Cape Town - Growing up as a little boy in a conservative Afrikaans family in Pretoria, Adam Britz was expected to play rugby and cricket. But Adam refused: he always sensed he was a girl trapped in the wrong body.
Three years ago, Adam started a transition into the woman she is today, Adele Britz. Like thousands of other transgender South Africans, she yearned to be recognised as the person she believed she was born to be.
Adele, 49, of Strand, says she feels her first 45 years were a waste.
“That’s because I was trying to be somebody I was not. Even though I always felt like a woman I ended up living my life as a gay man because that gave me a sense of belonging. I was never comfortable with that life at all… it was not the real me. I’ve always been a woman, but I was trapped in a man’s body,” she said.
But a legacy of her “gay” period is her partner, a gay man with whom she has shared her life for 24 years.
After years of an identity crisis, which resulted in serious depression and suicidal yearnings, she finally got the chance to explore her femininity – thanks to services offered at Groote Schuur Hospital’s Transgender Unit. The unit is one of the only two public health-care centres in the country that offer transgender services.
While Adele has successfully changed her name and gender with the Department of Home Affairs, and has had hormonal treatment, which has changed her appearance, she still has one more hurdle to clear.
She needs to go through sex change surgery to complete the process, but she’s been told this is unlikely to happen for another six to seven years.
Groote Schuur can only perform two to three gender reassignment surgeries a year.
Writing in the SA Medical Journal, Dr Don Wilson, of UCT’s department of psychiatry and mental health, said the long waiting list was a result of a lack of resources. These included limited theatre time and a shortage of specialists trained in transgender issues.
The unit received three or four clients every month, mostly from outside the Western Cape. Wilson said these numbers translated into a surgical waiting time of 15 and 20 years – a source of great distress for many patients, including Britz. While the confident Britz is now recognised as a woman by society, she feels the surgery “will give me a sense of completeness”.
But her new identity hasn’t come easy as she has had to deal with rejection from relatives and stares from people who knew her as a man.
Ronald Addinall-Van Straaten, a lecturer at UCT and a clinical social worker and sexologist who specialises in transgender issues, agreed that stigma and prejudice were some of the social factors that transgender people had to deal with.
“That’s why you still have cases of transgender persons facing violence, emotional violence and physical violence within their homes and communities. In many cases transgender persons have to leave or flee their families and communities for survival.”
To have their new gender recognised, transgender people need to apply to Home Affairs for alteration of sex. To qualify patients need two letters from different health professionals, which confirm that they have received treatment and met the criteria for sex change.