Giving thanks

“Whirlwind” is a good term for the past couple of weeks. And the next few, if my instincts are to be trusted.

Maybe you heard by now? My book, #AlwaysAnastacia, is available. You can get it in book stores if you’re in South Africa (or Namibia, apparently!). If you don’t, you needn’t despair – you can order it from Amazon and have it delivered to you just about anywhere in the world.

But that’s not all that I’ve had going on. This past week, I attended the pre-departure orientation program for the Mandela Washington Fellowship. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, it’s a program run by the US government, created by President Obama. Now in its third year, this program annually sends a group of young African leaders over to the United States to participate in leadership development and training.

The delegates originate from all over the continent. I haven’t met the majority of them yet – I’ve only met the other 59 South African Fellows (and two colleagues from Ethiopia!)

Pre-departure orientation day 2 for the #YALI2016 #SAFellows16 with @usembassysa

A photo posted by Anastacia Tomson (@anaphylaxus) on

There were a few things that struck me, though. One was the energy in the room – sitting together with these other young, bright, driven, dynamic individuals, from all backgrounds and walks of life, each of whom has a different field of interest. But all united in that they are striving to make some kind of difference in the world. Whether they produce tea, or craft beer, or run empowerment projects for rural women, or work in media, each of them is a driving force of change.

It took me a moment (or a few, maybe) to catch my breath, and to shake the feeling that I didn’t belong in the same room with them. Because… impostor syndrome. But once I’d reassured myself (ok, it’s more of an ongoing process than a singular moment in time), I felt really honoured, privileged and humbled to share this space with them.

The second thing that I noticed – though it took me a while to cotton on to this – was that, of the local candidates, about 15% were openly not straight. And of them, many are doing work in the field of LGBTQIA rights.

It’s nice not to feel alone. And it’s so reassuring to see that such an important program as the MWF is actively taking steps to empower and develop individuals who are working in this field.

The orientation program was an eye-opener. Not just because it afforded me a glimpse of the amazing work being done by young people, but also because it made this entire thing so tangible. Up to this point, the Fellowship has been a glinting beacon on the horizon. But this made it very real. Within the next three-and-a-half weeks, I’ll be leaving for a jam-packed three months in the US, developing and honing skills, learning new things, meeting people and making connections.

#MWF2016 #YALI2016 #SAFellows16 We have a lunch date with the Ambassador. @usembassysa

A photo posted by Anastacia Tomson (@anaphylaxus) on

So, let me now get to what this post is actually about.

A year ago today, I still sat in a doctor’s office in an upper-middle-class suburb in Johannesburg, wearing a collared shirt, and a tie, and being read by the world as male, at least during office hours. I’d been on hormones for just over three months, and I’d done a lot of coming out, but… I had a long way to go. I still do, of course. There is so much still to be done, personally and professionally.

But today, I live my own life, and I do it honestly. I don’t pretend in order to make other people comfortable. I can claim the label of “activist” – or, in fact, “human rights defender” – without hesitation or compunction. I have written a book, one that I hope will go on to change lives. I’ve had the opportunity to teach and to educate. And I’m less than a month from embarking on this incredible adventure and embracing the wonderful opportunities that will come with it.

I speak often about my battles with dysphoria, and the challenges I face because I’m trans. They are real, that much is certain.

But despite all that, let there be no doubt – I am grateful for what I have, and where I am. Beyond grateful, in fact. I’m stunned and humbled and amazed and thankful.

I worked hard for this, of course. I took risks. It was, often-times, terrifying. And there were many times that I faltered along the way, sinking into the depths of despair, depression and dysphoria.

Sure, I get a pat on the back for all that. But more important than all of that is to acknowledge that…

I could not have done this alone.

And right now seems like a really fitting time to acknowledge that, and to give thanks to those who have stood by me, and to recognise some of the struggles that they must have faced in supporting me.

To those who opened doors for me, who made connections for me, who helped secure opportunities for me, I am so grateful. As a baby activist, it’s not easy to establish a name or to be taken seriously. It was your suggestions, your prompting, and your belief in my capabilities that allowed all of this to happen.

To those who listened (and continue to listen) to my bitching and moaning and whining, who bolster me when I am at war with myself, who console me when my heart lies in pieces, and who remind me of my worth when I can’t help but to question it, I am so grateful. It’s not easy to be trans. A lot of times it isn’t fair. A big part of all of this just plain sucks. And no matter how secure or well-adjusted one is, there are times when it all becomes too much. I’ve been through those dark places (and I am sure that I will have to face them again in future). I have endured, but had I been alone, I’m sure I would not have.

giesje / Pixabay

To those who’ve watched me change and grow, and stood by me, even if the process confused you or upset you or forced you to confront ideas that are challenging or uncomfortable, I am so grateful. It boggles my mind to even think about what you have gone through. Much of this has happened so quickly, and I know it may have come as a shock to you. I know it must make you question so many things you thought you knew. I know it must be a concept with which you grapple, and battle to understand. For me to embrace my truth has been momentous. And it has been a rollercoaster. But I am proud of who I am, and having your support in that means the world to me.

To those who have reached out to me, leaned on me, let me in, and shared with me, I am so grateful. I have grown so much in this past year, and a big part of that has come through having had the opportunity to give back. To know that I can sow hope, and to know that I can make a difference. I’ve had many crises of self-worth, where I’ve wondered what my role is in this world. Whether I’m a boon or a burden. But your engagement, and your feedback, and your vulnerability reminds me that I do have purpose. That what I do is important. That I can make a difference.

To those who believe in me, against all the odds, refusing to give up, refusing to blame, refusing to run away, I am so grateful. For all the introspection and reflection, I remain human, and I remain flawed. I strive to always be better, of course. But I get it wrong, often. You have been my safe space, free of guilt and shame and self-loathing. You have helped me climb back on the horse each time I am thrown off. You have lifted me, you have carried me, you have propped me up, you have never left me behind. I can’t articulate just how important that is.

Despite all the hardship, and all the adversity, and all the struggles that still lie ahead, despite all the things that I have lost to being trans, there is so much for which I am thankful. And to stop, and take a moment to acknowledge that is so important. My life may not be straight-forward (hardly surprising, because anything to do with “straight” usually has very little applicability to me!), it may complicated and difficult…. but from those complications and difficulties have arisen opportunity, and potential, and self-actualisation, to an extent that I’d never dared even to dream.

So today, I am giving thanks. Because I have some very good reasons to. And I hope that you do, too.

My book, Always Anastacia, is available at booksellers across South Africa. If you don’t see it on shelves, ask your local bookstore. Also available worldwide through Amazon. Don’t miss my launch events in Johannesburg and Cape Town, where you can hear me discussing my story, and have your copies signed.

You can read an excerpt from the book on Women24, read my remarks on trans healthcare at IOL, hear me discussing #AlwaysAnastacia with Gareth Cliff at CliffCentral. and read another excerpt (translated into Afrikaans) on Netwerk24.

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