything actually, and I enjoy that I’m going to come across people who’ve been on this rodeo and they are still on the bull and I look up to those people and I look forward to climbing that bull and falling and getting back up on it again and learning from those falls as well, but I have learnt a lot, I keep saying there’s a part of me that feels like I wish I knew this earlier in my life but there’s another part that says I had to know t now, everything happens for a reason and the timing is divine, and I may not know it now but later on I will understand why it had to happen now, just after turning thirty, because I feel like had I known this at twenty-three I’d be done with the process and I’d be such a happy, thriving woman and I feel like I would be so much further in my life, but also I feel like it’s fine, it’s fine that it happened now and it’s not clear to me why but I believe as I grow and research and find myself and as I learn from others, as I continue to teach as well, that which I’ve learnt, that reason will be revealed to me and it’ll make so much sense at that time, so the learning continues.
Rian: What advice would you give to other people who might be on a similar journey?
Ditshego: Good therapy. I want to say really question yourself but some people don’t know how to, so I feel like therapy really helps in that regard, so get the therapy, and there’s a part of me that actually doesn’t even like the therapy part of this transition process because I feel like I know who I am, why do I need some other person to come tell me, this is yet another obstacle that the hetero-normative world has imposed upon transgender women, there’s a part, a little activist voice in me that says this is a cause I must fight in future but I do also understand the value of why they need to, especially if you’re going to do it the free way, the government hospital way. If you’re going to be using government property and resources they need to make sure that you are not going to four months down the line change your mind and say “I want my penis back”, so I understand the value to why you have to be psychologically analysed. So that is my first piece of practical advice, is make an appointment with a psychologist, have them assess you and diagnose you with this and take it from there. From a personal journey perspective, my first piece of advice is love yourself no matter what, whether you think that you’re trans and find out that you weren’t or find out that you are, at any stage of your self-diagnosing and at any stage of your questioning yourself, in every stage in fact of your self-discovery, love yourself. Love everything about yourself, even the parts of you that aren’t pretty, in fact maybe those are the parts that need the most loving. Love yourself, that is at least something you can do. I’m thinking of perhaps someone who lives in a rural area where they may not have access to a psychologist, and again that’s another privilege of mine, to be living in an urban area and that I’m surrounded by medical professionals within a three kilometre radius, I think I have about twenty just sitting here at GaySA Radio that so many readily have access to, whereas somebody in the Transkei or somebody who will be listening from Bangladesh, because we’re an international radio station, or somebody who will be listening from Accra in Ghana.
Rian: Or near Groblersdal.
Ditshego: Or near Groblersdal. Or Duffelkop, and they may not have the insurmountable wealth of knowledge and access to medical professionals that I enjoy and for those people I really do recommend that you make contact with… while you are waiting, while you are planning, while you are plotting, love yourself. We get so caught up in the rat race of life, trying to make money, trying to get success, trying to be on the same par as our peers, to drive fancy cars and live in certain addresses which symbolise success, and all of those things that we do, it’s so easy to get lost in it and to lose ourselves and to forget to love ourselves, and it’s something which I forget too and I forget and I’ll see it in my health deteriorating, or I’ll just see it, it’ll surface in one way or another, or I’ll just start being very forgetful at work or slipping, and I have to remind myself to love myself and I have to almost sit and look in a mirror just to love myself and to say who are you again, you know, why are you doing this again? I ask myself these questions and I don’t always come up with the same answer by the way, but the consistent thing is that I have never changed my mind about wanting to do the surgery and being who I am and transitioning, and living my truth. That I’ve never deviated from, I’ll have a variety of answers but they’ll always be around the same theme, so that’s what I would like to say to every transgender boy and girl, especially those who are still considering doing the surgery, see a professional, that is the first step. Help is available and it’s free, and for somebody that lives far from an urban city it might not be that free because you have to go spend a lot of money on transport, but of it means enough to you, you’ll make a plan. What do they say, ‘n boer maak a plan?
Ditshego: Ja, there’s a saying…
Rian: A farmer makes a plan.
Ditshego: Yes, my father loved that saying, but ja when you are determined and your resolve, and it means that much to you, you will get it done, and see a professional and take it from there. I wish somebody had told me this years ago. When Cleo said it to me it was like a light bulb moment, I saw angels and I jjust thought, why did nobody, why did I not know this, but better late than never.
Rian: Anything else that you want to talk about that I didn’t ask?
Ditshego: No, I think we covered everything actually. We covered everything and thank you, actually, you made me so comfortable. I was a bit sceptical because I thought this was going to be uncomfortable but you were great.
Rian: Thank you. You were great.
Ditshego: You were great and I look forward to this series and I hope my story inspires others, and like I said I am not perfect. I have so much to learn, I make mistakes, I fall, I cry, but I also get up and I still have a lot of joyous moments and I laugh and I try to be a breath of fresh air in every space I occupy and I try to bring love and light.
Rian: GaySA Radio, where you are family. I’m Riaan and that was the lovely Ditshego Ditshego talking to us about her trans journey.