'Transitioning is about self-love'

Siphesihle after his transition.
Siphesihle after his transition.

Siphesihle is a young man from Kwazulu-Natal who is currently living and studying in Cape Town.

On the surface, he doesn't seem any different from any of his peers on campus.

Siphesihle, who prefers to go by his first name only, was born a girl.

In 2016, the 22-year-old made a decision to undergo transition surgery to the top part of his body.

"I always felt this constant discomfort with who I am and who I see in the mirror when I wake up every day," he said.

To raise funds for the procedure, he solicited donations through crowdfunding website GoGetFunding.

This helped him raise just under R30000. He also worked odd jobs to earn the rest of the money needed.

Research on prices led him to a hospital in Maseru, Lesotho.

Maseru Private Hospital charged R39000 for the breast tissue removal operation, Siphesihle said, as opposed to a South African private hospital which quoted R70000 for the same procedure.

The young UCT student has been sharing his journey on Twitter, even posting images of the results of each stage.

This began as a way to keep friends informed of his progress.

Siphesihle while living as a woman.
Siphesihle while living as a woman.

As interest grew in his progress, transgender people reached out to him for advice.

He now uses his posts as a way to help people who don't know where to start looking.

Growing up he felt uncomfortable with the gendered expectations of girls, such as wearing dresses and playing with dolls, because he felt it was not the person he was born to be.

In September 2016, after conducting extensive research, Siphesihle began his transformation journey.

He first went through hormone therapy which involved injecting himself with Depo Testosterone every fortnight.

He has to take the testosterone for the rest of his life.

This was followed by a mastectomy (breast removal) in January.

It will take three months for him to heal completely, but he is happy with the results.

Siphesihle stated that he's been very lucky with a supportive family and peer circle.

His sister was the second person he told, and her attitude was indicative of the rest of the family.

Even though he had a happy life as a woman, he feels more himself now.

"Having top surgery is more than the literal weight off your chest, it's like being able to breathe for the first time and quite honestly, that's what my entire transition is all about.

"Waking up and learning to love the man I see in the
mirror every day."

Complete transition surgery costs in the hundred thousands, but Siphesihle has
chosen to not undergo any bottom surgery - meaning he still has female genitalia.

"I never felt much dysphoria about bottom surgery; it's not something I'm particularly interested in now.

"I was very dysphoric and uncomfortable with my chest more than anything."

Siphesihle said people don't understand that undergoing such a process is about self-love and courage.

"It's really just about self-love. I think people misconstrue transgender people transitioning in terms of it being an external thing.

"It's not an external thing, it's about coming to terms with who you are, who you've felt you've always been."

Kim Lithgow, founder of Samelovetoti, said their group helps parents and peers of young people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI).

According to Lithgow, the best response should a loved one tell you that they're transgender, is listening.

It is also important to affirm to the person that they're loved and nothing has changed how you feel about them because of their revelation.

Lithgow recommended seeking out parent support groups and LGBTI groups.

"Finding out more information because the more information you have the more power you have," she explained.