Being a transgender woman and feminist in the context of the South African Eastern Cape and in the face of the proposed Traditional Courts Bill

Published May 4, 2012 by transfeminists

Greetings friends, family and colleagues


It has been a while and today is a good day to give an update of what is happening at SHE. Organisationally speaking, things are going really well but more and more, I am realising what I am contending with as a transgender feminist.


Let me start off by saying it is a challenging space for transgender women who, unlike transgender men, often don’t blend into society. Their visibility make them vulnerable to abuse and violence. I am afraid today’s blog is a bit of a personal narration for me. Friends, I am trying to find a way of dealing with the issues of being a transgender woman in a province where people have little knowledge about this issue. Further, I am trying to balance being a transgender woman and being a feminist.


I was born and raised in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, a province well known for its under-development, poor education and lack of information. I had transitioned into womanhood and the idea behind my transition was just to get on with life. Coming into this transition, I became painfully aware of the problems women had contended with for so many generations. Here comes the sticky part, how can I call myself a feminist in a space that does not even recognise my femininity? This is challenging. It’s really hard


Even further, this province is governed by traditional structures such as the house of traditional leaders. Very recently, a woman was punished in her village for her developmental efforts, training women on their rights. I am inserting the link for you folks. All of this is so relevant in the context of the Traditional Courts Bill on which public hearings are now conducted in the Eastern Cape.


This writing is the product of a conversation I just had with a colleague at one of the organisations I volunteer at from time to time. I expressed my view of female independence and as per the usual response to opinionated, independent women, he says:


  • You are hurt;
  • Need intervention;
  • Someone in life disappointed me;
  • Had a bad relationship with my father;
  • Ta Da, ta da tad a
  • And the list goes on


Colleagues, if nothing else, this is patriarchy in its purest form. This is social programming at work. Almost telling women what to think, how to feel, etc.  Men in the Eastern Cape are shaken by strong independent women because it’s challenging to them. For me, personally, the central operational tenet to patriarchy is power! It would be far too challenging to men in this province if women are given the power to decide not to gather firewood, or not to get water from the river because it will pluck men out of their comfort zones. The idea of having a woman in their presence, deliberating on issues affecting women as well, instils a paralysing fear in men of this province.

Somewhere between the number of issues addressed here, there is a vulnerable group of women called ‘transgender women’. This brings with it another confusing dimension to the house of traditional leaders. According to these leaders, we now have something of which we have no knowledge about “men” wanting to be women. How to go about dealing with that??? A good friend of mine, a transgender woman got married and had a beautiful wedding ceremony. I somehow don’t think my friend knew what she let herself in for. Apart from the sex work she does, she is also saddled with the responsibility of caring for her husband’s child from a previous relationship. Her husband is unemployed which means, in conjunction with performing sex work, she must look for other small projects like selling vegetables in order to sustain her family. On top of all this, she comes home to cook and clean before ‘hitting the streets’. In all of this, there is no time to complain and no remedial avenues at exploring her human rights in all this. And when you stand up for your rights, you are hurt, bitter and disappointed. Just because you are not willing to do all the feminine things that should be a way of affirming your acceptance within your chosen gender!!!!! Absolute nonsense. Just because I have chosen to be a woman, it should not mean I should go the extra mile in performing duties in order to be accepted.


I played that role for a while. I was the dedicated sister and family member who also doubled-up as the cash cow funding funerals and a whole lot of other traditional events because it gave me some form of acceptance. Sadly, people milked that situation to the point where you could milk it no more.


This clearly illustrates the hierarchy of power and privilege in traditional communities and many of my transgender sisters would agree with me on the point of raising people’s children, doing their hair and cleaning their houses because we want to be accepted, especially in African custom. If you are anything or anyone differently and outside of this norm, this is when you are seen as disrespectful. Even more, when you claim empowerment, this is when you become hurt, bitter and disappointed, according to the wise cracks in our society. I always laugh at the wisdom of all these men who sit outside next to house absorbing the rays of the sun all day long, grouping at these little gathering talking about how best to govern these villages. Now all of a sudden, everybody has the insight and wisdom on women’s bodies and lives. They chase sexual and gender minorities out of these villages because they ‘bring evil’ to these villages. Those transgender women who are seen as ‘normal’ are let into their spaces at what price; I am asking you my friends????

Any thoughts??? Let us know by engaging with us on this blog and always feel free to get in contact with us at: 

Mobile number: 0738110789

Until next time dear friends, let these words be food for thought.


Leigh Ann


One comment on “Being a transgender woman and feminist in the context of the South African Eastern Cape and in the face of the proposed Traditional Courts Bill

  • YOu go girl! Beautifully written. This is the transvoice we are hungry from from Africa. Intelligent, informed, erudite, fair – a woman and yes……angry. It is ok to be angry. Don’t let people tell you otherwise ever. But informed anger – channeling it like nuclear power for electricity. Light up the world, not set it on fire. Well not yet anyway….. If that times comes we will do that too. 😉

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