My name is Nicholas Mofokeng, I come from Numsa’s Hlanganani region and I live in Winterveldt. I joined Numsa in Sept 2010.
When I stand up here you see an image of a man – but inside I am a woman. Just see how I am dressing – most of the gay people don’t dress like me. I am not ashamed of myself. If I have enough money to go for a sex change, I will do it. I am not comfortable with my body.
At home, when they discovered that I was gay I had so many challenges. My brother doesn’t accept me, my mother doesn’t accept me. They always say to me: “You are not supposed to behave like a woman because you are a man.” But deep inside in my heart I am a woman trapped in a man’s body.
I was behaving the way I am from my childhood. That is the way that I was. I would wear trousers, but I felt like a woman. For a school to accept a person like that was very difficult. It was the time of the apartheid regime and Bophuthatswana leader Lucas Mangope.
The Mangope regime was very harsh to us. There was nothing that you could tell them. Mugabe said he didn’t believe there was a gay person because had never seen a gay dog. He said he would never accept a gay or lesbian person.
When I was still young at home I told them: “You don’t have the right to control my body.” My mother didn’t want me to dress like a woman. She didn’t even want to buy me women’s clothing. I fought a big fight with my mother – at about 18 or 19, I was forced to go and rent a place. It was very difficult, but I will never go back.
When we walk in the street people call us names; at the workplace they call us names and they don’t accept us. If we look for a job, a company will say: “If we employ a woman, we need a woman and if we need a man we will employ a man. We don’t need someone in between.” Where do we belong? If you say: “I am a woman”, they say: “You are not a woman.” They take the post and give it to a woman instead of me.
We go to home affairs and want to make copies of our ID books. When you mention your name, the official asks: “Why do you write Nicholas when you are a woman?” I tell them I am not a man, I am a woman. Then they look at their records and say: “You are not a woman, you are a man.” They don’t see what I feel inside my body.
In church the priests abuse us. Priests are supposed to accept all people the way they are. But today we are afraid to go to church because we are discriminated against. The priest calls you out in front and says: “You must tell the people who you are.” And then they say: “That person has been possessed by evil spirits – God didn’t create a man to love a man and a woman to love a woman.”
If a person is born gay, that person is gay and nothing can be done to change that person. If you are a natural gay there is no way in which you can be healed. There is no-one that can do that.
In the union
I was once at a conference where we were supposed to be given accommodation. They had a problem with me: they tried to give me accommodation with a woman. But she refused. Then I had to share with a man – and the man said he didn’t want me.
I didn’t know where I was going to sleep. I ended up sleeping alone.
That didn’t worry me because I knew I was creating a problem for them. It was not my will to be like this.
I am not going to enter a man’s toilet knowing that I am not a man but a woman. In some cases, if I go into the ladies’ toilet the women turn around and look at me and start gossiping. That hurts me but it doesn’t cause such a big problem. They have never stopped me from using the toilet. But in other cases people don’t want people like us in the toilet. At our workplace, I have this problem.
It is our duty as shop stewards to stand and fight against such challenges. As shop stewards it is our task to go back to our workplaces, our communities and teach the people so that they can accept us.
If you are gay or lesbian don’t be ashamed of yourself – you are born that way. Don’t be ashamed to introduce yourself as a gay or a lesbian. It is not your will to be the way you are – it is God’s will. Psalm 24 says: “The land belongs to God and everything living within the land.”
We gays we are not living in the holy zone – we are here with you – we need your support, your care and acknowledgement.
Nicholas Mofokeng was speaking to a Numsa national gender workshop in March 2013. If you want him to come and address your church, your workplace or your union meetings about this issue, he is always available.
You can contact him through the Numsa Hlanganani region
at 012-342 4415.
Transsexual – This is man or woman who is uncomfortable with his/her body and would like to become someone of the opposite gender. Sometimes male transsexuals have an operation to give them the sexual organs of women, and vice versa.
Lesbian – This is a woman who is sexually attracted to other woman and can fall in love with another woman. Some lesbians dress like men and walk like men, but many do not.
Gay – This is a man who is sexually attracted to other men, and can fall in love with another man. We have many gays in our towns and workplaces, but many of them are afraid to reveal their sexual orientation (come out).
Comments from delegates in the workshop
“I want to applaud you – there are very few people like you that will come out and say ‘this is my position’.”
“At church we do have gays and lesbians – can we invite you to come and talk to our bishop and pastors we need people like yourself. You are really a gift!”
ILO gay and lesbian study
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) is doing a study on how gays and lesbians are treated at work across different countries, including South Africa.
If anyone who is gay or lesbian wants to be part of the project, they should phone Numsa’s legal officer, Norma Craven, on 011-6891700 or e-mail her on firstname.lastname@example.org.