’Transgender legislation is pathologising our identity’
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Content creator and trans rights activist Zoey Black is a fervent advocate of the rights of transgender people and has spent the past 10 years working and creating awareness centred around trans visibility.
Black has worked as the legal policy and education advocacy officer for Gender Dynamix, a trans-specific organisation that champions rights for trans and gender diverse people.
At present, South African legislation allows trans gender people to amend their gender on their ID documents at the Department of Home Affairs. Black said that while legal in the country, the legislation itself was problematic as it requires trans people to substantiate their identity through medical means.
“Requiring us to submit a doctor’s letter and a psychological evaluation is a very pathologising part of our legislation. It presents a series of problems because it’s difficult to access inclusive health care in South Africa if you are trans or gender diverse. This is pathologising to our identity," she said.
UCT constitutional law expert Professor Pierre de Vos said he agreed with Black’s statement about the law being pathologising towards transgender and gender diverse people.
“Our legislation is only progressive on paper. The requirements that exist for someone to amend their gender marker tends to pathologise people,” he said. “The way this is done now sends a signal that there is something wrong with you and that dysfunction is deeply problematic.”
In the redemption of legislation that does not support trans or gender diverse people, Black said that the solution was shared between education, and law and policy reform.
“There needs to be a sense of education around LGBTQIA+ identities and issues, and the unique circumstances that queer people face in this country. The people who hold power in transforming our legislation have no idea what the lived realities of our communities are,” she said.
"More inclusive legislation needs to be passed so that trans and gender diverse people can amend their gender marker without medical substantiation. We want someone to be able to make this change through a model of self-determination.”
In addition to health care struggles, Black shared how queer people struggled in the working world.
“Companies are not as progressive as they claim to be. The queer community wants to be able to work in spaces that are inclusive and don’t discriminate against us. We aren’t asking for special treatment. We want acceptance around trans identities,” she said.
In addition to this, she said some of the most common grievances that transgender people face are around accessing health care and changing their gender marker within their marriage.
“These issues are ongoing and it’s difficult to bring these legal cases forward as it’s expensive to get a lawyer and take a case to court,” she said.
The trans-rights activist reflected on when she came out and remembers there being little access to visible trans women in South Africa.
“This is why I’m so visibly vocal about who I am. I want to give people like me access to narratives like theirs,” she said.
Black said if the public wanted to support trans visibility, they should educate themselves.
“Find resources that educate you on what it means to be trans and queer. Try your best to get a perspective that gives you insight into the lived realities of queer people.”
De Vos added that making trans people more visible will assist in educating our population.
“Trans people are not the problem, prejudice against trans people is the problem. Create more roles and opportunities for the queer community. It might sound like a small change, but it’s what starts the process of undoing deeply held beliefs and prejudices,” he said.