Ayanda Maphosa: ‘Queer baby’ on a journey of discovery’

Disowned by his family and forced to live on the streets of Hillbrow, Maphosa has now started the treatment to bring about the transformation he had been yearning for his whole life.
Kicked out onto the streets and disowned by the only family he knew, he was embraced by a new family, a family he didn’t know existed, a family of “queer babies” who were abandoned by their own families because they didn’t know how not to be who they were.

Suddenly, after years of teaching himself how to be more feminine, how to like boys romantically and how to live according to societal standards of what a girl should be, his journey towards becoming his true self began on the streets of Hilbrow.

Sitting in the lounge of his new apartment in central Johannesburg, Ayanda Nino Maphosa reminisces about a time when he was five and made the shocking discovery that he was a “different type of boy”.

Born as a girl in Johannesburg, he had moved to Zimbabwe at age four to live with his maternal family after his parents separated.

“I used to bath with my baby cousin who was a boy and I saw he was developing differently from me, but I just thought I was developing slower and those things would come.

“At the end of that year, we had to do a play in pre-school. They gave me the part of a nurse and I wanted to play the doctor because in my mind, that was the role of a boy and I was a boy.

“Having to wear pink and dress up like a girl and wear make-up for the play made me realise that I am a different type of boy, but I’m not a boy, I’m a girl. That’s when I felt different and I was five years old.”

Maphosa describes the following years as a fight to become what he knew he was not – a girl.

He said growing up in a strict Christian home forced him to ignore any signs that he was different and focus more on trying to “make this woman thing work” for his grandmother’s sake. He said it was in these years that he started dating men.

“I felt nothing for them, even when we were kissing,” he said. “But I would have crushes on girls and even had dreams about them.”

It was only when he moved back to South Africa as a teenager that he learnt the language to describe what he was feeling.

At first, although he knew he was supposed to be a boy, he decided he would remain a girl and identify as a lesbian woman who dated women.

He thought his mother, who eventually became the only family he knew in South Africa, would be more accepting of this choice since she was a huge fan of Somizi – a South African celebrity open about his sexuality as a gay man. However, he was very wrong.

“It turns out they like the Somizis over there but not in their house,” he said.

For Maphosa, that was when the verbal abuse from his mother began.

She threatened to stop paying his school fees if he did not stop being a lesbian. She asked him when he changed and told him to “stop this and start behaving more like a girl”.

He had nowhere to go with his father having passed away. His mother’s warning was enough to convince him to continue putting on the act of trying to be more feminine until he matriculated.

However, after matriculating with distinctions, life did not become easier.

Tensions with his mother grew as she started pinning all his disappointments, including not being able to get a bursary on time, on him being a lesbian.

He finally landed a bursary at Boston Media House where he would go on to study photography and graphic design. Despite this, his mother was still not impressed with him.

He considered sacrificing his happiness to try and be the perfect girl for his mother, only to feel that it was still not enough and he could not take it anymore.

“In September of 2018 I decided to come out to my mother. I told her I believed I am a man and I wanted to start going through the physical transformation of becoming one. I already knew my mom was going to kick me out, so I had my things packed. My mother said I should leave because she did not want to live with a man, so I took my stuff and I left … and that was how I became homeless.”

During his time on the streets of Hillbrow, he admits to being trapped in a deep hole of depression and that those winter days were “hectic”, but it changed his life forever.

“I learnt a lot. I found out that there are a lot of other queer babies on the street who were kicked out for being who they are. I am grateful for meeting them. They protected me from a lot of bad things,” said Maphosa.

“Many are struggling with mental issues because they don’t have access to therapy. Accessing [free] therapy for me really saved my life. If I didn’t have it, I may have killed myself or gone mad on the streets.”

He said he also learnt about discipline and how to take care of himself on the streets, which was something he needed after being a “mommy’s girl”.

After a month or two he ditched the streets for couches of acquaintances until he was able to make ends meet.

He soon graduated and started his new career as a freelance photographer and graphic designer. And things began to change financially for him.

He saved enough money to visit a doctor at the beginning of the year who gave him a prescription to start his testosterone treatment, a ticket to starting his new journey to becoming a man.

Despite the treatment being expensive, he said it brought about the transformation he had been yearning for his whole life. To his delight, hair started growing on his chin, chest, legs, arms, his voice became deeper and his body muscles started taking on a masculine shape.

He also moved into his first apartment in July 2019.

He now plans to raise money for the removal of breasts. After that, he plans to do surgery that deals with the genital area.

He said it was also important to educate parents to understand why their children felt the way they did.