OWNING YOUR STORY: Phiwe Ngcengi on Being Trans in South Africa

Phiwe Ngcengi is a transgender activist from South Africa, she is also one of the subjects wjhose story is shared in the book I Am, Therefore, We Are.  The book, written and photographed by Kris Lyseggen and her husband Herb Schreier, introduces us to a new transfeminist movement in the Xhosain rural areas and townships of South Africa. Lyseggen and Schreier interviewed, filmed and photographed more than 20 transgender women from various townships, rural areas and cities in 2014 and 2015.

Phiwe spoke to Kuchu Times about her early life and why she thought it important to have her story shared in this new publication.

KT: What was it like growing up transgender in a changing South Africa?

PN: Growing up as a transgender in changing SA was a quite the journey;I had to hide my Gender identity especially in public places like taxi rank where there were lots of men. The Eastern Cape where I grew up is a problem in itself because it's very rural and cultural beliefs are still very strong. I had to run away from the rural area of Transkei to East London so that I could get more support from my LGBTI family.

KT: Like most LGBTIQ persons, I assume coming out and self acceptance has been a process, could you please your story with us. PN: Fortunately coming out was easy for me because as I grew up, Vuyisa (RIP) was there to support me-she was very open about her gender identity.

KT: What is it like living as an openly transwoman in the South Africa of today?

PN: It has become so much easier as the times keep changing; we  are now more empowered and know our rights, we also know where we can report violation of our rights with the help of Chapter 9 institutions especially Eastern Cape Commission for Gender Equality. 

KT: How are you using your life story to pave way and create a better world for the next trans generation?

PN: I've become a storytelling activist; therefore I now tell my story, in whichever spaces I find myself in, to create a narrative around the truth and reality of being an openly transgender person.

KT: What inspired you to take part in this project?

PN: My inspiration to take part in this project stemmed from realizing the importance of sharing the reality of my life as well as the need to raise more awareness for the younger transgender generation.

KT: Where do you see the trans movement in South Africa/ Africa at large in the next ten years and what needs to be done for this to be achieved?

PN:  I see some growth in the trans movement  but there's also a gap especially on the advocacy front- this is in relation to issues that are truly affecting transgender persons and what's currently advocated for. I think we need to re-think our advocacy priorities.