Nomalizwi Mhlongo, a teacher and transgender woman based in Empangeni, KwaZulu-Natal, is loud and proud. She is also on a mission to educate people in rural communities about her transformation.
Mhlongo was born and bred in Umlazi on the South West of Durban and later relocated to Empangeni, where she works as a teacher at Old Mill High School.
She says that from a young age, she knew she was different. “I think from a very young age I would tell that I am different. You wouldn’t find me playing with boys or doing boy activities. Even at school, I would cry if I was selected for the main sports. I had the pleasure of joining the choir. I would have friends who were boys just for my protection. Just at that age, I couldn’t tell what was happening to me.”
Making sense of her journey
Being away from her mother at that time did not allow her to have an open discussion on what she was experiencing at the time. She herself didn’t understand herself as transgender.
“My mother was not around to see me through all this so didn’t have any open conversations or discussions about what I was feeling.”
She tells Health For Mzansi that transitioning is a recent journey, having previously lived all her life as a gay man.
“I recently started my transitioning journey which started with therapy sessions, attending classes to check if I am fit for the journey, and assessing me mentally. I have also started taking hormones pills and injections. I opted for injections. Hence the changes are visible,” she says.
“The skin is softer, facial hair no longer coming in as aggressive as before, and breasts are starting to show. My body structure is also taking shape of a woman and I no longer get erections. I am a bit sensitive emotionally and have mood swings here and there, and in the last stage, I will be doing my reassignment surgery. Which is the final step. Remember we don’t transition to fulfil sexually.”
‘Living my truth unapologetically’
Living loud and proud has afforded her a platform to educate her community about her identity.
“To my amazement, the reception from the society is very good. I think it also goes with how you conduct yourself around people,” she says.
“I respect everyone and handle myself in good manners. People are welcome to learn this and unlearn what they have been told before. There are those comments that are bashing but I take no interest in them. I am not shaken by what ppl think of me. The best way to know about me is to ask me and I will tell it all graciously.”
Respect is one of the many fundamentals of humanity, she believes.
Finding your own tribe
Mhlongo, who has over 81 000 followers on Facebook has been nominated for various awards in the social media influencer space, says she has always loved the limelight.
“Coming from a very small family… knowing that I have my brothers and sisters online is a blessing. They pray for me. They look after me. They wish me well. I have had strangers sending me gifts, thanking me just for being me. I am truly grateful to my social media family. The love and support are really felt. And they are my family because when I am down, they pick me up. When I go astray, they correct me.”
When it comes to educating society about the LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersexed) society, Mhlongo believes that it all boils down to ubuntu.
“We no longer need education we just need to go back to the basics of Ubuntu and understanding one another in our own diversity. Go back to this saying ‘your pain is my pain’. Also, us, the LGBTQI community must not [wait] for people to accept us overnight. Give them time and they will surely come around. Live your truth and everybody who loves you will tag along.”
In her free time Nomalizwi lenjoys cooking and hosting people at her place and in the next few years she sees herself becoming a media guru. “I want people l to look at me and say it is doable. I love family and soon hoping to start my own. With a genuinely loving husband and adopt many kids under our care.”