Trans rights are rights too
Limba Mupetami – Trans what? Why do you want to become a woman? What surgery? Really, how will they change the sausage into a cookie? They do that? My word!
“These are just some reactions I get when I tell people I’m transgender. Some look at me and laugh; others want to be funny, changing their voices and saying ‘hi girl’. Some people will greet you and be nice. Then you find those that will call you moffie as if that’s my name. For me the term ‘moffie’ is derogatory,” says Jholerina Brinnett Timbo – Advocate, Founder and Executive Director of Wings to Transcend Namibia, an organisation fighting for transgender rights.
Jholerina attended the recent International AIDS Conference in Durban that attracted more than 15 000 delegates from all over the world. Here she shares her experiences at the conference and her identity with Windhoek Express.
“The International AIDS Conference 2016 was an overwhelming experience as there were so many sessions, dialogues, exhibitions and engagements that were happening at the same time. It was an amazing experience and the first AIDS conference I have attended.
“It gave me a great opportunity to network with other organisations that are doing the same work. We shared experiences and received guidance and advice on how to approach certain situations in the community,” she says.
Diving into the burning question of her identity, Jholerina says she was given the name Jholer Benson Timbo when she was born in Omaruru. She has four siblings: three sisters and a brother.
“I came out to my family in 2006. It was three years after I had completed high school. The reason for not coming out sooner was because I had friends who were disowned by their family while they were still at school. I was scared. I told myself to finish school and find work so that no one bosses you around because you don’t eat from them or live with them and in retrospect that made my life easier.”
When she came out she identified herself as a gay man, but wasn’t completely happy with it. She says she felt lost because there was so much information available about being gay, but never information on being transgender.
“There were so many different identities and terminologies. Growing up I was exposed to people calling me ‘he’, I really got angry and I wanted to be referred to as she and her and even today I have a fit when someone refers to me as ‘he’. I hate it; it does not resonate with me.”
She says that being transgender is a process of continuously coming out. It is not a once-off thing. “I still come out every day as I continue meeting new people.”
However, being transfer is not all there is to Jholerina.
“I’m a passionate young Namibian who has a creative flair and an eye for detail. Since 2004 I worked in the hospitality industry and even had the privilege to cook for the Founding Father, among many things.”
Jholerina says she has served her country as a chef on many occasions but the fact that she could not enjoy the same protection and inclusion as everyone else, became an issue. “I volunteered at The Rainbow Project (TRP) in 2006, but moved on due to work commitments. In 2015, after meeting a few transgender people, we decided to start a trans-specific organisation that focuses on our challenges and needs and how we can address them.”
“That’s how I find myself where am today and the road has been testing. Many of the issues our community deals with include the public health sector. Stigma and discrimination is rife. We do not have a choice but to use our identity documents when we seek medical attention and that means that we are mis-gendered.”
“There is no gender affirming health care service. Access to hormone treatment is a problem in Namibia. We want to transition but hormones are expensive and not all of us can afford to transition here. I hope our health care can provide affordable hormone replacement therapy (HRT) with a touch of gender-affirming health care.”
In the future Jholerina says she wishes to see a well-sensitised Namibia on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and questioning (LGBTIQ) issues, needs and challenges and is collectively aiming to eradicate stigma and discrimination against the LGBTIQ community.
“Trans people must to be legally recognised and included in the constitution. Growing up I was stigmatised and discriminated against at school and in society, even when I was still in the closet. I was made to believe there was something wrong with me; that I was abnormal and I lacked something. My childhood was stolen from me, my joy and happiness was taken from me and I was denied the chance to express myself as who am. I felt helpless and hopeless, and I thought of suicide many times. That’s why I advocate for transgender people to be who they are regardless of what the next person thinks. It is not a nice place to be in: to feel hopeless, helpless, useless and worthless. I never want to see another person going through what I went through.
“I see a Namibia that is Inclusive of LGBTIQ communities in national policies, programming and implementation of international mechanisms on local level. I see a Namibia that has integrated LGBTIQ communities in all employment sectors with zero tolerance on stigma and discrimination in employment settings. A society that ensures that LGBTIQ issues, needs and challenges are addressed as any other issue, need or challenge.”