At first glance, you wouldn’t suspect that beautiful Robyn Botha is in fact a transgender woman who’s been struggling with her gender identity her whole life. She’s a happy-go-lucky individual who exudes confidence to mask her insecurity.
At birth Robyn, from Brackenfell, was assigned “male” as her gender, a label she would spend her life trying to live up to.
“I always felt as if there was something wrong with me. As a boy, the reflection in the mirror staring back at me was someone I couldn’t relate to,” Robyn says.
Boys are taught to play with cars and to play in the dirt, but Robyn preferred make-up and Barbies. Her parents could see that her obsession with dress-up was more than just common childhood curiosity and as a result took her to countless specialists at the age of 5, to diagnose the “problem.”
“I was diagnosed as transgender, shattering my parents’ dream of model son. I was trapped in a body that didn’t belong to me.”
Her battle with her identity would follow her down high school corridors, where she was bullied for being “too feminine”.
“I was bullied from primary school to high school and even in my college years. It started with name calling and then progressed to me being physically assaulted by my male classmates.”
When Robyn was 16, her mom died. It was a difficult time for the teenager because she had been the only person who had truly supported her and loved her unconditionally.
“Suddenly I found myself alone. I couldn’t cope with the playground name-calling after I lost my mom. I wasn’t strong enough. At the end of my Grade 9 year, I dropped out of school and went to community college.”
When Robyn started college, things seemed to get progressively worse. After years of fighting her identity and trying to fit into a society that misunderstood her, Robyn learned to embrace herself and started living as the woman she was born to be. At 17, Robyn started dressing as a woman. She legally changed gender on her ID book and Dewald became Robyn.
“In college, I experienced bullying of the worst kind. At the start of my transition, a girl who I used to be friends with outed me and soon everyone found out that I was transgender. It was a complete nightmare. I felt suicidal every day. I would come home from class and cry my eyes out.”
The stigma Robyn faced would lead her to attempt suicide more times than she’d like to admit. It would also prevent her from finishing college and finding a job to support herself.
“I still experience transhopia from complete strangers, but nothing can break me.”
At 18, she started government-issued hormone replacement therapy, in the form of testosterone blockers and oestrogen, and applied for gender-reassignment surgery at Groote Schuur Hospital.
She was discouraged to learn the government only pays for two to three surgeries a year, making the waiting list a minimum of 25 years long. The idea of spending a “life sentence” in the wrong body made Robyn feel hopeless, but it was a reality she reluctantly accepted for almost three years because a R200 000 surgical procedure seemed unachievable on her retail salary.
That was until Robyn met Zane Groenewald, the marketing officer at BackaBuddy, the online crowdfunding platform.
“Zane has taken a vested interest in ensuring my campaign is a success. This wouldn’t have been possible without him. He’s an amazing person,” says Robyn.
Zane says he jumped at the chance to help Robyn.
“As a member of the LGBT community myself, I have been fortunate enough to witness how far the ‘gay’ agenda has come in recent years and saw this as a perfect opportunity to shed light on a disenfranchised segment of our community.”
Robyn’s campaign went live on Tuesday August 1 and is still in its infancy, having raised R 2 454.99 of the R200 000 so far.
With her campaign, Robyn wants to encourage other transgender people to step out and share their stories with the world.