More about Liesl Theron
Liesl Theron’s role and involvement in the beginning years of Gender DynamiX and the emergence of the trans movement.
The personal is indeed political – and this expression surely was true for Liesl Theron too. Unbeknown to her at that stage, but her first relationship, while still living in Pretoria, with a trans man in the late 1990’s eventually lead to some of the founding reasons of Gender DynamiX in 2005. Theron was introduced to Lex Kirsten around 2004. At the stage any information about trans persons, transition or any relevant services was extremely limited and the reason for the introduction between Theron and Kirsten was the previous experience and knowledge Liesl had, being previously in a relationship with a trans man.
2005 marks the year that Liesl Theron became the co-founder of Gender DynamiX. That was during a time that limited to no information was available in South Africa about any trans related topics, information or support. Due to the lack of information, it was very hard to publicly self-identify as trans, as there was no idea if the legal system will protect a person if they lose their work, or if a spouse file for divorce on this basis. A range of uncertainties and self-navigation through any systems determined the lives of trans people, who lived in isolation and no substantial support networks were known for most trans people.
This was also an era before most people had access to social media via their mobile phones. For most parts of the country, back in 2005 only privileged households had both a computer or laptop and sufficient internet. It was only around 2007 – 2008 with the broader availability of smartphones and FaceBook that the availability of information changed.
Gender DynamiX were started, with its initial purpose to connect trans people throughout South Africa to each other as well as to create a database of service providers (from psychologists, psychiatrists, endocrinologists, trans-friendly general practitioners, pharmacies dispensing hormones, labour lawyers, divorce and other lawyers, to trans-friendly skin clinics that would perform electrolysis and any other relevant supportive services). In this continuous search for trans people and service providers to add to the database, the organization expanded rapidly and beyond expectations.
“During the time of my trans activism in South Africa, starting officially in 2005 through to 2014 (and beyond) I am one of the only activists who were able to witness how the gender identity landscape emerged, developed, took shape and continues changing since its inception in South Africa as well as on the continent. In those beginning years, I took special interest in my free time to research in archives, online, newspapers and magazines or any possible platform; and I interviewed individuals in confidence, who are not publicly out about their experiences and lives before the existence of trans organizing. South Africa has an equally rich history during the time of apartheid, as the government of then did not only police race, as what is publicly known – but notoriously also gender identity and sexual orientation”.
Liesl’s Master’s Degree research topic: ‘This is like seeing a human body totally from a different angle’ – Experiences of South African cisgender partners in cisgender-trans relationships, was completed December 2013.
Three recent academic publications include “Beyond the Mountain: queer life in ‘Africa’s gay capital’” illuminates the underground trans [women] network in apartheid South Africa.
“The emergence of a grassroots African trans archive” in the Transgender Studies Quarterly: Trans Archives and archiving discuss the importance of documenting a community to ensure the history is not lost.
Liesl also contributed “Trans Issues in Africa” to The Global Encyclopaedia of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer History.
Liesl expanded her consultation work beyond Southern and Eastern African to include projects that are either global, or within the Caribbean region.
Liesl now lives in México City and when she is not consulting, she enjoys walking in the city, taking photos of street murals and graffiti especially those with quirky, political or resistance messages.