Trans rights activist Yaya Mavundla gives the public a first-hand account of what it means to be a black transgender on the new Mzansi Magic’ (161) reality show ‘Becoming’.
By: Gift Musa Mqwashu
The new reality show, ‘Becoming’, follows the journey of four transgender individuals, Ramazan Ngobese, Yaya Mavundla, Gugu Khumalo, and the late Gina Sokoyi, as they transition to their identified gender.
The 13-part reality show helmed by media mogul Basetsana Khumalo, delves deeper into the psyche of being a transgender person and the barriers that the community need to overcome to live their true selves.
In a ZOOM interview with Blacklight, Yaya expresses how excited she is to be a part of the groundbreaking show.
“A show like this is important because it will rectify all the myths people have about transgender people. It will highlight the importance of the transgender community having access to basic needs such as health care and fair treatment at places like home affairs and police stations,” she says.
I was very sceptical when I first received the call from Basetsana Khumalo, asking me to be a part of the show, but having done so much work for transgender visibility over the years, I got to understand why this show is important.
According to Yaya, there isn’t much transgender visibility in South Africa mainly because people still view it as taboo. “You don’t see many trans people on television, magazines or often hear them on the radio. There is no representation on a larger scale in the media. I am hoping with this show we will be able to broaden our visibility.”
Transgender people face severe discrimination, prejudice and malice, with the local television audiences still largely conservative. The trans activist hopes that the portrayal of her journey will show people that Trans Lives Matters and that the community wants nothing but respect as human beings.
“It is terrifying to put myself out there because you never know what the content may trigger for a person who is transphobic,” she adds. “I hope how we appear on the show brings a different light on us, and people get to see our hearts reflected.”
The publicist says that representation to her is a very subjective matter because what she may consider “good” representation; may not be the same for the next person.
She also has an issue with some of the LGBTIQ+ language, which many will see on the show.
“There are trans people who did not even know about being trans; because when they were growing up, they did not know what to call it.”
“Now that we have all these new terms, I feel like they are confusing to society and even us as well,” she says.
Yaya says that people need to stop thinking that a person is a better activist because of how they speak English, “That is unfair and is an act of discrimination to other transgender people who did not have access to better education,” she explains.
“For example: Not so long ago, I had an interview on the Chill With MacG (Macgyver Mukwevho) podcast, and I got slammed for not being able to express myself well.
“People try so much to police activism because they think only their opinions matter – It’s no longer about how one feels, but how one is supposed to feel, speak, and follow.
“We can’t go on like this; we have members of the queer community working for the LGBTQI+ organisations that are still underpaid and mistreated at work.”
Yaya reveals that she once got herself into muddy waters with a trans-organisation, where she served as a board member because she chose to speak out against the ill-treatment.
“I hate fake activists, and people are going to see that on the show. I want to scratch out fake activism. I don’t care how everybody else sees me because I am just living my life, and I am living my truth. The only thing I want is justice for the people.”
Yaya grew up believing that she was gay, a label she got from society. “I did not know about transgender people until I met Zanele Muholi. That is when I realised that this is the person I am. I think I felt even more comfortable when that realisation happened because I remember even growing up I lived my life as a woman.”
Transitioning comes with many hormonal and body changes, and Yaya says it is important to be surrounded by people who care, especially during the transitioning process.
Taking hormones is an emotional roller-coaster; you break down a lot of times, and this must happen with people around you. One needs to have family and therapy support.
“I was supposed to have started my hormones last year already, but, unfortunately, there has been a lot of delays. It has been difficult for me because every time I try to start the process, something gets in the way.”
She adds that South Africa has the worst healthcare system, making it harder for the marginalised communities like trans people.
“We don’t have representation in the healthcare space – no one cares!
“The long waiting lists for people that want to do their transitioning surgery and get their hormones, says a lot.
“We are 27 years into our democracy in South Africa, and we are not supposed to be struggling with so much. We have had so much time to work on sorting out trans needs.”
She believes that the trans clinics have made the load easier for trans people, and if it were not for them, they would be suffering more.
“When you go to the government spaces, trans people are not given priority. I am unashamed to say that healthcare for trans people in South Africa is non-existent.”
She concludes: “After watching ‘Becoming’ and witnessing the openness of my transitioning journey, I hope people get the fact that we are human, we have challenges that we face. This is me saying that trans people need to be respected and taken seriously as any other human beings.”