Illustrating the many difficulties that trans women face, the book lets the irresistible charm of each interviewee shine.
Poignant and staggering, I Am, Therefore, We Are, by Kris Lyseggen and Herb Schreier, is an indispensable exploration of modern South African trans communities.
Focusing specifically on trans women in Xhosain rural areas and townships on the Eastern Cape in post-apartheid South Africa, the book chronicles the stories of some twenty women, interviewed and photographed throughout 2014 and 2015. With an extraordinarily high rate of rape and violence, especially against trans women, South Africa proves to be a very dangerous place for them to live.
The women tell their own stories in their own voices. A horrific trend of violence, rape, murder, HIV, poverty, discrimination, and immense loss is clear across the group. Despite the odds stacked against them, many choose to fight for their basic human rights, facing much brutality and adversity along the way.
Invaluable photojournalistic images accompany each woman’s narrative, and are art in their own right. Black-and-white stills are simultaneously heartbreaking and hopeful, evoking a stirring world of joy, pain, hardship, and laughter.
Resilience and survival are overarching themes. Living in a country colloquially known as The Rape Nation, these women must always defend themselves against a barrage of attacks from family members and strangers alike.
In “I’m Loving it Out,” Ashlee Loots relates her decision to embrace bodily autonomy and live her life as a woman after the brutal stabbing of her best friend. The complicated emotions surrounding identity are further explored in “Amasiko; It’s Tradition.” Thabisa Moyikwa explains her decision to face circumcision, or “going to the Mountain,” an initiation ceremony for traditional manhood. Though she is widely accepted by her family regardless, Thabisa decides to go through with the procedure as a means to prove herself to her community.
Despite illustrating the many difficulties that trans women face, the book also lets the irresistible charm of each interviewee shine. Kind, giving, and loving, these women are fighting for their lives while embracing the spirit of Ubuntu, or the idea that a sense of community and a greater human bond is necessary for humanity’s success.
Shedding light on vastly underrepresented trans communities in South Africa, I Am, Therefore, We Are is a crucial addition to trans research.
Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The author of this book provided free copies of the book to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. No fee was paid by the author for this review. Foreword Reviews only recommends books that we love. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.