Living Outside – Thembi by Sandy L and Photography by Frank Schoenau (a First Thursday collaboration)

I am from Grahamstown. I am a transgender woman. Grahamstown was not good for me, I was physically abused by society and by my mother because I was different. I grew up very difficult – emotionally, physically and spiritually abused. I grew up with a poor self-esteem. In school, it was always so difficult because I was so different.

I moved back to Port Alfred where my mother is from to do my Grade 9. Since I had trauma, anxiety and depression I failed. I had to start again, I would love to continue school if somebody would help me.

How old are you?
25. I grew up in a small town, they couldn’t understand me, they thought I was mad. They found me a psychologist.

They thought you were mad because you wanted to be a transgender? Didn’t they understand what you were going through?
Yes,  Grahamstown is a small town…

They obviously don’t understand the struggle someone who doesn’t feel comfortable in their own bodies faces.
They called me mophie and stabanie (gay). I asked my mother what they meant, I was young, I didn’t understand. I didn’t even know what a transgender woman was. But I knew that I was different from other boys. I like female stuff, my bed has to be pink, I love dolls – everything has to be feminine. My psychologist advised that I move to a bigger place like Cape Town, Johannesburg or Durban. By 2009 I moved to Cape Town, I was so scared, I was on my own but I didn’t think because I was so young to plan anything. I was only 19. I had budgeted, I hitchhiked to Cape Town. I got a part-time job in a second-hand clothing store and then I went to Jesus Saves and then to a salon where we did pedicures and manicures. I was then working at a recycling centre, I really enjoyed it.

Things started to go badly. I turned to prostitution.

I was raped by a client because I didn’t tell him that I was a she-male. The client was sick with HIV. I was diagnosed with HIV.

I am healthy, I take my tablets and look after myself. I have a part-time job every Saturday, washing and ironing. So I am bettering my life. I didn’t expect any white people to better my life, I have to stand up for myself and better to my life.





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