As part of our goal to foster a deeper understanding of the transgender experience in South Africa, we asked the faces of the Unmute Me campaign to share their personal stories that reflect the strength, diversity and challenges of the community.


“This is the story of the life of trans woman, sharing my experience of growing up in the dusty streets of Ermelo. I was a bubbly boy very curious about what women do, everyone found it very strange even myself, I couldn’t understand the interest in being a woman. This caused frustration and a lot of anger but with the support I was receiving from my family things seemed better. But the moment I stepped out my house it felt like hell – name-calling, staring, insults and harassment were my daily bread.

Even though there was so much hate, by the age of 12 my mother noticed I don’t feel comfortable in men’s wear and she started involving me in choosing my own clothes. This was the best decision she ever made I became more comfortable even though I knew there was hate outside. Boys would try to undress me to see if I have a penis or vagina I would come back home crying everyday, hoping it will get better when I grow up but still there is so much hatred out there for trans community.

A few years ago I was admitted to a hospital for weeks. This was most painful experience have ever encountered. I had to fight for myself while I was very ill to get bed in the women’s ward. A nurse said to me “it’s either you take it or go home and die there. You’re a man, you’re going to sleep with other men I don’t care.” Until the management came to rescue me, that’s where I noticed things will never change. There was a point where I was at the correctional facility where a female warder told me to undress if I want to gain access to the premises I asked do they do this to everyone or it just me she replied “undress or just home”. I couldn’t and I just left the premises with sad teary eyes.

I can share a lot of incidents from airport to shop staff but now I’m a proud trans woman. All these scares and pain have made me be who I am, but I don’t wish others in the trans community to go through all this. That’s why I’m advocating for a better life for all trans community.”


“My name is Karabo Rantoetse waha Motsetse. I prefer to be called Karabo only, and this is my story as a transgender woman from the day I discovered this until the present time of my life. I have known that I differ from all the other boys I grew up with but because I was still young it didn’t bother me that much. When I was in grade 4, in the year 2006, I was only 10 years old and talked to my mother about being different because I was in my puberty stage. I felt much more like a girl and I told my mother and the response I got from my mom was “I knew that. All I wanted was for you to tell me and be honest”.

So already now the family knew what was happening so my dad decided that he won’t have a son turned into a daughter therefore I was disowned by my dad, to a lot of people I seemed as if it didn’t touch me but it did because every girl needs a father figure to guide her now and then. When the community and my dad’s side where busy making fun of me, getting comfortable in my own skin as a young girl I had a battle again to work on at school. Some of the teachers did not really get that so I had to fight to be accepted because at primary school I was still trying to find ways to deal with such resentment from the community and my dad’s side, I didn’t have the courage to keep on fighting the school, I only found the strength when I was on grade 8. I completely changed to my original self – the woman that is still known now by all.

Teachers had a problem because they also did not understate what I meant when I said am a Girl because the term ‘transgender” was not well know to our fellow South Africans so I had to find ways to explain but still it was weird because I started plating my hair, used the female toilets had to share the girls sleeping rooms on school trips so it was a struggle but because there were teachers who understand and were willing to dig deep to understand me and my situation I managed to go to school until grade 12 in 2014.

Let me take you back a bit to grade 9. I was raped by two guys on my way home. It happened not far from home. While they were busy raping me they said “you wanted to be a woman, let’s make you feel what other women felt.” After that I could not tell anyone about what happened – even my biggest supporter and pillar of strength my MOM. I bottled all the anger towards boys and stared to become violent to all guys at school. I guess I mixed it with my dad’s resentment about me being a woman, which I knew all my life, that I was like this. I fought almost every day at school until one teacher noticed that something was wrong and confronted me but because I couldn’t talk with anyone she suggested I talk to a psychologist that used to visit our school on Thursdays. I agreed to see her and talk to her, and then things became a lot better because there was someone who helped me to speak about the things that bothered me but that I couldn’t say.

But still I longed for my father. Because I did not have a relationship with my dad I allowed myself to date an older man who was 31 years old when I was only 16 years old and in grade 10. The older guy that I was seeing at the time closed the void I had in me and he showed me a lot of love and I fell deeply in love with him. After a year of dating, he decided to propose to me and like a confused teenager in love, I agreed and accepted his proposal. Little did I know I had a surprise waiting for me. He had kept his HIV status a secret and I later discovered he was HIV POSITIVE and was not taking his medication/treatment so now I had decisions to make. Should I leave him or stay with him? But the fact remains the same – I now had the information that changed me and I decided to stay with him because I knew that I was not using protection with him so it was just a matter of time before I found out my status so we kept on dating and I forgave him for lying. The sad part is that he passed away before we got married.

In March 2015 I was diagnosed as HIV positive and to be honest I was shocked, not hurt, because I knew it was just a matter of time before I found out. So I graciously accepted my status and had to go and break my mom’s heart with such news because our people only believed once you are HIV positive you are dying already. Because I knew more much than my family, I sensitised them on HIV and being a transgender lady. Because I was working at the Clinic as a Community Care Giver I took it upon myself to go back to school and educate the learners and inform the teachers on LGBTQI issues and the difference in the community is that they are now well informed. I thought that it will always be the case that not everybody will understand and tolerate what they feel is wrong in their own opinion and society norms.

And now I am doing better and better. I am working at an LGBTI and MSM Organisation where I get to educate the community on daily basis. I couldn’t have asked for more I am respected as the woman that I am so working for Free State Rainbow Seeds is a blessing because I get to go back to my community to educate them and share information that I have on the LGBTQI. After my fiancé passed away in 2015 I tried dating but it did not work out until I met someone new in 2017. He is from a modern community but still with a very strong cultural background so him dating me was struggle especially with his family because when he informed them about me they saw what they wanted to see – that I am a man, but that did not break my spirit and he loved me from day one. So in January 2019 we decided to tie the knot, so on the fifth of April 2019 I became his wife.

I am having to struggle in this community till now but I take each day as a blessing because for a 23 year old transgender woman I have been around and lived.”


“My name is Lefa but I am known as Lisa. I was born in 1990 November 12, and my parents were happy when they received me, happy that they had a boy child only to find out years later that the born child that was born was actually a girl child. I would like to start off by saying that every transgender person has their own story. How and when my transgender journey started was at the age of 10.

At home in the winter time my parents would slaughter a pig and in December they would slaughter a sheep. Whenever this happened I would ask if that animal is a he or a she. They would say ‘it’s a she’ and I would ask them remove the animal’s private parts and put them on me as I would want to be a girl not a boy. My journey continued as I went into primary school. I was never faced with manychallenges except being called names by my peers. Names like Sissyboy, Ausi ntate, Tsala,Tharasi – and it didn’t bother me much as i did not care. When I went to High school that is when everything started to heat up. Everything turned sour at home, community, school and church, where I was discriminated against by my parents and siblings and was told that I should live my life as a boy because I was born a boy.

In the community everyone would swear at me and call me names as well. I remember at school one day, my Accounting teacher told me I was born a boy and will die a boy in front of other school kids. I was more shattered, and more so experiencing that same thing everywhere I went. I decided to go to church to maybe seek peace and things at church were worse because I was told that the life I am living is a sin. I attempted suicide three times but luckily I got help immediately after I drank pills trying to numb my pain by death.

As time went by it was suggested that I go to see a psychologist but my elder sister denied this and instead asked my parents if they are going to accept me by paying a psychologist or do they want to accept me as their daughter for free. That’s when my father started accepting me for and what I am. He was the first person to do this and I was happy to stand up for myself and nothing has stopped me until this day. I do get insults even today but nothing ever pulls me down as I love and accepted myself. I am enjoying my transgender journey and am now on hormonal therapy.”


“I never thought that one day I would be able to say I’m a TRANSMAN as I come from a very dangerous neighbourhood and was raised by a strict mother and a very understanding Grandmother. My mother passed away in 2006. I was young but could still feel that I don’t belong in this body. I remember one day I wanted to cut my hair – damn! I got a kak slap from her and went to school with a broken heart. Days passed and I decided to wear my brother’s trousers. She took a pair of scissors to those trousers and burnt them but still that didn’t stop the feeling that I’m not a girl. I decided to obey my mother’s rules and I tried so hard to be a girl until she passed on.

Grandma was so understanding and caring I decided to come out as a lesbian. She accepted me but still I was so trapped in that damn body. I couldn’t say a word about it because of her health – she was the only crucial person we had left with I couldn’t risk it at all. No one has ever judged me at home besides my older sister! I didn’t even bother myself to explain anything to her.

I grew up as a lesbian and I fell in and out of love as I was still young but the day I seriously fell for someone I was 18 and she was 17. I fell deeply for her, she meant a lot and we dated for months. I don’t know what went wrong my heart got broken but eventually I got over her and we are friends now. I remember coming out to her like “can we talk?” We were texting and I said to her I’m a Transgender. She was not shocked at all and I was so surprised to find out that he is transgender too. I didn’t ask too many questions as I know I hate being questioned so I just said “okay” and that was it – he is still my friend…

I remember coming out back in 2015. The first person I told was my Wife and followed by my best friend. My wife was so shocked like “dude retlo etsa jwang?” As you know my situation and for heaven sake I’m a lesbian; “motho wena o ntate because kemo o Transgender.” She ignored me for a month, and one day I just decided to pack my stuff and go. I wanted to go far so that I could commit suicide in peace because I felt the person that I love wholeheartedly can’t accept me, can’t even look me in the eyes or hold my hands. I packed when I was about to go she grabbed my bag and said can we talk? We talked and she asked “why o ntso thotse all along?” I told her it was not easy to come out as I was raised by my Grandma who accepted me as a lesbian so imagine if I did come out as trans to her – if you couldn’t take it, what about her? See? We sat down to chat about this and I did my best to explain everything to her and here we are today. She is so supportive and is always there for me.

An after coming out to my best friend everything turned into dust she said “you sure”? “o kgahliwe keng”? Yoh! “Letlo beta atseba.” I was hurt as I didn’t expect that from her. It was not only her but many turned their backs on me. I’m only left with my wife, siblings, and my one friend who accepted me without questioning anything. In the community those people will make you feel so small. They used to and still do insult me calling me names and saying things like “you are a girl and have a vagina, nothing will change that and you are still going to get fuck*d by a real man that will turn you into a real woman.” It hurts sometimes but arg! I’m used to all that as I have heard the worst and I don’t see point of insulting them.. Others have the nerve to approach me but let that be a story for another day. Even some people in the LGBTQI community discriminate towards trans too and it’s not easy to be discriminated by your fellow community.

It is not even easy to go out there to look for a job. I once decided to go job hunting. I have a flat chest and a deep voice and the guy just said “I don’t hire confused people” as he thought I’m a lesbian/gay. I just turned my back and walked away. People were staring at me asking “is it a she or he?” They were disgusted! So now I’m really scared to look for a job. I’m afraid that if someone does the same, I’ll lose it and attack them because of the built up anger that I have. So since is not easy out there to live our lives freely without being discriminated against, I am afraid that trans men and women might end up selling their bodies just to put a bread on the table or selling drugs.

I managed to get hold of Depo-testosterone this year after years of trying to finalise the proper Referral Letter. It took me years to get me where I am today. I didn’t know where to start or who to talk to to until I met Moeketsi Mokhothu from ANOVA. He helped me get the referral letter and my friend, Mpho, who is more like a sister to me helped from day one of my appointments till today – what an angel. When I was getting my shot at my nearest clinic, there was a lady there who kept calling me “Ousi”. Last week I finally confronted her. She was not happy at all and said; “o ngwanana mos.” I lost it right there and left and got my shot somewhere else.

It’s going to be a long journey and I’m going to bump into the worst, I guess but I’m ready. I just want to be free to be me – the real me. I just want to be free without explaining myself to anyone without being discriminated against. My journey will end the day my coffin goes down slowly but for now I shall continue to be me no matter who or what happens.
Trans people do exist. They are normal and mental stable. We didn’t choose to be the way we are and I doubt anyone would chose such a rough path. Life is a journey for all of us but others choose to make others’ journeys to be more difficult. With the right people behind you, you shall not lose hope.”

Omega Doll:

“My name is Omega and I am from Nelspruit, Mpumalanga. I was born 1990. Growing up as assigned male at birth was quite challenging as I’ve always identifyied as gay, but I’ve also always seen myself as a woman. The environment I grew up with was not conducive due to the stigma and discrimination that was attached to LGBTQIA+ community. I only conformed to my gender identity when I started working for the Anova Health Institute as the terminologies and their definition were quite limited and did not know about myself being a transgender woman except for being gay. It was not easy for me growing up being different from other people – especially the boys I grew up and went to school with.

As a transgender-woman I could only find comfort, love and support from my late Mother as I was raised by a single parent. It was frustrating to walk on the streets or go to the shops as there was name calling and labelling that I had to carry with me. Names like Istabane, Moffie, confused boy and other degrading words. To extent that I was also being associated with being an Inter-Sex because people thought that I had two genitalia. To avoid hurts and insults at some point I isolated myself and the only thing I could befriend was my shadow and imaginary friends. Imagine being chased from public places just because you have a different identity and self-expression? It was a bitter pill to swallow.

When I started working for Anova everything started to make sense. I took time to self-introspect because at the end I knew how I felt and who I was – a transgender-woman. Through LGBTQI+ safe spaces and training I’ve decided that I’m going to rise above all and claim my existence. Knowing that I’m protected by South African constitution I became free and I know that each of us is unique and special. Thanks to the Anova Health institute (Health4Men, Health4Trans project) for clearing the mist that I’ve always wondered in.”


“This is the story of the life of trans woman, sharing my experience of growing up in the dusty streets of Barberton. From a very young age I was curious about women. Everyone found it strange – including me. I could not understand where my interest in being a woman came from. This caused me frustration and a lot of anger but with the support I was receiving from my friends things seemed better – although insults and harassment every time I stepped out of my home were my daily reality.

At the age 12 I started wearing female clothing to feel more comfortable and this was the best decision I ever made. Although I then felt comfortable on the inside, there was still hate to deal with on the outside. Boys would try to undress me to see what genitalia I have, and I came home crying every day. I hoped things would get better when I grew up the reality is that there is still a lot of hatred towards the trans community. A few years ago I was assaulted in a club for being trans woman this was most painful experience have ever encountered. I had to fight for myself while I was scared to get beaten by these thugs. A police officer said to me: “Either you are a man or a woman and stop acting like a woman, you’re a man. You are not go to sleep with other men I don’t care.” I reported that the police verbally abused me instead of rescuing me and that’s where I notice things will never change. There was a point where I felt Iike a victim – especially when I was looked at by boys. I can share a lot of incidents from school to hospital, but now I’m a proud trans woman. All of these experiences have made me who I am.”


“As black rural poor trans woman ‘we’ face health and protection services (SAPS) general violence and transhphobia. In September 2019 me and my eldest sister, took her child who was vomiting to local clinic in the township of Schweizer-Reneke, where we waited for over 5 hours at the clinic to be serviced. The nurses in charge were blatantly ignoring us. Only after taking extraordinary measures to complain to the district manager were we seen by a male nurse who was angry to have received a call from the sub-district manager. I heard him raise his voice to my sister and approached them to see what was going on. He told me keep quiet and when I refused, he said ‘Wena Stabane ke tlo kreiya ko kasi’! Hearing a public servant utter such discriminatory insults towards me was traumatizing. It left me shook and my sister decided we should the clinic before things got out of the way.

Two months later, in November 2019, at 10am one morning I walked to my friend’s place five minutes away from my house. On my way home, I had just crossed the road when a Red polo vivo U-turned and drove back to my direction. The car stopped near me and the person who got out was the nurse with whom I had argued at the clinic. “Buwa masepa ao ne wa buwa ko Cliniking” (say the shit that you were saying to me at the clinic the last time), he said. I froze when he approached me and immediately slapped me, punched me and tried to throw me to the ground. When I refused he kept slapping me and then kicked me on my thigh. Somehow I found the strength to throw him to the ground and then someone came by who put a stop to the entire thing.

I was disorientated by the idea that this man who is a public servant was publically and physically assaulting me while wearing his work uniform. The man who had intervened held my hands and told this nurse to leave me alone. The nurse refused and then head butted me. After that I developed a severe headache and swelling on the area. After that he left the scene. The witness helped me pick up all of my belongings that had fallen on the ground.

I went straight to the Police Station and when I arrived, the first thing I said was that I am traumatised and I need to open a case of common assault as this man had just publically and physically assaulted me. The officer in charge gave me the statement form to fill in, which I did and indicated what exactly transpired at the crime scene. The officer provided me with a J88 form which required me to go to the district hospital to be examined. I paid R100 to see the doctor and receive assistance. The doctor was on standby and took 2 hours to arrive. As soon as he got there, the nurse who had assaulted me drove in and went into the doctor’s room to privately spoke to him before leaving the hospital again.

When I entered the consulting room, the doctor immediately frowned and gave me a look of disgust. He didn’t greet me and instead took my file and asked where my bruises were. I showed him my face, arm and thigh. He was supposed to examine my body but he was not interested as he only focused on the injuries on my face and further on ignored my plea that my arm and thigh was internally bruised. When I attempted to engage the doctor he further dismissed me. My sister who had accompanied me then intervened to ask him about the J88 form that needed to be given back to police the officer to file the case. He refused to assist me and publicly said he won’t sign the form! He said he felt disrespected because we were calling him out for misgendering. He kept saying “I told this guy, I told this man that I can’t assist him,” and referring to me as a man when on the file I had indicated my preferred pronoun and gender on the file.

He wouldn’t give us his name and refused to sign my J88 form. My family witnessed him refusing to sign the J88 form by publically saying so in front of us while requesting security to come and escort us out and instructing the nurse on duty to call the police while he kept on misgendering me. I left the hospital without my J88 signed and frustrated as I had no idea what would happen next.

After that we were constantly harassed and stalked by the male nurse who had attacked me. We decided to report him and went to the Police Station to ask about how to go about opening a harassment file. The investigating officer called me to his office stating that he wants to see me alone. I then proceeded to his office where he informed me that I must make a second statement, stating that after filling in the form that he was going to detain me alone after he proceeds and finishes the paper work. I told him I felt ambushed and that is could not be legal to detain me alone when the suspect/aggressor is out there roaming the streets. I got a sense of feeling that something did not add up. He informed me that he wanted to detain me and insinuated that he could call my attacker and we can both drop the case. I sensed that this officer was attempting to influence me into signing something that he knew was illegal. He was portraying a sense of favouritism and the main reason was to humiliate me because of my gender identity.

That the whole process was a conflict of rights starting from the nurse, the doctor and the investigating officer. The above mentioned people think that their rights are more important and above the law although we live a free and equal democratic society. What we must question is what are human rights, who benefits and what happens when one’s rights are being trampled on because of one class, race, background, gender identity and visibility, what are human rights, human dignity & freedom and security of the person in a rural township? For how long will our government’s service points continue to be anti LGB, anti-transgender and filled with cissexism, trans misogyny, and toxic masculinity towards key populations and marginalized groups? How many of my Sisters have to be raped, physically assaulted and murdered before our lives matters? Because truth of the matter is that I could have been murdered that day.”

Kem Blank:

“I’m Katleho Edgar Motsoane well known as Kem Blank. I’m a transgender woman based in Bloemfontein but originally from Welkom. I’m 28 years old and I work as a peer outreach worker at Free State Rainbow Seeds. Well here is my story as a transgender woman.

I have always known that I’m not a boy even if I was assigned at birth as male. To cut my long life story short, I’ll just summarize it. I’ve always known that I’m not a boy but a girl who never ever dated a female but was more attracted to males. I always felt that a part of me was missing yet confused with what I am. I’ve been bullied and physically abused in 2005 by a gang of boys whom I went to school with. I was almost got raped in 2007 in Virginia. In 2010 I was disowned by my family for eight months and then tried to kill myself. In 2011 I tried to pick up my life with a motto that says my life is not yet finished. In 2012 I dropped out of high school and then accepted my calling as a traditional healer. I started a new life that I understand and I love pursuing a career in modelling and peer education. I’m now engaged to the most loving and understanding man I have ever known. Next year I’ll be legally taking hormonal treatment instead of self-treating.”


“I’m a 25 year old transman who does not live a happy life. Let me try to go back and share my journey starting from when I was very young. I was told by my parents that I used to love boys toys – even that once in the shops I went to the boys section and asked her to buy me clothes from that side. Fast forward to 2004, I was secretly dated a coloured femme. We were still young but our relationship became serious. In 2006, I was still in the closet. Back then I did not know how to come out and how to tell my mother that even though I was born female, I felt like a male. In 2007 my relationship ended and now I was separated from the only person who knew and understood me. I decided to take a break from relationships because I was miserable. My self-esteem was very low and I couldn’t ask any girl out – I just admired them from far.

Moving to 2010, I met a butch through a friend we ended up dating. Our relationship didn’t last because ‘ka sesotho hothwe ‘poho tse pedi di ka se dule sakeng le le leng’. I am not proud sometimes of how things went because this person ended up being part of the plan for me and helped me find out from my mother how she would feel if I happened to live my life freely and honestly. After talking with my mom about that relationship I was very encouraged though it was never easy – she used to even pray about it at church and everywhere she got the chance. I felt so uncomfortable. After a while I found out she even spoke to a psychologist about me and then I saw she was slowly getting used to what I am in her mind – just a lesbian. I had been trying to reach out to her and told her the “T” is not silenced in the LGBTQI. I started buying very cheap male clothes with the little money I had been saving and that made things easier for my parents to start buying me men’s clothes which I felt comfortable in. I remember one day telling her that this is not about clothes. I told her that though she gave birth to a female I feel like a man and one day when things go in my favour I would like to transition. She became furious and told me that was too extreme. I told her that this is who I really am.

The reason I say I’m not living a really happy life is because I’m not fully transitioned due to financial constraints. I did a little research of my own and found out that FSRS might help me with regards to the transitioning but still today I have not got any help. You all don’t know how happy I get when children in my neighbourhood call me abuti Tumey…When previous colleagues used to call me Ntate Siwela – the joy in my heart! I have always seen myself as Itumeleng Keitumetse Siwela, but will consider changing my names once I have started the procedure. The reason i decided to write this is that I’m hoping one day I will get all the help that I need in order for me to live a happy life.”