Johannesburg – Multi award-winning transgender activist and media personality Yaya Mavundla intends to use her new fashion collection, Queer Comfort, to raise funds for transgender women to be able to access hormones and education through her foundation, A Woman Like Me.
Half of the proceeds from the collection will be channelled to the Cape Town-based foundation Mavundla founded in 2021.
Her collection is already available in Amsterdam, London, New York, and Rome, and will be launched in South Africa during Pride Month in October 2022.
“I have seen the waiting list of transgender women to get hormones with no luck. It is very long. I know what the wait does to someone’s mind and self-esteem because all you want is to take hormones so your body can develop how you want it to be. When one does not have access to that, it becomes a huge struggle,” said Mavundla.
The Fashion Muse of The Year (2022) and Feathers 13 (2021) award winner said her fashion collection and foundation are her way of making transgender women comfortable in their own skin.
Mavundla said she wants to reach as many transgender women as possible to provide them with proper knowledge about the transitioning process.
“I do not want a repetition of what I went through. I do not wish for other trans(gender) women to suffer by not having proper education and access,” said Mavundla.
Speaking on the difficulties she experienced, Mavundla said had she had proper education at the beginning of her transitioning journey, she would have made better and more informed health decisions regarding how to eat, what hormones to take and the implications of gender affirming surgery.
“I’m currently not on hormones because of health issues. When I was about to start with hormones, I discovered that I had liver function issues. Since I was going to take HRT (hormone replacement therapy) tablets which go through the liver, it would have caused excessive damage.
“I needed a safer option, which was a hormonal injection. However, I thought it would be best to put the process on hold until I’m healthy and strong. As much as it is something I wanted to do, I did not want to rush it, only for me to have more health complications,” she said.
Mavundla said her need to make hormones accessible for other transgender women emanates from the lack of facilities that cater for transgender people.
In South Africa, there are only a few organisations, such as Transgender and Intersex Africa, and Access Chapter 2, that help transgender women from underprivileged backgrounds to undergo HRT and gender affirming surgery.
Lehlongonolo Machaba, 25, who started her transitioning journey in Grade 11 at 17, and is the first transgender woman to enter Miss SA in 2021, is one of the fortunate people who underwent surgery without waiting too long.
As part of her surgery preparation, Machaba had to consult a psychiatrist for two years before starting her gender transition. She said one must be psychologically ready for the process.
“During the first phase, it was a bit difficult because I was not only transitioning physically, but emotionally. Mental preparedness is vital because the process is more of a mental thing than physical,” said Machaba.
Machaba said the transitioning process is never-ending. “I will be transitioning for the rest of my life. There is no pause in the process. I had my first surgery six years after taking my hormones.”
Due to the lack of facilities, resources and gender affirmative surgeons in the country, transgender people have limited access to gender affirmative surgery.
Dr Kevin Adams, who specialises in surgical and non-surgical aesthetic rejuvenation, reconstructive breast, and genital surgeries, is one of the few surgeons who perform gender affirming surgery in South Africa.
Adams, the only surgeon at the transgender clinic at Groote Schuur Hospital in the Western Cape for the past 13 years, said over 300 transgender patients are waiting for surgery at the hospital.
“The waiting list at Groote Schuur Hospital is only for the people who live in the Western Cape because the service is not offered anywhere else in the country. The waiting period for one to get surgery is 25 years. Everybody who comes to see us gets added to the waiting list. The problem is that we do not have the facilities to do all those operations, and the waiting list is snowballing,” said Adams.
Adams said that in the next 10-20 years, there will be more gender affirming surgeons in the field, which is novel in South Africa, because there are young doctors interested in specialising in the field.
What does it entail:
• On average, Hormonal Replacement Therapy (HRT) costs R800 per dose of tablets.
• Gender affirming surgery, according to Point of Pride, an organisation providing financial support to transgender people in 98 countries, costs R300 000 in the first stage in South Africa.
• According to MedWeb, an online medical journal, physical changes such as breasts may be visible after taking hormones for a month, or it may take a maximum of five years.
• Gender affirming care is available mostly in four provinces: Gauteng, Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape (Source: EWN, published article by Devon Thomas, June 29, 2022.)