South Africa, 10 July 2015
My name is Seoketsi Tshepo Mooketsi, an ambitious, Trans Activist and Feminist. I reside in a rural township named Schweizer-Reneke in the North West Province, which is surrounded by agricultural farms. There is also a lack of political will from local government in addressing issues such as sexism, homophobia, gender stereotypes as well as hate crimes and corrective rapes, which continue to escalate daily.
Violent, targeted attacks against lesbians, gay men, and bisexual and transgender individuals remain a persistent problem in rural environments. Such individuals continue to experience multiple forms of discrimination, which increases their risk of HIV infection and difficulties in accessing and remaining on treatment. Residents of rural areas, in particular black women, are disproportionately represented amongst the poor and unemployed, a fact that is hardly dwelled upon in figuring the way forward. Patriarchy is everywhere; it thrives and is disturbingly normal in my town.
With that stated, I currently use Revlon make-up, which I adore to the fullest whilst I seek measures of using Mac make-up too. I wear a shoe sized seven to eight. Stilettos that are comfortable and balancing are essential. I use Beyoncé’s Heat perfume and a bit of Oh So Heavenly and Old Spice as substitutes after a long and dreadful day. I use a Samsung Tab and my old Blackberry of six years, which has been with me through the harshest times. I am a communications, sciences and anthropology student at a South African University.
This article serves as a liberating attempt within the transgender community at large to come to terms with and convey a positive and empowering period of my life. After some time spent with myself I realize how essential it is to thank the people who have always been present in my life. Although some of them have passed on, their teachings will forever remain in my heart. I would love to extend my gratitude to my late Grandmother Baintlahatse Maria Mooketsi who has always been remarkable in her teachings until she departed; my provider and redeemer, my mother Mojiemang Doris Mooketsi, whose strength and powerful insights on life continue to uplift, develop and educate me; my confidante and protector my big Sister Rehilwe Mooketsi: the woman is wonderfully made; my five-year-old niece who is an absolute bundle of peace, joy and happiness in my life and to all my friends that I continue to have and to those I have parted ways with. Indeed, I would not be where I am presently if it were not for your teachings, sacrifice and compassion that you have provided me with when I needed it the most. For this I will forever be grateful to the universe.
As a young transgender woman I experienced transphobia and discrimination on the basis of my gender and sexuality at a very young age. It started at home, at school, on the streets, in churches and in society. In this sense, I have chosen to live and breathe for the marginalised.
There have been improvements in the recent past, namely, that transgender women and men should have equal rights and entitlements to human, social, economic and cultural developments. They should have an equal voice in civil and political life. This does not mean that transgender men and women are the same but that their rights, responsibilities and opportunities do not depend on whether they are born male or female.
I realize that I am indeed fortunate to be born during a period where the world holds great talks on gender and sexuality of LGBTIQ people. I realize that my calling is to take charge and play a role in our struggle for liberation and to interact with some of the greatest, like-minds and leaders presently. I am also thankful for my life’s lessons, which include the good and the bad choices I have made.
How I now view the world compared to five years ago is promising. I have transitioned in an era that has forced me to engage in a difficult dialogue with my own body. I am still struggling to understand what is expected of a transgender woman, or a man, and where one fits into such a complex period of transition. My image of myself is complex.
I have recently engaged in talks with different people who belong to the trans community, and one of the things I am learning from their social behavior and interactions is that in such a complicated society, religion and culture still bind us to embrace heteronormativity rather than transgenderism. I found out that in their lives too there was no bed of roses.
Every day is a new day for me, as I get in touch with my own traumas, which indirectly demand masculinity and femininity from me. I look helplessly at how power operates within the LGBTIQ community and I ask myself how one even goes about advocating for such a cause? Many trans women I encountered are still struggling to understand the fluency of sexuality in the rural areas be it from Ganyesa, Mahikeng, Schweizer-Reneke or Potchefstroom, not to mention politics within this. This raises an issue of concern, namely, why I do my activism? How does one support what is unknown?
I am glad that presently there are activists across the country and globally who, like me, are starting to learn about themselves, their bodies and its politics. There are preconceptions about transgender women, how we are labeled regarding our gender and sexuality and how we present it. I often come across people who question my sexuality. These are the most frequent questions I get: “What are you?” and “When did you realize it and how does it feel?” I then realize they are actually asking me whether I am a man or a woman, which organs I have in my pants and whether my curves or breasts are from being on hormonal therapy or whether I have had surgery performed. Even today there are times when I struggle to explain my gender role and what it entails as a trans woman of colour. But every day I find a peace within and I grow into a woman who is braver, more of a seeker and a fighter.
One of my biggest challenges is obtaining funding for the RuralGayLove movement I have created to assist trans men and women in rural areas since 2014. Using the pain I have endured, I decided to transform it into a movement that intends on mobilizing transgender programs and constituencies to support each other and understand that they have rights and responsibilities just like everyone else. The movement has built strategic partnerships and works to educate societies to reflect better on issues and struggles that transgender people face individually. I believe this is possible.
The movement believes advocacy on LGBTIQ issues in rural areas is not enough. As a young activist I believe we need to make it visible and delve deeper into issues that can refresh people’s attitudes toward trans people and their sexual orientation. I am an aspiring activist who pledges solidarity and peace with the poor, LGBTIQ, working class and marginalized groups. I believe in localising the issues and localising the debate in order to construct progressive solutions that will emancipate our communities regardless of geographical location. Education and knowledge will enable me to open channels of communication with my peers, parents, tribal authorities and similar decision-makers.
Homophobia, inequality and patriarchy in rural townships need to be stared in the eye. The #RuralGayLove movements mean a great deal to me. It means a lot for our future, which my community, especially the marginalized, is waiting for. I consciously identify myself as a proud and out transgender woman of colour as I’ve come to understand the political and sexual meaning of the term. I urge the world to make it possible for me and for those who reside in rural areas to help change lives. It is important at the moment because of the harsh realities we face as young trans women and men from rural areas. A tremendous number of youth lack skills, lack an understanding of their gender and sexuality. The time has arrived to take pride in – and take charge of – representing ourselves as Trans women and Trans men from the rural areas.
Seoketsi Tshepo Mooketsi is a Trans woman of Colour, she is the founder of RuralGayLove, and an undergraduate student at the University of the Free State and an intern at Iranti