Daniella Argento is a 41-year-old transgender woman who lives in Johannesburg. She chatted to HuffPost SA about some of the challenges she has faced as a trans person living in South Africa.
What is the one misconception about transgender people that frustrates you the most?
I think most people tend to only see 'extremes' of the community. On the one hand, most people have seen a drag queen or other female impersonator on stage. On the other hand, they are at least aware of the closeted (or not so closeted) crossdresser who is 'kinky' and wears women's underwear, especially for kicks. This can lead to all sorts of prejudices. I have nothing against drag performers or crossdressers, yet if you never know how 'normal' we are, your prejudices will be reinforced by those people who are most visible and I believe these are exactly the people who least accurately represent the transgender community. Some of them are men performing an act. So while they may share some traits with us they are not really women on the inside and do not pretend to be.
There has been concern that trans people are hypersexualised - what are your thoughts on this?
People think we are out and about looking for sex, yet we almost never are. People think we are ridiculing or parodying femininity, we are not. In fact we revere the feminine more than most straight cisgender men. They think we are trying to trap unsuspecting men into sex. This is seldom, in fact, most of us are so paranoid about doing just that and getting assaulted or worse, we tend to declare our gender non-conformity pretty quickly. People are confused about sexuality and gender but these are not the same things. Gender and sexuality are not in any way in a causative relationship. Our sexuality has nothing to do with anybody other than ourselves and our sexual partner/s.
Do you feel safe walking in public spaces like malls or using the bathroom of the gender you identify with?
When people think a transwoman walking at the mall is doing it for a sexual thrill, they may view her as a danger to others (especially women and children). This fuels fears about safety, particularly in spaces that women need to feel safe in for example, public toilets. Yet, the truth is much more nuanced. We are not a threat. All we want to do is be ourselves and have access to those same safe spaces for the same reasons.
We have to ask your opinion on people's arguments that being trans is a choice?
People think that the treatment we need is cosmetic. The truth is that gender dysphoria can be a debilitating and life-threatening condition. As many as 40 percent of trans people attempt suicide because living in the wrong body is worse than not living at all. The treatments we seek are not cosmetic, they are there to address real problems that if untreated will result in us dying.
And your thoughts on sex reassignment surgery?
Yes, I have considered it, but have decided against it. I am not convinced that being transgender is always a condition that needs to be medicated. When it is, it absolutely is and transgender people in need of transgender related medical care should have easier access to hormones, surgery and other care, but it does not always need medical care. I have self-treated my dysphoria by reducing my body hair. This has made me far happier. For now. This is my personal circumstance, however, and I don't think it should be used as evidence to deny other trans people medical care. In fact, hormones and surgery should be easier to access than it is now.