18/08/2017 06:05 SAST | Updated 12/09/2017 14:06 SAST

'I Am A Trans Woman, Not A Man Who Dresses Like A Woman'

My name is Daniella Argento.

Daniella Argento

Daniella Argento says as far back as she can remember, she always felt somehow different.

HuffPost SA chatted to the 41-year-old who lives in Johannesburg, and she gave us a glimpse of her life as a transgender person in South Africa.

Read Part 2 of Argento's story as she tells us about the misconceptions and challenges of being a trans person in South Africa, and her thoughts on sex reassignment surgery.

What is your earliest memory of feeling different?
Tellingly,I was fascinated by my mother's make-up routine, her shoes and her clothes. I always wanted to know the hows and why of all this feminine magic. I recall at the age of three wanting to use the toilet sitting down. It just seemed 'right'. To this day I prefer to sit. From around the age of six or seven, I recall looking at my body thinking that the mid-line on my perineum must have been a scar from where some doctor had stitched my vagina closed when I was born.

How did your parents react to this -- or did they dismiss it as a 'passing phase'?
In an ultimately misguided effort to make a 'man of me' my parents tried all sorts of things. Sports, an all-boys school, martial arts you name it. None of it worked and I just became more withdrawn from the world. Inhabiting a fantasy world of my own creation. As a teen, I managed to express my desire to be something else by wearing my older sister's clothes whenever I could.

And did this continue throughout your teens?
The need to conform is strong in all of us and by the time I was 17 I started to think I was misguided and that perhaps I was just an ordinary male after all. This was probably exacerbated by the changes in my body. I started assimilating into male roles from an early age and whilst I always knew I was different, I was bright enough to realise that saying so in South Africa and in the 1980s was not a smart move. So, going into deep cover was easy. I took up sports and stopped sneaking into my sister's wardrobe.

You also later got married -- to a woman?
The need to express my gender simply faded away and I convinced myself that it was just a phase. Regrettably, I did not tell my spouse about this because I was deeply worried that she would think less of me. And besides, it was just a phase so why worry her. We were happy and had a child yet when I was about 37, something changed. I started feeling 'wrong' again. I needed to be a woman. All sorts of old feelings, memories and emotions came flooding back.

How did you deal with those feelings?
I started buying women's clothes, wearing them once and then throwing them away. This was not sustainable. So I wrote my wife a very open letter explaining all that I knew and felt at the time. I realised that this could have gone very badly, but I felt I owed her the truth. After some soul searching and lots of communication, she has fully embraced this side of me and is on the journey of life with me. It's not easy but we are committed to each other and as she says, she loves the person I am, not the way I dress.

And today?
As time has gone on and I gain more self-knowledge, I have realised that I feel more congruent when I am able to be a woman. I don't dress as a woman, I am one. That is who I am on the inside and when I am able to express that on the outside, I just feel right, more at peace.

Daniella Argento