EWN Special Feature: SA & the transgender issue

Is South Africa accepting enough of transgender people and drag queens?

Anastacia Tomson says she feels like a completely new person as a woman. Picture: Vumani Mkhize/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - The recent hype around Caitlyn Jenner's transition has created debates around the world about whether society in general truly accepts transgender people.

The former American athlete, previously known as Bruce Jenner, decided earlier this year to become a woman.

She is now known as Caitlyn and has been very public about her transition.

The first photos of Caitlyn as a woman made the front pages of many international newspapers and magazines.

While some have criticised her decision, saying it's simply a publicity stunt, others are more sensitive to the deep, internal struggle many people battle with in terms of identifying with their gender.


A Johannesburg doctor recently decided to go down the same path as Jenner.

It's difficult to draw any strong comparisons between the two cases because, as I learnt, transitioning from male to female or vice versa is an intensely personal journey.

She is now known as Anastacia Tomson. She no longer identifies herself as a man, so much so that she refuses to disclose her former name.

Working at a family doctor's practice for about two years made her transition challenging.

Her patients and community are predominantly Jewish and many of them hold conservative views on gender identification.

Her employer told her it might be unsafe for her to transition at work, and Tomson decided it was best to resign.

I spoke to her former employer who spoke highly of Tomson, saying it was mutual decision and in her best interest.

When she discloses to others it's often like dropping a bomb on them because they're not prepared.

Tomson, however, wants to share her experience.

She wants people to understand and perhaps help others who are in a similar situation

WATCH: _Anastacia Tomson (29) is a Jewish doctor who used to be man... this is her story: _

Tomson has put pen to paper and hopes to have her story published by next year.

For more on Tomson, follow her on Twitter @anaphylaxus or like her Facebook page, here.


Clinical sexologist Dr Eve says there is still a sense of ignorance around transgender people and that often leads to discrimination and fear.

She says there's also the cultural element to deal with in South Africa and being a transgender person is often considered as culturally taboo.

This is often why the transgender community is not taken seriously.

Gender Dynamix's Busisiwe Deyi says there's a general lack of education around the issues of gender.

She says people who decide to transition or those who are homosexual are often vulnerable to violence in one form or another because they don't express their gender according to social norms.


Recently South Africans saw the first drag queen to compete on M-Net's Idols reality programme.

To make it clear, Shenay O'Brien is not a transgender person.

She is a drag queen.

This means she is a man, known as Thiart Li.

Shenay is a female character that Li has created.

WATCH: Competing as a woman, O'Brien entered as a man before and wasn't successful.

Shenay is not the first drag queen in South Africa to be in the public spotlight.

Pieter Dirk-Uys created the character Evita Bezuidenhout, an elderly white Afrikaans woman who often criticises politicians, has joined political parties and even created her own.

Ben Voss is a South African comedian, actor and playwright and he created business woman Beauty Ramapelepele.

He uses the alter-ego of Ramapelepele to deliver satirical social commentary.

Shenay was, however, the first drag queen to enter Idols, and this may have set a precedent for the future.

She received many negative comments but at the same time there was support from various communities.

However, the question remains, are we as a society accepting enough of individuals and the way they want to be identified?

Shenay says South Africa has come a long way, but ultimately everyone should respect each other.

Tomson says we all share a common bond, and that is humanity.

The challenges of abuse and discrimination still continue and perhaps being educated on gender issues is the way forward in terms of becoming a more knowledgeable and accepting society.

For more on Shenay, follow @ShenayOBrien on Twitter.


Transgender: A term used for people whose gender identity or expression is different from those who typically associate themselves with their assigned sex at birth.

Transgender man: A term for a people who were assigned female at birth but identify and live as a man.

Transgender woman: A term for people who were assigned male at birth but identify and live as a woman.

Transition: This means altering one's birth sex. It is also a term used to refer to a person who begins living as the gender with which they identify rather than the gender they were assigned at birth, which often includes changing one's first name and dressing and grooming differently. This is a complex process which may or may not include medical procedures.

Gender identity: This is an individual's internal sense of their gender. One's gender identity is not necessarily visible to others. Most identify as a man or a woman but for some their gender identity does not fit into one of the two choices.

Cross-dresser: A term used for people who wear clothes traditionally worn by the opposite sex. Typically used to refer to heterosexual men who occasionally wear female clothes. It is a form of gender expression and not done for entertainment purposes.

Drag Queen: A term used to refer to male performers who dress as women for the purpose of entertaining others. Drag queens are men, typically gay men who dress like women.

_Drag King: _A term used to refer to female performers who dress as men for the purposes of entertaining.

For an understanding on more of these terms ( EWN used these sources), click here and _ here_.