Sandra Dee is a trans woman who grew up during the apartheid era. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)
Sandra Dee is a trans woman who grew up during the apartheid era. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

Trans woman paid a price in apartheid so ’this generation could be out and free’

By Keshia Africa Time of article published Oct 17, 2021

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Sandra Dee grew up as a transgender woman in the apartheid era. She spent time in prison for what many get to freely enjoy today.

The former drag queen spent six months in Pollsmoor Prison in the 70s, on a charge of ‘masquerading as a woman’.

As a transgender woman who grew up in the apartheid era, Sandra Dee is amazed at how freely the queer generation can express themselves today.

“I will never forget walking into court, and the magistrate told me that a man dressed as a woman in his court is disagreeable and unforgivable,” she said.

“I was sentenced to six months in jail with hard labour. This happened to me on two occasions,” she added.

Dee said five of her friends were locked up for the same reason.

“They were sent to Valkenberg Hospital for 30 days of observation because they were men who wanted to be women.”

The 63-year old said living as a transgender woman under apartheid meant that her life was at risk all the time.

“Some men wanted to kill me. If they caught me alone, they would beat me up.”

She added: “I remember being stoned, hit with a baseball bat and just having to get up and go on with my life.”

She remembers parties known as balls, where she dressed in her finest dresses.

“We would pay an entry fee, and they would randomly choose the best dressed of the night. We walked away with many trophies.”

Sandra Dee (left) pictured at a beauty pageant in 1982. Picture: Supplied

Dee recalled how the police in Woodstock would terrorise her and her friends.

“I remember being taken into the police station and being arrested multiple times. The police would ask us to dance for them, and then they would laugh at us.”

Dee grew up in District Six before her family was forcefully removed and relocated to Manenberg. She told her family she was a girl at the age of ten years old.

“That was when I became a woman. I started doing drag when I was 12 years old,” she said.

“We had drag queens living in our area, and I loved watching them. I wanted to be like them.”

Sandra Dee when she was 16 years old. Picture: Supplied

Queer people and queer identities have become more prominent in South Africa since people were allowed to amend their gender marker in 2003.

For queer folk like Dee who grew up and navigated life under oppression, the freedom they experience today is refreshing.

“I’ve been through it all, and I’m glad that the youth of today can experience this freedom. I always tell the girls of today that we paid the price for them to be free today.”

Dee said she was grateful to God that she made it through her past, to be able to experience freedom today.

“I am thankful to God. He carried me through all the hurt and abuse that I experienced.”

For 30 years, she worked as a professional hairdresser in Hillbrow, Johannesburg before moving back to Cape Town.

Today, Dee is the founder and chairperson of the Fairy Godmother Community Project NPO, which assists matriculants from poor homes with dresses, outfits, hair and make-up for their matric dances.

“Today I get to live freely. I can live my identity and I am grateful for it.”

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