Thomars Shamuyarira’s Journey
CHALLENGING, is the word that sums up what being a Transgender Immigrant is. Like I call myself and others like me “Multiple Minorities” not to claim victimhood but just to try and give more clarity to the severity of the challenges. Black, Transgender, Immigrant. Nothing is as hard as living in a foreign land and fighting for them to recognise your rights, respect you and accept you when your own country doesn’t when it even dehumanised and gave you the boot. When it doesn’t even allow you to fight for your basic human rights. Given a choice, I’d be home contributing to the growth of the economy and fighting to change these policies that cause so much harm to innocent citizens, like they say, “there is no place like home”.
Even though South Africa has become home to so many LGBTQI+ immigrants, things happen every day that remind us that we really don’t belong here or anywhere else in this world for that matter. The sense of belonging is known to make life easy and worth living and the lack of it makes life unbearable and one loses the will to live or keep going, but we are still here, still trying and still holding on to the little hope we have left.
I am one of those people that have identified as almost all the letters of the LGBTQI+ Alphabet, unwillingly. With every little piece of information, I came across regarding sexuality, I assumed that’s what I was. The time I identified as bi-sexual, my sister actually told me that’s what I was after I told her I was attracted to women, I knew I wasn’t bisexual but I wanted to belong to something, hello. I then changed that to lesbian. A friend of mine likes to say how much she enjoyed watching me evolve from femme lesbian to futch (chuckles) to butch, to hard-core butch. Looking back, all these labels and identities I assumed were imposed on me by people close to me that had a little bit more information than I did, but I still felt incomplete, the feeling was like someone dangling something I needed badly in front of me and each time I try to reach for it, they’d pull back and go further and further away. This ignorance cost me a lot, to this day I have regrets, regrets of time lost, regrets of ever identifying as a straight woman to fit in. I know I can’t change the past, I also know things happened exactly as they were intended but it doesn’t make it any easy.
I finally discovered that they were people that identified as transgender, people that were assigned a particular sex at birth but did not identify with it. It made sense to me, something clicked, that was me, all along I had no language to describe the feeling, it took me years and immigration to finally put these pieces together. Here for me is where the actual journey began. I was finally going to be happy, complete and content but this discovery came with a whole new set of problems. Have you ever longed for something, yearned for it so bad that you do everything in your power to get it or to get to it, that’s what I did, I fought so hard to get to this place where I am now, the funny thing is I thought that when I got to this point it would be a smooth sail, boy was I wrong, I got to South Africa, came out as Transgender. Unfortunately, that long and excruciating process I went through was just to find the best location, pitch my tent and start digging my foundation. That was not the destination at all as I assumed.
2014 was a very difficult year, the year that I completed my research on the matter, it’s the year that I came to the conclusion and also came to terms with the fact that I was transgender myself, It took me a while to use my own words to say that I was Trans, I told my then-partner first before everyone else, she was very supportive and somehow she knew that I was not just a masculine lesbian, she also had no words to describe me and the mess that I was, but when I explained to her, it all clicked and made sense.
I lost my mind, I went into a deep depression, I wasn’t diagnosed by a medical professional but I knew it was depression, I had all the signs. Why was I losing it, I had just found myself, all I had to do was create and recreate myself, that was not supposed to be hard. I struggled so bad over the next couple of years, it went so bad and to the extent that it cost me my relationship, in 2018 she couldn’t take it anymore, she had stood by me and she had given me her best, I was way too damaged and she left, emotionally she was gone. By this time, I had long come out to my best friend and then to everyone else.
I struggled with feeling inadequate, feeling like I was not trans enough, how do you come out at 28 when others knew at 2years old that they were transgender, how was I going to be accepted and acknowledged as a trans man when I lived my life as a cis straight woman as a teenager, again the ignorance was being very unfriendly to me, socially transitioning was as much a nightmare as my personal and mental transition were. I struggled, I took myself to such deep and dark places and I struggled even harder to come back out.
My need and desire to medically transition came with another lot of problems. Accessing health care at public/government hospitals is quite the mission, one is met with xenophobia and transphobia, my mental state could not handle any more strain so I refrained from that. My financial state did not allow me to do it privately, I was in a fix, but when you want something as bad as you want to breathe, you make a plan, you find a way. As I do with everything else in my life, instead of finding solutions for myself only, I went on a quest to find means, solutions and answers for myself and everyone else like me.
One’s immigration status determines the kind and number of opportunities and privileges one is afforded, everything is just so limited, if you do not get up and go for it, the struggles will keep piling up until you lose even the few you had. As hard as it is, as much as all the odds seem to be against us, we are giving our best and doing everything in our power to better our own situations. We will always be Black, Transgender and Immigrants, we have no control over this, but we can sure change how we live life with these 3 very sensitive aspects of our being, challenges are a part of life, even people who are not immigrants or transgender have their own struggles, if you don’t work for it, you will always wish for it.
It’s challenging being black, trans and an immigrant, I always think to myself that if I was maybe in the USA, I would have sued my family, the government, the ministry of education and all media houses, TV, Radio and Newspaper for censoring and depriving us of information that could have potentially stopped most of the suffering. I only knew that Transgender was a “thing” when I moved to South Africa, I lived my life in the dark for a long time and struggled a lot because I did not have an understanding of the feelings and emotions I had, there was no one for me to speak to about it. I also to this day want to sue them all for the challenges we are facing out here because they just refuse to make our countries safe for us to live in. I’d rather be home fighting together with others but I am here fighting for another country to accept and respect me when my own country dehumanises me.
Thomars Shamuyarira (aka Tee) is the Founder and Director of The fruit Basket a charitable organisation born out of necessity to create a space to accommodate every member of the LGBTIQA+ Migrants community in South Africa.