Episode 4 of reality show Becoming zooms in on an aspect of being transgender that most people don’t realise: it’s not just changing your physical appearance and how people refer to you, you’ve got to go through a lot of legal admin and paperwork too.
In South Africa, that means a trip to the dreaded Department of Home Affairs, which is confusing and a daunting task for normal everyday things like getting an ID book. So, imagine what a trans person goes through and the scrutiny they’re under for something that doesn’t happen every day.
Cross your t’s, dot your i’s
Yaya Mavundla meets with Norman Ramashia, who is the Home Affairs Chief Director of Civic Services at her local Home Affairs office.
“What is the process for a trans person to change their gender if they haven’t had their surgery yet?” asks Yaya, because that info isn’t on the Home Affairs website and it’s not something every clerk would be able to answer.
Thankfully, Norman knows what he’s talking about. “What you’re looking to do (at the department) is alter your sex description and status because you’re having a surgical procedure or because you are intersex,” explains Norman.
It’s not an easy topic of discussion for normal people but Yaya is clear: “I was assigned male at birth but I am female,” she says emphatically. “There are people at Home Affairs who are confused and need you to say that you are male or female.”
There’s more to the process than just filling in a couple of forms or telling a Home Affairs official that you want to swap genders on paper, explains Norman.
“You need to bring a report from a qualified psychologist or social worker who will confirm that you have been living in that particular status for a particular number of years.”
That’s easy for Yaya, who reveals that her earliest memories of wanting to be the opposite gender “was at primary school. I registered with my name – Siyabonga Mavundla. I don’t even know who gave me that name. That name is ugly.”
While Gugulethu Khumalo has a hugely supportive family, which we saw in episode 3, it’s a very different story for Yaya when she’s asked for information about her parents.
“My mother left when I was two months old. I know her name and surname and where she’s from. But that’s it. I grew up without my mother and my father, although that’s not fair on my father. He was there but he was away working in the city, but he was still there. I lived with my grandmother.”
Luckily Norman is on hand to assist with even this situation, which a lot of people don’t know about. “You can complete forms related to Promotion Of Access To Information Act and you send that to our legal services department.”
The emotional struggle that people in the LGBTQI+ community goes through is tremendous to start with, so now having to deal with admin adds to that load. Not everyone is as strong as Yaya, who says that she was raised to be tough by her granny.
“I grew up thinking that she was my mother until one day my cousin told me, ‘No, your mother left when you were small, this is your grandmother.’ Shock of my life!” says Yaya.
Having that strong support base makes it easier for someone in this community to be accepting of themselves, that they’re not what society tells them they are. It’s not easy, though, and the four subjects that Becoming is following and filming are each very different yet exactly the same.
While Yaya and Gina were born male and are transitioning to female, Gugu and Ramazan are going the opposite way, having been born women but identifying and becoming men.
What they do have is strong support from those near and dear, from parents to friends, lovers to grandparents, the people who make them realise that it’s okay to be themselves, no matter what the world (and Home Affairs) might think. After all, a piece of paper doesn’t make them who they are.
Binge-watch all episodes of Becoming now streaming on Showmax.