A transgender woman’s path to self-acceptance

Blogger, Yaya Mavundla (28), is a fierce transgender woman who never buckles under the pressures of society, proving that success begins with accepting who you are.

Written by: Blacklight writer
Photo by: Zanele Muholi

The international trans actress from the hit series Orange Is The New Black, Larvene Cox, once said: “It is revolutionary for any trans person to choose to be seen and visible in a world that tells us we should not exist.”

Yaya Mavundla is one of the trans-women who are living proud in a world that refuses to acknowledge her existence.

“We should never wait for the world to be ready for us. We must create the opportunity to be ourselves because at the end of the day it is about happiness,” she says.

Yaya was born and raised in Kwazulu Natal (Kranskop). She is a blogger and a former columnist for the leading gay newspaper, Exit.

Yaya has been a publicist for public figures, like acclaimed photographer Zanele Muholi, media personality Lerato Kganyago and designers Quiteria & George.

She is also an advocate for the LGBTIQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgander, Intersex & Queer) community, and has been a youth leader for the Durban Lesbian & Gay Health Centre.

Currently, she is a board member at Gender DynamiX.

Yaya took Blacklight Magazine through her life journey as a transgender woman.

I never knew I was a transgender woman
until I worked with Zanele Muholi. Before I met her I identified as a gay man. I didn’t have the education, being around her I learned a lot of things about who I was and the moment I discovered myself, I had to embrace it. I started dressing as a woman but I never came out at home; I just came as a transgender woman. They just accepted me. I realised that they love and respect me no matter what.  Everyone was okay with me except for my uncles who made some remarks but were never brave enough to say them to me.

People think that when you are a transgender woman you want to be a woman
but they don’t know that you are and always have been a woman.  Education is vital because people confuse being transgender as being gay and that’s where the problem starts. As a transgender growing up there are a lot of signs but people choose to turn a blind eye. From an early age I always played dressed up. I used to use things like the rice package and make them into skirts and my family would see all of this. Even at school I would participate in events as a girl and the teachers understood because they saw what was happening.

I was bullied at school until grade 10. I grew so much anger and I became violent because I wanted to defend myself. But I learned to be understanding and accept situations for how they are. Having a strong family support also helps because if you get validation home then you don’t have to seek it elsewhere.

People say kids don’t understand or don’t know what’s going on but the mere fact that they are mocking you means they know why they are mocking you. And actually its’s the kids that make you realise that you are gay, lesbian or transgender because they will give you all these names and you will start doing some introspection. They can make you brave enough to face who you are.

I would always dress up for my cabaret performances but never on a full time basis.
The first time I dressed up just to go out was when I had a meeting with Zanele, in February 2014, at the Stevenson Gallery, in Johannesburg. I went out and when I came back I was so surprised because it felt so normal. I didn’t get any negative response and that’s when I realised that when you embrace who you are, people can sometimes be accepting. Obviously, there will be that one person who doesn’t understand, whether, they are highly educated or a successful professional. But what’s important is always your happiness.

I have not done any procedure, yet. Last year I wanted to start with the transition process but there was a delay and I hate people wasting my time. There are organisations that help us but I don’t want to be anyone’s product. I don’t want to be used as a token by any programme that just wants to recruit more black transgender people for their image, and so I would rather save up and do it on my own.

I also know of people who are put on the waiting list and sometimes it can take up to four years for them to do the procedure. I don’t want to put myself through that.

Being a trans-woman has its ups and downs.There are days when I look into the mirror and I am not convinced.  That’s when you need to learn to be open-minded about appearance and love myself for who I am. I don’t think I I have someone I can go to when I feel confused and don’t like who I am because sometimes people just can’t relate. I always have to find a way to get myself out of that phase. It can be quite a lonely journey, especially without support. Support is important because you do feel isolated.

In South Africa it’s dangerous being trans because we get attacked.I was once attacked by guys who wanted to take me home by force.  These two guys approached me and they asked me to come home with them. When I declined one of them grabbed me and luckily I broke free and ran to the nearest garage. When I got to the garage I asked them to call the police and a lady (who is a radio DJ) said ‘ningamsizi because that’s what they want’. I realised that she said that because it’s the perception that people have about the LGBTIQ community. It’s saddening because that’s why many LGBTIQ people don’t ask for help when they are in danger; they are scared of being judged.

People need to be educated about the difference between a transgender and a drag queen.
People think that it’s all about appearance but it’s about gender. The media also shares false information that confuses people. Recently, there was a transgender character on the local soapy, Generations and the information about transitioning was confusing. It’s great to have transgender characters on TV but the writers must do proper research. You can’t rely on Google, you must meet the transgenders and hear their stories to avoid sharing false information and stereotyping.

Education needs to start at school and in our families. Parents at home need to understand the people they are living with. They need education about the LGBTIQ community so that they can understand their children and then they can be able to also educate those they interact with. Those parents who take time to understand their children can take that information to work – especially as a nurse, teacher or police. These are small but essential steps in making sure that people understand the LGBTIQ community.

I look at my Facebook and I see all the beautiful messages, I get overwhelmed, because I realise there are so many beautiful people who want to be themselves but they are scared. Many of them are waiting for the opportunity but I always say ‘Create the opportunity’. Don’t be scared to take the step and be yourself, otherwise you will always be invisible. Be brave and take a chance on yourself.  The moment you embrace who you are, people respect you more and you will find even greater opportunities’.

I would love for trans people to respect themselves
. I treat myself with respect all the time because I don’t want to contribute to the perceptions that people already have about us. It is also up to us to show people that we deserve respect by how we conduct ourselves in public.

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