Zane

Age 38, Pretoria

I was a bit of a nightmare child.

Born on the South Coast to “terribly British” parents, Zane describes himself as having been “a bit of a nightmare child.” He attributes his childhood rebellion largely to the fact that his conservative family could not accept that he did not fit into traditional gender roles:

Growing up with a mother who was so terribly British and came from this aristocrat thing where you’re taught you shouldn’t be gay and your girls must act like girls and your boys must act like boys, I rebelled a lot, probably more because of her than because of other’s people’s comments. It was kind of like, if I’m not even accepted in my own family … what other people say, I don’t care, they don’t mean anything to me, but if my own family can’t even accept me, then I kind of just rebelled and … used to run away from home and go out drinking and come home and puke all over my mother’s carpet.

Zane, assigned a female gender at birth, believed he was a boy from the start. Unfortunately, this resulted in a lot of teasing from other children, which made school very difficult for him. In primary school, he played with his brother’s friends (all male), but “for the most part I was just sort of isolated in a corner.” He felt frustrated by having to wear a schooldress and fought against it, but ultimately, “there was nothing I could do.” As soon as he got home, he changed into boys’ clothes.

Around the age of seven, Zane’s family moved into a different neighborhood, where the local children did not go to his school. This served as a prime opportunity for him to be recognized as a boy. He told the neighborhood children that his name was David – “I was David, and I was a guy.” He successfully “passed” as male for a while, telling his friends that the dresses in his closet belonged to a sister that was away until one day that he describes as “devastating:”

I used to go out and play with [the boys] in the river and all that shit, and then one day one of the guys came to the door and my mother opened it and said ‘Yes can I help you?’ and they were like, ‘Can David come out and play?’ and she said, ‘No, there’s no David here!’ and they said, ‘No, no, there is, we’ve been here!’ … So, I was fixing my bicycle, and they said ‘Oh, there he is!’ and my mother said, ‘That’s not David, that’s my daughter!’ So they were freaked out, they didn’t want to play with me anymore.

It was around this time that Zane first heard the word “lesbian,” a word that his mother used for him. He knew that he was attracted to girls from a young age, but never felt like a girl himself. He says that it was his masculinity combined with his attraction to other girls that resulted in others labeling him as a lesbian:

In those days, you didn’t know about transsexualism, so you kind of thought that you were a lesbian, because there was a word there – that was the only kind of lifestyle that people put you into. You knew that ‘Ok, well, I like women’ and you were identified by the general population as a woman, so therefore, you are a lesbian.

High school was even more difficult for him than primary school, because “a lot of people were searching for their own identity, so anyone who was different, it was like, ‘Oh, you’re confusing things,’ so they hammered on them.” Zane was expelled from multiple schools for bad behavior, and was eventually sent to a convent, and then to reformatory school. He actually cites his experiences in reformatory as “better, because there were all these other chicks who had their own issues.”

While in high school, Zane took on another male name, as he had as a small child. He was called “Sean” by his schoolmates, which was initially a derogatory name that the other students used to mock his masculinity, but it eventually stuck. In fact, Zane preferred the name, as he thought it better to be called a derogatory male name than by his legal female name.

There’s other people like you, that have actually done this thing.

At age 18, Zane knew that he wanted to have Gender Reassignment surgery. He told this to his father, who discouraged him from pursuing it as an option due to a lack of good quality medical resources and the possibility of social ostracism. He told Zane to wait until he was older to make a definite decision.

About six months after this conversation, Zane had his first contact with another female-to-male (FTM) transman at a gay club in Durban. One of his friends pointed the man out to him:

It was the first time I’d heard about it – it was like, ‘Hey, geez, there’s other people like you, that have actually done this thing.’

Zane did not speak with the man that night, although he later wished that he had. He did not actively pursue a physical transition (hormones and surgery) immediately afterward, and chose to focus on his career instead, although he knew that he would someday make a full transition from female to male – “It was like … I always knew it would happen.” He worked in typically male-dominated fields, starting with the motor industry. Because he was seen as female, Zane was met with persistent sexism in the garages where he worked. “They couldn’t fire me,” he said, “but they made it unbearable so I would leave.”

About six years ago, Zane met his wife in a gay chat room on the Internet. They were married (albeit not legally) two years ago, and now the former wild-child is the stay-at-home father of a nearly two-year-old daughter, who he describes as “a real Daddy’s girl.” It was after his daughter was born that Zane decided to pursue the option of physical transition. His wife did not approve, because she is a self-identified lesbian, and he says she dislikes the idea of being with a man.

Despite his wife’s protest, Zane wanted to begin his physical transition before his daughter had a working memory:

I didn’t know where to start. It was like, I always knew it would happen, but it was never the right time. And then, last year, I was like, ‘It’s now.’ Especially with my daughter being born and that. I mean, I don’t want her being ridiculed at school the way I was because people are going to see [her] as the child of a lesbian couple. And I’m not a lesbian! I didn’t know any other trans guys, and I didn’t know where to start looking for a surgeon.

Although he was determined to begin his transition, Zane did not know where to find a surgeon for his chest. Quite techno-savvy, he has the Internet in his home, and used it to search for resources. He came across Transster.com, an American website that contains a directory of surgeons for transgender men and photographs of the results. There was one surgeon listed in Durban, but when Zane contacted him, he said that he was no longer performing the kind of surgery that he wanted to have.

In January 2006, Zane met Robert Hamblin, one of the most outspoken and well-known transgender activists in South Africa. Robert, who serves on the board of GenderDynamix, told him about the organization. “Before I knew about GenderDynamix, I didn’t know any other trans guys, and I didn’t know where to start looking for a surgeon for my chest.” He became a member of the website, and emailed Liesl Theron, the president of the organization, inquiring about surgeons to perform gender reassignment surgery in South Africa. She gave him information on a surgeon in Pretoria, and in June of the same year, he had a bilateral masectomy, giving him a male chest.

Almost six months after his surgery, Zane’s face lights up when he talks about it. He puts his hand flat on his chest and says, “Those first couple of weeks … what a pleasure! And even now, you realize sometimes, [rubs chest] ‘Oh, cool!'” He has no regrets about having surgery, and is glad to be rid of his breasts, “It was a long time with them, a long time of hating them.”

Zane began taking testosterone injections through a local endocrinologist two months after his surgery. Unlike most other FTMs, Zane did not have to provide a psychologist’s letter of approval before he could start taking hormones. In fact, he has never seen a therapist of any kind for gender-related issues, and never felt like he needed to – “There wasn’t a doubt in my mind.”

Most of what Zane knows about the effects of testosterone injections he learned from his own research on the Internet. He seems well-informed of the potential risks associated with taking hormones, which he lists as high cholesterol, liver problems, low bone density, male pattern baldness, and ovarian cancer. Zane is not at risk for ovarian cancer, however, because he had a full hysterectomy in 2001.

Knowing his wife would be upset, he did not inform her of his final decision to begin hormone therapy until after his first shot. This has caused a quite a strain on their relationship, but Zane thinks that his wife will get used to it, that once the testosterone has taken its full effect, she will have less trouble calling him “Zane” and using male pronouns for him.

The people who know me … I’ve always been a guy to them.

Zane does not plan to tell his daughter about his female past until she is much older, once she reaches young adulthood. He does not want to tell her during her teenage years because “When you’re a teenager, something like that will really freak you out. I’ll tell her I’m not her biological dad, she’ll know that.”

Generally, it seems as though Zane’s coming out process is on an “as needed” basis. He has not yet told his parents or older brother about his transition, and does not plan to. Instead, he plans to wait to see if they notice the changes. His younger brother is supportive, however, and even helped to fund Zane’s chest surgery. He is currently working as the manager of the security complex where he lives, and casually told his supervisor of his transition, who did not seem surprised or upset by the news. In general, he says he has not encountered any problems: “The people who know me … I’ve always been a guy to them.”

Just because you’re also transgender doesn’t mean I need to be your buddy.

Since he has had surgery and begun hormone therapy, Zane says he has felt less of a need for the resources for which he was once desperate, and has been less involved with GenderDynamix:

I don’t see myself as being a big transgender group person. I’m not the kind of person that I feel like I need to belong somewhere. I don’t think that I have anything in common with the girls [MTFs], I just, yeah, we might have gone through a similar process, but just because you’re also transgender doesn’t mean I need to be your buddy.

Through GDX, Zane has met three other transmen, but only feels an affinity with one of them, Scott, who also lives in Pretoria. Scott and Zane are quite close, and started their respective transitions at about the same time. The organization has also recently assisted him in organizing the necessary documents to be sent to the Human Affairs Department of the government in order to change his gender legally. He still occasionally posts on the website’s message board, but does not attend the social events organized in the area.

Zane cites three main reasons for keeping his distance from GDX, which include a decreased need for concrete information about medical and legal resources, his “autonomous” personality that he attributes to being isolated as a child, and a reluctance to expose his young daughter to other transsexual/transgender people:

I don’t want [my daughter] to get older and be really confused. It’s nothing against them, it’s just that I have a family now, I’m a family man, and I have to do what’s best for them. It’s not that I have anything against them, I just don’t feel that much in common with them.

Despite this, Zane believes that GDX is an extremely important organization, and seems to be grateful for its existence and the help it has given him:

I think in a way, it’s sad for a lot of people that we don’t have [support systems]. But, you know, things are changing. The community is growing and getting to know each other and realizing that they’re not the only ones. People need to feel that it’s not just them, because when you’re dealing with something like that in isolation, it gets really difficult. It drowns you.

[note_box]Zane has been interviewed by Harper B. Keenan. The interview is part of the following publication:

Harper B. Keenan
Eugene Lang College: The New School for Liberal Arts
School for International Training
South Africa: Reconciliation and Development
Fall 2006

Advised by: Dr. Cheryl Stobie, UKZN, Pietermaritzburg[/note_box]