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Saturday, February 4, 2023

Battle between Body and Soul: How transwoman Sma is fighting the battle of identity

When you combine civic leadership and enterpreurship you get Semakaleng Mothapo, commonly know as “Sma”.

Sma is a born Belabelian,a tribe in South Africa.She has been shaped by the context of a divided and unequal society; the on-going struggle for social justice and inclusion; the journey towards body reconciliation, soul, spirit, gender identity, and sexuality.

“I have was born transgender, but I was socialized as a boy because of my biological sex”, Sma told www.zamireports.com.

5 years Semakaleng Mothapo. Picture was taken in 1993.

Though she noticed a disconnection between her inner self and her physical looks at childhood, Sma reveals she lacked an adjective to express how she felt as she continued to observe the battle between body and soul.

Each day I felt more disconnected to my own body and the appendage in between my legs.

With what she termed “society’s determination”, Sma says her life became a living hell when she painfully alliegned with the male tag.

This forced me to live life according to what society says “a boy/man” should be.

Internal confusion became her portion as she struggled for identification.

As a child I always knew that what I am told I am is not who I know I am. I did not have the language or words to express what I felt internally.

At age 12, shortly after aligning to the male  gender identity and joining a modeling agency as a male, the engine of the battle for identification was ignited.

I started modeling from the age of 12. But I dropped shortly after I started because I was told I walked like a girl and they refused to allow me to participate in contests as a girl.

The decision by model agencies not to allow him join because he modelled like a female though he was a male pushed her into dating women, Sma tells ZAMI Reports.

At age 17 I was identifying as a straight guy. I was denying it to myself that I could be gay. I didn’t want to hear the word and I couldn’t even pronounce the word. My tounge would freeze if I were to say that. I ended up dating women.

Sma at age 17 identified as a straight guy. He would not accept the gay status at this stage of his life.

But at age 25, she denounced her male identity and assumed the status of a gay.

I came out as gay because being gay was almost close to what I was feeling and that was the word which was mostly spoken of.

Sma has a BA (Hon) Degree in Social Work from the University of South Africa and short courses in small business development from Small Enterprise Development Agency and National Youth Development Agency.

His first name Semakaleng, a universal Belabelian name which literally means “do not be shocked” offered him a smooth transition into a woman as he did not have to face name changing dilemma.

Sma in a person modeling photoshoot in South Africa in 2018. This time as a transwoman.

She was among young African leaders who were selected by the various USA Embassies in Africa to undergo a leadership training in the United States of America under the Mandela Washington Fellowship in 2018. She was placed at the University of Nevada School of Business in the Business track.

One would assume that with her exposure and smartness, miss Sma should have a smooth sail at every step of life but that is far from being the reality.

Haven to disclose what is hidden in her groin when she appears feminine under scanning devices at airports is just one of the few of her life battles.

Everytime I went through the scanner, it picked up that a female body has gone through but the female has something hidden in the groin, this results in me having to disclose to all the officials that I am transgender to avoid being stripped off to verify what is in my pants.

The entrepreneur reveals she has watched and listened to immigration officers debate on who should conduct security checks on her at check ins in South Africa.

Sometimes to avoid these “embarrassment”, she has had to alter her looks to match the male gender marker in her identity book.

Travel by air in my country sometimes becomes irritable because when I pass through check up, the officials often argue about whether I will be checked by a male or female official and this is done right in my presence and they do not even care about how it makes me feel.

Transgender women and men worldwide continue to face life battles with African trans community not an exception. Perhaps, trans in Africa whether  of African origin or just visitors on the continent, face more insecurities than their counterparts in the West, a situation that LGBTQ+ activists have frowned on.

“Sexual orientation and gender identity are integral aspects of ourselves and should never lead to discrimination or abuse”, Human Rights Watch advocates for laws and policies that will protect everyone’s dignity.

The founder and Director of M Court, an enterprise in South Africa in 2019 was selected as the Victory Triangle Political Leadership Fellow and is the 2020 Isibindi Changer Maker Fellow.

Her mission of identification was never traded off in her journey for empowerment and until she landed on the exact adjective to describe herself.

I began researching about the term transgender and finally in 2019 I found words and a language that clearly explained what I have been feeling from birth.

Sma appears feminine and one would not need a second look to accept her as such but her looks do not seem to do the magic in most instances.

Being wooed by heterosexual men continue to be the most challenging life battle.

Because of my effeminate appearance and gestures, it is not easy for the general public to notice that I am transgender. I find a lot of heterosexual men making advances at me and it is quite scary to tell someone I am a transgender because I do not know what their response to the news will be because there are still human beings who are not kind to the trans community.

Her career has straddled both small business and civil society. She joined the social services profession in 2009 and has worked in various projects such as HIV/AIDS, poverty alleviation, skills development to gender and sexual diversity programmes.

She ventured into entrepreneurship in
2015 with a focus on property and township tourism. Her enterprise, M Court is based in Bela-Bela, and is striving to be the leading enterprise around the globe which provides high quality tourism venues and activities in townships and villages in South Africa while promoting those remote areas as a tourist destination.

Sma is also the founder and director of non-profit organisation under the flagship of her brand. The goal of the non-profit organisation is to improve the livelihoods of young people living in Bela-Bela Township.

For her, her family has been her biggest fan and support.

I have the most supportive family. Words cannot say the support I get from my family. All I can say is that my mother and sister borrow and steal my clothes all the time for their
personal usage.

“My father will call me and tell me about transwomen he sees on tv and how smart and intelligent trans women are”, says Sma.

Though a little is said about trans on media in South Africa, Sma is optimistic the current trend where a lot of gay characters are featured on television programmes can not be overlooked.

South Africa has a lot of human rights organisations and I am seeing that a lot of them are coming on board in fighting discrimination on LGBTQI+ community. I am also seeing that South African TV programmes are coming on board as well because I am seeing a lot of gay characters on TV programmes but very little on trans narratives, but I think South Africa is heading in the right direction.

The Dine with Sma online talk show host is also authoring her first book titled “Behind the Power Suit”.

“I remain committed to being an advocate for economic, political & social change, equal access, and social inclusion for all human beings”.

Miss Mothapo is a finalist contestant who is representing South Africa at the 2020 MissTrans Global beauty pageant.

Zubaida Afua Mabuno Ismail|www.zamireports.com|Ghana.


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