Lovely to meet you
I honestly didn’t know how I’d show you I’m not a typical Afrikaans lecturer. I don’t really fit any of the traditional (or stereotypical) moulds. I don’t eat boerewors, I don’t belong to a church, I don’t listen to Kurt Darren or Die Antwoord… and on top of it all, I’m transgender.
“Like Caitlyn Jenner?”
That’s a question I get a lot from both colleagues and strangers, if they know who Caitlyn Jenner is. Unfortunately she’s become the prototype for “transgender” in the English speaking world, which includes South Africa. You only have to have a look on the internet to see she’s very unpopular with the trans community. Laverne Cox is a much better role model, but let’s leave it at that.
Unfortunately the “T” in LGBT+ is a minority within a minority. Even some of my seniors (both hetero and homo) had no idea what “transgender” meant. I had to explain to a couple of them because they (maybe) only had experience with gay men and lesbians. I don’t even want to think about explaining the concepts of “non-binary” or “agender” to some.
I’m rather blessed that my colleagues really don’t care what goes on in my personal life. Every now and then there might be someone who asks an exceedingly personal question but I feel no obligation to answer such questions. Usually these questions are about something below the belt.
I’m also quite blessed, paperwork aside, that everyone sees me as me and not as “he”. But the freedom I have comes with a lot of fear too. I fear that I’ll sound like a man on the phone, which I shouldn’t really fear. I fear that someone will call me “sir” because I’m “not feminine enough” or “not woman enough”. Naturally one of the big fears is the bathroom. Some more conservative colleagues might not understand why I use the ladies’ room. That leads to me either using the bathroom two floors down or holding it in until I get home. These are also the same colleagues who insist it’s “he” and not “she”.
I honestly don’t know how big of an impact, if any, I had on my institution or my colleagues because I wasn’t blessed with any social skills. It’s probably why I worry about things that ought not be worried about.
When you’re trans, you meet two types of people: those who want to get to know you and those who see you as a living, breathing science experiment. The people that care about you might ask you personal questions, but it’s because they want to make sure you’re still in a good place. The others that treat you like an experiment don’t really care about you and usually have a morbid fascination with what’s between your legs.
For instance: a colleague asked me how my partner and I “do it”. Obviously it’s a euphemism and in the nicest way I said it’s none of her business. In contrast, some other colleagues have always treated me with due care and decency, for which I will be eternally grateful. They don’t ask about such things and if we do talk about “doing it” (another use of euphemism), it’s usually quite PG.
All fine and good and well but gender and orientation is something that’s easily glanced over in the new South Africa, especially where some are still more equal than others (with apologies to Mr Orwell). There’s much discrimination, both internally and externally, directed toward the LGBT+ community. It’s all fine and well for my family, friends and colleagues to see me as me but to the establishment, I’m still a man. A white, Afrikaans man.
It’s wonderful if you want to understand a transgender person. It’s wonderful if you watched films like “The Danish Girl” or “A Girl Like Me” or read Anastacia Tomson’s book. It’s more than most people do. It doesn’t mean you have an all access pass to that person’s personal life nor does it give you permission to ask personal questions.
Believe it or not, many LGBT+ people, myself included, get tired of telling our stories all the time. We get tired of defending our existence. I think the Afrikaans lecturer has a similar experience: “Yes, I lecture Afrikaans. No, I don’t listen to Kurt Darren or Die Antwoord. I’m not a racist. I don’t know your auntie in Kakemas.” And for the love of all things sacred, please don’t ever say I’m brave. I’m not.
So if you ever meet me, ask me which books I’ve recently read or ask me about my rock collection. I reckon that’s something you didn’t expect. My rock collection is just one of the things that make me more than my label or stereotype.
Society says “Afrikaans lecturer” or “transgender woman”. I say “My name is Hermione. Lovely to meet you.”
This stilet.digital exclusive is also available to read in Afrikaans, here.