“I wish I had thought about it more all sooner and saved myself the pain of going through so much self-hate, dysphoria and fear in my teenage life.” Freelance Illustrator, DJ, Tattooist and Trans-Activist Khanya Kemami, 23, talks to us about his transition journey.
Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I grew up as an only child born to an opinionated, passionate, artistic and head-strong Zulu mother and a patient, leading, hardworking, open-minded Cameroonian father. I’m undeniably a result of my parents level of nurture and support. As a result, I have been lucky enough to always have had a clearer view, or better yet, have had the necessary space to explore more on who I am, what I stand for and what I’d like to be regarding my skillset, career choice, Sexuality and Transgender Identity.
When and how did you realise that you wanted to transition?
I realised I wanted to Medically Transition (specifically Hormone Replacement Therapy) when I started puberty (12yrs). Comparing myself to the boy cousins I grew up with and noticing how differently their puberty-process was in comparison to mine which was more like those of the women in my family. This was the very first time I was aware of my gender identity not aligning with my ‘Sex Assigned At Birth’ (SAAB), that was how I realised I wanted to ‘Medically transition’. My Social Transition (coming out, asserting pronouns, outwardly appearing more like the gender I identify with) began in 2018 when I came out to close friends and essentially my entire following – followed by coming out to my parents towards the end of 2018. My Social Transition consisted of asserting my pronouns and explaining how I expected the people in my life to refer to me. My Medical Transition followed shortly after in 2019.
Who was the first person you told and how did they react?
The first person I told was my partner of (currently) 3 years. Prior to me even mentioning it, they had previously brought it up in discussion and asked if I felt I was perhaps a Transgender Man and would consider Transitioning. At that time I was still in a state of self-denial and fear, so said “no”. I eventually, not long after, formally came out to them. Their reaction was one of acceptance but also they had admitted they would need the space adjust to the reality of being with a man and all that came with as, especially because at the time they lived openly and proudly as a lesbian woman. In the end, they have stuck by me through everything. I am incredibly grateful for the partner I have, through everything we maintain a great relationship and we support each other’s growth wholeheartedly.
How did you break the news to your family and how did they handle it?
I told my mother face-to-face. I told her that I was miserable and am not being honest with her, myself and everyone else about who I am and what I want. My mother has always been incredibly supportive of me so her reaction was that of full on support and love. She then advised me to get in contact with my father and tell him. This was a little bit harder for me, but I came out to my father through a 6 page pdf letter that I emailed to him in the middle of the night. He read it same time and like my mother, accepted me for all that I am and that I am not. My cousins had found out via social media but I also received a great reception from them. I came out to my grandmother as well, she didn’t understand much of the formal termination of it all but understood the crust of it and loves me regardless. I do not intend on coming out to every single member of my family, it feels incredibly unnecessary, I only told those closest to me and those who are present. So far I have received nothing but love from all corners of my life.
Do you wish you had told them sooner?
Most definitely. I just generally wish I had thought about it more all sooner and saved myself the pain of going through so much self-hate, dysphoria and fear in my teenage life. I missed a lot of my childhood cause I was so in my head about myself, so unsure and uncomfortable in self. But I am glad it happened regardless.
How is the transition for you?
Physically, I am having a great time watching my body change drastically from all round shape of it to how it now moves and exists in itself. Watching my body hair come into itself and my facial hair prosper. Having a great time watching my body shape change and seeing my body become visibly stronger and heavier. Oddly enough, I’m starting to look more and more like my mother and I love it so much.
It’s important to know that Medically Transitioning does not cure Mental Illnesses but can improve one’s mental state. So emotionally, I am a lot happier with myself and with the reality of being alive and growing older. I am actually aware of my existence and presence on the Earth, when before, I moved through life like a corpse awaiting its burial. However, I, like many other people who exist today, suffering from mental illnesses and severe depressive episodes. These have not been helped by my Medical Transition. In some way, they have been made worse? The thing about undergoing a Hormone Replacement Therapy with Testosterone is that it changes the way you respond to things around you. This is a chemical, so the effects are neurological (your brain is effected too). It can (in my case) ‘encourage one to be more impulsive and have a quicker ‘fight’ response than any other response (but it’s NOT why one would be, responding aggressively is still a conscious decision). This is something I have to actively work on every day of my life, for the rest of my life.
How are you now? Do you feel you’re finally living your best life?
Ultimately I am a lot happier and content with my life and myself. So yes, I would say I am living my best life at the moment.
What advice would you give a young person who’s going through their transitioning journey?
Some of us have quick effects after a short amount of time, others will only really start to see big changes after a year or a few. It’s important to never compare yourself and deem yourself ‘behind’ others. Give yourself and your body the space it needs, lower your expectations and celebrate what you have done more so what you haven’t yet done.