When Being “Different” Could Mean Death

By Levi van Wyk

With 11 official languages and a variety of cultures, South Africa should be one of the top symbols of diversity in the world. The keyword here, however, is ‘should’. Like any other country, South Africans formed their own political groups advocating for various problems and personal belief systems, which in turn, either made life more difficult, or better for different people. According to the Hate Crimes Report of November 2016, out of 2,130 individuals surveyed, more than 55% of LGBT individuals said they worry about experiencing discrimination, and more than 41% said they knew someone who had been murdered because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Another Hate Crimes Report survey showed that only 56% of residents living in Gauteng, believe that LGBT individuals deserve equal rights. While most South Africans tend to tolerate the LGBT community in public spaces, in reality, we still have good reason to be wary when it comes to our personal safety.

Personally, I haven’t experienced much discrimination in public, apart from strange looks and awkward tension in gender-specific areas, such as the men’s locker room at the gym. I’m a white, asexual, transgender male, and only 5 months into my transition. I’m lucky to have a fairly masculine face and voice which sounds too deep to be female, but also too high-pitched to be male, making it a bit easier for me to pass successfully. In my early transition months, the general public used to address me as “ma’am”, and I had to politely correct them almost every time. They didn’t seem to ever have a problem with it, apologized and carried on as if they deal with a similar situation frequently. The, dare I say, “good” thing about South Africans, is that many people, if not most, don’t even know that transgender individuals exist, and would confuse transgender males with masculine girls or “tomboys”, and transgender females with feminine guys. I personally feel that, while it’s completely wrong and disrespectful, it can be better in regards to momentary safety and getting away with a few stares rather than being violated against. In general, I believe that most South Africans also confuse “transgender” with “transsexual”. While I can’t talk about a lot of problems in regards to the LGBT community in areas made up of a majority of non-white South Africans, I do know that being openly LGBT in said spaces could sometimes lead to abuse or even death.

While I was in my last year of university, various non-white students spoke about the violence and hate crimes against LGBT individuals in their areas of living, and said that it’s still unsafe to be open about your sexuality and gender identity. In areas made up of a majority of white South Africans, you could expect the same, with perhaps more verbal and psychological abuse. In my experience, white South Africans tend to keep their hate and bias to themselves in public, but would speak their minds where they are with like-minded people. A lot of white South Africans are extremely conservative, but they mostly live away from the cities and keep their focus on politics rather than social science. While the differences in culture vary a lot, it’s important to understand why certain people have certain beliefs. Thanks to Apartheid, education for non-white South Africans was lacking, which still has a huge effect on people’s opinions in regards to social science, sex and gender, and LGBT education. White people are generally more privileged, and can use the internet to educate themselves, where poorer non-white communities haven’t been introduced to proper technology yet. That being said, the previously-mentioned lifestyles and cultural beliefs only belong to a number of people in South Africa, and in no way represent entire cultural groups or belief-systems. Today, many, if not most, South African LGBT support groups and events are led by a majority of individuals of color. Different groups are educating as many people as possible, holding conferences, creating events, and offering support to people who might not have it at home. All cultures will have their “rotten apples”, and I personally believe that LGBT individuals should be equally wary of where and when they are open about their sexuality and identity. Cultural beliefs of all South Africans are in the process of being reformed, and people are becoming more open-minded in regards to others’ lifestyles. While we still have a very far way to go regarding the acceptance of LGBT individuals, we’re at least past the point of absolute inequality.

In previous years, many South Africans didn’t get involved in LGBT-related problems. Unfortunately, at the beginning of 2017, I noticed South Africans’ intolerance and rudeness in regards to LGBT rights spiking online. Suddenly, comment sections were flooded with angry comments from a majority of white South Africans, talking about how the LGBT community exists out of sin and doesn’t deserve to be treated as human beings. While South Africans tend to judge in silence, they speak their minds online, especially if they know they will be backed up by others. With the US election results, many conservative South Africans found reason to be outspoken about their outdated opinions. South Africans were indeed reminded of the LGBT community existing all over the world, but it didn’t stop them from picking the community apart, and finding issues to be judgmental about. While a lot of South Africans don’t exactly understand the LGBT community, they still tend to form negative opinions about the different sexualities, especially towards asexuality. As a result of sexual abuse in my previous relationship, I became sex-repulsed and severely asexual. I’ve been told by various people that I just haven’t experienced good sex yet, or that my views on sex will change when I meet someone better. While I understand that they are simply ignorant on the subject, it still reminded me that I live in a sex-obsessed country. South Africa is one of the rape capitals of the world, with an estimated 30 reported rapes every 60 seconds. Rape culture is also a big problem in the country, with high school boys aiming to have sex before the age of 18, and girls making their skirts as short as possible to feel attractive. All of these problems make being asexual extremely difficult, especially since people tend to believe that asexuality stems from the lack of good sex. It’s unfortunate. While a lot of LGBT individuals come together and celebrate their sexuality and identities, I feel like asexuality is probably one of the least represented sexualities in the country.

South Africa still has a very long way to go in regards to people’s different lifestyles. Despite studies showing that the country is becoming more homophobic, I believe that the country is also getting more diverse with more and more LGBT individuals speaking out about their sexualities and identities. Universities are making LGBT-education mandatory, and schools are starting to see more students transitioning and employing LGBT educators. With time, education and support, I believe this country will change for the better.

 

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African transgender support groups:
 Gender Dynamix
OUT LGBT Well-Being
PFLAG South Africa
Resources for Trans People and Their Partners SA
Transgender and Intersex Africa


Sources:
Theotherfoundation.org: A study of attitudes towards homosexuality and gender non-conformity in South Africa.

The fear of discrimination is a daily reality for most LGBT South Africans, a groundbreaking new report has revealed

Shocking new stats show that South Africans are becoming MORE homophobic.

 

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Le’O Wallace

Le’O Wallace,  is a 27 year old trans male originally from Chicago Illinois. He currently lives in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, with his younger sister and fur baby, (his cat). He serves in the military as a reservist and also works for Panasonic on the civilian side. He is very passionate about his career in the military, civilian job, family, his lady (sorry ladies), and about helping others when he can. Le’O started his transition in November 2015, when he decided what exactly he wanted for himself and who he truly was as a person.

“I remember when I was younger always hanging out with the guys, not so much girls and it never phased me one bit. For the longest time I thought for sure I was one of the guys. Even when my mom dressed me up in girl clothes. I didn’t care because I was one of the guys, did what they did,  and didn’t feel weird about it. It wasn’t until I got older, and my body started puberty as a female, did I realize, that I’m really not like the other guys. Though that bothered me some, I just continued to live my life as a masculine individual. I played all kinds of sports while I was in school. I had the most fun playing wrestling, football,  and was even the only female on my high school football team for 3 years and wrestling team for 2 years. Of course, I had to continually prove myself because, some of the guys didn’t think I should be there. Yet, I surely gain their respect after making it through 2 weeks of hell week, when I played football. When high school was over I continued to struggle with trying to find a place where I fit, and for people to see me as another man. Even though that’s what I wanted, when people would use male pronouns, because I was assigned female at birth, I’d correct them as if it wasn’t right. I didn’t know at the time, what I was feeling then was actually called gender dysphoria. I just thought I needed to keep suppressing those feelings of wanting to be this guy that I wasn’t assigned at birth,” says Le’O Wallace.

It was a few years ago while on Active Duty that Le’O says he started watching YouTube videos on other people like himself. Listening to what they were going through. It was through those videos that he says he  learned what transgender meant. At that time being active duty and coming out as trans was not an option, so he left his position and kept it to himself. Later he would join the reserves, feeling it would be easier to transition while continuing to serve, and continued his education. That November in 2015 was when he decided to go see a therapist and figure himself out. After attending therapy session, support group for other trans guys, he decided to live his truth. On 6 April 2016 Le’O says he had his first shot of testosterone and began living his authentic truth, while serving his country ever since.

Last week #notourpresident tweeted a ban on transgender service, though currently unofficial, it has halted the hopes of many transgender military service members. Our country is plagued by division at an all time high. Records numbers of African American men have been victim to police violence and the murders of transgender women of color continues to be an epidemic, largely ignored by our own black community. Division plagues even the trans community. The voices of trans men of color often goes overlooked or out right ignored. Trans men of color are among the most courageous, silent heroes of  our community, as well as trans military personnel that are the most ignored and under appreciated people serving this country with their lives. For these reasons and many more is why Le’O Wallace is TMP’s Role Model of the Month.

 

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Dezjorn Gauthier

From male model, advocate, a member of the American Bar Association, CEO and founder of the upcoming Trans culture magazine ‘Black T’, Dezjorn Gauthier is proving that Trans men are more than a handsome face, and chiseled body. Along with those qualities, one can be an outstanding advocate, businessman, and supporter of his community.

With his mid-western work ethics, he has directed that energy towards the advancement and visibility of trans men of color. An advocate on behalf of all Trans people, he has worked diligently to help improve the lives of  Trans men. He has continuously taken on the daunting task, of improving the much needed awareness, and visibility of Trans men of color.

Our warriors of African, Latin, and Asian descent, are far too often placed on the back burner of visibility, even in our own community. It is due to this struggle that he has recently responded to the call of Trans people of color around the world, in creating ‘Black T Magazine’. A magazine that is sure to greatly further the much needed representation of  Trans people of color. This fight to level the playing field of representation within our community, and to foster unity among us, is why Dezjorn Gauthier is TMP’s Role Model for the month of February.

The 25 year old is a Milwaukee, WI native, and started his transition in April 2014 just shortly after he had appeared in the well known Barneys New York ad campaign. It also featured well known Trans personalities like Laith Ashley, Katie Hill, and Arin Andrews. The ad campaign was in some ways his coming out, as his first work as a Trans man. He first started modeling at the ripe old age of six months old, for top children’s brands around the nation, and has won several national titles. He was also, part of the first modeling agency for Transgender people.
 

While serving as Student Ambassador, he was also being featured internationally in many articles and modeling shoots. In 2016,  Dezjorn was featured in the series ‘America in Transition’, by Andre Perez. As a model he also earned his degree in Criminology, Law Studies, and Sociology from Marquette University in 2013. He earned his paralegal diploma, and member of the American Bar Association, while attending Washington University School of Law. At his home in Milwaukee, he teaches a high school level law course, allowing students to learn more about the justice system, United States Constitution, and understand policies.

Even while furthering his education, modeling, advocating for Trans men; he has also started his own business, to effectively bring awareness to the transgender community, with special focus on Trans males and Trans men of color; through education, empowerment and inspiration. His business hosts an annual surgery fund, laptop scholarship, FtM essentials donation programs and mentoring. Gauthier, is also the founder of ‘The Dorothy J. Carr Fund’, and has worked as the V.P.  of  ‘Point Of Pride‘. His latest creation, ‘Black T Magazine’, is destined to change the landscape among representation  for Trans people of color; show the diversity in our community, unite and inspire young Trans men of color around the world that their lives matter, and are valid.

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Neo L. Sandja

Neo Sandja is an author, speaker, business consultant and certified life coach. He’s the founder of the first international bodybuilding competition for people of Trans experience, and featured on major media outlets like, Al Jazeera America and CNN. His business, FTM Fitness World, along with its affiliated annual conference #transfitCon, focuses on empowering the Trans community in all 5 core areas of their lives: Spirituality, Personal Growth, Fitness/Wellness Health, Finances, and Family/Relationships through the motto ‘Fitness for the Mind, Body, and Spirit.’
 
His book, ‘Right Mind, Wrong Body’, was written for people who are looking for more happiness, peace, and fulfillment in their journey. Based on the lessons he himself learned through his transition.
 
 

 

 

 

He is also the chair of the FTM foundation, which he created to help Trans-identified people with their transitional needs. Partial proceeds of the book ‘Right Mind Wrong Body’, is going directly into the surgery fun.
 
Neo considers himself, a spiritual warrior and a transformational trainer. He defines being a spiritual warrior, as someone who knows themselves and conquers their deepest fears, and limitations. Transformational trainer’s, are trainers who change people’s lives from the inside out, by giving them the tools to create permanent change for success.
As a speaker he is very passionate about business, financial and emotional intelligence, as well asspirituality and communication.

He migrated to the U.S., from the Republic of Congo in 2004, and began his transition in 2011. His life’s mission he states, “Transform people’s lives through his writing, speaking engagements, personal life coaching, and mentoring, but most importantly through his personal day to day interactions.”

 Neo Sandja is an example of the masculine leadership that is leading our community into the future. He, along with countless men, have become more visible over the past few years,  in a weary movement that needed rejuvenation. Yet, he is among those talented Trans men of color whose work often is over shadowed, and goes unnoticed by the majority within our community. Let’s stand united, with our brothers, regardless of race, religion or nationality. We share at least one thing, and it is the greatest thing that bonds us all; the desire to live an authentic life against all odds. TMP salutes our brother Neo Sandja for the work he has done and continue to do, that enhances the lives of all Trans people.

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Alejandro Santiago Lord; Building A Legacy of Service…One Act At A Time

By Sabrina Samone

I was recently asked in an interview for TMP’s, Spring4Unity partner Point5cc.com, “What Does My Identity Means To Me?” Loving yourself is only the beginning, I feel as a transgender person. Accepting yourself is the goal, and ultimately the key to fully grasping your identity. One man who does it with suave de vie is, Alejandro Santiago Lord. A confident identity that is not only helpful, but necessary for a man in a man’s world. Before my sisters get angry, true, a confident identity is helpful and necessary for we women as well, but for a man it is almost required or demanded. Especially, if that man is a man of color.

He is an advocate for the visibility of trans-men of color, and therefore all trans-men. Not until all groups are equally represented will we be able to show the world, the true mosaic beauty of transgender society. A liaison for the Georgia chapter of Black Trans-Men Inc.,he is adding to that visibility locally, and injecting positive images of trans-men of color into everyday society. The vision of Black Trans-Men Inc¹., is to build an organization that secures a quality reputation that is socially responsible and economically beneficial within the transgender community and our greater society. To remain the indispensable source that brings together people who both need and provide reliable resources that support a healthy identity and to educate and inspire a social movement that secures human rights, nurtures the human experience and uplifts the soul.

Through his work with My Brother’s Keeper,² he is also an advocate for health care for our minority group. By promoting a healthier transition, monitored by licensed physician, he is also a leading voice in quality health care for transgender society.

Between his work with the homeless, youth, and advocating for trans-men everywhere, I thought it best to grab him for quick TMP ten question interview. This is one Trans Face you’d want to bookmark.

TMP: What do you think we can do as a community to better represent trans-men of color?

Alejandro Santiago Lord:  I really believe it is up to us to represent ourselves. In representing yourself positively the community is drawn to you.

2. TMP: What has it meant to you to live your authentic identity and express that amongst loved ones?

A.S.L.: It means everything to me. Imagine living your life inside of a cocoon, that’s what it felt like. I felt trapped in someone else’s body,  and someone else’s way of thinking. Once I made the choice to live my true identity my life has made a turn for the better. It was very important to me that I express to my loved ones how I felt. I really wanted them to accept me, but had decided that I would live my truth regardless. It took a while but they finally get it.

3. TMP: What specifically, is your role with the Georgia chapter of Black Trans-men Inc.?

A.S.L.: I am the community liaison for the GA chapter. My role is designed to make trans men visible in the community. We have been invited to participate in several community activities due to our recent visibility. I spoke a few weeks back at the Atlanta Film Festival which  has opened the door to more speaking engagements across the country. My hope is that the Georgia chapter of Black Trans-men will be known all over the world. Like I stated in the first question, I feel like it is our responsibility to let the community know that we are here.

4. TMP: Explain to our readers who aren’t familiar with Black Trans-men Inc., what is the role of the organization, and who can be apart of the organization?

     A.S.L.: Black Trans-men Inc.®, is the 1st National Non-Profit Organization of African-American trans men, solely focused on acknowledgment, social advocacy, and empowering trans men with resources to aid in a healthy female to male transition. Black Trans-men Inc. programs provide, all female to male trans men, and SLGBTQI individuals, with necessary tools to secure identity and equality within our society regardless of race, creed, color, religion, sexual identity, or sexual expression. Although it is geared towards African-American trans men, no one is ever turned away.

5. TMP: Share with the TMP reader why it is important for visibility of trans-men of color?³

A.S.L.: I believe it is very important especially in the trans community. I have met so many trans women who don’t even know we exist. I believe that we blend into society so well that unless we announce we are trans no one will ever know. It is important however that society understands that we are here. I choose personally to be visible so that the new generation have someone they can look to for help. I didn’t have that.

6.  TMP: What is My Brother’s Keeper?

A.S.L.: My Brother’s Keeper is a non-profit organization designed initially to help trans identified individuals with the necessary funds to go the annual conference in Dallas every May, but the need was far greater than what we envisioned. We give away binders for those who are waiting for top surgery, we provide the funds for prescriptions, lab work and doctors appointments. We found that the lack of finances tend to have trans identified individuals seeking hormones through black market. We want to deter that way of thinking.

7.   TMP: What are some of the things you’ve accomplished through My Brother’s Keeper, that you are most proud of?

A.S.L.: We have given out over 300 binders, provided over 75 prescriptions and provided well over 100 with necessary medical services. I will not be happy until we are financially able to provide at least one scholarship a year for top surgery.

8. TMP: What are your views of black market prescriptions in trans society, and why is it important that trans people seek medical care in your opinion?

    A.S.L.:  I absolutely hate that black market prescriptions even exist. I understand the desire to have hormones, but if being on them ends your life then what is the point. Having the necessary lab work to find out the proper dosage is essential. Being monitored by a licensed physician is key to leading a productive life while on hormone therapy. I for one had a lab test come back where my cholesterol was extremely high. If I hadn’t had my routine blood work done and been advised by my physician on what to do I could have had a heart attack or stroke. I do understand that it may be financially difficult for most, but that is what My Brother’s Keeper, Black Trans-men Inc. and other organizations are here for.

9.  TMP: Tell our TMP readers about the ‘I Am Human’ campaign, and how can we be more supportive of it?

A.S.L.: The I Am Human Campaign was founded by my brother Ariq Barrett in Philadelphia, Pa. In his words “the I AM HUMAN campaign which is a worldwide campaign that is not exclusive to any one group or community but is inclusive of everyone. Especially those who have experienced being mistreated or not accepted in society because of race, gender, sexual preference, social class or any type of injustice.” I was so moved by his work with feeding the homeless that I started the I Am Human Atlanta, where we take to the streets of downtown where the homeless population seems to be growing. It is the goal that this campaign is one day worldwide.

10. TMP: I like to ask, if you could tell the world something about Alejandro Santiago Lord, and you knew everyone would listen, what would you like them to know about you?

A.S.L.: I am a simple guy with a big heart. I thank my mother for teaching me at a young age that what you are given in this world is not yours to keep but to put back into the atmosphere. I
truly believe in service. I am on an ultimate high when I see my work manifested in others. The smile on a homeless persons face when you shake their hand. The look of hope in their eyes when you listen to their story. I have found my calling and that is in the service of others. When I leave this world I would hope my legacy would be one of service. I would want them to say that guy cared and he walked into his destiny leaving behind hope for those he left behind.

Now what an advocate we have in Alejandro Santiago Lord. As I often say, “Inspire, to be inspired”, and that is exactly what he has done for this woman. He is an example, that doing something good for our community can never be underestimated or taken for granted. Though, trying at times, moments like this, meeting interesting trans sisters and brothers, if only online at first, can be inspiring to us all, to continue the fight. Every hand is needed and required in this struggle.

 

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  1. Black Trans-men Inc. ® is the 1st National Non-Profit Organization of African-American trans men solely focused on acknowledgment, social advocacy and empowering trans men with resources to aid in a healthy female to male transition. Black Trans-men Inc. programs provide all female to male trans men and SLGBTQI individuals with necessary tools to secure identity and equality within our society regardless of race, creed, color, religion, sexual identity or sexual expression.
  2. I Am My Brother’s Keeper is a group for trans people and allies. The group focuses  on raising funds and providing scholarships to help t-men and t-masculine people in particular, including scripts, binders, packers,help providing funding to attend the annual BTMI conferences in the spring.
  3. Trans men of color receive less than a percent of the limited visibility there already is for transgender people in the media. Many trans men of color are  amongst some of the leading voices, and influences in trans advocacy.
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